An Old Friend Returns and the Harpy Cometh

DON’T PANIC – In customary Megadodo Publishing “Super Soothe” font (courtesy of BBC Two Productions)

Got a few changes to report to you this Inauguration Day. Don’t panic, this is all good news.

First of all, I’m happy to report the return of Ipsento Panama BBotE, the lovely tart blueberry light roast coffee which has been missed by yours truly, is back for little while. The nice folks at Ipsento were kind enough to roast a small lot for me even though it isn’t currently on offer at their shops. So, if you look closely on the radio buttons when making an order, you’ll see it’s back as an option.

For those that were concerned and asked, I seem to have a good line on Jamaica Blue Mountain supplies for the moment. While it remains painfully expensive, it won’t be vanishing in the near future.

Blood of the Harpy – A New Label for a New Blend and a New Era (instigation by Meredith Yayanos and art by Paul Komoda)

Second, I am happy to announce a new label for BBotE and my first ever BBotE blend as a project with my friend Meredith Yayanos in support of the HARPYCORPS Project. I’ve mentioned Mer to you all before, usually around Halloween to share my dad’s endorsement her previous project, The Parlour Trick, as “The finest spooky music for the season since the Omen soundtrack.”

So, this is something a little different than normal. When my friend Mer first proposed this in support of her HARPYCORPS Project, she wanted something special, something dedicated to the harpy, a symbol embraced to properly express rage and unapologetic living. Or, to paraphrase Randall said Clerks II, reclaiming harpy from it’s connotations as a nasty or contentious woman. If I remember our conversation over pizza correctly, “The Blood of the Harpy needs to be a bit harsh, like a cruel truth, but invigorating once you accept it.” Blood of the Harpy is a blend of the African BBotEs with a primary base of Death Wish, and an extra spice kick. Accordingly, the caffeine content on this one is a might bit higher than normal run of the mill BBotE, but milder than just straight up Death Wish. You can’t say you haven’t been warned.

The exquisitely detailed label was drawn and hand lettered (something I still can’t believe he did) by noted sculptor, monstermaker, horrorsmith and friend of Mer’s, Paul Komoda. If you need your home to creep people out more than it already does, please purchase anything and everything you can from him. My only warning is that, oh yes, his work appears and then sells quickly. You’ll have to be on the ball.

For the record, if you would like this filled with something different because you think the bottle is awesome but can’t take the elevated caffeine level of the Death Wish base, I understand. I am willing to do so, just leave me a note with order and let me know the variety you’d like and I’ll make it happen.

With that, I give you the Blood of the Harpy. Enjoy everybody and, please, look out for each other.

Money Rant Two: America Could Plan Once

In the previous money rant, I finally addressed Lesson Nine from this list of potential rants. It’s time to move on to a more positive one. Let’s talk about a time when America had its shit together, The Great Depression. No, really. I’m not kidding.

Much as we may deride President Woodrow Wilson for other very racist things, the League of Nations was a great progressive idea. Unfortunately, Great Britain and France wanted to see Germany burn at the end of World War I, so it all fell apart promptly. It’s understandable but the American government was left throwing its hands in the air and saying, more or less to quote Cartman, “Screw you guys, I’m going home.” Admittedly, a Congress that felt that America had no business in Europe, other than Business, had no interest in it. Also, they wanted their war loans that they gave to the Allies paid back; a creditor/debtor relationship does not make for good international relations. But that doesn’t mean that the machinery of American government wasn’t looking around and paying attention. Okay, to be fair, it didn’t do much until FDR got into office. The Harding, Coolidge and Hoover administrations were, in short, pretty excited about things going on in America and hegemony in the Caribbean, less so further afield.

But come 1933, by my general feel of history, an American generation that had not been listened to during and in the wake of WWI found itself in power and said collectively to themselves, “Let’s not do that again. Also, this Depression sucks.” There may also have been a glance over toward Europe with a wince and the pained teethsucking noise of “Oooo, ouch. Well, at least we aren’t Europe. We tried to tell ’em. This Hitler guy seems to be a bit of a dick and, MAN, do we not like what Japan is up to over there. They better not fuck with the Philippines, we just finished pacifying that a little while ago. Invented ridiculously high caliber guns to do it and everything.” While trying to figure out a way out of the hole America had fallen into and fix the myriad problems, the New Deal bureaucracy FDR’s administration assembled was thinking big. Beyond the borders of America big. How to win the peace of the next war big.

Since you’ve read this far it shouldn’t come as big surprise the answer to this was money.

The idea they came up with was called Provisional Currency*. Cash that the United States could bring with them to a war theater and instantly reconstitute an economy that we could participate in and bring into the American sphere of influence. Oh sure, it would obliterate the previous economy that was there but the US Army isn’t completely dim, they would happily exchange the old precious metal currency that may have remained for the Provisional Currency. But more importantly, if the US lost and had to abandon territory (unthinkable!!!) this was currency that was different than normal domestic US legal tender which could be disavowed. We could easily say “Things that look like $QUALITY? NOPE, those aren’t valid anymore. You sure do have a lot of these, Mister… [reads passport closely] Berwin Rommelle?”

Let’s have a compare and contrast moment starting with a pre-Monopoly money five dollar bill.

