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Monday, July 31, 2006

Advice on optimizing your blog from Computer Shopper

I picked up a copy of Computer Shopper today - not, as you might expect, because I'm looking to buy a new computer, which I am; the computers listed in magazines like Computer Shopper tend to have all the bells and whistles I explicitly don't need. No, I picked it up because of the headline tucked in the lower left of the cover: "5 WAYS TO PROMOTE YOUR BLOG - FOR FREE".

I've been looking for something like this. Not for me; well, not just for me. I get lots of hits, though I would always enjoy sharing my love with more of the blog-reading public (ALL OTHER BLOGS ARE INFERIOR TO ANOTHER MONKEY!!!! VISIT ANOTHER MONKEY 100 TIMES A DAY EVERY DAY!!!! YOU WILL OBEYYYYYY!!!!!!!! ), but I'm really thinking of someone else, somebody who blogs her heart out and writes lots of interesting and heartfelt stuff and is essentially writing to an audience of two. (It might look like three, but two of the visitors are me - one from home and one from work.) When I first set up my blog I added little bits of code that would automatically ping various blog directories and let them know when I had posted something new. But that was two years ago, and the blog world has moved on since then, and I realize that there are probably newer and more comprehensive sites out there.

There are. While Most of the article "Optimize Your Blog" (by Kevin Savetz, on pages 94-95 of the August 2006 issue of Computer Shopper) is pretty mundane stuff ("Make it look good", "Write well", "Leave comments on other people's blogs", "Track your site traffic"), there are several syndication services mentioned that I've never heard of before. These are:

- Blogwise (http://www.blogwise.com/) and
- Bitacle (http://www.bitacle.org/), blog directories;
- Feedshot (http://www.feedshot.com/), a service that adds your blog to multiple directories (according to the article, it will add you to nine directories for free or nineteen directories for $1.99); and
- Ping-O-Matic (http://www.pingomatic.com/), which updates blog search engines whenever you've updated your blog. (I do a similar thing with Technorati.)

So. I will have to see about getting listed on these directories and pinging the Ping-O-Matic - there are possibly a few Cathy Baker and Hee Haw fans out there who have yet to discover Another Monkey. If you're looking to increase your blog traffic by making the information on your blog more accessible to people who might be specifically looking for it, you should check out these sites, too!

The answer to the previous post's title is "NO!"

Firefox crashed yesterday after I made the third revision to the post, adding in some final links. Then MSN Messenger crashed, and Internet Explorer. When I tried to shut down AOL it hung, forcing a CTRL+ALT+DEL shutdown. Then Windows locked up, so I had to do an "ungraceful reboot" using the switch on my power strip.
I managed to interrupt the reboot and restart the computer in the "Command Prompt" mode - back in my day we called it the "DOS Prompt", sonny - and ran Scandisk without any of the Windows bells and whistles forcing it to restart every ten seconds. It found some problems and corrected them, but the surface scan (which came up clean) took several hours to run, during which I headed out into the Big Wide World to look at new computers. When I came back from Windows-shopping I saw that Scandisk had finished its run and I tried to simply restart the computer. It immediately crashed.
After a proper cooling-off period (during which the desk fan that I had been using to blow air through the PC chassis apparently died) the computer restarted with minimal failures. (I keep getting flashes of the Windows blue screen of death, which then go away without apparent consequence. I think if I knew computers better I would be very, very concerned.) I was able to use Firefox for a little bit, but then it crashed again. It is possible that my Firefox problems are caused by a corruption resulting from previous system crashes. But it's also possible that they are the result of increased RAM demands from the latest update to the program, or even from the latest and greatest banner ads which have always plagued me.
Meanwhile, my hits continue to run high, in the last two days almost entirely due to searches for "Cathy Baker Hee Haw". In the past week (thanks also to hits from The Anomalist) I have seen more traffic than I previously had in my best month. Someone needs to set up Hee Haw conventions along the lines of Star Trek conventions. An appearance by Cathy Baker would probably cause a riot!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Is it fixed?

I struggled with the mozillaZine instructions for the "Standard Diagnostic" for Firefox last night and did not achieve any noticeable results, other than to cause the crash to sometimes happen in "module(UNKNOWN)" instead of in js3250.dll. But after a few hours of down-time and a reboot, Firefox started up on the first try this morning, and has not crashed in a half hour of use and a dozen pages visited.

Firefox has a lot of nice features that I really missed yesterday. I don't think I'm going to abandon it right away. Still, I wish they would drop the "Firefox is wonderful!" attitude and adopt a "Firefox is imperfect, here are the known problems and solutions" stance.

So. Yesterday. Some international chatting, more porch-painting, walked up the hill to church, walked back down the hill after church, mowed the lawn (new house), whacked the weeds (new house), tinkered with the computer, watched some of the Hee Haw marathon, made a late-night phone call. Late night phone calls are fun because if I am sufficiently tired I will begin to experience hypnagogic hallucinations. "...but what about the big green snake on the right, the hognosed one with its mouth open? Errr....."

Oh. My hits have exploded again. "Cathy Baker Hee Haw" stuff. (To the person who searched on "Camilla Hee Haw", I believe the woman's name was "Gunilla". But it sounded like "Camilla" to me.) If that woman is ever strapped for cash, she can sell autographed photos for $5 apiece and become an instant millionaire!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Firefox and the js3250.dll crash

UPDATE, 1/6/2007: A POSSIBLE SOLUTION TO THIS PROBLEM HAS BEEN POSTED!
See the bottom of this post for details!

