Micro code as therapy

A small package with a tiny silicon chip and enough complexity to occupy a senior nerd

Not yet being compost my grey matter likes exercise. The website offers some. There’s the drawing. The writing, both prose and the other stuff. Projects in the back yard. I finally put that kiwi plant into weed Valhalla. My resolve to build the tiny house weakens, flickers then flares up again. As the old saying goes, the spirit is willing but the flesh is almost three quarters of a century old. Then there is the microcomputer, A tiny chip of silicon mounted to a little metal frame and molded into a small plastic package. There are eight connections, power takes two, the inputs and outputs use the other six. That part is pretty simple. The complexity, the challenge to understanding, is etched in the thin bit of Monocrystalline silicon. Not pure silicon, rather a perfectly controlled impure form, a semiconductor. Even in small quantity the microcomputer costs about a dollar. For that buck one gets a machine that can execute a couple million instructions per second. There are thirty odd instructions to learn, not that many. In fact this type of machine is known for not having too many instructions. Some microcomputers have a hundred, several hundred with possible all possible variations.

This is where the microcode meets the physical world. Where lights blink and resistors resist.

Being retro by nature I of course use a computer language so dated I doubt its taught anymore, except as an ancient artifact, like Latin among human language. The list of discarded computer languages is long and growing. This language is called Assembly. It scripts what I want the machine to do. The script is called a source file. A program called, the “Assembler”, assembles the source file into a form that can be “flashed” into the microcomputer’s memory. Same sort of flash memory in a thumb drive, but far fewer bytes. Thousands of vs billions. It might take me an hour to write a section of code that will run in a millisecond. The Assembler’s biggest job is pointing out my errors. There is a saying, “no code has no error”, true of released code, code out in the world. It is especially true of fresh code. So writing software code even at this simple “bit banging” level involves finding and fixing errors in the script. Compared to human language assembly is very simple. Some really smart people are working to write software that can parse human written text and find errors. But, human language though finite, is orders of magnitude more involved. Not finding any errors doesn’t mean microcode will do what was intended. As with a page of text in English, it might be grammatically correct with nothing misspelled – yet be pure meaningless drivel. My favorite in Assembly is goto $. It means, goto the address you are at now and execute the instruction you find there. That instruction is the one it just carried out. The little computer doesn’t get frustrated even though it is chasing its own tail. But this line of code is useful as a safety device, a trap. Areas of memory that should never be accessed can be filled with such traps. If the machine gets confused and points to a trap, like an errant fly on sticky paper, its held there, it can’t stumble elsewhere and do damage.

Its just another crossword puzzle, solitary card game, collection of mugs or stamps or butterflies. Its something to do. Even before the Corona thing eliminated my useless trips as diversion, I messed with the microcomputers. Distraction. Solutions to a high class problem, not needing to struggle to survive.

An afternoon at Laite Beach

Digital OIL scene of Laite Beach in Maine, USA

Invisible cats ran over the water
Visible dogs ran across the sand
The cats left cat’s paw dimpled water
The dogs left sandy divots on the strand

Elbows to picnic table, binoculars to eye.
A sailor in sailboat long hauling home I spy
Profligate jib and mainsail full and spilling air  
That’s a wealthy sailor, one having wind to spare

The day suddenly cooling, moms gather families
Tugging at moorings boats napping in a breeze
And from a spot above them I form lines of poetry
A poem made of boats, a harbor, and the open sea

The beach face empty now, the hill I sit on nearly so
But I can’t leave just yet, with two more lines to go
Oh well, there may be other days to visit Laite Beach
Before my boat rides a pale horse on life’s longest reach

Lost in a blue wood

Walking in the blue wood in a blue mood

The blue is a mood. The woods are their greenest at this time of year. Its raining now. The plants drinking their fill of this freshest of water. I too collect rain. Two barrels hold between them a hundred gallons. Today’s sprinkle will top them off. We pull water from underground for domestic use. The rain barrels are reserves, they water the domestic plants. Most of the green on the property is wild, un-managed and natural. Its rain collection system predates mine by half a billion years, or so I’m told.

The past winter and spring were my first in the north in a decade. For ten years I managed to avoid winter. This due to a snowbird phase I passed thru. In truth I would return to southern Ecuador this fall…if I could. CV-19 needs to run most of its course before that’s possible. By good fortune, last year, I managed to sell everything I’d accumulated in Ecuador. No real estate, I always rented. I was ahead of the curve in hauling anchor, leaving the valley of longevity. When I flew north a year ago June I’d lost a tether. I can’t travel now, but that’s good. Last year I’d decided it was time to sit in one spot for a while.

A view across a cane field between my rented house and the river. Vilcabamba is south, over the first ridge.

It is inconvenient to be nostalgic. Maybe the year I’ve been away is enough for the memories to play a lament. The refrain for a lost moment. All life is moments impossible to retrieve. Spent in one place they seem constant, they’re not. We change. The seasons come and go. It feels better to imagine constancy in our surroundings and our relationships. To try and stretch them between the horizons of past and future.