Five Dollar Federal Reserve Note, Obverse, Series of 1963A (from the Broughton Collection)

Please note the specific wording used on this bill. It is a “Federal Reserve Note” worth “Five Dollars” and “This Note Is Legal Tender For All Debts, Public And Private”. I don’t want to start a fiat currency argument here, but let’s just leave it at this bill is worth five bucks but it’s some what nebulous what exactly a dollar is. Prior to 1964 and the demonetization of silver, we had had another kind of bill called the silver certificate. This bill was worth its stated value but you could exchange it for an equivalent amount of legal tender in silver, i.e. coins. While I don’t have a crisp normal five dollar silver certificates in my collection, I do have a one dollar silver certificate.

One Dollar Silver Certificate, Obverse, Series of 1957 (from the Broughton Collection)

While the statement about legal tender is there, you can see some differences. First off, rather than saying “Federal Reserve Note” it has “Silver Certificate” at the top. Instead of just declaring ‘The United States of America”, in case you forgot which nation would put Lincoln and Washington on its money, the words “This Certifies That There Is On Deposit In The Treasury Of” above it to make a leading statement that continues with the additional words below. Instead of just saying “One Dollar”, we also promise “In Silver Is Payable To The Bearer On Demand”. The earliest versions of the silver certificates were missing the statement about deposit with the Treasury which, technically, meant every single bank had to maintain sufficient silver on hand to cover every yahoo that wanted sacks of coins rather than bills. This lead to all kinds problems, hence the change, but that’s a different story that involve bank runs, bankruptcies, bank robberies and other phrases that involve the word bank. But the most plain difference between the two different kind of bills was the color of the seal and serial number: federal reserve notes were green, silver certificates were blue. Similar to the silver certificates, there had been gold certificates with a yellow seals and serial numbers, but gold was demonetized in 1933 and the gold certificates discontinued. This meant that in 1934 the color yellow was available to use to do this.

Five Dollar Silver Certificate Provisional Currency, Obverse, Series of 1934A (from the Broughton Collection)

The appearance of this bill is inconsistent. You have all the silver certificate language. You’ve got serial numbers done in blue, like a silver certificate should have, but then you’ve got this giant yellow seal like it should be a gold certificate. In short, it’s weird and sticks out like a sore thumb in any stack of money. As long as we all agree it’s valid money, it’s valid, but it’s really easy to tell people what to confiscate/ignore if you disavow it. This is the original Provisional Currency that the United States printed up in preparation for the next time they had to occupy a country and had it available in $1, $5, and $10 denominations. Please take a moment and look at the year.

Yes, that’s right. You read that correctly.

NINETEEN FUCKING THIRTY FOUR! WE HAD THIS READY FOUR YEARS BEFORE THE FUCKING NAZIS ANNEXED AUSTRIA, MUCH LESS ANYTHING ELSE. SEVEN YEARS BEFORE GODDAMN PEARL HARBOR.

[takes to deep breath and a swig of bourbon to calm down]

Not that we actually used them until 1943 after Gen. Patton landed in North Africa, which is why the yellow seal silver certificates are colloquially known North African bills. As the story goes, the first wave of landing ships dropped off Patton and his tanks and the second wave brought the pallets of cash. I don’t believe that for a second, but it’s a nice story. Actually, the funny thing is that they’re known as North African bills and not Reconstruction bills because there was a diplomatic rift about whether to use them in an increasingly liberated France. Use ’em in Africa and Italy? No problem. France? SACRE BLEU, NON! As an empirehaver that intended to get it’s empire back once this “small German embarrassment” was resolved, France wanted to make sure the Francophone world that looked to Paris for authority also recognized the supremacy of the Franc, so no yellow seal bills for France.

But those are all game time decisions when you roll the Provisional Currency out. The fact of the matter is that we had it and had been sitting on the final printed product for almost a decade before using it. We were ready. We had the experience, we knew how the economy got disrupted in war, and we knew how to start putting things back together and make friends (okay, that term might be a bit strong) while doing it. Even if you take the usual black market and profiteering into account, they’re working with with the currency and formal markets we created because nothing else works at the moment and that, sort of, makes even the criminals our allies. Rather than pillaging the treasuries of conquered lands and replacing their money with pot metal, which is what the Nazis & Fascists did everywhere they went and their Occupation Currency coins are fucking garbage, we dropped a limited functionality Army-driven American economy on them. When you stack things like the much grander Marshall Plan on top of this after the war is over, you start to marvel that America used to have an incredibly competent leadership across the entire span of government in career, appointee and, yes, even elected positions that earned the respect of the entire world.

…and then you look at Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq and ask what the hell happened? We walked into Iraq with the assumption oil revenues, oil that wasn’t America’s, would pay for everything. We took planeloads of cash to Iraq & Afghanistan to nominally rebuild them, which mostly vanished back into the coffers of American contractors, sucking the air out of the local economies rather than rebuilding them. How did we clearly learn the lessons of how to win the peace and then forget them so quickly?

I don’t know the answer to this question but I like to look at my yellow seal $5 silver certificate and remember “Once upon a time, America knew how to plan.”

 

 

 


*: Okay, America wasn’t the only nation that thought up provisional currencies but we were the only one that decided to put the full faith and credit of the nation behind it. In fact, America had two provisional currencies, though the second one was a little less planned.

