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Friday, April 29, 2005

Slow on the uptake

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy opened today as a "major motion picture." I probably won't get to see it until Sunday, and I'm hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

I like to think that I'm a pretty sharp guy, that things don't get by me too easily. Sometimes they do, and I don't realize it until a long time later. Two of those things are associated with this film.

OK, I just lost the looong version of this post, so I'll just hit the highlights:

- Sam Rockwell, who plays Zaphod Beeblebrox in this film, played a character named Guy in Galaxy Quest. The joke was that his character was an actor who had played a "red shirt" character in one episode of the "Galaxy Quest" TV show - a character who is introduced solely for the purpose of getting killed. Not a major character, just some guy. (I didn't get this until a friend referred to Zaphod as being "...that Guy from Galaxy Quest." Fans of the Hitchhiker's Guide radio series will know that "Zaphod's just this guy, you know?")

- The Infinite Improbability Drive is a quantum mechanics joke, related to the probability wave function and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. 24 years and a B.S. in Physics after I first read the book, and I'm just getting that now. And I have the official movie site to thank for that revelation, since it refers to the Infinite Improbability Drive as allowing you to be "everywhere at once" - not the formulation that Douglas Adams used ("...passes simultaneously through every point in the universe.") Now I understand: Infinite Improbability can be thought of as Infinite Uncertainty in the position of a quantum particle. Douglas Adams was a hell of a lot more clever than I realized.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Cunning linguist

Sometimes I envy the way people in other countries have mastered multiple languages. Camilla Henrikke, for instance, blogs easily and fluently in both English and Norwegian - and I swear I've seen some German thrown in there too, from time to time. Many other people throughout the world have learned English as a second language. But in America, most of us have only learned English - and a lot of people I know aren't very fluent in that, either.

I've picked up some other languages here and there. Two years of Spanish in High School, one semester of Scientific German in college, some Greek from double-majoring in Physics and Philosophy, a little bit of Latin from my Theology classes. Most of it I've forgotten, although I can still intone "Mis cojones soy muy grande y muy peludo" in the same voice that I used to hear announce "Esta es... Telemundo!" on my TV in Delaware on one of the Philadelphia channels.*

But I do speak some things not generally recognized as languages. I am semi-fluent in Kid, for example. I also speak some dialects of Dog and a little Cat, and I'm trying to learn some Squirrel. (It's remarkable when you realize that those quacking sounds coming from the trees aren't stranded Mallards but are in fact angry squirrels.) I also speak, much to my surprise, a few words of Rhino.

I found this out on a visit to the Bronx Zoo in late October 2001. The specter of September 11th was still hanging over the entire Greater New York area, and I prayed that the wind would not bring any of the smells from Ground Zero our way. I was visiting a friend in the area, and she and her daughter and I had gone to the zoo for the afternoon. We had a great time there and saw all sorts of animals, including a spacious exhibit of ratites - large, flightless birds that include the ostrich, emu, and rhea. Douglas Adams said (in Last Chance To See) that by looking an ostrich directly in the eye, you can see that it has gone completely mad. But that wasn't the sense I got. Instead, what I could see in their eyes - particularly those of the cassowary, whose bony crest makes it look extremely dinosaurish - was something closer to a murderous, burning hatred for all things human, and possibly all things non-ratite.

As we were wrapping things up for the day, our path towards the exit took us past the compound of Rapunzel, the Sumatran Rhinoceros. Sumatran Rhinoceroses are remarkable for many reasons - in part because all rhinoceroses are inherently remarkable, in part for their small size, but mostly for their hairiness. For a few moments I thought I was looking - at a great distance - at some living relative of the extinct Wooly Rhinoceros. But it was difficult to see, because Rapunzel (I only found her name out later, courtesy of the internet**) was on the other side of her enclosure from us. We had no way of getting to her, and I wanted to see her before we left. So I did the only reasonable thing in such a situation: I tried my luck with a rhino call.

"Here, rhino rhino rhino," I called. "Heeere, rhino rhino rhino!"

And, damned if Rapunzel didn't raise her head from the patch of grass she was cropping, look at me, and cross the compound directly to us. I was astonished. It was amazing.

OK, it's probably not that amazing. Rapunzel was a fixture at the zoo for many years before I met her, and she had probably heard that call hundreds of thousands of times. Still, it's pretty weird to have a rhinoceros come when you call it.


* Yes, I know Telemundo is a big huge network. I'm just sayin' that I first knew about it from the broadcasts coming out of Philadelphia.

**A lack of current references on the internet leads me to believe that Rapunzel has since died. However, Emi the Sumatran Rhino is still alive and well at the Cincinnati Zoo.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Comin' Home


Comin' Home by The M.R.S. Project Posted by Hello

Palmer Johnson, former lead singer of 3 Brix Shy, has gotten together with Bob Simmons and Dave Norris (recording as The M.R.S. Project) to create Comin' Home, a salute to the men and women of our armed forces who are serving overseas. Played exclusively on WKRZ 98.5 FM and available exclusively at Joe Nardone's Gallery of Sound, the song is at times reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen, at other times sounding a little like Creed, but ultimately is its own entity: a great tribute to the men and women of our armed forces, and to the families and friends who wait for their return. If you're anywhere near Northeastern Pennsylvania, head over to your nearest Gallery of Sound and pick up a copy!

Monday, April 25, 2005

Magnolia fan

Here's a shot of the magnolia tree across the street from my house, photographed at the end of my walk with Haley this morning. If Anne at Almost Quintessence isn't going get to see hers bloom, maybe this can be some consolation!


Magnolia, just past peak bloom, April 25, 2005 Posted by Hello

Til August

OK, here's the premise: a bunch of musicians who have played together in the past decide in late April to get together and form a rock band. The catch: The band will be breaking up in August. In the intervening four months, will they be able to practice, establish themselves as a band, get some gigs, and attract a crowd?

