Blathr Wayne Lorentz

What is Blathr?

Blathring in December, 2022

“Will you be my friend?”

Saturday, December 24th, 2022 Alive 18,869 days

An optimistic pizza poof

Such a happy little pizza poof. Just birthed from the Totinoʼs bag, heʼs enthusiastic and engaged and ready to explore a new world of possibilities and hope.

He was delicious.

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♫ Chess nuts boasting in an open foyer ♫

Friday, December 23rd, 2022 Alive 18,868 days

MicroChess on a KIM Uno hooked up to a MacBook Pro

I almost beat a computer at chess today. Almost.

I've been playing chess against computers for four decades now, and have never beaten one. Not even once. Not even on “novice” levels. If a chess board had pieces more worthless and expendable than pawns, I would be one of those pieces.

But I keep playing. Atari 2600 Video Chess? Kicked my ass. Sargon Ⅱ on a Commodore 64? Took my lunch money and gave me a wedgie. Battle Chess on an IBM XT? Bought me flowers, took me to dinner, brought me home, kissed my hand and then didn't call me the next day.

Tonight I did something I have never done before: I managed to “check” a computer opponent.

The opponent was MicroChess on a KIM Uno, the modern-day incarnation of the old MOS KIM-1 machine.

The KIM did eventually beat me, but for once it wasn't the sort of Gulf War shock-and-awe defeat I'm used to.

I got the KIM because I nurse a fascination with the early days of computing, and because I found out that one can be built for under $20. That's another of my fascinations: Ultra-cheap computers.

My KIM Uno, happily letting me know that white pawn 0F moved from space 13 to space 33. I later housed it in a cardboard box

The KIM Uno is a good way to get a taste of what it was like to compute in 1976. But it's not a faithful reproduction. It's more like a tribute than a recreation. The KIM software runs on a miniature single board computer, and has been modified in ways that make a lot of concessions to the limitations of the Arduino side of its split personality.

There are a lot of web sites on the internet that talk about the Uno, but it's clear that the people who blog about this machine put the parts together, poked in about six instructions of 6502 assembly, and then moved on to other things. If they had stuck with the KIM Uno, there would be an extensive library of modern software available for it the way there is for other new models of old computers.

One sure sign that nobody has ever used a KIM Uno for anything other than a minor plaything is that nowhere on any of the web pages flogging it do the writers mention battery life. I surmise that none of them used it long enough for that to be a concern.

The Kim Uno's primary problem is that it lack expandability. One of the greatest assets of the original KIM-1 was that it could be expanded in many ways. You could add memory. Add storage devices. Add circuits and relays and printers and terminals and pretty much anything the hobbyist could imagine. The KIM Uno leans on the Arduino's built-in serial port, and that's about its only connectivity. But even that serial port is fixed at a speed and parameters that make it incompatible with a number of era-appropriate terminals.

There is an expansion port of sorts on the KIM Uno, but it isn't documented. There's a single picture on the internet of the KIM Uno driving a small OLED display, but no information about how to do that. And worse, the KIM Uno machine driving the display isn't even running the KIM-1 ROMs. It's being used to emulate a COSMAC ELF.

To summarize: unlike the KIM-1, the only thing the KIM Uno is good for is to play chess. But on the other hand, the KIM-1 cost the equivalent of $1,300 today dollars, while the KIM Uno can be had for less than $12 in parts. But with that reduction in price comes a reduction in possibilities. And the whole reason people got into computers in the 1970ʼs was because at the time, we thought the possibilities of technology were endless.

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That would be “No L”

Tuesday, December 20th, 2022 Alive 18,865 days

“NOEL” on Main Street Square, Houston

Anywhere else, this would be a Christmas decoration. But since this is Houston, itʼs probably a protest against mass transit.

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Monday, December 19th, 2022 Alive 18,864 days

A faceless gingerbread man

The bakery down the street serves a mean Turkish coffee, but I didn't expect a 15th-century Ottoman invasion to remove the faces from all of the gingerbread men.

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Friday, December 16th, 2022 Alive 18,861 days

A lie from GoDaddy

At first, I thought it was bad when GoDaddy told me I would be unable to chat with someone in its Customer Service department for 2⅔ hours.

The actual wait time ended up being 19 hours.