On the other side of the world from North Africa, after Pearl Harbor there was a bit of an “Oh shit” moment with respect to Hawaii as the powers that be considered the real possibility of Japanese invasion of the islands, in particular that this would mean they’d get to seize all the American currency that was there. In January 1942, most all paper currency was withdrawn from the islands with strict limits placed on how much individuals ($200) and businesses ($500, other than payroll) could possess. By June, bills from the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank showed up freshly stamped with the words “HAWAII” in a particularly unsubtle manner on the front and back with a red seal**. After they showed up, it became illegal to use currency in Hawaii that wasn’t stamped. Just like the yellow seals, if the Japanese managed to capture the islands, all bills stamped “HAWAII” could be disavowed.

One Dollar Silver Certificate Hawaiian Overprint, Obverse, Series 1934A (courtesy of the Langford Collection, photo by Anthony Langford, 2017, all rights reserved)

 

One Dollar Silver Certificate Hawaiian Overprint, Reverse, Series 1934A (from the Langford Collection, photo by Anthony Langford, 2017, all rights reserved)

 

But why didn’t they just use the already made Provisional Currency with the yellow seals in Hawaii? I don’t know the actual justification but I can think of a few reasons. First, they were intended to reconstitute an entire country not, don’t take offense Hawaiian readers, what was at the time a lightly populated island chain of strategic importance but with a comparatively tiny economy. Secondly, and I think more important as I put all scenarios through my Lazy/Horny/Greedy Filter of Human Motivations, the yellow seals were on the wrong side of the Rockies from Hawaii. Much easier to just go grab some of the cash sitting in unused in the vaults in San Francisco and just stamp HAWAII on them than load the yellow seals up on trains, send them west, and then ship them from SF to Hawaii.

After the war was over, they were demonetized and most were burnt, rather than shipped to the mainland for destruction, in the local crematorium and the furnaces of the Aiea sugar mill as fuel. These days, it’s a point of pride in the islands to own any of the old stamped bills.

**: Please don’t ask me to explain where the red seal came from. That is a very ugly discussion in it’s own right and we are well rid of the United States Notes.

 

Good Enough for Government Work

Okay, yet another rant. This is an old saw of mine which I’ve decided I want to write up so I could point at it later.

One of the many places I don’t EVER want to hear this phrase uttered in its current form. (photo courtesy of the Department of Energy)

When I hear someone doing a half-assed job that they’re just going to walk away from, usually incomplete, say with a shrug “Good enough for government work”, I get angry. I get particularly angry if this comes from a co-worker because for the last 15 years, in one form or another, I have either been a state/federal government employee or contractor. My co-worker is, effectively, letting me know that I’m going to need to redo their work, wasting my time, and they think it’s funny as they collect a paycheck doing it. When you add the extra layer of “Dammit you’re supposed to be a steward of taxpayer dollars and government resources, WAIT A MINUTE I’M A GODDAMN TAXPAYER!!!”, well, there’s a reason I asked to be transferred away from certain people. This is the behavior that erodes trust and leads people to think it’s okay to divert money away from government programs to private industry.

NOTE: I have never seen private industry actually do a job they’d been contracted to do work out to be cheaper. Oh, workers were certainly paid less and they had no pension to speak of but somehow the total contact cost never ended up cheaper than the original program. Ah, but this is a different rant.

But let’s talk about the phrase itself, “Good enough for government work.” The original phrase was “CLOSE enough for government work” and it came from the machinist trade. Prior to WWII, FDR’s administration reviewed the state of America’s manufacturing and were a bit disappointed that not much had changed since WWI. In WWI, American troops tended to use British and French artillery and machine guns because our own gear was so deeply unreliable, inferior, and just old by comparison. FDR’s War Department saw the writing on the wall in the 1930s and wanted to get things improved. For a while (so the story goes) there was the general industry machining schedule and the government machining schedule being used side by side*. The idea being that the government schedule would eventually  become the industry standard, since you couldn’t get government contracts unless you agreed to meet it and were tooled to meet their specs, at which point the government could go back to buying on the general market rather than demanding special requirements.

Also, as part of the Lend/Lease Act with us selling war materiel to the Allies before Pearl Harbor, the Allies had no interest in buying our crap unless we modernized our production. So, there was that too.

The original meaning of the phrase had an entirely different pejorative. Rather than meaning you’d done a half-assed job, it meant that you’d done such a precise job on this thing you’d made that it could potentially be sold to the government. That its precision could actually meet the exacting standards of the government schedule. It carried the implication of “We aren’t selling to the government, buddy. How much company time did you waste making your work of art when you probably could’ve made 12 more normal ones?”

And this didn’t original sense of the phrase didn’t go away with the end of WWII. My mother told me about working for an early semiconductor manufacturer in Florida that did work supporting NASA. While she wasn’t specifically working on production that was heading to Kennedy Space Center, other people certainly were, so two different quality standards were in use in the fab. She got yelled at by her boss for making wafers that passed through QA with too few flaws. It was assumed that she was wasting time being a perfectionist, despite the production reports and timecards that said otherwise. She was told “This isn’t government work, just get it done.”