So it's not just me. I finally decided to check out the "Details" information that comes up when Firefox crashes, and I keep seeing the same thing being referenced: js3250.dll.
A Google search for js3250.dll shows that this is a common cause of crashes for Firefox users. The symptoms tend to be the same: one day things are running moderately well, the next Firefox crashes, again and again, and eventually refuses to start up.
Help for Firefox is not easy to get. As the great open-source browser, Firefox is really intended for computer Do-It-Yourselfers, propellerhead shade-tree mechanics whose idea of a fun evening involves a lot of time scouring code looking for conflicts. I'm not one of them. I'm a user of technology, not a tinkerer.
Firefox help forums are of limited utility, too. They're basically places where users go and complain about their problems, and Firefox Evangelists drift by and offer solutions. There's a cult-like air to these places that I've noticed elsewhere in the Firefox world: any criticism of Firefox is seen as trolling, and may be grounds for getting tossed out to a place where you shall wail and gnash your teeth. Also, help topics that specifically mention js3250.dll suddenly don't mention it once you click on them. What gives?
The offered solutions that I found scattered around the Mozilla/Firefox site remind me of the time I tried to resolve an issue with Norton SystemWorks, when it decided to take a very aggressive approach to system protection by preventing any files from the Internet from loading onto my computer. I eventually decided to uninstall it from my computer...which required printing out about 200 pages of instructions that absolutely had to be followed in exact order or else my computer might stop functioning entirely.
So. Maybe when I have a lot of free time on my hands and absolutely nothing else to do I'll start to go through the pages and pages of hypertext-linked instructions and see if I can resolve this issue without melting my PC. Until then, I guess I'll be rediscovering the joys of Internet Explorer.


See also: Computers, bloody computers: Firefox and js3250.dll

Friday, July 28, 2006

Scentless apprentice

I was just outside doing a bit of stargazing and satellite-viewing. The sky is slightly hazy and a little bit cloudy, not as ideal as last weekend. Plus my binoculars totally fogged over, which was a bit of a pain. I cleaned them with my T-shirt.

I tracked a very bright satellite that passed almost directly overhead - that was pretty cool. I think I saw one of my Messier objects again, but it was hard to be sure - it was just a fuzzy gray blob against a slightly darker fuzzy gray background, with pinpricks of stars here and there. On a darker, clearer night it would be easier to tell.

So. After a bit of neck-craning and lens-cleaning I decided to take a little break. Just relax my eyes, gaze along the ground. Look at the "thing" tree that I will have to eventually cut down before its runners take over the world; look at the corn stalks mysteriously and incongrously growing around it - hey, I didn't plant them!; look at the bird feeder in the foregound; look at the large furry thing moving along the ground towards me...

I let out a quick Hsssst. Universal tongue, means I am here. The thing picked up its black head and noticed me. Was that a shock of white I saw?

It turned away from me, largely, longly, blackly.

I couldn't see it. My eyes are good for seeing in the dark, but it was better at not being seen in the dark. But I had light-gathering devices hanging around my neck. I picked up the binoculars and swept along the ground.

There is something amazingly beautiful and graceful about the way a skunk moves when it is trying to move with stealth. Its wedge-shaped head with a slim shock of white was turned purposefully, perpendicular to my position. Its tail - black, unadorned by a white stripe, thankfully not upright or pointed in my direction - seemed to go on forever. It carried no whiff of scent - even at ten yards, I should have still smelled it.

It left me alone - disappointed, no doubt, that it didn't get a free meal of cat food. I'm sure it will be back.

I'm glad I didn't surprise it too much. Sitting in my Adirondack chair, black sweatshirt and pale white legs against the milky-green paint, I was a pretty easy target.

Maybe next time.

Hee Haw returning to television!

One of my biggest sources of hits (before I had entries linked by When Fangirls Attack! and The Anomalist) is an entry I wrote on the Hee Haw infomercial and my childhood infatuation with Cathy Baker, the "That's all!" girl from the cornfield. Obviously this was an infatuation shared by others, based on the number of hits I've received from people searching for the words "Hee Haw Cathy Baker".

The same night I wrote this entry I came across Rissy's Hee Haw Tribute Page (http://www.rissystreasures.com/heehaw/). Rissy is also a fellow blogger (see "Marisa's Cheatham County Rock Star's Wife", on the list of links on the sidebar) and has alerted those of us on her mailing list that CMT is about to begin rerunning classic episodes of Hee Haw starting with a Hee Haw marathon on Saturday, July 29.

http://www.cmt.com/shows/dyn/hee_haw/series.jhtml

If you're a Hee Haw fan, or a fan of country music, or a fan of Benny Hill-style comedy, or just remember the series fondly from your childhood, be sure to watch it, or set your VCR, DVR, or TiVo!

Climate change: One previously overlooked and potentially beneficial consequence

In the past few weeks I have received at least five reports of heat-related casual nudity* among the lady bloggers who are on my list of regular reads. This is something that I feel should be encouraged as a positive way of dealing with increasing temperatures without expending additional energy.

For the ladies, anyway. Gentlemen, please observe our "All gentlemen must wear pants" dress code while visiting. Ladies, feel free to wear whatever and as little as you wish during your visits. Thank you.

Recommendations for staying warm in the Winter, especially for those affected by the inevitable shutdown of the Gulf Stream current that maintains much of Northwestern Europe at acceptable temperatures, will be made at the appropriate time. If you live in the Southern Hemisphere and are currently experiencing Winter's chill, feel free to contact me to make the necessary arrangements.

*I know not all of these cases, including the linked example, are necessarily heat-related. For the purposes of this essay I am assuming they are. Shut up.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Fran is back, and more Firefox problems

(This is my second attempt to post this message. My first one never showed up - maybe Blogger objected to the title - "Stupid Firefox". I've renamed it and am resending it. Maybe this will dislodge the first version, and both will appear!)

Frannie's back. She's currently listed in the "Blogs On Hiatus" section*, but as of yesterday she's resumed blogging. Go visit her and say hi!

Unfortunately, I can't get to my blog to do a proper writeup or restore her to the blog links section because Firefox keeps crashing, again and again. (I'm writing this in AOL mail, which also crashed the first time I tried to write it.) I can't even start Firefox on most of my attempts today. On my one successful start I was informed that I had just downloaded the latest and greatest version of Firefox...and then it crashed.

I know it's not just me, because my Sitemeter shows a steady stream of visitors searching on the words "Firefox keeps crashing".

Yes, I also know Firefox is free. Days like today it feels like it's worth every penny.

* This is no longer true. She's now back in the "Blog Links".

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Anomalist

I was a little surprised yesterday morning when I checked my Sitemeter and discovered that I had gotten more hits in a few hours than I get in an average day. A check of the "Referring URL" indicated that most of these hits were for my entry on satellite-watching and were coming from a single source, a website called The Anomalist.

