Note 12: My Thanksgiving mess hall

Plowing full-speed ahead, if only for my own stubborn traditions.

I had a lot of fun writing last week’s newsletter about the holidays. This week has been more of the same, with some accelerated Christmas shopping so that I can both meet my obligations to the 2020 JoCo Cruise gift exchange as well as get items from overseas in time to the post office on-time myself. We’re about 90% complete when it comes to Thanksgiving supply acquisition, with the 10% remaining being items with tighter expiration dates. I’ve started beta-testing some recipes I’m unfamiliar with, so the countdown is ticking.

Unfortunately, it may be mostly for naught. Chicago’s now back under an advisory lock-down order, so it’s going to be me, Holly, and maybe one or two of her friends (whom she sees regularly) helping me eat all this food. I also found the WGN schedule for Thanksgiving, and it looks like the local network is going another direction, and not airing Bozo, Gar and Ray as I hoped they would be doing around noon. At least we still have YouTube:

In other news, the last week’s been pretty decent as far as work goes. I’ve been staying busy - and even getting some new clients - working through the post-election crunch. With the election over, it’s much easier to pay attention to other things, which has been a boon for productivity. I mentioned to Holly that after the race was called for Biden, it was the start of the Lame Duck Shenanigan Season, and Trump’s been holding up his end of the bargain with silly lawsuits, bonker conspiracy theories, and shuffling around staff. I’m still waiting for him to attempt that self-pardon or make Mike Pence Commander in Chief for a few days before I’ll be convinced that it’s all over.

And one final political note before I get on with the rest of the newsletter. Late last night, news finally broke that President Joffrey fired Chris Krebs from CISA for both his work improving American election security and refusing to go along with the Trumpist fan-fiction (that shifts by the hour) that explains how the Democrats stole the election:

Krebs, one of the few Trump appointees with nearly universal bipartisan support, spent years navigating his new agency through DHS’s leadership turmoil and the administration’s political controversies. At the same time, he built relationships with fellow officials and private security experts to reform and promote the government’s cyber mission.

After rising to become the United States' de-facto cyber czar in 2018, he became a familiar presence at security conferences, where he discussed threats such as the ransomware epidemic and the risks of Chinese telecom companies such as Huawei. In an administration that constantly defied democratic norms, Krebs became the public face of the government’s election security efforts, highlighting the collaboration between national security officials and election supervisors.

But Krebs’ commitment to debunking misinformation about the presidential election finally proved too much for the White House, which pushed him out as part of a government-wide purge that has also hit the top ranks of the Pentagon.

The linked article goes into the good work that Krebs put into securing our national computer security and election infrastructure:

The Obama administration’s belated approach to engaging election supervisors in 2016 left state and local officials skeptical of, or even hostile to, help from Washington. Improving this relationship couldn’t have been more important, as many states maintained insecure voter registration databases and many counties used electronic voting machines that lacked the paper trails necessary for reliable audits.

Krebs and his team launched a charm offensive to dispel rumors about federal takeovers. They pushed states to adopt paper ballots and post-election audits, which many began doing after Congress approved hundreds of millions of dollars in election security grants. CISA also offered states free cybersecurity services, including penetration testing, phishing simulations, vulnerability scanning and resilience assessments. All 50 states and many local jurisdictions joined a CISA-funded information sharing group and installed intrusion-detection sensors that help the agency analyze hackers’ activities.

Under Krebs, CISA paid particular attention to small local jurisdictions that often lacked any dedicated IT staff, launching a “Last Mile Initiative” in 2018 that helped states furnish custom cheat sheets for their county supervisors. Krebs also launched a Voter Registration Database Ransomware Initiative to help officials protect these key systems from extortion-focused malware.

Folks like Chris Krebs are the poster children for why competence is more valuable than personal loyalty, and Biden would be a fool to not bring him into his transition process and extend an invitation to join his team later this week.

Anyhoo - let’s get to what’s been eating a lot of my attention this week, Turkey Day Prep!

The lunch & dinner menu

I’ve been cheating a little bit and using the draft of this post to construct my menu as I thought of it over the past couple of weeks. Currently, here’s what’s on my culinary agenda next Thursday morning:

  • Turkey breast

  • Ham

  • Canned cranberries (with berries and jellied alike)

  • Stove Top Stuffing

  • Au gratin potatoes

  • Raclette bread & potatoes

  • Mashed potatoes (Holly actually cooks these since she doesn’t like mine with the skins left in the mash)

  • Cornbread casserole

  • Green bean and mushroom soup casserole

  • Granny Maxine rolls

  • Deviled eggs

  • Mini-pies and ice cream

  • … and guest contributions

This is a pretty decent list and certain to engage my inner-computer scientist when it comes to figuring out an algorithm to schedule all of these recipes. We can take advantage of concurrent processing when it comes to cooking items on the stove top, and some limited parallelism when it comes to cooking items in the oven that share the same baking temperature. The turkey breast is usually the largest job, so the trick with that is putting it somewhere in the middle of the recipe queue so that it can cook and cool and be ready when it’s time to serve the meal. The ham will likely cook (more accurately, warm up) after the turkey, leaving me to figure out when the au gratin potatoes, casseroles, and rolls will have their time on the hot seat.

For appetizers, the plan’s to pull out the raclette grill I picked up earlier this year with some French bread and potatoes. I learned about this when I visited friends in Northern France a couple of years ago, and finally picked one up for myself.