I’m not quite sure when the Bizarro semantic shift in this phrase happened but the fact that it did says something. While I would like to blame it on Reagan and the 1981 Air Traffic Controllers’ Strike shattering the strength of unions in America, the change seems to have already happened at some point in the 1970s. The current connotation is corrosive to trust and belief in the machinery of government. It’s an assertion that the people that make up the machine are incompetent at best, malign leeches at worst, rather than stewards of the public trust. Why would you ever want to go work for an organization like this? It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; give it enough time and enough potential employees who decide not to work in public service and, yes, the incompetent and leeches are the only ones who will be left…

…which is why you then contract all your work out to “Trusted Private Sector Industry Partners”. This very much smells like a return to the spoils system instead of the merit based appointments that the civil service reforms of 1883 were made to fix. Oops, I just wandered into that chunk of horrible American history I love and history classes like to ignore because those four decades after the Civil War are incredibly complicated and ugly. “Good Enough for Government Work” is a toxic meme that has spread around the world, impairing efforts to reform straight up corrupt bureaucracies, like America’s was before President Chester A. Arthur signed his name to obliterate the system that made him. We really don’t want that back. For the record, I have heard this phrase uttered in every country I’ve ever been to, except Ukraine though that might have been a function of not staying there long enough.

I want “Good Enough For Government Work” to be a statement of pride, with no pejoratives. That you’ve done your job well, that you aren’t phoning it in, and more importantly that we, as citizens, expect it.

 


 

*: My main problem with this excellent story is that I have never been able to lay hands on or even find a picture of the original government schedule or equipment. There would have been reference tools and charts for the quality assurance people to make sure that work was within acceptable tolerances for the gov’t contract, and the separate set for the normal industry ones. As I cast my mind back 20 years to my History of Science and Technology class with Prof. Hugh Torrens, this is exactly what he was talking about with the practical bits of technology vanishing. Even the most packrat of machinists, and I know a few, must to toss these particular items out of their shops whenever they’re superseded lest they work to an old standard by accident an get torn a new one by auditors**. If you can lay your hands on a side by side comparison of these ~80 year old mundane bits of shop gear, I’d love to see them.

**: Wait, shit, I’m one of those people. Dammit.

Herr Direktor Funranium Goes to Chernobyl & Kiev, Part 2 – Chernobyl, the Town & the Reactors

Chernobyl City Limits – Yes, I am wearing one Fallout shirt or another under my frock coat everywhere I went. (picture by Robyn von Swank, 2016)

When you have the incredibly photogenic and not bulldozed ghost city of Pripyat to take pictures of, it’s easy to forget the other towns and villages that were once there, or still are in the case of the city of Chernobyl. Generally the name “Chernobyl” is associated in everyone’s head with the the reactor that went up in smoke, Chernobyl-4, rather than the seat of the old administrative district. I can understand forgetting it. It wasn’t a sexy place with fascinating architecture like Pripyat, just solid utilitarian construction like the buildings of a county corporation yard. Except, to paraphrase Harry Potter, Chernobyl is the city that lived. While everyone in the exclusion zone got evacuated, Chernobyl has since repopulated with a few hundred resettlers. Also, on a transitory basis, all the Ukrainian State Emergency Service workers (the agency that administers the exclusion zone among other things) stay there a few days to two weeks, rotating to their posting outside the zone for an equivalent amount of “cool off” time before coming back. It even has operating markets and the church that serves the resettlers in town, those that come in from more distant farms, the workers, and tourists. It is the hub for life in the exclusion zone. Above all, if you’re a visitor to the exclusion zone and stay there, unless you have friends that are resettlers you’ll be sleeping at the Desyatka Hotel. That said, it’s comparatively a ghost town when you realize that with all those folks added together it has less than a tenth of it’s previous population.

But what Chernobyl mainly struck me as, other than a diminished but still active regional center, was a memorial. Dozens of small towns and villages vanished from the map after the accident as the bulldozers knocked all the buildings down and then buried them like latter day kurgans. No, not The Kurgan but I know you probably thought it. But “Why?” you ask. “If the Liquidators could decon the cities of Pripyat and Chernobyl, why couldn’t they clean all those towns?” And there is answer to that which comes down to one word: wood. If your construction is primarily wood, we can’t decon it and there’s nothing to be done other than dispose of it as waste. Entire buildings and whole villages, crushed and buried under a layer of dirt and then a stake with a little radiation trefoil on it to warn people “DO NOT DIG! HERE BE RADIATION, NOT TREASURE, ME MATEYS!”

(As an aside, the complicated question of how to communicate STAY AWAY to our descendants for the next 10,000 years regarding nuclear waste is part of the genesis of my beloved Long Now Foundation. Humans, being the people we are, which is remarkably consistent across time and space, tend to see dire warnings of danger and curses as instead invitation to come [Terrence & Phillip voice] Look For Treasure!)

I am to understand that the Japanese authorities have figured out a methodology to decon wood for the Sendai Prefecture to allow reoccupation of the towns. I am VERY interested to learn more about how they do this because this would be a game changer for what can and can’t be saved in an accident/contamination incident. Needless to say, the Soviet Liquidators didn’t have this at their disposal. They did have spray glue, bulldozers, and dirt which are all very economical, which is why there are several memorials to the missing communities in Chernobyl. I am particularly fond of this one which I called the Graveyard of Villages. Our minder thought it was an apt name.

The Graveyard of Villages – Each of those signs stretching off into the distance is a town that is gone.

This, incidentally, is all that’s left of a building when a team of Liquidators are done with it and fast forward with 30 years of plant growth.

Radioactive Barrows – DIG YE NOT HERE!