The Anomalist describes itself as "A DAILY REVIEW OF WORLD NEWS ON MAVERICK SCIENCE, UNEXPLAINED MYSTERIES, UNORTHODOX THEORIES, STRANGE TALENTS, AND UNEXPECTED DISCOVERIES." While my entry on satellites doesn't quite fit into any of these categories, The Anomalist is much more than just a link site: each linked article also has a brief write-up explaining why it's there. Here's mine:
Starships That Pass in the Night Another Monkey
A fascinating blog entry that provides valuable information about a tool available to all sky-watchers seeking UFOs.
The Anomalist is a great jumping-off point for some fascinating reading. I'm going to add it to my sidebar - appropriately enough, next to the entry for CSICOP.org, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. Go over for a visit and have a look at what interesting stuff the folks at The Anomalist have located online today.

And to all the visitors who have come over from The Anomalist, let me say: WELCOME! Enjoy your visit! And come back soon!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Starships that pass in the night

I went outside last night around 10:00 to do a little backyard astronomy, emboldened by the beautiful seeing the previous night. Unfortunately the seeing last night was not quite so good, with fractionally higher humidity and a sky leaning more towards steel gray than black or even midnight blue. I could barely make out Sagittarius, and could only find one of the three Messier objects from the night before.

While I waited for my eyes to fully dark-adapt I did a little satellite hunting. This used to be a more challenging sport, back in the days before satellite launches were commonplace and the sky was littered with launch debris. Once upon a time you needed to focus with all your might to pick out the dim specks gliding through the darkest parts of the sky. Now it's just a matter of looking at the stars and paying attention to which ones are moving.

So I did that last night. I found one in the Southeast, in the general part of the sky that I was observing, and I tracked it as it moved North through the Eastern sky. It was moving at quite a clip and was fairly bright.

Suddenly my eye noticed another moving point of light, equally bright, equally fast, moving in the same track but in the opposite direction.

I didn't expect a collision. Collisions in space happen all the time, given the amount of space junk that's up there, but they generally involve high-velocity paint chips. I did not think I was about to see two satellites crash into each other, and I didn't. They sailed silently along in their orbits, one going North-to-South, the other South-to-North. I followed both of them as best I could.

Someone else might have been convinced they had just seen two UFO's, Unidentified Flying Objects, and I suppose I technically had - until I checked with Heavens-Above.com and was able to look up the satellites visible from Nanticoke between 10:00 and 10:15 last night and check out their tracks across the sky. Now I know that what I saw were the Cosmos 1980 Rocket and the Cosmos 1833 Rocket making their rounds.

Next time I'm going out for some backyard astronomy, I'll be sure to check with Heavens-Above first! At least then I'll have something to look for, even if the seeing isn't all that great.

(A big HELLO to all the folks who have clicked over from The Anomalist. Welcome! Please feel free to look around the rest of the site, click on the links, leave comments, and visit my friends' blogs. And please be sure to come back again for another visit sometime soon! Thanks for visiting!)

Monday, July 24, 2006

A beautiful day, continued

Things didn't end when I published the previous post yesterday. I chatted online with a friend for a while afterwards, and came to a realization about climate change that will form the basis of an entire future post. But then I decided to wrap things up for the night, log off, shut down, take a shower, and go to bed.

On my way to take a shower I noticed my binoculars on the chair where I had placed them after Thursday's failed attempt at occultation-viewing*, and I remembered the last thing I had said in my post. I realized that my day was not yet over. I threw on a sweatshirt - not that it was especially cool, but as protection from the mosquitoes - and a hat, and headed outside with the binoculars to post myself in an Adirondack chair.

Despite the speed with which my pupils adjust to the dark, it took me a while to fully dark-adapt. But soon I saw that the sky was clearer than it had been in a long, humid while. It wasn't long before I was following satellites and scoping out stars that I could barely perceive with unaided eyes. I saw the diamond-bejewelled teapot shape of Sagittarius through a small gap between my neighbor's house and shed, and I saw the great Angelfish shape of Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer, for what seems like the first time. (I have a hard time resolving stars into constellations, something I believe is related to prospagnasia prosopagnosia.) I saw the great backwards-check of Scorpius and the red star that was once known as Antares (until several years ago when I "gave" it to a friend's daughter and rechristened it in her honor, with the same right and authority as any other self-appointed star-naming body.) I found an arc of stars almost directly overhead that I knew had to be Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown. Eventually I turned my attention to the glowing cloudy band in the South and East: the Milky Way, a galaxy seen at extreme close range, from within.

It's been a long time since I've stared at the Milky Way. Faint smears of light resolved into dense washes of stars through the binoculars; brighter knots were revealed to have diminutive shape and structure. I later verified that these were indeed Messier objects - the Eagle Nebula (M16) and Omega Nebula (M17), at least, and possibly the Trifid Nebula (M20).

It was during this observing session that I also discovered that I had once again slammed my seatbelt in my car door, causing the dome light to stay on. In a few more hours the battery would have been dead.

Finally it was time for a shower, a rubbing of Aloe Vera gel on my sunburns, and bed.

Once in bed I turned on the TV and began surfing the channels. I found an episode of the excellent revival of Doctor Who. This was the remarkable episode "The Doctor Dances". Even though I had the Doctor Who Season One DVD boxed set** sitting just feet from the TV, I decided to watch the episode as it was being broadcast. The denouement of this episode is so exuberant, so joyful, it simply must be seen to be believed.

And then, as the new-yet-familiar version of the theme song announced the end of the episode, I turned off the TV, turned out the light, and went to sleep.

It was midnight, and my beautiful day had drawn to a close.

*I may not have gotten to see much of the Moon occulting the Pleiades, but something very good has come from something I did that early Thursday morning.

**Yes, so much for "all discretionary spending is on hold."


Sunday, July 23, 2006

A beautiful day

So much for it raining all weekend. It's beautiful outside today: sunny, cool, dry. A perfect day to mow the lawn. Too bad I have all sorts of Catholic Guilt over breaking the Second Commandment, the one that says something like "Thou shalt not mow thy lawn on a Sunday." I was able to get over it long enough a few weeks ago to paint my steps on a Sunday, but that didn't involve quite as much Sabbath-shattering noise as a lawnmower running for three hours.

