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Thursday, September 30, 2004

Presidential Debate #1: First Thoughts

I set up a VCR to tape the debate from PBS tonight. I watched a bit of it on CNN, but then started jonesin' for an Internet fix, and decided to listen to it on the radio (on NPR) while surfing the net.

I'm glad I did. NPR made a point today that whoever won the debate on television with the sound turned off, won the debate in the minds of the viewers. (Historians tell us that while Kennedy killed Nixon in the country's first television debate, on paper and on the radio Nixon was the winner. We're such a visually-oriented species.) I saw more than I wanted to in the few minutes I saw of it on television: George Bush looked like he was sucking a bitter lemon during John Kerry's remarks, and Kerry looked amused during Bush's remarks. (I thought reaction shots were not to be allowed, but maybe having both speakers onscreen at the same time got around that rule.)

So how did it sound? Kerry sounded smooth and assured, and Bush sounded like he was blibbering and blubbering half the time. I swear I could see him turning green at some times, and purple at others. Kerry misspoke a few times, and got skewered with the "are our soldiers now 'dying for a mistake'?" question. (He said "no" - and based on where he had just taken himself, he had to.)

Bush told one joke that couldn't get a laugh because of the rule of silence for the spectators ("I won't hold it against (Kerry) that he went to Yale" - Bush, of course, is also a Yale man) and one self-referential joke that did get a nervous laugh from everybody ("I'm a pretty calm guy" - after showing signs that his not-very-well-known temper was about to display itself.) He pronounced "mullah" as "moola" (slang for "money"), though I'm not sure that was even wrong. And he did a lot of podium-thumping - something that always annoyed me with Clinton.

Kerry sounded good. He got in a few decent jabs, and landed some solid punches where it seemed that Bush's only response was to sputter a bit and then fall back on talking points.

So what about substance? To be honest, I was listening for tone and style, not substance. Substance I can get from the transcripts.

So who won? Naturally, each side will claim victory for their man. It seems that Bush's "lowball expectations" strategy may have backfired - that is, play dumb for four years, then come out with the debating brilliance which he showed in debates against Ann Richards during the Texas gubernatorial campaign. Kerry's supporters were being so overwhelmed by these reports that, as NPR reported, they approached this debate in a state of depression.

And then what happened? Bush didn't shine. Kerry didn't fold. They performed exactly as someone might have expected if the buzz around this debates had never been there.

Tomorrow we will see what the spin doctors have to say, how the post-game analysis plays, and which sound bites get presented to the public that didn't have time to watch, or listen. I hope I can find a transcript without too much hunting. Now I'm actually looking forward to the next debate!

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Tertiary Phase

More than 25 years ago, Douglas Adams let loose on the world a new experience: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It started off as a radio serial, then became a book, a record album, an interactive computer game, a book series, another record album, another radio series, a television miniseries, and a movie project in eternal development hell.

Douglas Adams became very successful as a result of the huge and diverse fan following that ravenously snapped up every book, record, CD, and official towel, but in time he tried to move beyond the Infinite Improbability Drive and the number 42. His history is extensively detailed elsewhere.

In May 2001 Douglas Adams died at the age of 49, leaving many unfinished projects and millions of heartbroken fans and friends. One of the projects - the one which is most directly to blame for his death - is the semi-infinitely delayed movie version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which went into production shortly after his death and will finally be released next summer.

Another was the long talked-about "Tertiary Phase" radio series - a third radio series of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, based on one (or more) of the later books in the Hitchhiker's series. This new radio series, like the movie, has actually come into being, and is now being broadcast on BBC Radio 4. As I write this, I am listening to the first episode at this site.

It is hard to explain to the young or the uninitiated how amazing this is. When I first listened to the original series on NPR back in the early 1980's I would wait eagerly for each week's broadcast, armed with a fancy AM-FM radio/cassette recorder. In the minutes before the start of the program I would tune in the station, cue up a 60-minute cassette tape (30 minutes on each side) to just before the end of the header, insert it in the deck, press the "Pause" button, and then the "Play" and "Record" button at the same time (while holding in the "Pause" button), and then, seconds before the start of the program, hit the "Pause" button, and then sit back and enjoy the "stereophonic" sound - through my radio's single speaker. It would be nearly 15 years before I would be able to purchase the entire radio series on cassette, and nearly 20 before I could get it on Compact Disc.