We got truly lucky with our trip out to Reactor 4 because they were closing the zone the next day to begin moving the New Safe Confinement (NSC) structure over the old Sarcophagus at 2 meters per hour. By comparison, the old Kennedy Space Center crawler-transporter for the Space Shuttle rolled from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Lauchpad 39A/B at the comparatively breakneck drag racing speed of 1.5mph (I wish I still had a picture of that speed limit sign on the crawlerway from my last visit to KSC). So, we were the lucky last people who weren’t actually working on the NSC to get to see the two as separate structures. Behold!

The Chernobyl Sarcophagus – on Nov 12th, they began rolling they new containment over it. This is one of the last views of it we’ll ever have.

New Safe Containement – Those flaps on the left are the “mouth” to close over the structure of the Sarcophagus as it rolls over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not going to tell the tale of the loss of life, the danger emergency responders braved knowingly and unknowingly to try to get some kind of control over the situation, the difficulty figuring out how to build the Sarcophagus structure in short order, much less doing it, again. The internet is full of accounts of the Battle of Chernobyl and the mobilization of the resources and technical/scientific acumen of the entire Soviet Union to get ahead of this disaster. The effort involved absolutely deserves to be compared to the Battle of Stalingrad; it was a win at all costs or the nation will perish situation. And, if you ask Gorbachev, he was quite certain that they won AND the nation perished because of it; that the staggering cost of bringing the meltdown and fire to a stable and contained state may have bankrupted the Soviet Union. Since the Soviet command economy doesn’t quite map to a market economy for equivalence in expenditures, suffice it to say that the official estimate of costs was 18 billion rubles. While officially the pre-1988 exchange rate had been .9USD to the ruble, there was no actual exchange rate, as it was illegal for citizens to exchange currency. Technically, the only reason the Soviet bicyclists I met in 7th grade didn’t get in trouble with their KGB minders for giving a coin collecting nerd a 1 kopek coin when they visited my school was that I gave them nothing in exchange. He was quite clear that I shouldn’t, in fact. That said, the amount of time, effort and resources that 18 billion rubles represented in the command economy was staggering. Literally, as the economy couldn’t take that hit, keep trying to keep everything else like they had, and the Soviet Union became unstable in its wake.

At least, that’s Gorbachev’s take on the matter. I’m inclined to believe the last premier on this matter at least.

Of course 18 billion is merely the cost of the materiel and labor to bring the disaster under control. This doesn’t count the cost of losing THE ENTIRE EXCLUSION ZONE’s economic productivity, much less the value of all the things in it. One reason Chernobyl Reactors 1-3 kept running until the year 2000 was that the region needed them to keep remaining industry and modern living in cities running and absolutely could not afford to replace them. When the deal to was made to shut them all down, Ukraine got a nice replacement oil burning power plant which was sufficient for need by then. The reactors had been expensive to build and abandoning them was a heck of a loss, especially considering the Soviets had been following the proper model of reactor construction/rotation here: one old one you’d be decommissioning soon, one half way through operational life, one that just came online, and one you were still building. This is sort of like fallowing fields, but to allow succession of designs to allow engineering improvements to propagate and to keep any reactor from being run well into decrepitude (SEE ALSO: the United States nuclear power stations).

But Chernobyl was special. This region was booming, a showcase for the future so they weren’t just following the reactor succession model. They were planning to expand capacity by making a complete second reactor complex containing Chernobyl 5-8. They never got beyond building the cooling towers for #5 and #6 before the accident happened.

Chernobyl-5 Cooling Tower Sunset (picture by Robyn von Swank, 2016)

Chernobyl-6 Cooling Tower – rising incomplete in the distance over the cooling channel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wandering through the acoustically perfect hyperbola of a cooling tower is an echo chamber like I’ve never experienced before. Every footstep came back to me from every direction. As a piece of health and safety advice, they never quite finished the Chernobyl-5 cooling tower, even though it looks much more complete than Chernobyl-6’s, and the rebar exposed to the elements up above is slowly tearing the concrete apart. When a chunk falls to the ground below inside the cooling tower, of which there is plenty of evidence, try to act surprised.

Now, the reactors weren’t the only very expensive thing named Chernobyl in the exclusion zone. The Army, being the Red Army with all attendant powers, couldn’t resist taking advantage of all this plentiful power for a little pet project that they kept secret and didn’t put on the maps. As an early warning system, they’d been working on an Over-The-Horizon radar system known as Duga-3 for skipping a signal off the ionosphere to look thousands of miles away for missile or bomber launches. The receiver part of the array was located near the power plant, taking up a decent percentage of the power station’s output and was designated Chernobyl-2, obviously to maximize confusion in people writing and reading about the topic. This antenna array was about the size of two football fields, tipped up on their side and pointed due north to listen over the pole to North Dakota.

Chernobyl-2 OTH Antenna Array (picture by Robyn von Swank, 2016)

While this is an impressive antenna, I would like you to take a moment to think about the signal processing for a device like this. The amount of computing power and electronics, and what they looked like with a late 1970s/early 1980s design. This secret installation that had its own population of a few thousand needed to operate it. Now think about the power and cooling needs for that kind of hardware.

HINT: Like a old Volkswagen, they decided to go with air cooling. Fans are easy, right? And Ukraine’s pretty cool the rest of the time.

