More information on the topics discussed below can be found on the Internet!

Custom Search

Friday, December 31, 2004

New Year's Eve at home

I've decided to spend New Year's Eve at home. Since Tuesday I've traveled well over 700 miles and spent two nights in a semi-cheap hotel in Ohio. I'm a little worn out. While it would be fun to spend tonight at my friends' place in the Poconos, the thoughts of sleeping in my own bed and showering in my own shower are very appealing. Besides, I will be down early tomorrow morning for breakfast, bearing Christmas gifts and gin. (Hmmm, better start wrapping the presents!)

I hope everybody has a safe and happy New Year. While you're partying tonight, please spare a thought for the victims of the disaster in the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. And then maybe go to one of the reputable charity sites (like the American Red Cross or amazon.com) and donate for the relief effort. Also, see this message from author and longtime Sri Lanka resident Arthur C. Clarke for a list of international organizations that he recommends.

Well, I survived

I'm back. Home again, home again, jigiddy-jig.

It's always heartwrenching to leave a good friend and her daughter in a bad situation. Hopefully this was the last time they'll go through this particular ordeal.

I have looked into the face of evil for the second time in my life. It's hard to say at what point madness stops being an illness to be treated and starts becoming an evil to be detested. But what I saw these past few days was well beyond that point.

While mulling one aspect of this evil I stumbled upon the thought of children as social security, an investment that may pay dividends in your old age. My grandmother had five children, three of whom stayed close to home. These three had a total of eleven children of their own. When my grandmother entered her final years, she was able to count on two of these children and one of these grandchildren to visit her on a regular basis.

I have always viewed children as a sort of biological imperative: have them or the species dies off. Kids are cute and fun, once you get past the diaper-changing stage, but I've never seen that as sufficient incentive (to a woman, at least) to go through the pain of childbirth. Which is why sex is so much fun: given x sexual encounters, there will be some number f(x) of live childbirths. The relationship is a lot less than 1:1, so people have to want to have sex a lot. Especially since, as I have mentioned, childbirth itself is a pain in the ass. Or very nearly so.

There are, of course, other psychological forces at work that make people want to have babies, despite the life-changing experiences of their friends who have had children. But I am convinced that random rutting and unplanned pregnancies are safety factors built into the human species that keep the population going.

I've never thought of children in the crass sense of someone to take care of me when I get older. But maybe ultimately that's what they are. Pius Aeneas, carrying his father on his back out of the falling city of Troy. An investment in the future.

And what will I be in my old age, if I live so long? A crazy old uncle? That guy who used to visit your parents years ago, before he became a hermit living in a small shack in the woods with dogs? Just some random homeless guy on the street holding a sign that says "WILL WORK FOR FOOD"?

Kids. Hmm. Maybe I oughta get me some.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

An unworthy thought

Here I am whining about little family psychodramas when one of the greatest natural disasters of our era is affecting millions of people.

As I sat over breakfast December 26th watching the news of the tsunami disaster roll in, first from Thailand and then from Sri Lanka and then from all around the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean, I couldn't help but feel a sense of deja vu, as though I had seen all this before - but involving a meteor strike in the Indian Ocean. After some time I realized that just such an event was described in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's science fiction novel Footfall.

Cover me, I'm going in

In a few hours I will leave to spend a few days in Ohio. Those who know why I'm going there, and know what happened there last year, will understand why I fear that I may not return with my sanity intact. Those who know me well enough may believe that I'm not going there with my sanity fully intact, so that's not really much of a concern.

Dealing with your own family over the holidays is one thing. Dealing with somebody else's family is quite another.

Somebody who knows why I'm doing this told me that I'm a saint. I'm not. Far from it. But I value my friends above all else. Family is an accident of genetics; you are born into (or adopted into) a family, but you really have no say in what sort of relatives you wind up with. Friends are people you choose through a winnowing process. Over the course of a lifetime you meet thousands, or tens or hundreds of thousands of people, but only a few of these do you choose to be your lifelong friends. I am going to see a friend I have kept as a friend for over twenty years, to try to provide her with what assistance I can in a very difficult situation. If you are my friend, you should know that I would gladly do the same for you.

Anyway. Better take a shower, pack my bags, and saddle up the Tercel. I should be back - briefly - on the 30th or 31st. If I don't post then - well, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Friday, December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas from Another Monkey!

Merry Christmas! By now my cards should have gotten to most of my friends - at least, most of them whose addresses I could locate! Two groups of friends - both living in Texas - I never did locate the addresses for. Maybe I will at some point. Or maybe they will see the card here!