Iʼll write that again so you donʼt think it was a typo: The actual wait time ended up being 19 hours.

I didnʼt choose GoDaddy for this project, Iʼm just fixing something for someone else. But I now have an idea why everyone Iʼve ever spoken with in the tech world says to avoid GoDaddy at all costs.

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Friday, December 16th, 2022 Alive 18,861 days

Every now and again I see a Millennial or Gen Z person on the internet proudly crowing that they have never owned a television.

Some of the nuns knew in elementary school had the same boast. Only, they were more sincere, and more convincing.

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Thursday, December 15th, 2022 Alive 18,860 days

A screenshot of surveilance video on WGN-TV

This morning the big story on WGN-TV news was another mugging in Chicagoʼs Lincoln Park neighborhood, as illustrated by the screenshot above.

Why is yet another mugging in the nationʼs third-largest city a big news story? As a former television news producer, I can answer that.

  • Itʼs part of a series of muggings that appear to be caused by the same group of people.
  • It happened in a part of the city that is generally considered safe.
  • It happened in the middle of the day.
  • The mugger threatened to shoot the victimʼs dog.
  • There was video available of the crime.

I canʼt speak to what happened in the WGN-TV newsroom when this story was written. I can, however, state that if I had aired this story in any of the cities where I produced TV news — Chicago, Houston, Cincinnati, and even Green Bay — the newsroom would have gotten complaint calls from people claiming that the only reason we aired the story is because it happened in a “white” neighborhood.

This is incorrect.

While itʼs true that muggings happen all the time Chicago neighborhoods that are more “diverse” and impoverished than Lincoln Park, the reason this was a big story is because it was the intersection of the five factors listed above. And of all those factors, the last one is the most important: There was video.

Television is a visual medium. TV without pictures is called “radio.”

Lincoln Park is a rich neighborhood, which means more people can afford personal security cameras, which means more video of crime is available. Englewood, as a random example, is a poorer neighborhood, which means fewer people can afford personal security cameras. Therefore, thereʼs less video of crime from that area, and thus itʼs less likely to be the main story of the newscast, unless itʼs made into a larger piece with crime statistics and interviews with cops, politicians, criminologists, residents, and whoever else is available.

I canʼt count the number of times Iʼve had to weigh two news stories, and chose the lesser one simply because video was available. If the news program isnʼt visually compelling, itʼs an important factor in people tuning out, ratings going down, and the next thing you know, youʼre on the street.

Struggling to make important, but non-visual, stories more palatable to a television audience is the reason that TV stations put all kinds of text on the screen. A still picture with a caption over the anchorʼs shoulder. A list of bullet points on one side of the screen. Even putting text between two anchors sitting in front of a chroma wall. And sometimes all the visual tricks in the book canʼt make a non-visual story work on TV and Iʼve said, “Let radio have it.”

Race is often an easy answer to not understanding how things work, but in local news it is seldom the right answer.

On a side note, Iʼve noticed that reporters in Chicago now call muggings “robberies.” The common term for a mugging when I lived in Chicago was “strong-arm robbery.” Itʼs a very Chicago term with a long history. I suspect the problem is too many people working in Chicago TV who are not from Chicago, and not thoughtful enough to adopt the local customs.

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Maybe it tastes like cheese?

Wednesday, December 14th, 2022 Alive 18,859 days

Odd H.E.B. search results

Tech people know that search is hard. But itʼs not this hard.

A search for “Cheddar cheese” at H.E.B. shouldnʼt show me mascara.

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404, yʼall

Monday, December 12th, 2022 Alive 18,857 days

An error message from the Legacy of Texas web site.

Legacy of Texas is the online store of the Texas State Historical Association.

Apparently, itʼs all hat and no cattle.

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No running

Saturday, December 10th, 2022 Alive 18,855 days

Today, while reading an article in the New York Times about Walt Whitman, I came across an map of Fort Greene Park.

The map shows a boys playground, and a girls playground. We had separate playgrounds when I was in elementary school, too. I thought it was a Catholic school nun thing. I guess it was just a normal part of society, if old-fashioned.

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Bees wax

Friday, December 9th, 2022 Alive 18,854 days

A cartoon bee on a shipping box

I know itʼs supposed to cute and clever and funny, but for some reason a cartoon bee stuck under the shipping label on my package from Fortnum and Mason makes me a bit sad.