This would be a perfect day to take one of my favorite drives: North on Route 29 to Dallas or thereabouts, cutting East and then South again to Agway and The House of Nutrition. Unfortunately parts of Route 29 are blocked thanks to last month's flooding (small creeks and streams chewed up large sections of the roadway), and a titanic storm that roared through Dallas yesterday while I was complaining about being faked out by the lack of guilt-assuaging rain tossed trees and tractor-trailers around like a temperamental Titan's toys in a tantrum. They've probably got that mess cleaned up, but...damn.

Or I could just chat online and on the phone all day today!

UPDATE, 4:11 PM: The day is still beautiful. This is the way I remember Summer days from my childhood: blue skies, big puffy clouds, delicate wispy clouds, lots of sunshine, cool breezes, and dry air. I chatted online for a while, then I mowed the lawn (total mowing time two hours and forty-five minutes). Now I plan on gearing up for what I hope is another long phone call. Yep, definitely a beautiful day!

UPDATE #2, 8:21 PM: I made my phone call, and I mowed the lawn at "my" house (I won't really think of it as my house until I've done a lot more work there, and maybe actually moved in.) The beauty of this day has been relentless. Maybe it will continue into the night, and I'll be able to put the binoculars I pulled out for Thursday's hazed-out conjunction to good use!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Faked out, and a lesson learned

It didn't rain much today. I probably could have mowed the lawn, if I didn't mind dying of heatstroke in the process. And I do.

I'm glad I took my car up to Jiffy Lube for an oil change. I learned am important lesson today: if your "Check Engine" light comes on, do yourself a favor and pop the hood and check the engine. It may be that an oxygen sensor is going bad or an EGR valve is clogged, which you'll never be able to figure out on your own, or it may just be that in the middle of the hottest Summer in memory, your antifreeze reservoir is empty, reducing the ability of your radiator to cool your engine! Luckily they noticed this before my car had a chance to overheat.

My sister's birthday present (part of it, anyway) started out over $36, but after using a 10% off coupon, and a $5 reward certificate, and a $25 gift certificate, the whole purchase came to a little over three dollars!

Then I spent over $180 in Sam's Club. Oh, well.

Rain, rain, come and play

It's raining again this weekend. This has been a very hot and wet Summer, which I suppose is an improvement over the hot and dry Summers we've had in the past. Hot and dry would be better for painting, and the lawn wouldn't be growing quite so fast. But now I've developed a new attitude to weather that disrupts my home renovation plans: I welcome it. Today I need to get an oil change, pick up a birthday present for my sister, and buy all sorts of stuff at Sam's Club. (And maybe get some concrete as well.) If the weather were beautiful I would have a hard time justifying taking the time off to do these (necessary and important) things. But it is raining, so there's no way I could be expected to paint the porch or the fence or the garage today. Freedom!!!

By the way, I highly recommend taking up the phone company on the unlimited national long distance offer. 'Cause you never know when a simple phone call across the country will turn into a two-and-a-half hour conversation!

Friday, July 21, 2006

So now I'M the jerk

Jennifer over at Jennifer D. Wade Journal (who recently slipped out of the highly-coveted and easily-accessed bottom spot on my list of blog links in the right sidebar) recounted yesterday how she accidentally became one of "them", one of those people whose dumb and/or thoughtless actions make the rest of us shake our heads in wonder at how anyone could be so dumb and/or thoughtless, and then raise our voices in gratitude that we are not the sort who would ever be so dumb and/or thoughtless.

This prompted me to confess to my own similar but completely different experience of becoming one of "them". It's a story that I would have related here, but I found too embarrassing!

We've all done it, or if you haven't, rest assured that you will. Statistically speaking, we will all eventually get to be the jerk at some point in our lives. The goal, I guess, is to not become the person who does these things full-time!

So have you done something dumb and/or thoughtless, entirely by accident, that has earned you the scorn, ridicule, or righteous indignation of total strangers? Stop on by Jennifer's Jennifer D. Wade Journal and fess up! It's good for the soul!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Hazed out, mostly

It took me a while this morning to figure out why the hell I would have set a special alarm for 3:00 in the morning. Once I remembered, I was out of bed and grabbing my binoculars, heading out into my back yard to see...

...not much, really.

The moon was easy enough to spot, of course, but even with the binoculars it took a while to pick out any of the background stars from the hazy gray of the night sky. High humidity and moisture in the upper atmosphere combined with skyglow from the ground (especially from the new high-glare streetlights that Wilkes-Barre, which hugs my eastern horizon, recently intstalled) and the glow of the moon itself to form a pearly haze that covered the entire sky and hid all but the brightest stars, the Pleiades included. I was able to pick out two of them - Maia and Electra, I believe - but splashes of glowing clouds splattered across the sky threatened to take away even that.

I'll give it another go before I head back to bed for a quick nap before I have to wake up again in an hour or two. If you got up early to see this sight, I hope you had better viewing conditions!

UPDATE: Nope. As I headed back to bed, I stepped outside to see a large cloud covering much of the Eastern sky, blotting out even the moonlight. After a short nap filled with dreams of lady bloggers, I awoke to find the post-sunrise sky a solid mass of gray clouds.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Go visit The Domestic Zoo!

I want to thank everyone who took the time to visit Ashley's Ink On Paper. The response was tremendous, far better than we had hoped - a big special thanks to all the Women In Comics fans who came over from When Fangirls Attack! Ashley's got some new stuff up now, including excerpts from a book she's co-authoring - so go visit again, read it, and let her know what you think!

An old friend from way back, after long urging from many directions, has finally started a blog! She was actually the first person to ever comment on this blog. Unfortunately, I wasn't fast enough to claim that honor on her site - but I did come in second! Her site is called The Domestic Zoo, and if you read her first entry you'll understand why. So stop on over and have a look!

The Moon and Seven Sisters

In the wee hours the morning of Thursday, July 20th, people in the Eastern and Central parts of North America will get a rare, special treat: the moon will pass in front of the Pleiades.