It might sound like a lame-ass idea for a reality TV show, but in fact it's actually happening, right here in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Members of several former and current bands are assembling for a quick summer project before one of their members heads off to grad school. In honor of their limited life expectancy, the band has decided to call itself "Til August". (And let's hope Aimee Mann and her bandmates don't find out about this!)

One other thing: the birth, life, and death of this band will be chronicled in a blog, http://tilaugust.blogspot.com/ - by me, and hopefully by the members of the band as well!

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Disturbing trends in blogging

I think I have a lead on why my number of visitors has dropped lately (other than a possible Google re-indexing that adversely affected me.)

Used to be that I could count on a number of visitors each way who came to me by way of the "Next Blog" button on the Blogger toolbar at the top of most BlogSpot blogs. These visitors could be identified on my Sitemeter because their "Referring URL" would be another BlogSpot blog that otherwise had no connection to my blog. And since they would tend to come immediately after a new entry was posted, I figured that the "Next Blog" button was related to Blogger's list of "Recently Updated Blogs".

Unfortunately, it appears that the long version of the "Recently Updated Blogs" page is currently kaput. (I have reported this to Blogger.com; we'll see if they do anything about it.) So, depending on how the system is set up, "Next Blog" visitors may not be getting directed to my blog the way they used to be.

But that is not to say that "Next Blog" doesn't work anymore. While looking into this problem I took a "Next Blog" random walk through the BlogSpot realm of the blogosphere and confirmed that all of the blogs I was seeing had been updated today. But that's when I noticed something disturbing.

At least half of the blogs weren't really blogs at all. They're lists of key words, or lists of product names, or snippets of random text interspersed with links for "Online Gambling" and "Internet Casino". In some cases they were lists of semi-coherent articles with links that all pointed back to a single site. It's the latest thing in online shilling, a sort of "blog spam" - "blam"? And it's a problem, because these fake blogs are clogging up the blogosphere, taking away space (and "Next Blog" visitors) from legitimate blogs. Plus, I wouldn't be surprised at all if a lot of these "blog sites" are actually virus- and spyware-laden traps. Damn. I'd better disinfect my computer, again. (I just did it a few hours ago.)

The other trends weren't really disturbing. Of the roughly 50% of the blogs that I came across that actually were blogs, at least half were not in English. Which I suppose is a good thing, except for the fact that I can't read any of these other languages.

Oh, and it looks like Lions Gate Entertainment has started creating Directors' Blogs for its upcoming and newly released movies. Whether these are actually written by the actual directors or are ghostwritten for them, I cannot say. For some reason I expected David Duchovny would be a better writer than his blog suggests. But, on the other hand, Rob Zombie ROCKS! His blog reads exactly like I would have expected it to - intelligent, articulate, and fun.

Haley visits her cousin

Haley and I went for a walk up to my cousin's house last Sunday. It was a beautiful day, and Haley played outside with her cousin Gabby for a while. I was able to get some great photos with my APS (film) camera.

Haley, April 17, 2005 Posted by Hello


Gabby, April 17, 2005 Posted by Hello

After a while Haley was tired of me taking pictures.

Gabby and Haley, April 17, 2005 Posted by Hello

I think she was glad when she heard the camera start to rewind, since that meant I was all out of film!

Friday, April 22, 2005

234567

My 1996 Toyota Tercel hit 234,567 miles today. I happened to have my digital camera in the car for the occasion.

Odometer, April 22, 2005 Posted by Hello

And I'm still getting 35 miles per gallon or better.

Still nothing

Zero visits overnight.

On the plus side, Blogshares now has a message that says "Spiders revitalized" - maybe these are Blogshares spiders, not Google spiders, I don't know.

We'll see if this posting causes me to show up in Blogger's "Recently Updated Blogs". I didn't see Another Monkey listed there last night after I posted.

I wonder what the heck is going on?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

What the heck just happened?

Something odd has happened with my site. The number of visitors is way down since Tuesday - from an average of 25 a day to an average of less than 10.


Sitemeter daily visits for Another Monkey, March-April 2005 Posted by Hello

This isn't just an odd dip, maybe a result of people searching on words like "Pope Benedict XVI" instead of "cathy baker hee haw" or "whiplash the monkey", which were two of the most popular search strings for my site. No, my site isn't even showing up in Google searches for these strings anymore.

I'm wondering if Google did a re-indexing this week and somehow missed my site? Or if I've been intentionally de-indexed for some reason?

Another odd thing: used to be that whenever I would post, there would be an immediate flurry of visits from people using the "Next" button on the Blogger toolbar. I haven't seen that happen after I've posted these last few days.

I know I'm still being linked by a handful of sites - IndustrialBlog, Virtual Jen, Puppetdude3 (and the related Dunstablog and Party Games), Sammie's sdfsdf.wox.org, Chloe's Watermelon Punch, SuperG's My Distractions In This Modern Age, and Gareth's Another Chance To See, as far as I know. Google says that the best way of making sure your site is indexed is to have it linked by other sites. But I don't understand how that works, either. Google never seems to notice the link from Sammie's site. And I know that a mention on Chloe's site a few months ago seemed to kick me from "not showing up on searches" to "showing up on searches". Chloe's site seems to be loading very slowly these days...I wonder if the link from her site is more heavily weighted in the Google rankings than the links from the other sites, and maybe the problem isn't with how Google sees my site, but hers? But daily visits to her site seem to be staying pretty consistent.

Interesting...while checking out my status at BlogShares, I saw this message:

STATUS: Spider Issues - Come chat in #blogshares (Chanstats).