The town of Vilcabamba, nestled in the valley of Longevity, the sacred valley under Mandango

I keep up with the news. My friends down there email now and then. The virus has disrupted life in Ecuador as it has everywhere. The horrid headlines are from Guayaquil and other large cities. I am told the capital of the province of Loja (low hah) which is also called Loja, is opening up. Its been really tough on the poor in the urban areas. They have in the past made enough to get by, just. In the country the bounty of the land means all can eat. Keeping a roof over one’s head isn’t difficult. The weather is mild, a continuous spring. Most of the expats, the retired and the adventurers, stay isolated in their valleys and on their mountain sides. This lock down doesn’t affect them much. For the contingent of alcoholics that used to drape themselves over chairs on the sidewalk there’s a big change. The bars are closed. I’m sure they still drink. There are small stills here and there so no development can force sobriety. The bar/restaurant I hung out at is getting hassled by the local authorities. They objected most to the professional drinkers. Though never great in number, they were conspicuous. I’d sit in with the various groups but I wasn’t even a potential “borrocho”. Its a calling. I would nurse a beer as I drew the scene. Great place for sketching and photography. Tourists from everywhere appeared daily. They would climb Mandango and frequent the same watering holes we did. After a week they’d be off to Machu Picchu or the Galapagos. I imagine they are now sitting at home remembering all that, as I am. We wonder when things will be again as they were. But, things can never be the same can they?

Will the tourists come?

The harbor of the town of Camden, Maine, USA

Whats the difference between a busy harbor and a “tight” harbor? The old timer remembers a harbor busy with lobster and fishing boats. With small freighters carrying all manner of commerce. This beautiful and picturesque harbor is at the center of the town of Camden in the state of Maine. In recent decades, instead of busy, the harbor has been tight with the mega yachts and lesser craft (those under $5 million) of the rich. Its packed but not with commerce. The well healed visitors ladle plenty of money into the regional economy. The boats might need work. The galleys need provisioning. Has this all been upended by the Corona virus? Will the rich and not so rich be visiting this year?Some will, no doubt. But everyone who depends on this trade is holding their breath, waiting to see. Hotels and motels and restaurants are still shut. The folks with mega yachts don’t need a hotel but in years past they dined well and left big tips. The day trippers and weekenders from “away” have been the major source of the annual summer flood of income. Many college students came up to Maine in the summer to work their butts off. They could earn quite a nest egg toward tuition in just three months. Will a slow down keep them away. News suggests the pandemic is growing severe in much of the world. Famine induced by lock-down gives a hobson’s choice to people and governments. Die from a virus or from starvation. Here in the better off USA we stumble toward herd immunity the hard way, the ancient and traditional way, by crowding together. Anyone left standing (we fervently hope) is immune. I will not be entering that lottery. My appointment with the grim reaper is way off…I hope.

Odds and Ends

This was an illustration for a story on gas economy in the early 1990’s
The town was reacting to a new store built on the rocky heights above the harbor
A business publication needed a graphic showing how bad Maine did vs other states
The Small Business Administration in DC got beat up regularly in the paper

Odds and Ends it says. That’s because I’ve posted drawings without current context. These days the context is Pandemic and Social Justice. I give attention to those themes but there’s got to be more going on. The drawings were printed in a state business paper in the early 1990’s. I got paid something but not much. The paper didn’t have much to pay. A small paper in a mostly rural state doesn’t earn much. Things haven’t gotten better. I draw because I enjoy drawing. Looking at these drawings now I am surprised at the patience I had then. I doubt any took more than an hour to complete.

The writing on the wall

Art and protest

I said elsewhere on this site that it seemed like 1967 again. That was over half a century ago. Then as now the pressure cooker of racism at the sharp point of society (police) has boiled over. George Floyd was murdered, quite simply. He became the latest of tens of thousands of black citizens murdered by police in the USA and other countries. Excessive force and excessive racism are the cause. Society sets limits on police. It is not up to a police department to decide who gets excessive force. It is up to society. Society looks the other way, usually. Thus allowing these murders. This time the world looked at Minneapolis. That’s where George was killed. The news today is that the city is “defunding” its police force. Not sure what that means. Does the Minneapolis Police Department exist apart from the city government? Does it not take orders from the city? A police department is not a bad thing. It is needed. It shouldn’t murder citizens but citizens are also murdered by other citizens. That should be where the city and its police get involved. Part of the problem is the macho approach many take to law enforcement. Overwhelming force at the onset of any confrontation, especially with minority citizens. The military’s “Shock and Awe” as applied on the home front. “Show whos boss” from the get go. Its been the fashion for decades to model the police on the military. This to the point of giving police around the country military equipment. They’ve been given the military’s mindset as well….”its them and us”. This analogy includes no go zones and provocation. Non violent policing is considered sissy and weak. Trumpf, always reading a few pages behind in the book of now, said the other day that police and the military in Washington DC should “own the battle space”. I am proud of the military past and present who reacted to this and sounded an alarm. “American cities are NOT a battle space, the people are NOT an enemy” The idiot in chief and his enablers were surprised at this. In the past tough talk generated support. This time the idiot ordered excessive force to enable a pathetic photo op with the Christian Bible. Has he read it? Is it to him anything more than a symbol, an icon? Does he see meaning in that book? Does he see value or humanity in any human being. The book he held high has as its central character the Prince of Peace. What a contrast he makes when he becomes the king of hate and division. The protests remind me of 1967. Things haven’t really improved much since then. But there might grow out of this some incremental improvement. But I’m pessimistic. Its not the police, they’re just the point of the spear. They are creating the stigmata but are not the force behind the thrust. That force is society. That’s where the faults lay. The attitudes in the people. The real question is “How can we defund hate”.