You know what the Pleiades are. You've seen them, probably, especially in the Winter. Some people think they are "The Little Dipper", even though they are nowhere near the actual Little Dipper in the sky, and they are a much smaller, tighter grouping of stars, about twice the size of the full Moon. They are a beautiful cluster of stars that shine like a fistful of diamonds in the night sky. Known from antiquity as the "Seven Sisters". only six stars are generally visible to the naked eye now, although with binoculars you will see many more. (In Japan they go by another name - "Subaru" - and they grace the emblem of cars made by the Subaru corporation.)

I don't need to give detailed information on how to find the Pleiades; if you're going to look for this, you only need to find the moon, and look for the Pleiades nearby. According to Sky & Telescope's July issue this occultation (meaning one thing is passing in front of another thing) will take place from 2:00 - 5:00 Eastern Time in the morning on Thursday. (See here for more specific information.) It's a fairly rare event, so if you're in the Eastern or Central parts of the U.S. or Canada, stay up late or wake up early and see what you can see!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Hot hot heat

I don't like the heat, and neither does my computer. It's crashing and locking up with alarming frequency. This is limiting my ability to post, comment, surf, chat, or do most things online.

It's only supposed to get worse. So if i don't post for a few days, it may be because my computer is not working well enough to post. Or that I've melted into a puddle of protoplasm.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The view from this chair

I never made it to my new house yesterday. I barely made it out of the house yesterday. Hell, I barely got away from the computer yesterday. At all.

Not that I was wasting time. Far from it. The things I did online yesterday were good and important and worthwhile and I'm glad I did them. I would spend every day like yesterday if I could. But, alas, I can't. I have obligations, and those obligations require money, and that money only comes by way of my job.

I learned some things about myself yesterday, things that surprised me. Like that I'm a romantic. Like the innermost core of my being is based on an essentially irrational belief - actually, on a belief in the inherent irrationality of reality.

I guess it makes sense when I look back at the psychological profiles that we took in college, which showed that I was equally and strongly analytical and intuitive, equally and strongly introverted and extroverted. For other people these results could be interpreted as indicating a well-balanced personality. Not for me. For me they indicate the simultaneous presence of forces within me that drive me in multiple, frequently opposite, directions. It is only by a combination of willpower and inertia that I avoid spiraling off, locked in conflict with myself.

Maybe someday I'll explain. For now, I'll recommend reading Alan Moore's Watchmen, particularly Chapter IX with Dr. Manhattan's "thermodynamic miracles" soliloquy.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

On trying to finish a painting project in the rain

It's after 10:00 on Saturday morning and I still haven't gotten my butt in gear. I had hoped to start on the final, biggest part of the porch-painting project today - the porch surface itself. This will be a multi-session task, starting with the left and right edges, ending with the bits in front of the doors. It will take several days of warm, dry weather. But it is supposed to be raining lightly off and on all day today, and tomorrow, too. Not good for painting.

It is, however, good for concrete, and some of the work I am required to do by my Insurance company prior to the end of next May involves concrete. I should probably go out and get some concrete mix, and some sort of mixer, and maybe dig up my trowel.

But I am tired. Long week at work. Some conflicts, which I always find draining, because my body responds to any conflict by amping itself up to maximum, preparing me to fight or stand-and-hold*, so that plus the socially necessary act of controlling myself drain almost all available energy. (From an energy point of view it would be better to just let myself go, but from a continued-employment-and-freedom point of view that wouldn't be such a good idea.) Some emotional ups and downs in my personal life. Add in the stress of being a one-man-band when it comes to maintaining not one but two houses, and I'm feeling a bit worn out and unappreciated.

Eh. Feeling unappreciated won't actually change anything. Guess I'll just keep slogging ahead, do my best, and hope things get better soon.

And I guess I'd better get showered, dressed, and out to Home Dept or Lowe's to buy some concrete.

*Not fight-or-flight. I'm not designed for that.

Friday, July 14, 2006

When Fangirls Attack!

My post directing readers to aspiring comic book writer Ashley's Ink On Paper was picked up by the women-in-comics website When Fangirls Attack! - which is fantastic, and has resulted in a lot of new visitors. Thank you! But remember, the point is to increase traffic to Ashley's site. Many of the new visitors are clicking through to Ashley's site. If you haven't done so yet - or even if you have! - please visit Ashley's Ink On Paper!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Visit Ashley's Ink On Paper

I get quite a few visitors each day. If you're reading this, there's something I want you to do: click on over to Ashley's Ink On Paper.

Ashley is an aspiring comic-book writer who is branching out into other areas of writing as well. Like all aspiring writers, the one thing she really needs are readers. Getting readers in the blog world is tough, since there are so many blogs out there and only so much time for cruising around reading. All of the blogs that I've linked on the side come with my personal stamp of approval. A couple are friend-of-a-friend blogs, but even they have passed the readability test. I may not agree with what is said in all of them - at least one I vehemently disagree with on many points - but I read all of them on a regular (or semi-regular) basis. And so should you.

So, right now, I'm asking you to visit Ashley's Ink On Paper. Ashley is someone who has the nerve to try to do something that other people might say is futile. She's trying to break into the male-dominated world of comics. I am an avid reader of comics myself. Some comics are brilliant and excellent, but in others there is an obvious boys'-club mentality - female characters will appear only as overdeveloped sex objects or bimbos in thongs. (Even Lois Lane was spotted in a recent comic wearing a thong - was it really necessary to show that?) Ashley can make a difference. She can bring a fresh perspective to a genre that is often hackneyed, repetitive, and sexist. But she needs encouragement. Please visit her site. Hell, she's been blogging for a short enough period of time that you can go through her archives and read every entry in chronological order, from beginning to end, in a single long afternoon at work.

By the way: I have a Sitemeter, and she has a Sitemeter. I'll know if you visited here and didn't visit there. I will be very disappointed in anyone who visits here and doesn't visit there. Don't make me disappointed. You wouldn't like me when I'm disappointed.

So please visit Ashley's Ink On Paper. Read her stuff, leave her comments. Go there again tomorrow, and the next day, and every day after that. Do it as a favor to me.*

*If you are a fan of The State, you are now morally obligated to visit. I mean, come on, how many times do you come across references to The State?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Prospagnosiacs recognized!