So it looks like something is up with the Google "spiders" ...I just haven't figured out what yet.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

It's Cherry Blossom Time in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania

Spring has sprung in a big way in Northeastern Pennsylvania, although temperatures feel more like mid-summer. And to think that just four weeks ago we had more than seven inches of snow! Just another consequence of climate change. Like it or not, we're going to have to find a way to live with it.

Daffodils came up several weeks ago and are just past peak, and the forsythia are almost done marking their locations with their lemon-yellow blossoms. Cherry, apple, crabapple, plum, mulberry, and flowering dogwood trees are all in bloom*, and the "stinkblossom" or "dead fish trees" (also known as Bradford Pears) are also nearly at the peak of their repulsive blossoming.

Downtown the grounds of the Mill Memorial Library have always welcomed springtime visitors to Nanticoke with their blossoming trees, although these are sadly fewer in number after a few harsh winters.


Coal Miners' Memorial and Mill Memorial Library, Kosciuszko and Main Streets, Nanticoke, PA, April 17, 2005 Posted by Hello

In my own back yard the dwarf cherry trees that I planted in late Spring 2002** (Lapins and CompacStella) are blossoming for the first time ever. Perhaps the birds will allow me one or two samples of the fruit in a few months.


Lapins Cherry Blossoms, April 20, 2005 Posted by Hello

More blossoms are coming soon - azaleas and rhododendrons and irises and Roses of Sharon and butterfly bushes and, the first week of June, my roses. Stay tuned!


*I think. Tree identification is not my strong suit.
**Or was it 2003? You'd think I'd remember something like that. Well, I'm sure I have the receipt around here somewhere...

And in case you're wondering, the title of this post is a reference to the obscure early-20th-century novelty song "When It's Apple Blossom Time In Orange, New Jersey".

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Shoot the moon

This is what my little digital camera can see of the moon from my back yard. I think this was only using 3x magnification. (I only just read how to activate the 4x digital zoom while taking pictures. I've zoomed in more by cropping the image, which was 98% sky in the original.)


Moon, April 19, 2005 Posted by Hello

Not too bad. Quite a few maria can be identified here. This is just a little after sunset, so the sky was still pretty bright - much later and the increased contrast between moon and sky would have produced an overexposed moon image.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Entering the world of digital photography

I finally got my Nikon Coolpix 4100 out of the box, popped in some batteries, and read enough of the manual and the instructional CD to be confident that I wouldn't break the camera within the first 15 minutes of use. This is a cropped version of one of my first pictures taken with it.


Haley, April 17 2005 Posted by Hello

(I've cropped the photo to remove unnecessary detail around the edges. I also digitally erased my left leg and belly, which were just visible in the lower left and bottom of the photo, respectively.)

Unfortunately Haley is wary of this camera, possibly due to the nuclear blast brightness of the built-in flash. I hope she won't shy away from all cameras now.

Haley is doing very well, by the way. If it weren't for the X-rays and the occasional coughing spell, you wouldn't know there was anything wrong with her.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

M.J. Simpson's Planet Magrathea is closed

I just clicked over to M.J. Simpson's Planet Magrathea to see what tidbits of Hitchhiker's Guide news he has to offer today and was shocked by what I hoped was a late April Fool's Day joke - his site is now closed.

Closed.

He explains his reasons in a message on what remains of his site. But it seems to boil down to the same thing that has taken down other sites: he was sniped to death. There comes a point where even the toughest and best out there can no longer stand the anonymous vitriol that gets heaped on them by subhuman turds who have somehow figured out how to connect to the internet. Jay and Silent Bob may have been able to strike back, but most people don't have the ability to fly all over the world and beat the crap out of every punk who has ever attacked them anonymously.

Dammit, man. I understand your reasons, even though I've never been through what you've been through. I hope someday you'll reconsider and bring it back. I'm gonna miss your site a lot.

Adding Anne's Almost Quintessence

The title of this post is wrong. I actually added Anne's Almost Quintessence a few days ago, but never mentioned it.

Almost Quintessence is one of the best and funniest blogs I have ever read. I could tell you more about it but, dammit, it's only been around for a few months so you can easily go on over to her site and read the complete archives yourself.

Do it. Now. You'll be glad you did.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation, Part 1

Yesterday was an absolutely beautiful day. No heavy rain causing basement flooding, no heavy snow causing highway closures. Nope, just sunshine and mild temperatures, and a whole list of things that needed to be done while the weather was nice.

Mortar Work
First on the list was to attempt a repair to a stone step that has been broken since the beginning of winter. This meant that Friday after work I needed to get some mortar mix and the stuff that goes into doing such a repair - some gray cement dye to make the repair less obvious, and a bargain general-purpose trowel. I couldn't find, and didn't really need, a mortar board, and a coffee can and a broken piece of trellis sufficed for mixing the mortar, and I already had the leather gloves that are a must when dealing with mortar. (Helpful hint: when shopping for mortar mix or masonry products in general, do not wear black clothing.)

I don't know how well or badly I did this repair - this was my first mortar job ever. Right now I have the broken/repaired part of the step guarded by a flower pot and a plastic garden statue, so the mailman or paperboy won't step there and break their necks. I'll let the weather test the quality of my fix.

Adirondack Chair Priming
Now it was time to start on my two new Adirondack chairs. Open the boxes, lay out the pieces, get out the wood primer, begin priming. After an hour or so of applying white primer to the disassembled bodies of two chairs in bright sunlight, I was pretty much snowblind.

Grapevine Trellising
Next came the problem of what to do with the mystery grapevine that spontaneously appeared in my back yard last year. I bought some steel stakes and twelve feet of galvanized 1/16" wire to string through them. Planting the stakes was a bit of a pain, but the grapevine has lots of tendrils that made handy hooks for hanging it from the wire. Maybe this fall I'll have some mystery grapes from my mystery grapevine.