I’ll wait a moment for you to envision where this all goes wrong. [sips beer]

Okay, now light Reactor 4 light on fire, spewing radioactive fallout into the air. You know, the air which you use to cool your computers and electronics…

[sips beer again, waits for the screaming from the IT folks thinking about their server rooms to die down]

By the end of day on April 26th, 1986, the receiver for one of the Soviet Union’s pet projects to watch Strategic Air Command from the comfort of their homes in Ukraine was completely fried. Costing somewhere in the vicinity of 1.5 billion rubles to build, keeping in mind that the Battle for Chernobyl cost an estimated 18 billion, the system had been commissioned the day before the accident and would never work again.

So, yes, I’m seeing how one localized disaster can shatter a nation with the compounded costs. I assume that’s why it easier to look away from recognized risks and, very wishfully, assume they’ll never happen. Much easier to just ignore problems rather than do the hard work of mitigating them.

The DECEMBERING 2016 Draws to a Close

Most of the order slots for production have zeroed out at this point and many have already flipped over to the next window that ends New Year’s Eve. I will still be cranking BBotE & steins out all next week, but all bets are off as to things showing up in time for those of you looking to stick something under the Xmas tree. You may get lucky with USPS, you might not. Your best plan, however is to drop me a line to see if what I have on hand, what is in the production queue, and what day which things will finish.

And, on top of that, if your need is truly desperate because of waiting until the last minute and are willing to pay the price, you can always choose “Express” rather than “Priority Mail” for your shipping option.

For the folks about to send me more emails complaining “I waited until the 17th to order but now everything is out of stock or now has a ship date of 12/31/2016. WTF,  YOU RUINED CHRISTMAS, YOU ASSHOLE!” (this is a direct copy-paste), please don’t. As each and every BBotE listing has said for the last four years, that date is not “Does Not Ship Until #DATE”, it clearly reads “Will Ship No Later Than #DATE”. If there has been a theme that’s run through my career in safety it’s that just because people are literate doesn’t actually mean they actually read anything. Sadly, this is appears to be a very broad problem in the world.

Of course, for those of you who are looking for Go Juice or a fine drinking vessel to ring in the New Year, this is just a normal production window. Carry on with your happy lives.

¡LUCHA TUBA! – By far the most amazing thing in Cirque du Soleil LUZIA show.

Anyway, to preserve the holiday spirit, I give you a luchador with a tuba.

THE BIG SHILL: Things You Can Buy Which I Don’t Sell

Many years ago on livejournal, my friend Ben Stone and his now fiancee Nadja, AKA The Benchilada & fairyarmadillo, AKA Stone Robot Enterprises, inaugurated a holiday tradition of collecting all the friends who made things to share their wares with the everyone else which he called THE BIG SHILL. The Steins of Science were part of one of these long ago, in the beforetime. I would like to maintain this tradition.

There is a difficulty however. In this darker era of the internet, I can’t just ask people to add their favorite things to my list in the comments below since I turned comments off four years ago. If you have something you think I should know about and share with the world, drop me an email.

Without further ado, a far from exhaustive list:

Jenn Rose – Jenn is a special effects artist who every last one of us who has seen a movie in the last decade has enjoyed the work of. When she isn’t making wonders for the screen, she is making mostly bug-based wonders to wear at Cetonia Designs. Also, her instagram account, @bugluvphotography, is well worth checking out.

Meredith Yayanos – my friend Mer has done so much wonderful spooky music over the years and is one of my favorite people. She helps keep me thinking and my life strange. I direct you here to her previous project but poke around a bit and you may find new things coming from her soon.

Laurie Penny – is a journalist and writer I’ve been enjoying the work of since Warren Ellis first introduced her and her red pen of justice to me oh so many years ago. She has a new book out “Unspeakable Things” which you can get here, and enjoy her other work and articles.

Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener – Atomic Robo is a pleasure I have been sharing with you folks for years. I’m pleased to say that they’ve gotten their act together, admitted that they actually like money, and put together a decent shop for their merch. Please support Action Science.

Maki Naro – A cartoonist formerly contributing to Popular Science, who I worked with a little bit to help make one of his series happen, Maki is now doing his own thing with his own patreon and store, featuring such items as Octopus Jesus.

Matt Lubchansky – a DADicated collector of DADS and creator of the comic Listen To Me. He also regularly causes hilarity on The Nib. You may find some of his fine wares on offer here.

In fact, in light of that last link, why don’t you just go through the entirety of the Topatoco store. They’ve provided me a box of holiday delights to give to people every year.

DrinkTanks – I previously discussed this in a post a while back, but I heartily endorse their Juggernaut 128oz growler over buying the 4.3L Stein of Science. Get the Juggernaut and a smaller stein. Everyone, but especially you, will be happy.

Ben Templesmith – On of my favorite comic artists, I’ve been enjoying his work since “Fell” though I suspect you’ve been enjoying his stuff in any of a dozen different venues. His current project Blackholers has been a hoot, I’m looking forward to Blood Songs, and he also has his own store up as well.

Warren Ellis – Speaking of Warren, as I can blame my acquaintance with half the people on this list on him in one way or another, I would like to really encourage you read his prose fiction rather than just his comic work. I have an unholy lust for his book Gun Machine to be turned into a crime of the week serial on AMC, but that just ain’t gonna happen because we aren’t allowed to have nice things. In the last year, he made two very enjoyable novellas, Elektrograd and NORMAL, that I would love to see more of and I think you may enjoy them too.

