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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

There were just too many of them

...and there was only one of me. I actually ran out of candy.

I got to the house just after 6:00 (electric candles flickering eerily in every window) and the Trick-Or-Treaters were out in force. I dragged out my orange and black storage box (served as a table and as a reserve candy stash), my big salad bowl full of candy, my bag of Hot Wheels cars, Elmo superballs, and Hello Kitty bubble wand necklaces, and my white rocking chair with a raven wired to the headrest. I turned on the porch light to announce that I was open for business, and immediately started passing out candy.

The night was beautiful, actually a little warm, not the bone-chilling cold I expected from this past weekend's weather. Kids came in groups of two or three, or singly, or as groups of a dozen or more. The groups of a dozen or more I was actually most comfortable with - these usually had two or three adults marshalling them and were fairly well-behaved. Parents collecting candy for infants kinda freaked me out - ma'am, I know you're not going to give that little baby a Starburst or a Mr. Goodbar! (At least I hope you won't.) Worse were the 18-and-up boys...what the hell were they doing out? Probably just prowling for pumpkins to smash - I saw quite a few of those on the ride home - and collecting some candy as a side bonus. As for the 18-and-up fine young ladies...there were tragically few. And don't get me started on the 50-something woman dressed as a hooker who was accompanying two little kids. I mean, come on, lady, put some effort into it, don't just wear your work clothes!

By 8:00 I was down to a handful of candies, a few Hot Wheels cars, and two Hello Kitty bubble wand necklaces. I had tapped my reserves and called for my cousin to bring me some emergency candy from across town. But it was too late. Besides, the Trick-Or-Treaters had dwindled to nothing, at least for the moment. I killed the lights and trundled my stuff back into the house.

(In the original version of this post I forgot to mention my favorite costume of the night: it was a little blonde-haired boy, maybe five years old, dressed in a black Batman costume. With all the padded muscles it looked more like the Michael Keaton version than the Christian Bale version. But, and this is the important part, no mask. Instead he was carrying a bucket shaped like Batman's head, in the same color scheme as the costume and roughly the same size as the little boy's own head. "You look like the Headless Batman!" I told him.)

As Lisa pointed out, this is the first day of Hallowhog, the season of holidays that stretches from October 31st (Halloween) through February 2nd (Groundhog Day.) Get your Hallowhog cards ready! Remember, you've only got 25% of the year to get them out - so if you're late for this Hallowhog, you're actually early for next Hallowhog!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Rock on

Aside from the speech balloons, this is an unretouched photo of a natural rock formation in Canada first brought to my attention over at Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy. The headphone cord is an access road, the earpiece is a structure of some sort, and I'm betting that the eyebrow piercing is also some sort of structure. The Mayan or Aztec Indian in the iPod "I'm Listening" pose is what most people are noticing, but one of Phil's commentors noticed the second figure on the right, who may or may not have a long, pointed beard. I recognized the hands at the left and decided these were two guys going to an Ecstasy-fueled rave.

So now you don't have to go to Mars to see a big stone face from the ground - just someplace in Canada! But as one commentor pointed out, if you turn your monitor upside-down, the illusion disappears. (It wasn't until some time later that he pointed out he was using a laptop!)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Last Rose

Blaze rose, October 28, 2006
There is one last rose in my yard, clinging to the hope that it will find a pollinator to give its brief life some meaning. It is a tiny, stunted thing, little more than an inch across. But it has all the beauty of its Summertime predecessors.

Soon this rose, too, will wither and die. And then Winter will come. But Spring and Summer will return.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

More a sort of Apres-Vie

Sunflower heads, October 28, 2006
I pulled out my garden today. I started by decapitating my sunflowers with a machete, then pulling out the stalks. The ground was completely saturated, thanks in no small part to my uphill neighbor directing all of his downspouts onto our property instead of into the street. A few times I sank in the mud past my ankles, and seriously worried that my garden might have been transformed into a bed of quicksand. But in the end, I got out all the dead plants and the taller weeds. The grassy weeds I'll leave in until next Spring, to serve as erosion control.

I intend to use the sunflower heads as bird feeders this Winter. As they are kinda soaked right now I'm leaving them out to dry for a while. In the picture above you also see Royal Highness rose hips, my Marjolein Bastin garden swing, and a lilac that I planted a few years ago.

Friday, October 27, 2006

When it's time to change, you've got to rearrange

I woke up tired this morning, as I often do. I looked at one of the clocks that surround my head and saw that the hour was still 4:00. Still plenty of time to sleep, I thought. I rolled over and went back to sleep.

A brief infinity later one of my alarms was going off, a CD playing Coldplay's Clocks. That's odd, I thought. The clock radio says 4:43. Why is my other alarm going off?

The CD-playing alarm clock said 5:43. As did the little clock that gets the radio signal from the national atomic clock. As did the clock on my VCR, and the clock on the channel channel.

I seized my clock radio. Had I somehow pushed the time ahead by 11 hours? No, the clock was now showing that it was 4:45 AM. How could I have pushed it ahead 23 hours? (My clock doesn't change in reverse.)