Into June already

I don’t know what it means, I don’t keep a dog, but I think about tiny houses

I’m kicking around the idea of building a tiny house. There is a movement here in the USA to down size. Its a reaction to a couple of things. One is the ridiculous escalation in home prices and property taxes over the decades. What is ridiculous vs just the market in action, is the restrictions towns put on what you can build. One big reason is fear of a reduced tax base. Smaller houses allow in people with less money. With less space and less money they will spend less to stock the small house. Its about that simple when you boil it down. Poorer people serve the richer people, in various ways. They work in service or selling or distribution industries. Just how to house those who serve the moneyed class hasn’t been worked out. The other reason the tiny home is growing in popularity is that so many are sick of the hoarding consumerist mindset. The same cultural and economic forces selecting for people with money want you to buy stuff. The greatest threat to the USA it seems is that people will stop buying stuff. Twin towers attacked, economy swoons, President says….go and buy stuff. Virus attacked, economy halted, please buy stuff, here is some money to use…. I still haven’t spent my extra government money. You see, in our culture, here in the USA, money in your pocket makes you itch to spend it on something, anything. It is almost equated with good citizenship. It is a capitalist society so of course spending is a sacrament. And for a great many people, it all gets spent before the bills have been paid. Is there a light at the end of this tunnel? NO. Robots!, a scary word. Robots can work for the rich and not need any housing, even tiny . If I can generate the ambition and energy I will build my own tiny house at the bottom of the garden. I’ve wacked the weeds away from the site but they’re growing back, it is well into June. I’m so glad that the music stopped with me here in the countryside. But seeing what the world is going thru has me, and many others, thinking about being off grid. Being independent of the larger world. As independent as possible. My urge to go that way was highlighted in April. One of the wet snow storms we traditionally get in the late winter took out the power. I was one of 35,000 without electric power. For me it meant no heat either. My LP heater doesn’t need much power but it needs some so it stayed cold for a week. Couldn’t go anywhere, the virus had us locked down. It was an eye opener. As I sat in my car, heater going, listening to the governor give her daily virus briefing, I resolved to not go thru that again.

Graduation 2020

Being myself a high school dropout I don’t have total empathy with these young people and their rained on party. These poor youths will have to plunge into the cold water of the job market without memories of that night of debauchery and drunkenness. Well, most will forgo those memories. Their graduation ceremony done “drive in theater” format. College?, is there much possibility of finding sex in an online college? Then why bother? After college another virtual graduation ceremony, an online interview and then hired to work from home via the internet. Talk about class divide, people who must be there to work, and those who can work their way to retirement in a bathrobe. Makes me think of HG Wells novel, The Time Machine. The brutish lower class worked factories below the ground while the pretty people frolicked on the surface in beautiful gardens. There was a rub so I’ll halt the analogy right there. No, I don’t think things will go that far. But the book was set in a year a thousand from now. A lot can happen in ten generations. The truth is (message to you graduates) times of great change are also times of great opportunity. That’s a fact. Never easy to look in the cup and read the tea leaves, but your future is there. What sort of career should I pursue?, I hear the eager cap and gown inquire, Well, You could do worse than Epidemiology. Virology is also an exciting area. You could go to Mars with Musk, or with a scent more ethereal but Earthy. Yes, you could do both. That’s because where ever we go, they go. I mean the little virus packages. They will not leave us until some smart person (I’m addressing you graduate) shows them the door! The best of luck to you, freshly minted adult!, and please adjust your ppe mask, its on sideways.

Is fighting Fascists bad?

A really good way to understand leadership is to approach a crisis with the antithesis of that quality in it’s stead. I doubt there is a word for the conjugate of “leader”. When that word is invented at the top of its wiki will be a photo of you know who. Stalin was a nasty dude. The man Hitler hated most….but he was a leader. He must be credited by friends and foes alike with defeating the Austrian named Schicklgruber. Students of history would know that. Not many of those anymore. My daughter’s generation doesn’t do history. They’ve never heard that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. That’s a shame because they also can’t enjoy alternate historical fiction. The “what if” narrative. What if someone other than DLT (or Clinton) had been installed in office in January 2017. What if Trumpf had been elected in 1939 instead of Roosevelt? The “Phony War”, as the Brits called it started two months before the US election. A state of war existed but there wasn’t much shooting. DLT, if elected at that time could have called it a phony war for years. All that hypothetical chief executive would have been thinking about would be slogans for the 1944 election…”He kept us out of the war” Chamberlain was an appeaser, Trumpf is a divider as well as a narcissistic idiot. The antithesis of what WE need in the current battles. Battles in wars against institutional racism and Corona Virus. But you don’t go to war with the president you need….