Rosebush Pruning
While waiting for the primer to dry I pruned all the rose hips off my Royal Highness rosebush. When you're dealing with a rosebush that's five feet tall and eight feet across, that's quite a feat.

Adirondack Chair Assembly and Painting
After waiting a few hours for the primer to dry it was time to assemble the chairs. This takes some doing, but I got it done fairly quickly. Now it was time to paint the chairs, the same shade of milky green ("jade sandstone") that I painted my first Adirondack chair last year. This took a lot of time with my little 2" chip brush.

Dinner and Shower
Now it was time for a quick dinner - Burger King hamburgers, shared with Haley - and a quick shower before the final event of the day. During my shower I discovered that I had gotten my first dose of farmer's tan (restricted to head, neck, and forearms), as well as a lovely sunburn on the small of my back. (Good thing my shirt rode up instead of my pants riding down, or this burn might have been a lot more painful than it is.)

Blue Sundaze Show
Now it was time to dash off to see my friends in Blue Sundaze play in a bar some 20 miles away.

Blue Sundaze: Derrick, Ray, Rose, and John Posted by Hello

The show was great, as always. The crowd really livened up when the guys from Black Dog showed up with their families and friends. Hopefully, Blue Sundaze will have another show scheduled soon.

Bed
Then I went home and went to bed. The End.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Cropping and detail

I don't like cropping photographs. I prefer to compose my shot in the viewfinder, and then live with my decision. I chose to crop the photo I published the other day because the photo server I use has a limited amount of space for each picture, so using the uncropped version would result in a scrunching of detail. Here's a thumbnail of the full-sized shot; click on it and compare the visible detail to the detail visible on the cropped version.


Full sized view Posted by Hello

(The telephone pole on the right isn't really leaning. My camera's lens produces some fisheye distortion around the edges.)

I wish you could see the original as I have it on my computer, because you would see the amazing amount of detail captured by my Advantix APS camera (using 24mm ISO 400 APS film) as brought out by Sam's Club's processing and recording to CD-R. To give you a sense of this detail, here's another cropped version of the photo. This is just the church, barely visible in the far distance on both photos:


Church (detail) Posted by Hello

The amount of detail you can see here is really remarkable. I really didn't expect this from my little camera.

By the way, I finally gave in and bought a digital camera (Nikon Coolpix 4100 4 megapixel, $179.) We'll see what I can do with that.

Sanitary Bakery


Sanitary Bakery, October 30 2004 Posted by Hello

I took another load of cupcakes and donuts from Sanitary Bakery in to work today. Sanitary is one of a dying breed, the local bakery - the last one left in Nanticoke. Most small-town bakeries have been driven out of business by supermarkets and discount stores that sell mass-produced pastries at cut-rate prices. Still, there's something to be said for taste. Everybody at work loves the stuff from Sanitary, but they can never get over the name. Sanitary? Well, I should hope so.

It's an old name, from a long-ago time - 1948, to be exact. Names like that were used to stress the cleanliness of the place. There's a national supermarket chain that carries another of those names that were supposed to be reassuring - Safeway. We don't have any Safeways around here, so the comparison really doesn't help most of the locals to understand. (I think the only Safeway I have ever been in was in Arlington, Virginia. It was a pretty scary place - I didn't feel safe there at all.)

For a long time I've kicked around the idea of doing an entry on Sanitary, but I realized I would need to do some research before I could say anything more than "funny name, good stuff." Fortunately, while picking up the cupcakes and donuts this morning I saw a hand-written sign taped to the wall: "Visit our website at http://www.sanitarybakery.com/". They've done all the exposition work for me.

So there you go: funny name, good stuff, all explained at the Sanitary Bakery website. When visiting Nanticoke, be sure to stop by for the best pastries around!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

An American portrait


Nanticoke, west along Field Street Posted by Hello

I took this photo on March 31, during the final walk of my vacation with Haley. This is actually a cropped version of the full photo (well, it's a clickable thumbnail of the cropped version), which the picture server would have scrunched down until the interesting details were illegible. (Click on the picture to see the details.)

A photo like this probably shouldn't need explanation, but I'm gonna explain anyway.

- The central image in the photo, in the far background, is a church. My church. Not the biggest church in Nanticoke, and certainly not the largest parish in Nanticoke, but it does occupy the highest point in the city. It is a little less than a mile away from where I took this photo. (This was the first time I noticed that my camera's viewfinder has a little targeting thingie in the center - and I've had this camera for about five years. I used it to center the image on and slightly above the church steeple.)

- Leading to the church is Field Street. It may look like a dirt road, but it's actually paved. Because of its location - essentially a shallow ravine - a lot of dirt tends to wash onto it in periods of heavy rain. This photo was taken from the intersection of College and Field Streets, facing west - if you ever find yourself in Nanticoke, you can go there and re-create the image yourself!

- On the left is a field with some trees, and beyond that are some houses. Field Street is the southern border of habitation for the middle part of Nanticoke, but on on the east and west ends of the city the houses continue southward for another half-mile or so.

- On the right is the cemetery that I have featured in previous entries.

- Above is the "curdled sky" that I mentioned in my March 31 entry.

I thought that this photo sort of captured the essence of small-town American life as it once existed and still does exist to a lesser extent in places like Nanticoke, with life and death centered around the parish church. It sounds corny, but there you have it - in pictorial form.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Tax time

This past Sunday Haley and I went for another trip to the Poconos. But before we did that I knew there was something I had to do, something I had been putting off for a long time: my taxes.

Late Saturday night I pulled out the oversized Ziplock bag that held my fairly small pile of tax stuff and got down to business. W2's, here. (My company changed corporate identity in 2004, so we all got two W2 forms.) 1099-INT's, here. (Pathetically small. Bad year for interest-bearing investments.) 1040...there?