Here it is - Christmas greetings from me, and from Another Monkey! Merry Christmas, everybody!


Front Posted by Hello


Inside of card Posted by Hello

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Big reveal: The work gifts of 2004

And now it can be told. The gift I got for all my co-workers was...Sea Monkeys!

For the record, here are the gifts I have bought since I joined our group nearly six years ago:

1999: Homemade chocolate chip cookies. I hadn't quite grasped the concept of the gift thing, but I was working on it.

2000: The year of the $3.99 presents. I set out to buy toys and other cute presents at various discount stores (Big Lots!, Ollie's) that were of good quality but all of which cost exactly $3.99. That price was set when I decided on the first few gifts and realized they were all the same price. Some of the gifts (like the light-up yo-yo) were vastly overpriced, while others (like the big fish pillow) were real bargains. I only bought a few of the gifts with specific people in mind. For the rest I sat down with the pile of presents and a list of names and tried to pair up people to presents. We had a lot of fun that Christmas, and we have the pictures to prove it.

(2000 was also the year of the Christmas Eclipse, and I got everybody eclipse glasses for the event. I have a great picture of a bunch of people posing in their glasses - of course, since they're designed to allow you to stare directly at the sun with no ill effects, nobody could see a damned thing.)

2001: Oversized coffee mugs filled with little treasures. These were those giant-sized latte mugs the size of soup bowls. Each one contained a collection of trinkets - a magnet, three or four types of marbles, a Sacagawea dollar, some Hershey's Kisses, and a lottery ticket. These were all wrapped up in either a little pouch that I bought from an arts & crafts store (from their now-defunct "rock collecting" area) or a small glass jar (because they didn't have enough pouches.) Quite a lot of thought went into what was essentially a last-minute gift idea.

2002: Tools. We were in the process of disassembling our area, as I have mentioned earlier, and I thought it would be clever to get everybody small, cheap tools, multi-headed screwdrivers or little needlenose pliers/wirecutter/pocketknife combos. I liked the latter, because it was technically banned at our new location, and I felt like being subversive. I used my pocketknife extensively during the move to cut the flat rope that was being used to bind our stuff to the pallets. Other people still have their screwdrivers and use them from time to time.

2003: Hand-painted ornaments. I have already written about these extensively here.

And for next year...who knows?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Hooray for late-night retailers

I got together last night for some drinks with a friend, and we didn't get done until 10:00. I was afraid I had missed my shopping window for yesterday, but it turned out that Best Buy was open until 11:00 and Toys'R'Us was open until midnight. I would have hugged everybody working there if they hadn't all been so surly and disinterested.

So I am now about 90% done with shopping, and about 0% done with wrapping. I think I need to get to work on that.

My windshield washer fluid finally thawed. I hesitated to flush the lines, as my Catholic school upbringing kicked in and started telling me about starving pagan babies who would gladly use the watered-down stuff I was throwing away, but I reminded myself that just 24 hours before it had been cold to the point of being painful and I had better take care of this while the lines were full of liquid.

Dogwalks are suspended for this week, as 1) I need the time, 2)I need the sleep, and 3)Haley and I would both probably have lost some extremities Monday morning if we had tried to walk. It was that cold.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Snow, glorious snow

Oh, it's a freakin' Winter Wonderland here. It hasn't snowed much, maybe two inches or so, but it was enough to make the roads dangerous. I had to crash my car into the curb twice in order to avoid sliding out of control down the street - and that's just on the road in front of my house.

And it seems that my windshield washer pump may have decided to stop working. Not a good time for that to happen. We'll see how things go tomorrow. I may need to take the car in for emergency surgery.

UPDATE: My windshield washer lines are full of slush. I suspect that ever since the local Jiffy Lube (where I have been taking this car for years with no complaints) has come under new management, they have been cutting costs by "topping off" washer fluid with water rather than the blue freeze-resistant stuff. Dammit. Now I either have to take my car to a local mall that has a heated parking garage and let it thaw out for a few hours, or I must patiently wait until outdoor temperatures are well above freezing long enough for the lines to thaw, and then I need to flush out what's in there and replace it with the good stuff. (Current temperatures are around zero degrees Fahrenheit - in Celsius, that's also pretty damned cold.) And then hope that I didn't have any ruptures in the lines caused by ice formation.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Death of an altar boy

As I mentioned several months ago, I was an altar boy at my Roman Catholic parish for many years, from the age of six to the age of sixteen or seventeen. My younger brother was, too, as was my older cousin. There were quite a few older altar boys, and a handful of younger ones. When we would all be assembled together at Christmas or Easter it was really a thing to see.