Now I sit at a Personal Computer (already obsolete at the ripe old age of 5, but still with more computing power than a lot of much larger computers 25 years ago, and armed with an array of peripheral devices not even on the drawing boards back then) working on an article for my own personal online magazine, using tools like Google and Wikipedia (both of which are, in structure, purpose, and function very similar to the titular Hitchhiker's Guide) to do instant research while at the same time listening to streaming audio coming to me from a point some 3000 miles away. Virtually every aspect of this experience would have fallen into the category of wishful futuristic thinking at the time of the original Hitchhiker's broadcast - or would have been written off as a science fiction fantasy.

And for the initiated - how is the program? Well, it does maintain the old Hitchhiker's Guide tradition that each new version of the story, wherever it overlaps with other elements of the story, must directly contradict some or all of the other versions. This series does that splendidly, even contradicting a good deal of the original radio series. The sound itself is great, gleefully blending the old and the new. Most of the surviving actors' voices have held up over the intervening years, although sadly Mark Wing-Davey's (Zaphod Beeblebrox) has not, at least not in the first installment. Each installment is available for a limited time only. You may only have until sometime on Thursday, September 30 to hear the first episode, although the entire Tertiary Phase series will be available on CD later this year.

It's fun living in the future. I only wish Douglas were here to enjoy it with us.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

The hazards of having a popular blog

My blog doesn't get a lot of traffic. Most of the people who come here are personal friends, fellow bloggers*, or visitors from Sammie's sdfsdf.wox.org, Camilla's Wallflower.nu, Bill's Industrial Blog, and sometimes Adam Felber's Fanatical Apathy. Sammie and Bill have links to me, and Bill, Camilla and Adam allow you to include a link with each comment. As a frequent commenter at each site, that's a little bit of exposure, and I do get a few (very much appreciated) visitors from each of them.

I also sometimes get searchers, people who find my site through Google or Yahoo or other search engines. I hope some of these folks like what they see and decide to come back. The person who searched for "satanic goat picture" might have found what they were looking for; the person who searched for "pitchers of monkey bars" probably didn't.

Then there are the random walkers who came here through Blogger's "Next Blog" button. This is a pretty neat tool for adding a bit of randomness to your online experience.

Blogger.com has a section called "Blogs Of Note", a spotlight for "some blogs we've noticed recently." Getting picked for this spotlight is a sure way of driving your readership through the roof. It happened to Cooking For Engineers, although the cause-and-effect relationship here isn't clear. The date that Blogger.com spotlighted this blog is Friday, September 10, 2004, but the author had reported a dramatic increase in traffic beginning the previous Wednesday - from 20-40 hits per day to 110,000 hits on September 11. Yesterday, September 24, he received a mere 1600 hits, according to his Sitemeter.

A sadder case occurred a week later. On Friday, September 17, the blog "I Found Some Of Your Life" was spotlighted. The premise for this blog was unique: the author claimed to have found a lost camera memory card in a New York taxicab. The card contained 277 photos taken from late July 2003 through late July 2004. The blogger decided to create a blog and publish the photos - one a day - ostensibly as a way of finding the rightful owner. But in the meantime, he decided to have some fun: he created a fictitious story to go with the pictures. Individuals were assigned names, relationships, and backstories. Inexplicable situations were explained away. It was clever, original, and possibly illegal.

(Once upon a time I lost some photos. I had taken them to Kmart for developing, but when they came back, somebody else's photos were in my envelope. A man and woman in their early 20's, a dog, and an expensive-looking pickup truck. A lot of photos of the truck.

This was years ago. My photos, as far as we could tell, were irretrievably lost, as were this other person's. I wished there was some way of standing up on a box somewhere and shouting "I found your pictures! Did you find mine?")