Shadows of Brimstone – this game has brought me so much fun in the last several years. I often refer to it as Cowboys & Cthulhus. Buying absolutely everything they’ve made related to this game is Warhammer-level, credit card melting purchase, but if you get the two base sets, which are available for an EXCELLENT deal right now, you’re good to go for a very long while.

Concerning Asskicker Coffee

I have JUST the coffee mug for such occasions.

I have JUST the coffee mug for such occasions. (mug courtesy of Topatoco, Sopwith Camel courtesy of LEGO)

Ooooookay, the milestone where I have a deep sigh and decide to comment on someone else’s product is 50 messages. When I’ve gotten that many emails, texts, IMs, DMs, tweets, phone calls, etc., I have to breakdown and actually make words in reply.

TL;DR version: No, they aren’t ripping me off. No one making cold brew coffee is ripping me off, they’re just doing their own thing. When someone does something I think is as good as BBotE and finds a way to do it cheaper, I’ll let you know because I’ll be buying it too.

In case you’ve missed out on the content hungry media flurry, there’s a cafe in Adelaide, South Australia called Vicious Coffee that has a product on its menu called Asskicker Coffee. People from Australia have been telling me about this for a while, but the social media thirstlords blew it up at the end of August. You can read the original news story from the Australian Sunday Mail Advertiser under the link, but I want you to pay close attention to this statement:

The Asskicker is a complex concoction made of quad espresso (four shots), four 48-hour brewed cold drip ice cubes, 120ml of 10-day brewed cold drip and is finished with four more 48-hour brewed cold drip ice cubes.

My most important take away from all the various articles I’ve been sent about this is “many journalists aren’t good at math”. Please read that previous quote again and think about how much coffee that is.

Think about it some more.

Okay, let’s do some conversions. The traditional espresso shot is 30ml, so four of those is 120ml. It’s hard for me to guess at ice cube volume since ice cube trays are so variable, but let’s say for the sake of simplicity that they’re 30ml apiece also, that’s another 240ml. Add the 120ml for the 10-day brewed cold drip and you’re looking at a total 480ml (~16 fluid ounces of cold brew coffee and espresso). Now, for those of you that have purchased BBotE, you’ve seen my recommendation to keep BBotE consumption under 100ml per day. I’m not going to make any assumptions on flavor or caffeine content here, but if comparable to BBotE as claimed in the many, many articles I’ve been sent you’re exceeding my recommended dose by almost a factor of five. I disobey my own recommendations now and then, but I tend to put a six hour gap between cups and even then it’s usually 75ml in the morning and 75ml in the afternoon. You are asking for trouble consuming 480ml worth of concentrated coffee all in one go, much as I don’t recommend having a mug full of uncut BBotE.

In fact, from the same article, I want to reiterate that their product isn’t meant to be consumed all in one go. This is meant to be consumed over a time span of hours so that it lasts you for entire shifts. The original inspiration for this was an ER nurse that had a surprise double shift.

The Asskicker is available in three sizes: small is $10 (recommend one to two hour consumption for six to nine hours “up time”; medium is $13 (recommend two to three hours consumption for nine-12 hours “up time”; and large is $16 (recommend three to four hours consumption for 12 to 18 hours “up time”).

My take: This is a coffee shop owner that has done right by his customers and quit trying to tear them down for doing it. Someone had a shitty day in front of them and Steve Bennington made them something special to help make it better. That was so much fun it became part of the regular menu. Hell, I bet all of you have been into a bar or a restaurant that has something on their menu that got there they exact same way, and it’ll be there until the closing day of the establishment.

When I make my next trip to Australia, whenever that may be, I hope Vicious Coffee is still serving it so I can try some. When I tourist, I tourist HARD. 😉

Recent Improvements, New BBotEs, and Vacations

Let’s begin with the improvement you can’t see or, rather, won’t see anymore. At some point a “helpful upgrade” was done by BigCommerce who provide the architecture and servers for the store side of Funranium Labs. In the course of this upgrade, they managed to break the 3rd party SSL chain and depending on the browser you received a warning letting you know that my store was as suspect as a Moldovan merchant bank and to be avoided at all costs. It took far too long to figure out exactly how they broke it and then longer to determine how to fix it correctly with them. Needless to say, I have received a fresh customer service lesson which I will file away for how to treat others better. If I’ve done everything right, you won’t be getting nasty red flags anymore…at least until the next “upgrade“.

In the near future, I have some travel coming up which is going to make production schedules a little screwy. This weekend, I’m headed up to Portland to celebrate a friend’s birthday, which means for those of you who want go juice for Burning Man BBotE the schedule’s a little tight. Meanwhile, while Burning Man is going on, I will be fleeing to the Sierras to collect two national parks I haven’t been to yet, Kings Canyon & Sequoia. It is very important to give me camping hermitage time or I start getting stabby. And finally, there will be a longer service interruption as I go to Boston on Sept 20th to celebrate the wedding of Test Subjects Vision Science. I will then be fulfilling a dream I’ve had since I was 20 or so when my grandma did it and coming home via cross-country Amtrak trip, with a couple stops along the way. The coffee engines will fire up again after that trip on Oct 5th.  All that said, I’m not going to turn off ordering, but I’m going to ask your patience as listings may zero out on you and production windows may go longer or shorter than normal as I try to crank as much out as possible.

Now, on to new BBotE offerings and me rambling about history, war, and agronomy.