I didn't realize just how much older than me some of the altar boys were until today, when I picked up the mass card from the funeral home where one of them was laid out. He was six-and-a-half years older than me. The last time I remember serving with him was between 1978 and early 1981*, when he would have been anywhere from 16 to 19 years old.

The last time I saw him was this past Saturday at church. Neither of us are altar boys anymore, but both of us happened to be at the Saturday afternoon mass. He had always been a little strange, but I have heard recently that he was perhaps a good deal stranger than most. Perhaps strange in some very bad ways.

I don't know what brought on his death. I probably won't know, either, except for what the small-town rumor mill brings back to me. The specifics don't really matter to me; I didn't really know him, and the details are none of my business. The death of someone I sort-of knew once upon a time should serve as a reminder of my own mortality. But in reality it just reminds me of the distance I have put between myself and my past, without really having moved at all.

*I can remember the date thusly: the memory of this event is keyed to a memory of an issue of OMNI magazine, and cross-linked to a memory involving the homecoming of the U.S. hostages in Iran. I did not begin reading OMNI until well after Star Wars came out, which was in 1977. The hostages were not released until Reagan's inauguration, which was in January 1981. Actually, I don't think I began reading OMNI until 1980, so this would narrow down the date range a bit.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Shadow of the Past

That last post got me thinking about the person I was six years ago, and how some things have changed since then, and how some things haven't. But something else got me thinking about this time of year over the previous three years: namely, yesterday's release of the four-disc DVD version of The Return of the King.

The four-disc versions of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers were released earlier in the year back in 2002 and 2003, respectively. Late December was reserved for the theatrical release of each installment of the trilogy. So yesterday's release brought on memories of going to see all three movies.

Back in December 2001, the world - well, America, anyway - was still reeling from the September 11th attacks. A friend of mine from work and I arranged to go to see The Fellowship of the Ring on its opening night. (She and I eventually saw the movie together two more times, and I saw it a fourth time with another friend.) Burger King was running a promotion involving LOTR figurines that could be arranged together to form a complete circle around a figurine of the One Ring itself. Several of us drove ourselves nuts - and ate ourselves sick - trying to complete the set multiple times. Even now, an incomplete figurine set still adorns one of our offices, and we try to parcel out the remaining battery life sparingly - only allowing ourselves to make Legolas say "The Ring must be destroyed!" once a month or so.

December 2001 was a time of hope - hope for the potential of a budding relationship (which ultimately never came to fruition) and hope for the possibility that great work would yield great rewards - but it was also a time of pain. Namely, the pain of getting the top of my head stapled together after the friend I had seen the movie with and I were rear-ended while sitting in her car at a stop light by a hit-and-run driver two nights later. (This was also the night of The Bar Brawl, in which I was Very Brave. But that is a story for another time.)

The Two Towers I saw twice in December 2002, once with some friends who were living in Arlington, Virginia at the time, and once with another friend from work. There were no Burger King promotions this time, and I was slightly annoyed at the increasing number of liberties Peter Jackson was taking with the story. (There was only one elf at Helm's Deep, dammit, and his name was Legolas. And Wargs are giant wolves, not giant guinea pigs.) The movie was summed up at the Virginia theater by a man sitting near us who, at the end of the movie, stood up and declared "Man, that was one f__ked-up movie!"

December 2002 was a time of great effort at work, as we were pulling up stakes and relocating our DVD Compression/Encoding/Authoring business from our isolated building located in rustic downtown Olyphant, PA to a space tucked away inside our enormous CD/DVD production facility. There was a tremendous amount of hard work to be done in a very short time, and we did it all. Shortly thereafter, we were once again reminded that deferred rewards frequently fail to materialize at all, and that most of the time no good deed goes unpunished.

The Return of the King opened in December 2003. I saw it only once, with a group of friends. Two of them have since married each other, and two of them have divorced. Life goes on. The sound was atrocious due to a faulty speaker system, much to the annoyance of all of us but particularly to the Audio Engineer in our group. We sat through the movie, but at the end he went off to speak to the Manager, who nodded politely and proceeded to ignore his complaints.

December 2003 was setting the tone at work for the year that was to follow. "Planning" and "Scheduling" became dirty words, and our lives became a desperate attempt to fulfill arbitrary promises being made by people who had no hand in actually keeping them. More hard work, more great sacrifices, and by the end of the next month, through no fault of their own, 1/3 of our staff was gone.