Blogger.com spotlighted IFSOYL on Friday, September 17. I first visited on Sunday, September 19. By then loads of other new readers had chimed in with praise, condemnation, suggestions, accusations that it was all a hoax, and questions of the legality of the entire enterprise. By Tuesday, September 21, the photos and story were gone. As of today, the whole site is gone, and the name of the blog has a strikethrough on Blogger.com's homepage.

What happened? Did the memory card's owner's frat brothers threaten legal or physical action? Did the site's host pull the plug, due to bandwidth limitations or legal concerns? Did the crush of popularity get too much for the blogger? I don't know.

Someday I would like to see more site traffic. But for now I am happy for the readers I have. These two case histories illustrate the hazards of having a popular blog.

UPDATE: This post just goes to show what a novice I am with this whole Internet thingie. Apparently, the biggest factor in the crush of visitors to IFSOYL was an article written about the site on Slashdot ("News for Nerds. Stuff that matters.") I wonder if something similar happened with Cooking For Engineers?

*These fellow bloggers include, but are not limited to, Michael (Innisfree Online), Fran (Fran's Funky Blog 'O' Love), Jen (Virtual Jen, currently on hiatus), Siobhan (Trying To Find My Own), and Rimalicious (Rimorama). Sorry if I missed anybody - please let me know!

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Last day of Summer

Waaah, it's the last day of Summer, at least by how we reckon the seasons in the U.S., where the seasons change at the equinoxes (Spring and Fall) or the solstices (Summer and Winter.)

I've been seeing the signs of Summer's departure for weeks now. The sun has been rising gradually later and later each morning, and now is still below the horizon when we return home from our dogwalk - I think. Since Ivan blew through, we've had thick morning fog that hides the morning sky entirely. I still stop each morning to pluck a blossom or two from a Honeysuckle vine in an alley a few blocks from my house and draw out a droplet of nectar (a trick I learned as a child, and I hope you did too), but now the blossoms all seem to be withering and drying out. Temperatures have been dropping, especially these past few days - yesterday it was 42 degrees Fahrenheit, at least according to the bank thermometer I walk past each morning between 5:35 and 5:45, which a month ago was consistently displaying readings of negative 100 degrees F.

Fall is a gorgeous season around here. Maybe I'll get some photos of the flaming foliage (or, as we say 'round these parts, foilage) after the leaves have turned. The cool, dry Autumn air is far more to my liking than the hot and humid air of July and August, and the astronomer in me should be happy for the longer nights that afford more time to observe the night sky. But I will miss the summer, and the sunshine...but not too much. It is too easy to wish your life away a quarter of a year at a time waiting for the next season, and the next.

Besides, it's time for the Bloomsburg Fair!

Monday, September 20, 2004

Ivan's aftermath

Hurricane Ivan caused considerable damage throughout Pennsylvania this weekend. Nanticoke was relatively unscathed, although there were a few flooded basements (I needed to pump mine, but the water never amounted to much more than 1/4" in the lowest corners of the cellar, and the pumps kept it confined there) and some flooding along the river. But communities on either side of us had extensive flooding, and some roads are still closed.

I was one of the idiots touring the area yesterday, trying to get a sense of the damage by driving along until I hit a roadblock, then turning around and taking alternate routes until I could find the first open point beyond that roadblock and driving until I hit another one. I didn't get many pictures - just one, of the "blast shielding" emergency dike extension blocking the Market Street bridge in Wilkes-Barre. But you'll just have to wait for me to get my film developed. (Sorry, Rimalicious, no digital camera yet!) You can go see lots of submitted photos of the regional devastation and damage at the WNEP-TV 16 Homepage .

Saturday, September 18, 2004

"Make Your Vote Count."

(Note added 10/2/2004: As a result of this posting I have received a number of search engine hits from people looking for information on how to apply for an absentee ballot. This entry doesn't explain how to do this, but this one does.)

That's what the big piece of mail says. Followed by the words "Request Your Absentee Ballot Today."