This year my 1040 was a small, folded-up pamphlet thing. I opened it up and looked at it. It was a TeleFile form, which would allow me to quickly and easily do my taxes over the phone. Well, what the hell, I thought, let's give it a shot.

(A word of advice: doing your taxes via the automated telephone system while watching - and listening to - Saturday Night Live is probably not the best idea in the world.)

The IRS is pushing TeleFile pretty hard. "The Convenient Way To File", the pamphlet announces. "TeleFile is the most convenient, quickest, and simplest way for you to file your federal tax return...We encourage you to try TeleFile because we know that once you do, you will continue to use it for as long as you qualify. Of all the filing options people can choose to file their taxes, TeleFile has the highest satisfaction rate at over 80%."

And you know what? It was all true. Zip, zip, zip, in and out, nobody gets hurt, taxes done, refund on the way. Super!

And at the end of the process there was a recorded message: "Thank you for using TeleFile. This is the last year TeleFile will be offered as an option."

I didn't roll in that irony for too long, 'cause now it was off to do State taxes. Another phone form, essentially the same process as the Federal taxes, with a few more pointless questions. Got to the end, owed $12. Time to use form PA-V to remit my taxes owed. Round off to the nearest dollar. Do not use cents. OK, not a problem...but why does form PA-V include blanks for cents? For that matter, why does form PA-V include blanks for seven digits of dollars? Would someone who owes $1,000,000.00 in state taxes be using form PA-V? And what form does someone who owes more than $9,999,999.00 use?

Local tax is the most tedious, even though it ultimately amounts to just finding the right figure for "Local wages" on my W2 and multiplying by 1% (that is, dividing by 100.) Compare it to my Local taxes withheld and see if I'm a winner or a loser. This year I'm a loser. Overpaid by 12 cents. No quibbling permitted either way for any amounts under a dollar, and I've come out ahead so many years in a row, they were long overdue...but then I got to thinking: what if everyone in the city overpaid their taxes by 12 cents? Where does that money go? OK, it's not a lot of money, but still...

So now I'm done with my taxes, at least until next year. What fun.

If you haven't done yours yet, better hurry! The deadline is this Friday*!

*Friday. Friday. Not Thursday, despite what other temporal versions of this blog may have told you. The current version is superior. The current version is always superior.

I'd feel worse if I'd said Friday, and tax day really was Thursday.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Scenes from the aftermath of a snowstorm

Here are some photos I took on the morning of Thursday, March 24th, the day after our last (I hope) major snowstorm of the 2004/2005 season.

We received at least seven inches of wet snow on the 23rd, but by the morning of the 24th this had packed down a bit.

It's hard to see in the reduced-size version of my photo (and even harder in this clickable thumbnail), but pretty much every surface is coated with several inches of snow - including the telephone lines that run along the top of the picture, and the right side of the pole (which formerly held a basketball hoop) on the lower right.

Neighborhood Posted by Hello

"My house looked like it had been coated with marshmallow fluff..."

Marshmallow Fluff Posted by Hello

"The clotheslines were sagging nearly to the ground..."

Backyard Posted by Hello

"Looking out at the somewhat round 12-to-24 inch chunks of snow, snow that would be perfect for making snowballs and snowmen, made me feel like I was walking in some nightmare landscape littered with the corpses of 1,000 snowmen..."

The (decayed) corpses of 1,000 snowmen Posted by Hello
(This photo was actually taken the Saturday after the snowstorm, March 26th, Holy Saturday. The snow had melted down a lot, especially on the road, resulting in this neat right-angle pattern of snowplow pile remnants. These piles had been two to three feet tall two days before.)

Today was an absolutely gorgeous day - warm, sunny, cloudless. I sat in my now snow-free Adirondack chair with Haley by my side and we enjoyed the fresh air and sunshine. It's hard to believe that these photos were taken just two weeks and two days ago.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Rahat

My first Model U.N. was at King's College in Wilkes-Barre on October 25, 1983. I don't remember that date because of any personal relevance - in fact, I had to look it up. Not the Model U.N. itself, but the major event that happened that day: the invasion of Grenada.

Organizers of Model U.N.'s like to throw curveballs at participants. At Lock Haven 1984 we had a make-believe all-out world war nearly break out. For a while at the King's College 1983 Model U.N. we didn't believe that a major war might be unfolding for real while we were playing diplomats. But Grenada didn't amount to much, except for the people involved.

I met John Morgan there for the first time. I would run into him a few more times, mostly at Model U.N.'s. I wound up going to college with one of his friends, a guy named Walter.

By October of 1984, my second King's College Model U.N., I was more experienced with the structure and function of the event and had a better idea of how to have fun there. But King's College was a local get-together, not a state-wide assembly like Lock Haven. Still, I thought it might be a good place to meet girls. And I met one.

She reminded me of Beth, who I had met just over six months before. She was a few inches taller than Beth. Her hair was black and gently curled, where Beth's was chestnut and straight. Her eyes were brown, while Beth - I don't really remember what color Beth's eyes were, but they might have been brown, too. Her skin was dark, the color of coffee with two shots of cream. Her lips were dark, and pillow-soft, and warm...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

She and her delegation represented Israel. I don't remember much about the actual activities that day. I do remember sending her a note asking her out for a coffee, but I never got a response. I never got her name, either, let alone her address or phone number.

Time passed. Lock Haven 1985 happened. Beth. Rindi. Graduating from high school. Starting college.

My second year of college eventually rolled around, and like most upperclassmen (and upperclasswomen) I spent the first week or two checking out the incoming crop of students. I met a lot of the kids going into the SJLA program, the Special Jesuit Liberal Arts program that I was a part of. Other people I met parasitically - I let my friends make first contact, and then I met the new people through them. I think this is called "networking" nowadays.