I wonder how I will remember December 2004?

Monday, December 13, 2004

December 13, 1998

Six years ago today my grandmother died. The next day I wrote a letter to a friend describing the event. Here it is, with minor edits.

Dec. 14, 1998

My grandmother died on Sunday morning.

I think I forgot to tell you in my last letter how well my grandmother was doing. Let me rectify that omission now. My grandmother began getting treatment for her urinary tract infection early last week - Sunday or Monday - and immediately responded very positively. Her eyes brightened, she stayed awake and alert for hours at a time, she stopped alternating fever and chills, she spoke in complete sentences or longer-than-usual fragments. When I came to see her on - Thursday? Friday? - she was in bed; as I approached, she said, "Don't wake me up. I'm sleeping." This was followed by "What time is it, anyway?" When I told her it was 7:15 at night, not in the morning, she decided to wake up all the way and sit up with me for a while.

On Saturday afternoon she was better than she has been for months. She was bright and alert, sitting in her chair, watching an Andre Rieu Christmas Concert on television. She loved the music, and loved being able to name some of the songs, like "O Come, All Ye Faithful" ("Adeste Fideles".) When I told her that my mother was coming home from my sister's place in Maryland the next day, she simply said, "When?"

My uncle was there when I came in that day. After he commented on how well she looked, he mentioned to me that my grandmother's first long-term roommate in the nursing home, Eleanor Wallace, had died on Friday. My grandmother showed no reaction. I made a note to look up the obituary and go to the viewing - we had developed quite a rapport with Eleanor's family.

That afternoon, before I took my pre-
Tink's nap (or was it after I had napped, worked out, showered, and dressed? Details are so confused right now), I called my mother at my sister's house. I tried to break the news about Eleanor's death gently, and suggested that she might want to come home a little early, to be able to make the viewing.

Tink's was relatively uneventful. I came home at the usual time, around 3:00 AM, and had a before-bedtime meal. I went to sleep at 4:00 with Mazzy Star's "Among My Swan" playing, planning to get up in five hours to go to 10:45 mass at the nursing home with my grandmother.

My father woke me at 5:50, not two hours after I had lay down. My cousin was on the phone. She said, "Babki was rushed to the hospital this morning. When they went to check her at five, she wasn't breathing and didn't have a pulse." I think I responded with "That's not good" and immediately began getting dressed. I called my mother, told her that my grandmother had been taken to the hospital in "bad shape" (read "dead") and suggested that she call my uncle, who had been contacted by the nursing home as the events transpired.

I rushed to the hospital, after verifying which hospital it was. I assigned a high probability to her being dead on arrival - dead since before 5:00 that morning. I assigned a much lower probability to her having been successfully resuscitated, but then assigned a high probability that, if this were the case, she would die again anyway in a very short time. Everything else was assigned a vanishingly small probability.

Mercy Hospital in Wilkes-Barre was not built according to any one plan. You go in the main entrance, up a flight of stairs to the main lobby, and down a series of corridors to the Emergency Room. (Patients, of course, have a direct entrance.) But the doors do not lead to the Emergency Room waiting room, or admissions - you go directly into the ER. As I entered, I was overwhelmed by the calm and silence. There was a single nurse at the desk. There was no activity in the room, no beeps or pings of monitors on patients. All was quiet.

I assigned a high probability to my grandmother being dead. A much lower probability was assigned to her being alive but not in the ER. A very small probability was given to her having not yet arrived at the ER.

I confronted the nurse. "I was told that my grandmother was being brought here. Her name is Anna ____."

She stammered momentarily. "Have you spoken with anyone about this?" she said. I knew what she meant.

"It is very likely that she was dead when she came here," I countered. (That's the way I talk. It sounds really artificial when I read it now, but I think those were my exact words.)

"Yes," she said. She led me to one of the ER berths and drew back the curtain. There was my grandmother's body. Her skin was still pink. I touched her cheek - still warm. Very warm. I commented to the nurse, and then I realized that my hands were still cold from the drop in body temperature all humans experience during sleep, and from my two-minute walk through near-freezing temperatures from the parkade across the street to the main entrance to the hospital. She just seemed warm to me. Her skin was pink - not the darker color I would expect if she had choked to death on mucus or otherwise suffocated. She looked asleep - well, not exactly, since she never slept with her mouth open like that.