(Note, March 20, 2009: All this while I've been spelling this wrong! The word is "prosopagnosia", not "prospagnosia"! So this title should be "Prosopagnosiacs recognized!" But changing that would screw up the url, whilch would undo a stitch in the tapestry of the Internet, which would undermine the fabric of space-time, which could lead to the destruction of the multiverse. And we wouldn't want that, would we?)

The July 17, 2006 issue of TIME magazine has an article about Prospgnosia Prosopagnosia on page 36. Called "Do I Know You?", it's a light introduction to and overview of the condition that has some interesting insights ("While mild prosopagnosics [sic; I have always used prospagnosiac] can train themselves to memorize a limited number of faces [it's said to be like learning to distinguish one stone from another], others grapple with identifying family members and, in extreme cases, their own faces") but very few resource citations ("Burman made her first contact with felow prosopagnosics on an Internet mailing list..." - where? what URL?).

One of the main insights is that this "rare" condition ain't so rare - it may affect as many as one in 50 Americans. If one out of every 50 people were to suddenly burst into flames, I don't think you'd call that condition "rare"!*

My own description of the condition, from one of my first blog entries:
I can't remember major specific details of a person's face. If they have huge scars, or bad teeth, or an enormous, misshapen nose, I can remember that no problem, but otherwise my recollection of faces is "He has a head shaped like an apple...with a chin...two eyes...brown hair, or maybe blonde...." Any description I can give is usually a record of imperfections. I have never been able to draw specific faces...general faces, yes, I can construct a face wholly out of imagination, but don't ask me to sketch your face, or you'll wind up with something generic and abstract, or something technically similar to your face, but lacking in humanity. I can usually recognize people in specific situations (work friends at work, friends in their own houses, friends of friends because of the people they associate with), but in the wild, I can sail right past a friend without recognizing them, or (more frighteningly) think I've made a "match" with a friend's face when in fact I'm looking at a total stranger. Surprisingly, I can often recognize people based on their hair color and style. I usually tell people that I have a very small memory buffer, and it fills up from the top down, so by the time I reach the face, it's full. For some reason, this condition also affects my ability to recognize cars. Good thing we have license plates.
I recently had reason to leave my small, isolated Fortress of Solitude at work and go out into the Big Wide World, where 14 years worth of my co-workers are scattered nearly anywhere but where they were when I worked with them. I found myself staring blankly at a half-a-dozen old friends, not recognizing them until I heard their voices, including one with whom I shared an office for several years, with whom I took my only trip to Los Angeles, and who scrapes doorways at a height of nearly seven feet! ("...They distinguish people based on cues like hairstyle, voice, gait, or body shape...They avoid places where they could unexpectedly run into someone they know...They act friendly to everyone - or to no one...") Maybe now people will understand why I will sometimes say, with a touch of disappointment, "You've changed your hairstyle" (since now I have to re-memorize them all over again!), or why my own personality seems to shift radically with major haircuts (I am, in my eyes, a different person, so I allow myself to behave like one.)

Check out the article and follow my links to learn more. Who knows - maybe you're one of those one-in-fifties!

*Maybe "well-done."

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Farewell to Old Pink

Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett has died.

The Night Visitor

My mom asked me to check on the bowls of cat food outside before I went to bed, to see if any of the neighborhood strays had been around. I stepped out onto the darkened back porch and hyped up my night vision, mentally ordering my pupls to dilate - I don't know if it works, or if years of backyard astronomy have improved my dark-adaptation speed. I stared through the porch's back door down the steps at the darkness outside and tried to compare the shadowy scene before me to my mental image of what the steps should look like. Something seemed out of place, like there was an extra shadow, a hole in the image where dim reflections from concrete and granite should be.

Then I heard the crunching and chewing noises. There's somebody out there eating right now, I thought.

Whoever it was was clearly not going to be spooked by the sounds of a clumsy human clattering and rattling a few feet away, even though I was doing my best to move with stealth. I then switched my language to Cat and said Why, hello there. Psss-wsss-wsss-wsss-wss.

It ignored me.

It continued to ignore me for almost a minute, not looking up at all, continuing to eat, an inky black shadow with a trace of white on its back. Hey - waitaminute...

My mom made a noise as she came out onto the porch. "Anybody out there?" she asked.

"Umm...yeah..." I said as the black shadow backed away from the food bowl, turned around, and ran. It was much longer than a cat.

"Just don't go out there," I said.

************

So what was it? I don't know. My first thought was a skunk, but it was missing the white stripe along the spine and any trace of the characteristic scent. My impression was of something like a big black anteater, but we don't have those 'round these parts. The white marking on its back seemed to run across where the shoulders should have been - a pattern I've only seen in Tasmanian Devils, which we also don't have. Maybe it really was a cat. Maybe it was a skunk. I just don't know.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Good weekend

I had a pretty good weekend these past few days.

It really started Friday at work, when I took a break while downloading an enormous audio file to talk to someone I've wanted to talk to for a very long time. (Calling cards rock!) That set the tone for the days that followed. Later that night I got to chat with several people I had been looking forward to chatting with (including the lovely and talented Ashley, who is back online after a brief hiatus), although I think one of them fell asleep after an hour or so of chatting. (It was nearly 4:00 in the morning her time, so I can't take all the credit for putting her to sleep!)

Saturday morning I was up bright and early for a blood donation, the first since I went to Ireland in March. This was the first time I ever had to report that I had travelled to the UK, since part of that trip included a long weekend in London. Even the blood donation went well - the nurse was able to hit the vein in the first shot, and it didn't roll or misbehave in any way.

After that it was straight up to the house to scrape, sand, and prime the sideboards of the steps. Then I ran back home to get the Rustoleum I bought last year to paint the fence, along with some extra twine and a dozen more homemade WET PAINT signs. Then back to the house to paint the spikes on the top of the fence. The paint is a "hammered" style, intended to give the illusion of being worn and ideal for rough surfaces, and you can allegedly paint directly over rust. I sanded half the spikes, but just painted directly over the other half. We'll see what happens.

Painting in the heat after a long night of online chatting and a long morning of getting leaked is an odd experience. Even though I made sure I was getting plenty of fluids, occasional waves of weariness would wash over me. They passed, but left behind a residue of yearning for some reason.