I don't remember where this next bit happened. It might have been when I was visiting some friends in their dorm. It might have been in our Student Center. But I was with a group of people, including several Freshman girls, when suddenly I realized that I knew the dark-skinned, dark-haired, dark-eyed, dark-lipped girl who happened to be standing in front of me at that moment.

"Israel!" I shouted, and suddenly she knew me, too.

Her name was Rahat. I got to know her fairly well over the next three years, though not as well as I wished.

We talked a lot at first, and found out things about each other. We were both going to school on full-tuition scholarships. Maintaining mine was very important to me; without it I would not be able to go to college, not without taking out crippling student loans that could take many years to repay. Hers was less critical to her; her father was a doctor, and her family was fairly wealthy, or at least well-off. We both had been born on exactly the same day, in exactly the same year. Our birthdates placed us on the cusp of kindergarten registration the year we were eligible; my parents decided to put me in school a little early, making me younger than most of my classmates throughout my educational career. Rahat's parents had held off until the next year.

We had some adventures together. We had some moments. They're none of your damned business, most of them. She's married now, with a career. I hope she's happy.

There is one story to tell. It might have been that first day that we met on campus. It was fairly early on in what I will call (for want of a better word) our relationship. We had been talking to each other about each other quite a bit, and when dinnertime rolled around we headed up to the fancy upstairs dining room on the top floor of the Student Center, not the more utilitarian cafeteria on the first floor. We sat with a group of Rahat's friends and continued to talk.

We talked about many things, for a timeless infinity. If you've ever seen the movie My Dinner With Andre, you'll understand what it was like. You might also know what's coming next.

We talked and talked, ignoring her friends, my friends, everything around us. The world was, for a moment, just two people getting to know each other. We talked and talked and kept on talking until a strange noise interrupted our conversation.

The noise was silence, which was then broken by the whine of a vacuum cleaner. We looked up. The dining room was empty except for the staff, who were removing linen tablecloths, putting up chairs on the tables, and vacuuming the floor. Oblivious to the world, we had kept on talking until after every other student had left the room, until the cafeteria itself had closed.

We decided it was time to go back to our respective dorms. I walked her to her dorm and said goodbye. I think I hummed "Getting To Know You" as I walked back to mine.

There's not really much to add, at least, not much that I'm going to add. As I said, we had some moments, but they never amounted to anything serious. Sometimes I wonder if I ever had a chance with her. Maybe I did. I don't know. Fifteen years later, it probably doesn't matter.

Much.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Rindi

I've told you all about Beth, or as much about Beth as I am willing to tell. I will now tell you about Rindi.

I met Rindi at the 1985 Lock Haven Model U.N. "Met" probably isn't the right word. We must have said something to each other over the course of the two-day event, but my mind was entirely wrapped up in Beth and the knowledge that this would very probably be the last time I would ever see her. Rindi - not her proper name, but rather a pet version of her real name that she used then and doesn't use now, and if you know anyone called Rindi you probably can guess what her real name is - doesn't really appear in my memory until the very end of the event. The very end. I had said my last goodbyes to Beth after the final session had broken up, and we were all headed off to our buses and vans to get our rides back home. Rindi approached me - Rindi approached me - and asked me for my address.

I thought fast then, faster than I usually do now. I told her I would give her mine if she would give me hers. She agreed to the trade.

Where Beth was short - more than a foot shorter than me - Rindi was about four inches taller than me. Beth came from an artistic background; Rindi grew up in the country, and spent a lot of time with horses. Beth seemed very worldly and street-smart, while Rindi seemed innocent and naive.

I might have kept in touch with Rindi on and off through the remaining months of my Senior year of high school, but my memory is a little jumbled here, and I think it is possible I am remembering things from talking with her when I was home on break during my first year of college. It is possible that I only established contact with Rindi at a point nearly at the end of my Senior year in high school. The relationship warmed up that summer, and into my first year of college.

We spent a lot of time on the phone together. A lot. It wasn't just all small talk either. But neither of us had a car, so things just stayed on the phone, and in letters. Lots of letters.

I followed Rindi's adventures remotely, from half a dozen pay phones located on my campus (no e-mail, no cell phones - these were the ancient days of the mid-to-late 1980's), and through letters written here and there. She was a year behind me in school. We talked through her senior year in high school, and her two years of college. We talked about marriage (would I be willing to become a Lutheran? would I be willing to get married on horseback?). In my last year of college, we talked about her decision to go into the Navy.

She should never have gone into the Navy. She never should have been accepted into the Navy. She had injured her knee some time before - in a horse-riding accident, thrown by her beloved Niskitoon, I think - and had had arthroscopic surgery to repair the damage. She should have been disqualified from entering the Navy. Her recruiter knew about her knee. He told her to keep it quiet. Another checkmark on his tally sheet, I suppose; what happened to her after she signed up wasn't his problem.

She washed out within a week or two. Her knee, of course. I think they chewed her out pretty harshly for not being more forthcoming.

Some bad things had happened to her before she entered the Navy, things I helped her to deal with. Some bad things happened after she left the Navy, things that couldn't be undone. I was there for her then, too.

I finished my four years of college and made plans to go to grad school in Delaware. In the summer between college and Delaware, Rindi came out to see me.

It was the first time we had seen each other since Lock Haven. She was more beautiful than I remembered. Her hands were rougher than I had imagined - this comes from working with horses, I suppose.

Things happened. Things didn't happen.

It turned out that she had met someone and was going off to live with him. She had come out to see me to say goodbye.