I got on the phone, tried to tell my mother that there was no need to hurry. I crossed connections with her - she was trying to call her brother in Georgia. I called my uncle, the father of the cousin who had told me about what had happened, and he said that he had tried to call me to let me know that she was dead, but I had already left. I was glad I missed that call. I might have decided not to go to the hospital.

As it was, I was the last member of our family to see her alive, and the first one to see her dead.

I came into work late this afternoon nominally to take care of some problems that came up over the weekend, but really just to write this letter.

There is another letter I must write, to the people who work here. I'll try to get that one out tonight.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

The ornaments of 2003

We have a tradition of exchanging presents within my group at work. In the past my offerings have ranged from homemade chocolate chip cookies for everyone to different gifts that all cost exactly $3.99 (and these ranged from motorized toy cars and light-up yo-yos to a giant fish pillow.) But last year I decided to do something a little more personal.

Lee Valley sells an unfinished wooden ornament ball that offers semi-endless possibilities for customization. These are fairly small - about 1 and 5/8" - so painting designs on each one is a bit of a challenge, but one I decided to take on.

Miniature art has always fascinated me, and I decided to see what I could do. I made over two dozen individual ornaments in a little more than three weeks. I would usually work on three at a time, each one carefully held in a housing made by turning one of those little doll-sized tables that is placed in the center of a pizza to keep the lid from collapsing on it upside down. (I always wondered why I was saving those things.)

I have very bad eyes. I am terribly nearsighted, and without my glasses or contact lenses I am almost blind beyond about six inches, but (until recently) I have (had) excellent vision within those six inches. (In the past year the farsightedness that usually accompanies advancing age has started to kick in, and I cannot focus within three inches of the surface of my eye.) So for four to six hours at a time I would sit hunched over my ornaments, my bare eyes just a few inches from the surface, carefully painting one of several designs that I gradually standardized over the course of my project.

I striped a couple like peppermint candies, coating them when dry with a high-gloss varnish that gave them the look of glass ornaments. On some I painted a miniature landscape, dark blue sky over snow-covered hills with trees and falling snow, in an oval image that created the illusion of concavity, almost as though the ornament were a snow globe with the image inside. One was turned into a dreidel with the help of a friend's woodworking shop and some online dreidel lettering.

Others I called Escher spheres, after the famous self-portrait by M.C. Escher made from the image in a mirror ball that he was holding. These Escher spheres were completely white at the bottom to just below the midline of the ornament; from there on up they were dark blue again. On them I painted snow-covered trees and a starry sky. The idea was that these were like little mirrored ornaments being viewed from deep within a snow-covered forest on a clear night by an invisible observer.

Two designs I was very pleased with are shown below. The first is a wreath, made from two shades of green paint brushed in semi-straight lines along a path that was always turning clockwise. Red berries were then dotted on - possibly with the point of a pin, I don't completely remember. The wreath itself is about 3/4" across. (Note my thumb and forefinger for scale, but keep in mind that they are about 3/4" farther away than the center of the ornament. This is poor man's digital photography: I am holding the ornament by its hanger on the bed of my scanner.)


Ornament 2003: Wreath Posted by Hello

Another nice design is the snowman. This is not one of the better snowmen; all of those were given away. The "coal" was again (probably) applied with a pin. (It might have been a toothpick.) I had to buy a two-ounce container of orange paint just for the snowmen's carrot noses. The blue background circle is a little over 1" in diameter.


Ornament 2003: Snowman Posted by Hello


The white snowy-looking stuff is special snow paste that comes in a small jar at the craft store and looks like marshmallow paste. It dries with a beautiful texture and is quite hard. The sparkly effects are from some other craft stuff that came in a kit with a small jar of snow paste and some Christmas-oriented paints.

Both of these designs are from a single ornament, which also had a crappy-looking third design of a snowflake on it. All of the ornaments had at least two designs on them. You could see how all this took a bit of time. After each four-to-six-hour session I was unable to focus my eyes for at least an hour; each eye was independently focusing on some nearby focal plane, and this had the effect of making me feel like I was wearing somebody else's glasses.

The best ones I gave away to my friends at work, packing them in too-small pasteboard boxes wrapped in ribbon with handmade tags tied on with pieces of gold elastic.

People liked them, I think. I don't know how many of them realized how much work went into them. Just over a month later, one-third of the people I gave them to would be gone, but that is a story for another time

This year I've decided to do something less creative and personal, but still fun. In terms of dollar value this year's presents are much more costly, but in terms of time and physical effort the cost is much less. I hope people like them. But since some of the people I work with visit this site from time to time, I won't say what this year's present is just yet. Not until after our department's Christmas party!