As previously mentioned, Guatemala Nueva Vinas is being retired until next year when, hopefully, the next crop comes in and is up to snuff. In the meantime, I have identified a Guatemala Antigua that I’ve enjoyed which has an impressive citrus brightness and dark chocolate flavor that, weirdly, reminds me of Pepperidge Farms lemon Milano cookies. My normal tasting crowd ran about a 50/50 split of “Coffee and lemons do not go together” and “Holy shit, this is like that weird Panama you make that tastes like blueberries. Are you gonna make more?” There was a universal opinion that the addition of pretty much any alcohol to it was a winner. Do not take this as a challenge to make BBotE & cynar cocktails.

Lastly, Test Subject Nimby, proprietor of Blackstar Group, recently went on vacation to Puerto Rico and asked if there was anything I’d like him to bring back. I instead sent him on a mission to see if he could find a worthwhile coffee for me to play with. You see, I keep cursing the name of United Fruit because in the course of setting up the banana republics around the world, even in places where they did the least political damage, their market distorting effects destroyed the coffee plantations that had been there for generations, all in the name of bananas & pineapples. After my trip to Hawaii, where I sampled as much coffee as I could stand, I started wondering about the coffee production in the Spanish-American War acquisitions. In Guam, the coffee crops are almost gone, long ago replaced by bananas, importing most of the coffee the consume from Sumatra. In the Philippines, their coffee production never really recovered from an awful blight at the end of the 19th century that, again, made bananas look appealing. Production has resumed there, but the Philippines are net importers of coffee by a fair margin and most of their domestic crops are robusta.

Which brings us to Puerto Rico. Coffee production in Puerto Rico never really stopped. It was never as large scale production like Haiti, which supplied a quarter of the world’s supply at one time. Once the filthy Yanqui showed up, the production decreased as work moved to sugar cane instead. Because cane and coffee use very different terrain, the crop transition didn’t destroy the coffee plantations like happened for bananas, so much as them being abandoned or only being used for low key, local production. Once sugar beets displaced sugar cane as the primary source for everyone’s favorite diabetes fuel, they started firing up the the old coffee plantations again.

Initial run of Puerto Rico Yaucono headed to Test Subject Nimby, with a salute for me.

Initial run of Puerto Rico Yaucono headed to Test Subject Nimby, with a salute for me.

That said, most of Puerto Rico’s production remains for local consumption. Puerto Rico has struck me with proud, just this side arrogant, pride of place for their their food. Each valley has the best coffee, everyone’s grandma has the best coquito recipe; it’s one of the things I miss about living around lots of Puerto Ricans. The Yaucono that Test Subject Nimby sent me is a dark roast which generally gives me pause. Dark roasts tend to leave very little of the original coffee’s character which is why there’s so few of them as BBotE, I want to actually taste something other than the roast. However, I got a treat every bit as good as my surprise with the Peru Salkanty here, the taste was like the smell of opening a cedar chest and a cup of hot cocoa. Considering Caribbean fun times, I decided to try a rum addition rather than vodka and a 6:2:1 hot water to Yaucono to dark rum mix is a goddamn treat.

Both of these go on the Limited Run line up and I’m happy for it.

BBotE Availability at DEFCON 2016

Las Vegas from the vantage point of the EZPR HootSuite at the Palazzo, CES 2016 [my cocktail not included in this shot]

Las Vegas from the vantage point of the EZPR HootSuite at the Palazzo, CES 2016 [my cocktail not included in this shot]

So, once again, brave souls have stepped up willing to play caffeine mules to the demented infosec hordes about to descend on Las Vegas for DEFCON 2016. Just like last year, you have two volunteers. Please treat them well:

Bill is an old hand at DEFCON and also the former BBotE Ambassdor of Chicago. He is arriving Monday night to have fun at B-Sides as well as DEFCON proper. His first case of twelve 750ml bottles which you can have for $45 each should arrive today as well. Later this week, a six pack of 1000ml bottles at $60 each will arrive. He has created this handy contact page here so that you can have all his relevant DEFCON ONLY contact information to collect BBotE from him if you’d like some. He is practicing what he preaches and trying to have a somewhat firewalled electronic existence this year.

Dan is your current BBotE ambassador for Prescott, AZ and will also be showing up at DEFCON though he gets there on Wednesday. If you’d like to claim one of his 750ml bottles for $45, you can drop him a line by email: bbote [at] deusexcaffeina [dot] com.

For all of those heading to the desert, we salute you!

BBotE Line Up Change July 2016

I regret to inform you all that one of my old favorites from the limited run group has, well, hit the end of its run. I’ll be completing the last batch of Guatemala Nueva Vinas for 2016 tomorrow and it is already fully allocated. According to my roaster of choice on this one, the earliest it may return is next spring but that I shouldn’t hold my breath on that as blights continue to plague the coffee growing regions of Central America.

However, I am firmly committed to finding good Central American coffees to use to make BBotE on the sound basis of “I like them”. I’ve got a Guatemala Antigua that has performed well in a few test batches (some of you may have seen some vials from the test runs in your Sampler Pack II). I’d like to give it a few more before I officially put it up as a selection on the store, but rest assured I’ll let you know when that happens. A world without a regular stream of good Guatemalan coffee going into my mouth is hardly a world at all.

In the meantime, please entertain yourself with Pakled Captain Reginod as he sums up my relationship with the world before I get my morning dose of Go Juice.