Well, that's what the back says anyway. On the front of the envelope are the words "You Can Defend Pennsylvania's Families. Vote Today!" And next to this there's a young...girl? The child is of indeterminate sex, possibly discernible by the ponytail that he/she is wearing, but you know kids these days - anyway, the child holds its right hand over its heart. Below the main message is an arrow that reads "IMPORTANT" and "Absentee Ballot Request Form Attached."

Flip it over, and the main message about making my vote count is followed by "Here is your pre-addressed Pennsylvania Absentee Ballot Form. Use it to request your Absentee Ballot from the County Board of Elections." Then there are three instructions:

1. Fill out the form and sign.
2. Place your 37-cent stamp on it.
3. Mail today.

Neat! I think I will Vote Today! After all, why wait until Election Day?

Open up the mailing - a three-fold thing on heavy paper stock - and you see a glowing George W. Bush and a shady-looking John Kerry. There's a message across the top: "President George W. Bush and John Kerry differ on most important issues. Who best represents the values and concerns of Pennsylvania voters?" And then it proceeds to compare and contrast the incumbent and the challenger - drawing conclusions right at the start: "President George W. Bush: Strong Moral Values" and "John Kerry: Out of the Mainstream".

Now, if you were a sharp-eyed or mildly curious individual, you would have noticed the messages on the outside of the envelope: A small return address (text just over 1/32" high - actually, the uppercase letters are exactly 2 millimeters high) tells you that this mailing is from Bush-Cheney '04, and thin black 3mm (1/16") letters on a light blue background on the backside announce "Paid for by Bush-Cheney '04, Inc."

Looking at the form itself you are faced with more fine print. Actually, the whole form is fine print, including "SECTION A - ABSENCE FROM THE MUNICIPALITY". What? I have to be absent from my municipality to use an Absentee Ballot?

As a registered Independent, I am being actively courted by both sides, despite the fact that I am firmly in the pro-Kerry/anti-Bush camp. I'm getting stuff like this delivered to me. But this particular thing smells funny. Let's look at it, piece by piece.

"You Can Defend Pennsylvania's Families." I'm not sure how this helps me do that. I mean, the fellow that's being promoted here didn't do a very good job of protecting Pennsylvania's families on September 11, 2001. More than a few families lost members in the worst mass killing of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil since the Civil War. But I guess funerals do bring families closer together, and continuing deaths of Pennsylvania family members in Iraq are helping keep that going.

"Vote Today!" How? This is an application for an absentee ballot. Filling it out isn't the same as voting. The absentee ballot is what allows you to do that, and this is just an application for one. So this is misleading, and just plain wrong. I wonder how many people will fill it out and think that they are voting?

"Make Your Vote Count. Request Your Absentee Ballot Today. " What is this implying? That if I don't vote via absentee ballot, my vote won't count? Doesn't Bush-Cheney '04 have any faith in the voting systems in place in Pennsylvania?

And why isn't there any hint (in the LARGE PRINT, at least) of the fact that absentee ballots are only for use by persons who will either be A) Absent from the municipality or B)Have an illness or physical disability?

But Bush-Cheney '04 isn't emphasizing the valid use of the absentee ballot application. I received a call today that I let the answering machine pick up, from "REPUBLICAN ST". When I played back the recording, there was a message from a woman with a strong British accent who said she was a volunteer for Bush-Cheney '04, and was calling to remind me to fill out and mail my absentee ballot application today. I wish I had picked up that call now, just to hear how she would answer the question of why I should be applying to vote via absentee ballot.

I predict that there will be a record number of votes in Pennsylvania and other closely contested states cast by absentee ballot - and that there will be an immediate call for an investigation of the validity of the absentee ballots by whoever loses the state. Of course, it will be very difficult to determine the validity of thousands (or tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands) of absentee ballots. Election officials have admitted that for the most part, voters are on the honor system when it comes to using absentee ballots. Granted, there are a great many people in this state who will be eligible, and who might not otherwise vote unless someone pushes them to vote via absentee ballot.

If Kerry wins, and Bush demands an investigation, and Kerry balks at this, he will immediately be accused of hypocrisy. But if Bush wins, and Kerry contests, he will be accused of trying to drag the U.S. through a repeat of the Florida electoral nightmare of 2000.

