Doomsday Freakout

The cold war was still going on in my formative years. I have always attributed my life long obsession with post apocalyptic fiction and very real fear of world war three, to this.

The words “Dead Hand System” strike fear into my heart on the rare occasions when I hear them.

As my adult life has gotten more mired in daily routines and responsibilities, I’ve devoted more of my worry to these things, as I should. They are things I have some control over.

My whole life, everything has been pretty good. I’ve been lucky. Yet I’ve always felt like that can’t last an entire lifetime. I wonder if there’s some statistic on how many people in history have managed to live their lives in an uneventful time at an uneventful location. Hopefully I can continue to be so lucky.

This stuff in the Ukraine is makes me nervous. Was it making me nervous before I listened to the last two episodes of Dan Carlin’s Common Sense?

I really don’t know.

But my vague fuzzy fear of apocalyptic things has been brought back into uncomfortable focus today. I need to remind my brain that it has no control over these situations, so it should just shut up about it, and go back to being happy.

At least this episode of Planet Money, The Fight Over Ukraine’s Gas Bill was just interesting and didn’t cause me to start contemplating the feasibility of building a bomb shelter.


Brian and I went for a walk today. It’s hard to walk in the lane because the snow is 3 feet deep in places and in other’s there’s nothing. So snowshoes don’t make a lot of sense but walking on it is a struggle sometimes.

We cut through a field on our way back and were rewarded with a fairly good view of a skunk.

Skunkskunk skunk

Salem Witch Trial Connection

For some time now I have been periodically getting sucked into genealogy.  I get sucked in to it in the same way I used to get sucked in to picross, or the way that when there’s any genoa salami in the house I cannot stop until I have eaten it all.

For some reason I’m not proud of this hobby. In some way I’m also almost even embarrassed by it. Right now… I don’t want to admit that I spent almost my entire weekend on following my Ballard ancestry down a deep and winding tunnel.

So I have two topics… why am I more embarrassed by my genealogy habit than I am about my inability to resist delicious salt filled salami slices in the deli drawer.

And also, I found a semi-historically interesting ancestor this weekend.

I knew about this ancestor because my aunt had pointed it out in this amazing giant binder of begats that she loaned me, family members going back into the 1600s. My eight great grandfather, Joseph Ballard,  was an accuser in the Salem Witch Trials, not a key player or anything, but an accuser nonetheless. I never really even knew I had ancestors that lived in or near Salem before a month or so ago.

I got fairly excited when I found the text of his accusation.

Complaint v. Mary Lacey Sr. , and Mary Lacey, Jr.

Complaint v. Mary Lacey Sr. , and Mary Lacey, Jr.

Complaint v. Mary Lacey Sr., and Mary Lacey, Jr.

The examination of Mary Lacey, Jr. is a more interesting read, just because it’s so hard to imagine it happening.

So why do I like genealogy? I think it’s because it’s a puzzle. and it’s a puzzle with a story. I’m searching for details, I’m trying to put them in order in a way that makes sense, and tells a story if one can be found to tell.

But it seems silly, all the adopted people in my family are more part of my family than any of these distant relatives that I share almost the same amount of autosomal DNA with.  Almost none if any.  Is there some benefit to knowing your history beyond it just being interesting?

ISOGG Autosomal DNA statistics

The average amount of autosomal DNA inherited by all close relations up to the third cousin level ISOGG Autosomal DNA statistics

Actually the amount of autosomal dna I would share with an eight great grandfather would be something like .09766%.

I think I would be almost as happy following someone else’s tree, and figuring out what I could about the history of their ancestors, but it’s also that when you’re studying these regular people in a different time, you start to try hard to think about what life was like in these times.  It’s still hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that this part of New York was the frontier once.

But I’m sure there are other things I should be doing instead… like raiding the deli drawer for salami.


Yesterday I had a doctors appointment at the Clifton Springs hospital. It occurred to me that I had been there almost exactly one year ago seeing my aunt Sue for the last time. I had stopped on my way home from work. She was asleep, so I talked quietly with her family who were camped out in her room taking care of her.