In time the spikes were painted. Along the way I managed to dump half the can of Rustoleum all over my back porch, which will eventually need to be painted anyway. (It's really just a small concrete pad.) While searching for something to scrape it up with I realized that most of the paint was still good, so dumped 90% of it back into the can. (The rest I mopped up with paper towels.) It was at this point that my mom brought my nephews over to visit me. I was glad they hadn't visited five seconds after I had dumped the can.

By then the primer on the sides of the steps was dry and I was able to quickly apply the first coat of paint. After this I had a short break before 4:00 Mass. Since my church is just two blocks from my new house (mostly straight uphill) I decided to be all old-school about it and walk there. It took less time to walk than it would have to drive and park.

After Mass it was back to the house for the second coat on the sides of the steps, and then I mowed the lawn. And then home, to do whatever the hell I wanted to do without a twinge of guilt that I was wasting time. Which consisted of paying bills (including my second mortgage payment already, yayyyy!) and more online chatting.

Yesterday was light duty. Started off with more international chatting, a shower, then the nephews came to visit. Took them up to play with their cousins. After that, I moved a few more boxes of books into the house, took the WET PAINT signs off the fence, and went grocery shopping. I bought some odds and ends for the house - hot pads and oven mitts and Spongebob Squarepants coffee mugs and a little airtight container for tea. Then back home for more chatting interspersed with intense thunderstorms, then the first of the final episodes of Chapelle's Show, back online to help Rima set up a Sitemeter, and then bed.

Beautiful weather. Not too much money spent. Lots of stuff done. Lots of people talked to. Got to see the nephews. All in all, a good weekend. Here's looking forward to more like this.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Studies for a self-portrait

I mentioned a while back that I don't have any nice pictures of me with Haley, and that someday I would paint one. The other day I finally sat down and decided to sketch out some ideas on a piece of scrap paper.

The first one I did (the blue figure in the lower left) came pretty close to what I was going for: a shadowy scribble conveying the essence without going into any detail.
The working title of this is Haley with Self-Portrait. I don't plan on putting anything much into the self-portrait part - for a while I considered just a few strokes of charcoal to represent me, but I've never worked with charcoal before, so I'll stick to acrylics.

The Haley figures are just thrown in for size and placement. I'll need to gather together a lot of Haley photos to do her justice. I'd like to do a more realistic rendering of her than I've ever done before, but I don't think my slapdash ham-fisted technique can really do her justice.

The second figure I did is the black one with blue hands in the lower right (I grabbed the wrong pen when I decided I'd made the arms too short). This figure is more realistically proportioned, but somehow seems to be in a more tentative pose.

The other figure sketches are just attempts at getting the basics of the design down, while the geometrical abstractions are an effort to get to what is the essential layout of the self-portrait.

This image contains a lie, by the way. I did not typically walk Haley while wearing the hat represented here, which is one of my tweed caps from Ireland. I usually wore a long-brimmed baseball cap to help me block out the glare of streetlights during our pre-sunrise waks. But I thought that would look a lot sillier in this picture, so the Irish hat is there instead.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

No greater honor

You can set up an award for World's Greatest Blog and announce that I'm the winner. You can give me the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Traditional Media, the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Grammy for the category of Best Tap, Banjo, Spoken-Word, or Blog. None of it would mean anything compared to the tag (visible only if you hover your cursor) that Sammie put on the link to Another Monkey (my name on her upper right sidebar) on her site. Seriously.

Click on over to Sammie's sdfsdf.wox.org and see for yourself!

1996 Toyota Tercel, One Owner, High Mileage

My car hit 260,000 miles on Thursday.

On Friday, the Check Engine light came on.

I am planning to ignore it for the time being.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Remember

Today is July 7th. I almost forgot.

Puppetdude on July 7th
A post written by me on July 7, 2005

David Addington

It's time to get angry again.

Terry Gross interviewed Jane Mayer on her show this past Wednesday. Jane Mayer wrote a piece in the July 3rd edition of The New Yorker on David Addington, Dick Cheney's chief of staff - and the legal mind behind much of the undermining and outright violation of the Constitution, from illegal detentions to redefining the powers of the President to be essentially without limits, that is being done by the Bush administration.

If you don't know who David Addington is, you need to find out. If, like me, you automatically think of Bruce Willis's character from the TV show Moonlighting [Cybill Shepherd, yumm] every time you hear that name, you really need to find out.

David Addington. Jack Abramoff. Tom DeLay. Karl Rove. Grover Norquist. Dick Cheney. George W. Bush. All hell-bent on destroying America to further their own twisted ideologies and maximize their personal returns. All reasons that everyone who voted for the Bush/Cheney ticket should hang their heads in shame. All reasons that the Office of the Independent Counsel needs to be reinstated.

History will note that we impeached a President for lying about a blowjob, yet we allowed this gang to stand almost completely unchallenged. Why?

Get angry. Do something about it.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Crashity crash crash

I really need a new computer.

In addition to everything else, now AOL is crapping out whenever I try to print an e-mail. I'm figuring that the moment I press "Print" it's trying to slam me with dancing popup ads for ink and toner and paper and whatever that overwhelm my poor little PC and make it have a breakdown. It did this while I was trying to have an MSN conversation with someone overseas. It took about ten reboot attempts to get back online.

The joke is that I can get three times the computer today for one-third the price of the seven-year-old Compaq Presario 7478 that I'm on. But until I get my finances back in order - I'm being hit with startup fees on all my utilities this month at my new house - all discretionary spending is on hold.

My biggest concern is getting all my stuff off of this computer and onto another one. I like some of my cheesy programs, like the Adobe PhotoDeluxe that came with my scanner and the Caere Painter Classic that came with my Wacom Tablet. I would have to reinstall the drivers for my camera, and all sorts of crap like that. And I don't even have the option of hooking up a USB 2.0 drive and dumping the files onto a portable hard drive - I only have USB 1.0.