It didn't quite end there. We spoke once or twice while I was in Delaware, over the phone. I wrote one last letter. My cousin ran into someone in college who had worked for Rindi's mother. But I never saw Rindi again.

I found her during a Google search a few years ago. She's married, with children, and living a life that I think she might be happy with. I hope she is.

Maybe she's forgotten me. Her name isn't Rindi anymore. But maybe someday she will search on the name she used to use, and find this entry, and remember a guy who loved her, once upon a time.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Love Day

I've never been much one for artificial holidays. Valentine's Day, for example - OK, it's a Saint's Day, sure, but it's mutated into something far beyond that, almost completely divorced from its origins. And it is almost completely meaningless, except for those who are alone, or for those who are not alone and have forgotten that there are some expectations attached to February 14th.

Each of us carries personal holidays with us. Birthdays, anniversaries, dates that are important to us and to those around us. Or sometimes, only to us.

April 5th, 1984 was the day that I fell in love for the first time.

I'm gonna name a name. I think it's OK, since it's a common enough name, and a Google search will reveal lots of hits that aren't her - I've checked, of course.

Her name was Beth Cooper, and we were at the Lock Haven Model United Nations. A Model U.N. is a cross between a huge speech/debate competition, a role-playing game, and a wild party. There's lots of prep work that each team - each "delegation" - has to put into it, and sometimes the organizers will throw curve balls at the participants. Individuals get a chance to shine in presentations, and teams get to play out strategy by forming alliances with other teams. Gather several hundred extremely intense, highly intelligent high school Juniors and Seniors from dozens of different schools in one spot and lots of interesting stuff is bound to happen.

Beth and her schoolmates were the representatives of Belgium. She was the "Belgium Bunny", and at 4'8" and agonizingly gorgeous she lived up to her nickname. My team represented China, something I found difficult to do - to wrap my mind around how a Chinese Communist representative would behave. I found myself automatically voting against the U.S. delegation whenever possible, except on those rare occasions when somehow the proposals of the U.S. or their allies meshed with what I imagined were Chinese interests.

A war broke out during our General Session, and it took some fancy maneuvering on my part to avoid having China get seriously damaged. Turns out there were an awful lot of lookalikes for whoever the Chinese leader at the time was, and one of them - a bus driver from Hunan Province - got assassinated by mistake.

A big part of the Model U.N. structure involved note passing. Runners would pick up notes from one delegation and pass them to another delegation elsewhere in the auditorium. These notes were usually coded, cryptic personal messages that had nothing to do with what was actually going on.

Maybe I impressed Beth with something I said or did. Maybe she just felt like flirting with some random guy. I don't know.

She sent a note to me. I excused myself and met her outside. We talked. I fell in love.

Love is irrational. Love is mad. Love is wanting to vomit, and dance, and sing, and fly, all at the same time, and being pretty sure you might just pull it off. Anyone who ever asks "Why do you...?" when it comes to love - well, I feel sorry for them, because I don't think they've ever been there.

I don't remember much else from those two intense days in Lock Haven, other than the "Lock Haven Effect": whenever a group of people are engaged in extremely intense activity in the same location for a two-day period, they will tend to perceive the events from the first day as happening in "the morning", and things on the second day as happening in "the afternoon", as though the night were just an extended lunchtime. It happened then, and it happened the next year, too.

I left Lock Haven with Beth's address, and she had mine. We wrote to each other throughout the year. I figured I might never see her again, but the effects of having met her stayed with me.

I began to lose weight. A lot of weight. And I felt like I had woken up after being asleep for a long, long time.

I started dating. I started doing things. I decided to take a chance and apply for the 1984 Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Sciences at Carnegie-Mellon University - and damned if I didn't get it. Five weeks of intense study with very bad cafeteria food will help you to lose weight, too.

When my Senior year rolled around I joined the Wrestling team. I was on the Wrestling, Speech, and Model U.N. teams all at the same time. I starved and sweat and bashed skulls with the other wrestlers (our motto was "No pain, no gain; no brain, no pain"), even though I was in the Heavyweight category with no real chance of falling out of it. But still I pushed, and pushed, and pushed. I got contact lenses, too, for the first time in my life.

I went to the Lock Haven Model U.N. again in April 1985 and saw Beth in line at the registration table. I cleverly placed my briefcase on the floor in such a way that if she turned to the left she would knock it over and see me. She turned to the left, knocked it over, looked at me, and apologized profusely without recognizing me. I was pleased.

I saw her in a row talking to John Morgan, a guy I knew from previous Model U.N.'s who lived in the next town over from me and who had also flirted with Beth the previous year. (Beth was from somewhere in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania, while John and I lived in the northeastern corner. Beth probably had flirted with a lot of guys the year before, not just two guys who happened to live ten miles from each other.) John was on her left. I sat down about six seats away on her right. I put down my briefcase and called out a cheerful greeting to John, calling him by name. He returned my greeting, calling me by name.

Beth's eyes got real big as she finally recognized me.

The rest is an anticlimax. We didn't run off and happily-ever-after. We barely spoke at Lock Haven that year. Afterwards we exchanged letters for a while - this was in the prehistoric days before e-mail - and I lost her once or twice. Found her again by phone during my Sophomore year of college, when she was living with a boyfriend - that was kinda awkward. Called her again a few months later to see how things were going, only to get her boyfriend, who told me she had just left him, and he was feeling suicidal. I think I talked him down. Or maybe he was just bullshitting me.

I think I heard from her one last time a few years later, from somewhere in Florida. I may have my timelines confused.

I Google her once in a while, looking for artists, actresses, doctors, or teachers with her name who also match her general description. I don't think I've found her fingerprints yet. Maybe she'll Google herself someday, and find this, and realize who I am, and decide to get in touch with me. Maybe.