Friday, December 10, 2004

Rimalicious vs. Netflix

Sometime commenter and fellow blogger Rimalicious is having an issue with Netflix, its lack of Customer Service, and a possibly illegal business practice which makes it virtually impossible to resolve disputes and/or quit the service. Can anybody help her out? The only person I know who uses Netflix on a regular basis...just brought her site back online! What luck! Maybe she'll read this, and offer dear Rima some advice in dealing with Netflix.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Cards

I actually mailed some Christmas cards this morning! This is something of a first for me. For the past few years I have been designing my own Christmas cards, but I almost never get around to actually sending them on time - or, sometimes, sending them at all.

This time my design was personal and impersonal at the same time. It references this site, which is sure to annoy some of my friends, but the image will be uniquely tied to me, and to Another Monkey. But I found myself creating cards assembly-line style: print out a batch, outsides first, then insides, allowing each side enough time to dry and avoid smudging; sign all of the cards; fold them and place them in envelopes; pull out list of addresses and address the envelopes; locate holiday return-address labels and apply them; locate holiday stamps and apply them; lick and seal all envelopes; rubberband together for ease of transportation.

The first batch got mailed during this morning's dogwalk. I was concerned that I would have to take a detour to the post office to mail them, but I came across a mail box along the way that I had passed several hundred times without really noticing before. So creeeak, clunk, the first batch is mailed. (Don't worry, it was a real mailbox, and I had vaguely noticed it previously, but didn't assign it much importance.)

Some of my friends have faked me out by moving in the past year, so I have to locate their new addresses. Some friends I don't actually have addresses for, since most of our contact is in person, and mailing addresses rarely come into play. Others I've just misplaced, and I may have to directly ask these friends for their own mailing addresses.

I plan to post the card on this very site sometime just before Christmas. After all, I will certainly want to extend holiday greetings to my friends on the Internet, and what better way than with an image of the very card I'm mailing out this year!

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Adding Chloe's Watermelon Punch

I add links to this site mainly for my own convenience. I've been going over to Chloe's Watermelon Punch blog often enough that I've decided to add her site to my list of blog links. Her site is fun, informational, and loaded with links to other cool sites (like "The Shining" With Bunnies).

One of these links is to a do-it-yourself Identikit. Chloe did a demo involving a self-portrait. So I decided to try one on my own - without referencing a mirror or a photo. This is a bit of a challenge for someone like me who has a mild case of prospagnosia prosopagnosia.


My favorite self-portrait Posted by Hello


Identikit sketch Posted by Hello

It's one thing to create your own face, but it's another thing to create somebody else's face from memory. I tried it last night, and I was failing miserably until my computer crashed and saved me from further frustration.

Anyway: check out Chloe's site, and enjoy!

Friday, December 03, 2004

The Doomsday siren

Our local Doomsday siren sounded continuously for about 10 minutes this morning. Living (as I do) less than 20 miles from a nuclear power plant, this is the sort of thing you tend not to ignore.

Every time I hear one of these sirens I am reminded of the line from the "Bart's Comet" episode of The Simpsons:


Abe: Sounds like the doomsday whistle! Ain't been blown for nigh onto three years.
I was always freaked out as a kid whenever the "Air Raid Sirens" would sound. They were actually used to signal fire alarms, summoning the volunteer firemen to the station. In time I lost my dread resulting from associating these with air raids (which was odd, since air raid drills went out of fashion 20 years before I was born) and developed a dread from associating these with fires. Whenever they would sound I would think, Somebody's house is burning down tonight. The sirens were, and are, used to announce approaching tornadoes, in theory at least. To my knowledge they have never been used for that purpose, nor has Nanticoke ever had a tornado visited upon it. The sirens also sounded back in 1972 when Tropical Storm Agnes caused the Susquehanna to overflow its banks and flood the area.

About 20 years ago they developed a special system for announcing nuclear emergencies: all of the sirens in town would sound simultaneously, in a warbling manner, with the intensity of the warble pulsed periodically across the city. They test this once in a while, and it's a very eerie effect. It's the sort of thing that makes you stop and take notice.

The sirens aren't used to announce fires anymore. All of the firefighters have police/fire band radio scanners, as do many private citizens. And this morning's siren didn't warble, nor was it pulsed. It seemed to be a single siren somewhere nearby sounding steadily. It turned out it was a malfunctioning siren at the local community college, and it went off several other times throughout the day.

So it wasn't Doomsday today. Maybe next time. There's always tomorrow...