Will it happen? We'll just have to see. But in the meantime, make sure you do your part: REGISTER TO VOTE. Then get out and vote on Election Day. And if you can't get out and vote on Election Day, file an application for an absentee ballot. It's not going to let you Vote Today!, but it will let you vote!

Our luck runneth out

For weeks now my friends and I have been dodging meteorological bullets. A little over a month ago, I was afraid my vacation in Stone Harbor, New Jersey would be interrupted by not one, but two hurricanes (Bonnie and Charley). But I got lucky, and we had beautiful weather. (And it was a sickening feeling to watch television down at the shore and see the devastation and death that was being caused in Florida, and know that my biggest concern was whether or not I would have rough surf.) Two weeks ago, a friend of mine went to North Carolina facing the prospect of a confrontation with Frances, but that never amounted to much - for him, anyway. Last week a friend rescheduled her flight to New Orleans from last Wednesday to next Wednesday, since she and Ivan were scheduled to arrive in The Big Easy at the same time. (We laughed that she might not have a New Orleans left to go to, but it looks like she will.) Another friend is holed up with his parents in Florida, prepared to assist them with any problems with Ivan.

Each of these storms blew through my area with little more than a solid rainstorm - until now. Ivan is and has been dropping copious amounts of rain on Northeastern Pennsylvania, as it has everywhere along its path. The Susquehanna is expected to exceed flood level by a considerable amount. And for the first time in over a year, I am running pumps in my basement to get out the water that is seeping in.

Still, this is nothing, even compared to what other people a few blocks away are going through. We have been lucky, and maybe that luck hasn't run out. Right now all we can do is prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Ted Kennedy is coming to town

Yes, Ted Kennedy will be in Nanticoke on Friday. (Insert your own jokes here. Lord knows we had a lot of 'em at work.)

Ted Kennedy is famous for two things. As far as liquor goes, we've got him covered. But the other is Chappaquiddick. Mary Jo Kopechne was from a city not far from here. I wonder if he realizes that?

UPDATE: Maybe he did. I heard today that Ted Kennedy's appearance in Nanticoke (population 10,955) has been cancelled. Apparently he'll be speaking instead in a slightly larger city to the west of us - Pittsburgh (population 334,563).

Monday, September 13, 2004

Nanticoke's amazing web presence

For a city as small as it is, there are quite a few websites about Nanticoke. Here's a sampling:

The Official City of Nanticoke web page, which is currently down. It was up when I started writing my last post on this topic, the one which caused my PC to crash. I wonder if the Nanticoke website went down so hard it crashed my PC. Or vice-versa!

The unofficial Home Page for Nanticoke Online. 9,082,000 square kilometers of land? I don't think so. If our city were a square, each side would be over 3000 kilometers long! I think they meant square meters. Maybe.

The Greater Nanticoke Area School District web site, complete with an interactive map of our schools. Kosciuszko Street used to be in the Guinness Book of World Records as the only street where you could go from Kindergarten through the second year of college (at Luzerne County Community College, a.k.a. L.C.C.C., a.k.a. the University of Nanticoke) without ever having to leave the street.

Here's some general data on Nanticoke, here's some more detailed demographic data, and here's the equivalent of a "Mostly harmless" entry in an online encyclopedia. Speaking of which, we still don't have an entry at h2g2.com, the online attempt to create a real-world Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. (And that is the preferred spelling, by the way.)

Then there are tribute pages, like Capt'n Clint's Place, with antique photos of Nanticoke. The Nanticoke Historical Society has some more old photos here.
Here are even more old images. Here's a really nice page, with maps and a history. Middle Road is as old as the United States itself...? Wow!

Nanticoke has at least one other famous citizen, the actor Nick Adams.

There's lots more, but I need to get to bed soon, so Haley and I can walk the streets of Nanticoke again tomorrow morning!

Nanticoke's favorite son

I was working on a post about the surprisingly large number of websites about my hometown (city, that is) of Nanticoke when my computer crashed. Damned hamster must be getting tired.