I met other people at Model U.N.'s. Rindi. Rahat. I know how their stories have gone - I won't say ended, because neither of them are done living their stories yet.

But what has become of Beth Cooper is a mystery. She was the first woman I ever fell in love with. April 5th, 1984. A date I will always celebrate.

Happy Love Day, everybody.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Monkeys, bloody monkeys

I called this blog Another Monkey for various reasons, which I detailed here. The name has nothing to do with some sort of monkey-related obsession, 'cause I don't have one. But that didn't stop my friends from deciding that that must be the reason. I finally got tired of trying to explain, and decided to just let them get me whatever monkey-related stuff they felt like.

It's added up over the past few months. Here's a sampling from the collection:


Monkeys Posted by Hello

Starting from the center and spiraling out clockwise:

- a monkey necklace bought in Stone Harbor during our vacation last August
- a wooden monkey cutout, painted and with a magnet glued to its back
- the Scholastic book "Monkeys and Apes", which lists lemurs as either monkeys or apes*
- a bookmark featuring three monkeys and the sexually-suggestive slogan "It's all about the banana"
- a small articulated monkey by Boyd's
- a sitting chocolate monkey by Michael Mootz**, a local candy company
- an "EXOTIC HANGIN PRIMATE" from Toys 'R' Us (at least, that's how it was described on the sales receipt)
- Supermonkey (with Super Slingshot Action!), Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price $9.99, purchased for $1 at a junk store
- another chocolate monkey from John L. Stopay's Candy**, this one on a scooter, naked except for a small cap and what appear to be buccaneer boots, highly detailed on both sides

The smile on the chimpanzee on the cover of the Scholastic book is probably the last thing you would see before it chews off your face, tears off your foot, and bites off your genitals.

*Actually, it doesn't. It's careful to list lemurs as "related to monkeys." My mistake. Still, if you're writing a book for kids called "Monkeys and Apes", you should probably not prominently feature things that are neither monkeys nor apes. It's kinda like all the dinosaur books that list the Dimetrodon, Pteranodon, Plesiosaur, Smilodon (saber-toothed tiger), and Mastodon with the "dinosaurs".

**Both of these chocolate monkeys were originally attributed to a candy maker called Pelas's, which is now closed. We sure have a lot of local candy companies!

Saturday, April 02, 2005

More damned water

It's raining, again.

The basement of my late grandmother's house is flooded, again.

I was over there from 3:00 to 8:00 running pumps with little effect, all the while having someone check the condition of my basement periodically.

I guess they weren't checking often enough. The entire basement flooded suddenly, much worse than we had the other night. I hurried home and began strategic pumping. Now I'm just doing maintenance pumping. Good thing I bought a second pump.

This used to be an extremely rare event. We had a flood in 1972 as part of Tropical Storm Agnes, and another in 1975 as part of Tropical Storm Eloise. Then again sometime in the early 1980's, possibly again in the late 80's, then in 1996. That was when I bought the first pump, the one which burned out back in January.

I bought a second pump in 2002 when I was sure that a late Winter storm would quickly melt and result in a flood. It didn't. But we did have a flood in June of 2003, the day after Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was released. Then again in September 2004, after Hurricane Ivan. Then in January. Then Monday night. Then today.

I wonder if this is what climate change feels like?

The Polish Pope

Before I finish writing this Pope John Paul II may be dead. He's hanging in there, like you should expect from a hard-working Pole, but it looks like he's passed the point of no return.

Nanticoke has always been a Polish enclave in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and like much of the area is primarily Roman Catholic. So we were proud and delighted in October of 1978 when our fellow Pole Karol Wojtyla (pronounced "Carol Voy-TEE-wah") was elected Pope following the untimely death of his predecessor.

John Paul II was young, vigorous, multilingual - a Pope for the worldwide Catholic Church rather than just another Italian sitting on a throne offering proclamations.

I haven't always agreed with his positions. Abortion, ordination of women - right or wrong, on these topics he was simply holding to the basic doctrines of the Catholic church. My biggest issue was with his position on Liberation Theology, which came to a crisis point in the late 1980's, while I was at college at a Jesuit university. It seemed that the position adopted by the Vatican reflected more the Pope's anti-Communist roots than the moral realities of what was going on in Latin America. In this way it seemed that the Vatican was adopting a realpolitik approach that chillingly resembled the U.S.'s "Friendly Dictators" program.

Soon he will be dead, and the College of Cardinals will gather in Rome to elect another pope. Whoever is elected, John Paul II will be a tough act to follow.

Friday, April 01, 2005

No fooling

April 1st is, of course, April Fool's Day, a traditional day for pranks, practical jokes, and fake news stories. But this week the mood is so somber that everyone seems to be avoiding the usual practice - that, or they're being so subtle and clever that I'm missing it.

The only clear example I've seen so far is Gareth's fake entry about a living colony of Dodos being discovered on Mauritius. This borders on being cruel, and is possibly dangerous to some people who tend to believe everything they see online. Still, I wanted to believe it was true, and I had to do some digging to determine that it was either a prank or a heavily under-reported story. So - Bravo, Gareth! You got me! Sort of.

I've seen some other stories about numbers in a fortune cookie leading to a lottery win - hey, it could happen - and about Ms. Handicapped U.S.A. being dethroned because a photo was taken of her standing - I'm pretty sure that one is real, but I wish it were a joke, and as it is I can't find the story now, so maybe it was a joke, but not a very funny one.

The one "joke" story I would like to read: President Bush admits that the failures and exaggerations in Intelligence reports that led up to the invasion of Iraq were in part the fault of the Administration dictating the conclusions that it expected to be drawn. In reality, the Presidential Commission on Intelligence seems to be placing the blame entirely on the Intelligence community, and none on the Bush administration. Where's an Independent Counsel when you need one?