Or had this dinky little drugstore clock radio somehow decided to "Fall Back" on its own?

This is the weekend for the change to Standard Time - or is this Daylight Saving Time now? I forget. I think the time change used to take place earlier in the month, and in the future it will take place in November. Maybe. We'll see.

So, the night of Saturday, October 28, don't forget to Fall Back. At least we get an extra hour of sleep out of the deal.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Two months 'til Boxing Day

So I walked into A.C. Moore today to pick up some last-minute Halloween stuff, and walked out with a bagful of Christmas decorations. Aaaaagh.

I have photocell-activated battery-operated LED candles in all the front windows of my house. They've been there since even before I bought the house, to give the place a lived-in look. Sort of. The clock radios that go off to NPR and talk radio throughout the day help, too.

The candles have a switch with three positions: off, on, and flicker. Right now the candles are set to "On" and activate whenever it gets dark enough, burning with a steady glow. Halloween morning I plan to go over the house just after sunrise and set all the candles to "flicker." Then, as the sun sets that evening and darkness falls upon Nanticoke, all of the candles will begin to flicker - something no one in the neighborhood has ever seen the candles in my windows do before.

Back in 1995 I worked until after 7:30 at the plant on Halloween night. I was doing data collection and analysis for the CD replication lines, and I was trying to meet everyone on every shift face to face so they would know that there was someone behind all the charts and graphs. The shifts changed at 6:00 and I stayed for another hour and a half or so, doing my song and dance and meeting some of the people who would be gathering data for me. Back in those days I parked my car in a side lot and entered and exited through the main entrance to the plant. As I was walking down the corridor to get to the lobby to leave for the night I noticed something was wrong: the fluorescent lights in the hallway and in the lobby itself were all flickering and strobing, and more than half of them were out. What little light they were giving off was dim and somewhat purple.

"What's this, something special for Halloween?" I said to the guards as I passed.

"Something wrong with the electrical system," they shrugged. They had no idea what had caused it.

Then I walked out of the plant, and into our pitch-black parking lot. Whatever had happened to the lights in the lobby and the corridor leading up to it had also taken out all of the lights in the parking lot. On Halloween.

I never did find out what was wrong with the lights.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Alternatives to candy on Halloween

I intend to spend next Tuesday evening, Halloween, sitting in a rocker on the front porch of my new house with a big bowl of candy for the trick-or-treaters. But I got to thinking: what's the point of the candy? It's getting expensive, it's bad for kids' teeth, it's bad for kids' health, and in a few days it will all be gone. Is there anything that could be passed out instead of candy?

Kmart had Hot Wheels die-cast miniature cars on sale this week, 3 for $2. On the way home from work today I picked up an even dozen. Kids in the age range of 3-to-8 years old might prefer getting a Hot Wheels car and a little candy to getting a whole lot of candy. But Hot Wheels are mainly thought of as "boy" toys. To balance things out I stopped in the party supply aisle and picked up some party favor multipacks - big Elmo superballs (about 2" across) and Hello Kitty bubble wand necklaces. While the bouncy balls are appropriate for both boys and girls, the Hello Kitty stuff is primarily for girls.

I also got some more candy to supplement the bags of candy I bought a few weeks ago. So now I have lots of candy, twelve toy cars, eight superballs, and four bubble wand necklaces. With all this stuff, I hope I get a lot of kids on Halloween night. Otherwise, whatever shall I do with all the leftover candy?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Death of a teacher

Well, so much for not blogging about death.

I was on the phone with a friend from across the country this past Sunday when a call came through: Dan Distasio had been found dead in his yard that morning.

Mr. Distasio was a classmate of my mother. He was a High School teacher (retired for several years now, I think) and was my homeroom teacher for at least one year. I had him as a teacher twenty-two years ago for Problems Of Democracy, an advanced elective Social Studies class. (Every time I hear about the band P.O.D., that's what I automatically think of.)

He was a big man with a booming voice and a gentle demeanor. He was a coach - track and field, I think. As a teacher he encouraged critical thinking, not simply the mindless regurgitation of facts phrased in a manner that was pleasing to him. He was also a good friend to my mom.

I stopped at the viewing on my way home from work. It was scheduled to go from 5:00 to 8:00. I left work at 6:30 and got into town forty minutes later to see the line stretched out the front door of the funeral home and down the street for nearly a block. I decided that this would be a good time to stop at my house to check the mail, the phone messages, and take a pit stop.

I got back to the funeral home around 7:30 and the line was just as long. I parked in the nearest spot, a block away, and took my place at the back of the line. By 8:00 I was standing near the open door of the funeral home, bathing in the welcome warmth coming from within. It was then that I discovered that the line inside the funeral home was as long as the line outside; it snaked its way through an unused parlor where memorial displays had been set up. (The picture of Mr. Distasio as a bare-assed baby made me laugh.)