What is it about anniversaries of things that give them so much power and weight in the mind?

Each year we’re running a lap around the sun and passing one of these mile markers seems to heighten the awareness of everything that has changed and the people that are missing.

It seems like it was only yesterday. It seems like its been years and years all at the same time.

The next paragraph failed to be put in to words over and over again so I’m excusing it from class.

There are goodnbsp; anniversaries too but I often fail to observe those. I’ll say ”oh its nothing, just an arbitrary mark in time” but the bad ones, I seem to hang out a welcome sign to invite those in and let them come chew on my guts for weeks on end.

Clementine Tree



I had strapped on my snowshoes and was waiting for Brian to go for a hike through all the fresh snow on Saturday when I spotted this frozen clementine 15 feet up in a tree. The bright orange color was startling in the monochromatic February landscape. Some animal had found it in our compost heap and carried it high up into the safety of this tree, and maybe abandoned it when it didn’t turn out to be some amazing new kind of nut.

It made me laugh, just because it was so out of place and surprising.

This time of year, you start to forget about colors. You forget how green and lush things will be by June, and how the sky isn’t always a shade of gray. You just forget.

And something like an orange in a tree can jog your memory.

January 2014 Photos

January’s over so it’s time to post a link to my January Gallery. Not that I’ve done that for the last year… but I’m going to start again. Yeah… that’s the ticket.

This is one of my favorites from the month. I really had to mess around with exposure times to get it to come out the way I wanted it. This plus all the bright white snow everywhere that day… the camera auto settings could not make sense of what I wanted.


Velvet Leaf (according to helpful people on /r/plants)

Fun facts about Velvet Leaf

Here’s the rest of my January 2014 photos.



Better than Flowers

I’ve had a Steam account for years now. Steam is kind of like itunes for video games. I have a ridiculously large library of games at this point. Some I’ve barely played. But I should be all set if I ever have months of time to kill.

One of the bad sides of steam is that it shows you how many hours of your life you’ve spent playing a game. I think maybe it’s ok that I’ve spend 139 hours of my life playing “Don’t Starve” because I really like it. … but holy crap, you’d think I’d at least be good at it by now. I do have a character that has survived something like 120 days, which beats my previous record by a LOT.

Steam lets you give games as gifts to other Steam players. So Brian is always watching for sales and buying me games whenever he sees something he thinks I’ll like. That’s way better than flowers.

Unfortunately all my emails from steam get sorted in into the “updates” bin in gmail. I don’t check that bin every day because I get 30+ daily  emails, 99.9% of which are “so-and-so wants you to play candy crush on facebook.” So whenever Brian sends me a game I completely miss it for a few days and I feel like an ass when he says… “did you get that game I sent you?”

DAMMIT. I missed it again.

Today he sent me “Cart Life” where you are trying to scrape by running a food cart business. I figured out where to buy coffee. I figured out where to get the food cart permit. I haven’t figured out where to get the actual food cart… and also I neglected to pick up my video game daughter from school. So I’ve got a ways to go to get the hang of it.

So how does he decide what he thinks I’ll like? He picks games that seem totally un-fun to him. Anything that has zero appeal is going to be something I’ll love.


I did spend 23 hours over Thanksgiving week playing a game called Paper’s Please where you’re a border agent in a fake country called Arstotska. The game is pretty much just you looking for inconsistencies in people’s passports and other required documents so you can let them through or detain them.

Really it was a lot more fun than it sounds.

Really. It was.


Hardcore History

We spent New Years with some good friends in Buffalo. At some point I was probably blathering on about my favorite podcasts and our friend Mike said he really liked this Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History Podcast.

I hated history in high school. I never realized I had any interest in it  until I was taking art history in college. You can’t avoid that class when you major in art. Art history gave me a better sense of the people, maybe even some context of their lives. It made me more interested in understanding the past. Admittedly I didn’t really delve beyond the course requirements but I was REALLY surprised that I wasn’t miserable and suffering. I was enjoying it.