I’m also doing some experiments with deviled eggs and will have those around for the peckish.

For dessert, we picked up some small pie crust cutters that will let us bake a variety of small personal-sized pies. Seemed like something we should try out during the pandemic, and it allowed me to pick up ALL OF THE PIE FILLINGS so that I didn’t have to commit to a couple of full-sized pies.

Next weekend, I’ll do a trial run on the eggs and pies so that come Game Day, I know exactly how long we’ll need to cook them.

On the drink side, I have several bottles of sparkling grape juices, ciders, and other bottled fruit juice cocktails. These always seem to complement the heavier meats and starches, so that’s always something I serve with my Thanksgiving meals. On the alcoholic side, we have some ciders, beers, and hot buttered whiskeys, but I’ll also be keeping some cherry and blueberry Glühweins nice and warm next to the hot cocoa that serves as my breakfast meal on cooking days.

When it comes to hot cocoa, my secret weapon is the Cocomotion that I purchased at an Evanston garage sale (only $3!) shortly after I moved to the Chicago area almost twenty years ago. This is a single-function appliance that both heats and mixes any powdered hot cocoa you can throw at it, and is easily the best kitchen purchase I’ve ever made:

I usually keep a bottle of peppermint schnapps handy to add some mint flavoring.

As you can see from all of this, I’m in the Daniel Burnham school of thought when it comes to Thanksgiving - “Make no little plans!” - and despite the COVID outbreak, I’m still planning to keep that tradition alive. In the best case, we still have a couple of friends come over to dine with us. In the worst case, I have a lot of left-overs and this gets to be my Thanksgiving analogue to the shortened 2020 MLB season where I can try some wacky stuff out to see what works. My deviled eggs will be this Thanksgiving’s National League designated hitter rule.

Exercising in Cyberspace

Early in the pandemic, I invested in an Oculus Quest VR headset and a Supernatural early-adopter subscription. For those of you more familiar with TV’s Winchester brothers (“Carry on my wayward son!”), Supernatural on the Oculus is a Beat Saber-clone put together by personal trainers as a daily workout.

I used it a few times after I purchased it, but it never really stuck all that well. After the election was over, I decided to take some of that extra mental real-estate that the political horse race had been occupying and to apply it to getting back in shape. I’ve been working out pretty consistently since then, and have been enjoying it.

What’s nice about (and why it’s a subscription service as opposed to a one-off purchase) is that every weekday, there are new exercises, and all the past exercises are available if today’s isn’t what you want to do. Back when I purchased the software, I also invested in a Polar heart-rate monitor and have been using that in conjunction with the program.

So, how is it as a workout?

Overall, it seems pretty good. The exercises are designed to get your body moving in a variety of different ways, from squats and leans for the legs, smashing targets for the arms and upper body, and it implements an adaptive algorithm that increases the workout’s difficulty as your performance improves. The workouts are rated as either Low, Medium, or High Intensity, and all of them were hard enough to leave me a stiff and sore fellow last week as my muscles had to be re-taught how to move in those ways.

Low Intensity workouts are relaxing and fun, while Medium and High Intensity keeps me flailing around my living room enough to leave me a sweaty mess after 10 minutes or so. The workouts themselves last anywhere from ten to thirty minutes, and the coaches include additional smaller workouts in the six to ten minute range if you’re looking for some supplemental activity without committing to another full workout. When I don’t feel like I worked hard enough, I’ll toss in an ‘80s music High Intensity short workout after my normal session to disabuse me of that notion.

Overall I’m pretty pleased with it and look forward to getting up first thing in the morning to knock out my workout for the day. And I’m finally getting to the point where it isn’t absolutely murdering me daily and leaving me a stiff and sore mess later in the week.

Join me in the stars, CMDR!

For new readers, the various CMDR and o7 bits that I drop into my prose might seem a bit odd. This is in-game lingo for Elite: Dangerous, a spaceship simulator that has captured my attention and imagination in a way that no other game has since World of Warcraft.

I’ve been a bit too busy to hop in the cockpit of my Diamondback Explorer to continue my journey to the Formidine Rift this week, but I did want to mention to all of you that the game will be free later this week on the Epic Game Store. So, if you’re looking for something to blow your mind and you’re a space nerd like me, grab a copy and let me know so we can team up and I can help you get some of the best gear by taking on aliens in the Witch Head Nebula and exploring the ruins of dead civilizations in the Coalsack Nebula.

Interesting reads, listens, and watches

Chris Nikic, You Are an Ironman. And Your Journey Is Remarkable. (New York Times)

Our Food Staff’s 21 Favorite Thanksgiving Recipes (New York Times)

The iOS COVID-19 app ecosystem has become a privacy minefield (Ars Technica)

Why We Should Think Twice About Colonizing Space (Nautilus)

Computer Scientists Achieve ‘Crown Jewel’ of Cryptography (Quanta)

Texas astronomers revive idea for 'Ultimately Large Telescope' on the moon (Phys.org)

A Moderate’s Manifesto (American Purpose)

The Republican Party Is Dead. It’s the Trump Cult Now. (The New Republic)

America: Endgame: Inside the Making of a Viral Biden–Avengers Video (Vanity Fair)

Finally, listen to this first:

Then this amazing version:


Until next week, don’t fly without a rebuy, CMDRs!