Besides, I don't want to just buy the first $700 laptop I see in the Best Buy ad. I need to put some thought into this. So until then, please bear with me. Especially if I vanish in the middle of a conversation.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Adding Jennifer D. Wade Jornal

I first found out about Jennifer D. Wade Journal when Gort posted about the site to NEPA Blogs back in May. I've been a frequent visitor since, and Jennifer has been visiting and commenting on Another Monkey quite a bit, too. Plus, she linked to me a while back, and I always feel that reciprocal linking is the least I can do for anyone who links to me.

Jennifer has a good journal, and a direct link makes visiting that much more convenient for me - and, incidentally, for you. Click over and have a look!

Some thoughts on accidentally stepping into a Hermann Hesse novel

The novel in question is Steppenwolf. I read it about twenty years* ago so some of the details are a little fuzzy.

I wish I could remember the last line** - I think it's significant to what may or may not be my situation of the moment. I'll have to see if I can locate my copy, or see if any local bookstores have a copy I could peruse.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, pick up a copy and read it.

*Ha. Twenty years.

**I think it's "I would learn to play better", but I'm not sure.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

America

We are not who you think we are.

We are not the man who momentarily holds the office of the President. We are not his Party, or his advisors, or his handlers.

We are not a smiling soldier who holds a naked prisoner on a leash, or another who rapes and murders the people he has been sent to liberate.

We are not the businesses who steal from the people by selling them goods that they cannot afford to manufacture.

We are none of these things, and we are all of them.

We are people from Somewhere Else. We came here by land bridge, by boat, by plane, by raft, walking, jumping, running, swimming, skulking.

We are the people who reintroduced the idea of a republic to the world, who engaged in a great experiment in representative democracy at a time when much simpler and more certain systems prevailed.

We are the people who stay away from the polls in record numbers each election day.

We are easily fooled. We are easily placated. We are quick to settle into contentment and ease.

We do not forget injury, nor do we soon forgive.

We are reasonable. We are fanatics.

We are cowards who shake our fists and cry "Havoc!" and are called patriots, and we are heroes who counsel restraint and are called traitors.

We are old and facing a future of want. We are young and facing a future of despair. We are in between and are trying to keep it from all falling apart.

We seethe with hatred and seethe with love. We plot the downfall of the mighty and corrupt and we plot the success of the small and ambitious.

We forget our past and we ignore our future. We embrace our past and we fear our future. We learn from our past and we plan for our future.

We are children killing children. We hate our neighbors as ourselves.

We lined up to give blood that was not needed and would never be used. We donated water and clothing and blankets that sat in warehouses until they rotted.

We put pennies in jars to buy shoes for dogs who sniffed through the rubble to find the remains of people who had been crushed and burned and cut to pieces months before.

We are bodies falling from the windows of a dying building.

We are the people who watched it all unfold on TV one bright September morning.

We love our nation as we destroy it.

We are all of these things and none of them.

We are optimism and hopelessness. We are foolish and we are wise. We are arrogant and belligerent and ugly and beautiful and peace-loving and humble.

We are not who you think we are. We are exactly who you think we are.

We are America.

Monday, July 03, 2006

After the Deluge

One of the nice things about a site like NEPA Blogs, a clearinghouse of links to blogs by people who are in or from or are blogging about Northeastern Pennsylvania, is that you can see the same event as it is experienced by many different people all living in relatively close proximity to each other, or all with some intimate tie to the place where the event is happening. I was going to provide a list of links on NEPA Blogs to blogs specifically relating to the Flood of '06 (or, as I fear we shall soon be calling it, the June Flood of '06), but then I realized that the sidebar list of blogs already provided that function. Some do not mention it at all, and some cover it extensively. Check them out and see.

To get a quick taste, go to this entry on the Wilkes-Barre Online blog (not an official blog of the city of Wilkes-Barre) and check out the links from there. But be sure to check on what all of the NEPA Bloggers have to say!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Schedule derailment

OK, my to-do list schedule has been knocked completely off-track by the weather. I see that I originally planned to have the electrical work done by now, which would have required having a lot of the stuff moved out of the front and middle rooms by this time. I have not done these things. My focus has been on the psychologically important job of getting the front porch painted, which will have the greatest visual effect overall but has been frustrated by two weeks of nearly constant rain. Getting the steps painted was also important for practical reasons - they were nearly bare wood, almost all of the previous paint having worn and peeled off, and they were exposed to the sun and the rain and continued wear. But I was not able to even get a second coat on the steps until yesterday.

This past week has been mostly occupied with fighting the groundwater seepage that came into our house on Tuesday, and then doing the necessary clean-up and throw-out that comes with basement flooding. My friends who helped me move stuff out of my basement last week will attest that the clean-up and throw-out were long overdue, but the water in the basement meant that this was a problem which could no longer be ignored.

It rained again today - a passing thunderstorm, nothing too traumatic. I hope we're done with heavy rain for a while. I need to get the schedule back on track.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Noah, or Gunther?

As I laid a second coat of paint on my front steps this afternoon, I realized that I was acting somewhat like Noah Calhoun in The Notebook: a lone man on an almost obsessive quest to restore a beloved old house to its former glory. Of course, I'm not doing this alone, and Noah knew what he was doing. Now, if only I can convince someone to play the part of Allie...

I got a haircut today. My Summer haircut. Peachfuzz, plus a little bit. This is the stage I reached a week or two after I shaved my head back in 1998, halfway between Lex Luthor and Mark Renton. Coupled with the geography of my head and the bulkiness of my build, it has an almost fascist look to it, like I should be dressed in tan and brown, chin up, arms crossed across my chest, standing next to a burning pile of books. The look was nicknamed "Gunther" back in 1998.
Me, July 1, 2006
It's very cool, much cooler than the long hair I was sporting just a few hours ago, but I need to get a hat now to avoid getting sunburned on top of my head. If you see me, be sure to rub my head for luck.

Sammie's back (for real this time!)

Sammie's sdfsdf.wox.org came back online this week with an actual blog entry that allows comments. Please stop by and have a look! And if you are one of the dozens of people who have been coming to this site specifically searching for information about what ever happened to Sammie and her site, please be sure to leave a comment welcoming her back!

Sammie's not the only one who's back. Camilla has been posting again on wallflower.nu; Chloe has new entries on watermelonpunch, and Teigra has posted some updates on where she's been and what she's been up to. Please visit them all!