I will try out any podcast and I was a little bit doubtful that I’d get into Hardcore History, mostly because the episodes are really long. In general, I’m of the opinion that, if a podcast is longer than an hour and a half it’s just because there’s no economy of content. They haven’t decided what they want to say. There’s going to be a lot of nothing in between the good bits.

That is not true of Harecore History. Every single minute is there for a reason. There are no wasted moments.

So far I’ve listened to about four episodes. My favorite so far has been The Prophets of Doom. We managed to coordinate as a household and eveyone listened to it within the same week so it was great dinner discussion fodder for many nights.

I’m trying to decide what to listen to next. Everyone in the house went in different directions and is on different episodes, but I’ll probably try to follow the crowd so we can talk about them.

Duolingo German Certificate Test – Round 1

After 5 months of playing on Duolingo almost every single day for at least some practice time, I hit the halfway point in the skill tree. I decided to take the certificate test, mostly to see where I am.  Someone in the forums suggested taking it once a month or so just to see your progress over time. I have plenty of lingots* to spend so I thought I might as well. I did have a little test anxiety which seems strange since nothing was actually riding on my performance.

*lingots = duolingo currency

I scored a 2.09/5.00

duolingo certificate - round 1

duolingo certificate – round 1

I don’t think of myself as someone who has a natural aptitude for language. I base this on my complete and total inability to interpret song lyrics. I think my parents both have this deficit as well because one day they asked us to settle an argument they were having over what they were singing in the opening song for CSI.

Was it “Blue Awning”? or “Blue Morning”.

It was “Who are you” by the Who, a pretty good choice for a crime show. A thematic match even…

Luckily Brian produced the answer before it came to light that I didn’t know either.

In listening to one of the “Speak and Understand German” Pimsleur audio books there are a few phrases where they’re saying it as though your a man and contrasting it with the feminine version. I CANNOT hear the difference… AT ALL. I’m going to keep trying but I think sometimes you just have to accept that you’re going to sound a bit like a jackass and get over it. I’m pretty sure if I say the masculine version of “I’m an American” it might be a little funny but I’ll still be understood.

Anyway, gotta keep plugging away on duolingo so I can get my scores up to awesometown.

Wonderbag = Haybox

The Wonderbag - Heat Retention Cooker

The Wonderbag – Heat Retention Cooker

We just bought a Wonderbag a last week. Brian sent me a link to the wonderbag website and I immediately wanted one. They were unavailable right then so I wanted it even more. I signed up for notifications on Amazon and bought it withing hours of getting the notification.

The Wonderbag is a big pillow that you can cook food in. You simmer it on the stove for 5-20 minutes and stick it in the wonderbag for a few hours and you have awesome slow cooked goodness. So far Brian has made beans and sausages, beef stew, and some pretty killer pizza sauce in it. I made chili on Sunday night and it might have been the best chili I’ve ever made. I’m not sure, but it was pretty good.

The beef stew was still at 167 degrees F after 6 hours in the bag.
The chili was at 180 after 4 hours.

It’s pretty impressive. And you don’t have to hang around keeping an eye on something simmering on the stove for hours. You throw it in the bag and then you can go out for a hike or do whatever you want and have no worries that your house is going to burn down.

I suppose it’s not all that surprising that this heat retention cooking has been around forever. People used to have haybox cookers. It saves on firewood or gas or whatever fuel you’re using.

I have this idea that it would be pretty awesome to make some fancy camp food (when we’re car camping… it’s too bulky for something like backpacking). But I can imagine getting it going throwing it in the bag, leaving it in the car while we’re hiking so the critters won’t get at it and then coming back to some crazy slow cooked awesome having only used 5 or 10 minutes of fuel.

We’ll see how the camping part goes. I’m loving it at home.

Random notes on my life, my bike, and my world