So I'll quickly post a link to this entry on Nanticoke's most famous son: Pete Gray, the One-Armed Wonder. Maybe I'll post more, if the computer permits.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Brother from another continent

Camilla in Norway has recently gotten a kitten whom she has named Tore Hund. Check out his pictures here. I am amazed by how much he resembles two of my mom's cats, Nikki and Joey. Here is a picture that shows both of them together.


Two-headed cat Posted by Hello

Nikki is the one on top and appears to be some sort of Siamese mix. He was found by my sister the day after he was born. His mother carried off the rest of his litter but left him behind in a drainage ditch where he would have surely died. I was visiting her that weekend for an REM concert, and I carried the cat back with me in my car - in the heat of the summer, with the windows rolled up and no air conditioning or even fans going in the car, because the breeze could have killed the week-old cat. It took all of my Zen focus to make that three-hour ride in stifling heat. Nikki has grown up true to his feral roots, and is feisty and naughty and likes to hit people.

Joey, the lower cat, was found by my brother one late Autumn day, hanging out and crying around his house. He and his family took him in, but soon discovered that he had a spraying problem. So my mom inherited him. Joey still has the spraying problem, but other than that, he's a great cat.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

On trying to write about September 11, 2001

For months I have planned to write a blog entry on September 11, 2001. A personal account, giving step-by-step details of everything I was doing that day. What I thought when I heard about the first plane. Then the second. Then the Pentagon. What I thought when I saw a plane racing through the sky in the minutes afterwards. How I tore a chair apart for the speaker wire that was binding it together so we could use it as an antenna to turn one of our monitors into a television. What I thought when I saw the people falling. What I thought when I saw the towers falling.

But I can't, not just now. Not just for emotional reasons, but for reasons of time and technical limitations as well. My PC crapped out on the first version of my "Smithian irony" post, so I think this is something I had best compose offline. But I hate composing blog entries offline. They don't have the same wild, spontaneous feel that "live" entries do. Even if I polish and edit a "live" entry, it feels less forced and artificial than one I have had all the time in the world to create. Plus, I have things I promised people I would do this morning, so I have to get going.

Do not forget. I doubt anybody can, anybody who was alive and aware that day. But forgetting is a part of what makes us human, able to cope with tomorrow after what happened yesterday. Some things should be seared into our souls, never to be forgotten.

I will write more later. For now, my heart also goes out to the good people of Australia who have once again been the targets of terrorism. As you remember September 11, 2001, please also do not forget October 12, 2002, or September 9, 2004.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Smithian irony

So yesterday I went to Best Buy to try to get a DVD that just came out on Tuesday. I walked around for a while but couldn't find it. Finally I decided to give up and ask a clerk to help me.

First I had to get a clerk's attention. All of the clerks from the DVD department were standing together, talking and demonstrating karate kicks. After a while I managed to get the attention of one of them, who quickly told me that the DVD I wanted was sold out. Didn't offer me a rain check or anything like that. Just "No, man, that's all out."

Freakin' kids. Damned clerks should spend less time talking and screwing around with each other and be a little more attentive to the customers.

As I left the store, I realized the irony of the situation. I was looking for the tenth anniversary edition of Kevin Smith's Clerks. Heh.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Posting problems

Why can't I post my last entry?

UPDATE: Yayyy, the good folks at Blogger got the problem resolved. It was a "simultaneous failure across multiple machines responsible for the publishing of Blog*Spot blogs", which locked up any posts and comments on Tuesday night. But it's Wednesday night, I have a new battery in my car, and my posts are posting again. Hooray!

Tercel trouble

After more than 8 years and 220,000 miles, it may be time for me to get a new battery for my little blue Toyota Tercel.

It might not be the battery. It could be the alternator, maybe, or something buggy in the starter. The car worked fine on the 70-mile trip to visit my friends in the Poconos, where I helped my friend walk his property lines in an effort to locate the markers so he can get an idea where he can place the "NO HUNTING" signs, so that drunken idiot hunters don't pump any lead into him, his wife, their baby, or their two dogs, one of which bears a striking resemblance to a deer. Not that signs really have any effect on drunken idiot hunters. But I digress.