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Is the poinsettia dead?

Thursday, December 8th, 2022 Alive 18,853 days

Camellias blooming on the balcony

We got a nice little Christmas present today. After a year of doing a whole lot of not very much, the camellia bush is blooming.

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Close enough

Thursday, December 8th, 2022 Alive 18,853 days

A crushed package

I guess the “square peg in a round hole” test isn't part of the mailman aptitude exam.

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Gotta <p>

Tuesday, December 6th, 2022 Alive 18,851 days

Some exposed HTML on the Dyson web site

Oh, the hazards of storing HTML in a database. You never know whoʼs going to SELECT it and squirt it on the screen unparsed.

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Benin to shop

Monday, December 5th, 2022 Alive 18,850 days

The Fortnum and Mason account settings system

It seems strange to me that when filling in your personal information on the Fortnum and Mason web site that the default telephone country code is +229. Thatʼs Benin, all the way in Africa.

It would make sense for the default country code to be +44, since itʼs a British department store. Or maybe the country codes could be sorted numerically, so itʼs easier to find the one youʼre looking for. Or perhaps use the country code of the customers who generate the most revenue for the store, whatever number that may be.

But I doubt that the people of Benin buy more F&M stuff than any other country.

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Stalker and skulker

Sunday, December 4th, 2022 Alive 18,849 days

Annie stalking Tina

I donʼt always know when Tina is skulking around the garden, but Annie always knows.

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Misty for me

Sunday, December 4th, 2022 Alive 18,849 days

It was a foggy, depressing day so I went out to Turtle Bayou where I knew there wouldnʼt be any other people; and there werenʼt.

I did find lots of birds, though. I recorded nine new species for my list:

  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Purple Finch
  • Winter Wren
  • House Wren
  • American Pipit
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • American Goldfinch
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler

There was also a metric ass-ton of mosquitoes. But thatʼs OK; the birds have to eat, too.

I thought about it for a while, and I think itʼs probably been close to 30 years since I was last bitten by a mosquito.

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And the price hasnʼt changed, either

Friday, December 2nd, 2022 Alive 18,847 days

A screenshot of the film Trading Places

In the 1983 movie Trading Places, Don Ameche can be seen reading a Wall Street Journal. The back page has an ad for the Apple ][ and Apple /// with the line “The first problem they solve is what to give for Christmas.”

Thatʼs just as true today, 39 years later, as it was then.

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Liberty is for dowagers

Friday, December 2nd, 2022 Alive 18,847 days

A Fortnum and Mason Advent calendar and a Liberty Advent calendar

Darcie and I may disagree about which is the better British department store, but we can agree that Advent calendars are an essential part of the season.

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Thursday, December 1st, 2022 Alive 18,846 days

The same train stop takes me to the cathedral for church, and to McDonaldʼs for McRibs.

I do not think this is a coincidence.

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Number Five is alive

Thursday, December 1st, 2022 Alive 18,846 days

A robot wandering around Houston Methodist Hospital

There seem to be an awful lot of robots around these days.

Iʼm not sure if itʼs a Houston thing, or a big city thing, or just the state of the world in which we live today. But there are an awful lot of robots around. In the hospitals, in the malls, in supermarkets, and even running around on public sidewalks.

Many of them have cone heads. I wonder what would happen if I started putting Santa hats on them as I pass by.

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Thursday, December 1st, 2022 Alive 18,846 days

WordPress gets a lot of flack from snobby devs who like to see their names in pixels on the internet. And while Iʼm not a huge fan of the planetʼs most popular content management system, it has earned my respect.

Due to some unfortunate circumstances, I recently had to temporarily transplant a WordPress installation from one server to another server to another server, along the way performing a number of upgrades to both the WordPress installation, the servers, and the content. And you know what? It all worked.

Yes, WordPress complained occasionally, but far less than I thought it would. And it dutifully updated and upgraded the content database at each step, while retaining all of the goodies therein.

So, itʼs not the best CMS in the world. There is no best CMS. But the code sure as heck is durable. Outside of mainframes and the scientific community, you donʼt see that kind of resiliency in coding very often these days.

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