The car worked fine when I went to Wegman's on the way home, where I was stopping to pick up bananas and maybe some magazines and Key Lime seltzer and other stuff I didn't need. I was confronted on the way into the store by a man who called out "Hey, Big Guy" to me. (I find this nickname amusing coming from my friend's 9-year old stepsister, and sexy coming from any woman over the age of 18, but annoying coming from a total stranger.) He then approached me - I made eye contact, I know, I know - and began to explain to me that he wanted to make a deal, because he needed 20 dollars to buy food. As he approached me he probably noticed that I was bedraggled, unshaved, and kinda dirty and scuffed up from traipsing and tripping and sliding through the woods that surround my friend's house. I gave him my patented watery-eyed thousand-meter stare with sheepish grin and slight eyelid puff, and said "Sorry, no." But I did my shopping with a measure of guilt - I bought the bananas and just one magazine - which was made worse when I saw the man at the checkout, with a woman and several small children, including a baby who couldn't have been more than a week or two old. (As an afterthought, I am wondering if I should have gone back, bought a box of condoms, and given them to the man free of charge.)

No problems with the car getting home, though I did manage to lock the door with the dome light on again, although this was pretty obvious because it was completely dark outside. Besides, I had do go around the other side to get out my metal detector and GPS locater, both of which were useless in the property-line marker location project.

But this morning, problem. The car wheezed like a dying jalopy as I turned the ignition, but started up after a groan or two. Odd, I thought. I tried it again. Same thing.

Hmmm. Maybe I had let something trickle away battery power overnight, I thought. May as well run it the 33 miles up to work to see if the battery gets recharged along the way.

Got to work, parked. Shut down, restarted. The same thing happened. Maybe a little weaker this time.

Possibilities:

Battery? Not accepting charge? But don't batteries usually fail gradually? I haven't noticed any gradual dimming of lights, and there were no idiot lights on my dashboard alerting me to this problem.

Alternator? I was with someone when her alternator died, in Washington, D.C., directly between the Washington Monument and, I think, the capitol. Nowadays her car would have been immediately towed and detonated, but way back then (in 1996, shortly before my car died) we had to find a pay phone (prehistoric times, before we all had cell phones) and call a tow truck. Besides, if my alternator were gone, I think my car might just stop moving, possibly in the middle of the highway. (Which is where my last car was when the engine blew. Never assume that just because you've paid somebody to change your oil, they've actually refilled it.)

Starter? Mmmmaybe. Wiring going kerflooey? If the starter were gone, the car wouldn't even crank. But if bits of it were going, it might start, but have a hard time starting.

Computer? Sure, why not? A messed-up computer can simulate almost any other problem.

So what's the best way to approach this? Well, my way is to take it to the dealer, throw a pile of money at them, and threaten to keep throwing money at them until they make the problem go away. Unfortunately, they're completely booked this week, but offered to pencil me in for next week. By which time I expect this problem will be resolved, one way or another.

The cheapest thing to do would probably be to run out to Sears and get the battery replaced. If this really is the original battery, then it's really overdue for a replacement. But if it's not the cause of the problem, that will just be a waste of money, especially if I actually got the battery replaced during my 180,000 mile service. I wish I could remember.

I warned my boss that I might be late tomorrow because of this. I also warned him that I might hang out late tonight if my car wouldn't start and I needed to call for a ride. Unfortunately, my partner is off this week, so I get to be the point man for shipping, receiving, asset management, DVD bit-budgeting, dubbing, and customer service for about half a dozen projects for clients spanning half the globe. Not a good time to take time off for car trouble. We'll see what happens.

UPDATE: It was the battery. I got it replaced at Sears, and the car seems OK. They said it was completely flat, so I was lucky I got the car to start as many times as I did. It was the original battery. After more than eight years, it had earned its eternal reward.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Sunsets over Stone Harbor

Here are two of my photos from Stone Harbor - both are of sunsets, and neither one shows the ocean. (Which makes sense, since Stone Harbor is on the East Coast of the U.S.) But the bay behind our condo is visible in each case. Stone Harbor is really part of an island that runs along the New Jersey shore, and our condo was located near one of the main bridges linking it to the mainland.

I got some pictures of Nanticoke yesterday morning. The sunrise was not as spectacular as the previous two mornings - pale pink fading to pale salmon and then to white - but I think I got some nice shots of the morning fog along Middle Road to the South and the Susquehanna River to the North. It may be some time before I get those developed. (Yes, I still use film. 24mm APS film, but film just the same. I'm such a late adopter.)

Hope you enjoy these! As usual, click on the pictures to get larger images.


Sunset through a chain-link fence Posted by Hello


Sunset over bridge into Stone Harbor Posted by Hello

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Blogger overload

There's just so much to say, I can't possibly think of where to start. Actually, I already did start, on Bill's blog. But...

The Elephants have been dancing in New York this week, mostly on the graves of the victims of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, which happened while George W. Bush was on watch and asleep at his post, dreaming of isolationism and ways of buying future votes with tax rebates. And they're trying to spin this into a positive. Sadly, they are succeeding.

Meanwhile DICK! continues to change the tone by leading an extended Five Minutes Hate against Kerry during the convention. Well, DICK!, since you really don't have anything else to work with, you may as well attack, right? Hey, it worked in Iraq, right?

To the Bush twins: if you're not just joking about looking for something to do now that you've finished college, have you considered enlisting in the military? Your dad has fearlessly sent lots of other people's sons and daughters off to fight and die all over the world. Nothing would impress me more than if he were to put his own flesh and blood on the line. And not some serving-fake-turkeys -to-hungry-troops or hanging-out-under-unintentionally-ironic-signs-while-the-aircraft-carrier-does-lazy-circles-off-the-coast-of-San Diego sinecure. No, I mean risky, down-and-dirty front line stuff. Your dad didn't see any action during his stint in the National Guard, and even took time off to work on a political campaign. Maybe you could sort of make up for that. It would really help his image a lot.

To Norman Podhoretz, the "grandfather of neo-conservativism" who dismissed Matthew Brzezinski's charge that homeland security is seriously underfunded, especially when compared to U.S. spending in Iraq, by saying that the fact that there have been no major terrorist attacks in the U.S. since September 11, 2001 shows that somebody must be doing something right: Your response reminds me of the joke (unfunny since September 11, 2001) about the man who jumps off a 100-story building and, after falling 95 floors, says "So far, so good." Does that mean that we were doing a lot of things right in the interlude between the first World Trade Center bombing on February 26, 1993 and the attacks on September 11, 2001?

John Edwards was in town yesterday, and unlike DICK! last week, he wasn't afraid to mention the recent closure of Techneglas. Now if, as some of my conservative friends maintain, factory closings are due to the failures of the Clinton administration's economic policies, why was DICK! afraid to make this point? You can read about Edwards' visit here, and here.

Dubya is coming here tomorrow, so all will be chaos and confusion for a while - read about it here and here. I have some friends who work in a building that overlooks the stadium, so I expect that their day should be interesting. Especially for two of them who happen to have dark hair and beards. Since my daily highway commute takes me on a pass slightly above and only about half a mile from the stadium where Bush will be speaking, I expect that I may be delayed or detoured. Or possibly detained. We shall see.

If ever your pet should suddenly stop eating for a few days at a time, do not assume that he or she has simply decided to die. Take your pet to the vet, and have him (or her) check for tooth decay. It happens. It happened to me. A few more days and my cat might have gone into hepatic lipidosis, which can easily become an irreversible and fatal condition. But we acted quickly, and he's fine.

Finally, the sunrises have been absolutely gorgeous for the past two mornings - another benefit of taking your dog for an hour-and-a-half walk starting at 5:10 AM. Maybe I'll take a camera with me tomorrow and get some photos.

Oh, post-finally: my pictures from Stone Harbor are back. Some of them are quite nice. I'll have to post a few when I get a chance.

Sorry for having been away so long. Don't be a stranger, bubula. Stop by anytime!