After another twenty minutes or so I finally wound my way to the casket. I said a prayer and took my leave. I've never been one for chit-chat, especially not at funerals where the only person in the family that I know is the one in the casket. Besides, there were plenty of people willing to make chit-chat, and I was occupying valuable real estate where other mourners and friends and old students wanted to pay their respects. So I left.

The funeral is tomorrow.

Obituary:

Daniel J. Distasio, 73, of Phillips Street, Nanticoke, passed away Sunday (October 22, 2006) at Geisinger South Wilkes-Barre.
Born on November 9, 1932, in Nanticoke, he was a son of the late Daniel and Helen Stankiewicz Distasio.
Dan served two years in the Navy and two years in the Marines. After attaining his bachelor’s degree from King’s College, he continued on to earn his master’s degree equivalency.
Daniel was a teacher for 33 years at Nanticoke High School and was a former football coach for 12 years. He also coached girls volleyball, track and Wilkes Linebackers. He was an avid Yankee, Wilkes-Barre Penguins, Nanticoke Area Trojans and Crestwood Comets sports fan.
He was preceded in death by his brother Raymond.
Surviving are his wife of 49 years, the former Gertrude Piepon; daughter Deborah Disabatino, Mountain Top; sons Daniel Jr., Mountain Top; Jeff, Rochester, NY; Steven, Mountain Top; brother Richard, North Carolina; and grandchildren Dominick, Cassie, Jenna, Nico, Maddie, Danny III, Katie, Devon, Raegan, Stephanie and Derek.
Funeral services will be held Wednesday at 9 a.m. from the Earl W. Lohman Funeral Home, 14 W. Green St., Nanticoke, with a Mass of Christian Burial at 9:30 a.m. in Holy Trinity Church, with the Rev. James Nash officiating.
Interment will be in the Chapel Lawn Cemetery, Dallas. Friends may call this evening from 5 to 8 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, the Daniel J. Distasio Memorial Scholarship Fund is being created to provide an athletic/academic scholarship to a deserving senior student from both Nanticoke Area and Crestwood Area High Schools. Donations are to be made to the Daniel J. Distasio Memorial Fund, c/o Luzerne Foundation, 613 Baltimore Dr., Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Comics Curmudgeon

After waaay too much thinking about death and politics, The Comics Curmudgeon is just plain fun. Josh Fruhlinger provides curmudgeonly comments on a host of newspaper comic strips every day, if you're lucky.

I found out about this site, as did a lot of other people, through the CNN article "Death of a man nobody knew", about Aldo Kelrast, a spooky Captain Kangaroo-esqe Mary Worth stalker who wound up dead and (almost) unmourned. Having had very little exposure to Mary Worth it was a bit of a stretch for me to see why anyone would care about this character's death - but Josh makes you care. Now I'm glad Aldo Kerlast is dead.

My papers don't carry more than half of the comics Josh reads and offers curmudgeonly comments about, so this site is quite an education. Go visit, and see why life in The Family Circus is much, much darker than you ever realized.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Cover bands, and adding Michelle's mhryvnak.net

I was thinking about cover bands the other day. Most of the bands I go to see are cover bands, playing songs by other bands - sometimes note-perfect renditions of the songs, sometimes enhanced variations, sometimes total re-imaginings.

There is, I think, a certain snobbery around bands that suggests that cover bands are just a step above karaoke and DJ's, that the only bands that are worth listening to are ones that play all originals. Personally I don't buy that. The skills required to play music written by someone else and play it like it's coming from your heart and soul are just as valid as the skills required to play something entirely of your own creation.

Besides, a lot of big bands started as cover bands. REM, I believe, started out doing Velvet Underground covers. And beyond that, I got to thinking about classical music. When was the last time you heard a song by Bach, or Mozart, or Beethoven, or Chopin actually played or conducted by the composer? That's an easy question to answer: you haven't, because recording equipment didn't exist in their day outside of ink on paper. Every classical piece you've ever heard by one of these composers and countless others was a cover. Classical orchestras are little more than overgrown cover bands.

By the way, I'm adding Michelle's mhryvnak.net to my sidebar list. Michelle is a fellow blogger from Northeastern Pennsylvania, and was one of the earliest adds to NEPA Blogs. She is also one of my first MySpace friends. Check her out!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sunflowers in Mourning

Sunflowers, September 18, 2006

I took this picture over a month ago when I found that the sunflowers in my garden had turned their mammoth heads to the ground. I was immediately reminded of the cover illustration from a retrospective of Van Gogh's works that was held two years after his death. (I recently dug out the book with the image in it and found that the sunflower itself is wilted, and the head is turned out to face the viewer, not pointed at the ground.*) Van Gogh's last words - "The sadness will last forever" - also came to mind.

I'm no Van Gogh expert, but the more I read about him, the less I like him as a person. Put bluntly, Van Gogh was a dick. Of course, it wasn't entirely his fault: he suffered from depression of one form or another, and his self-centeredness bordering on narcissism, his willingness to use those around him (especially his brother Theo) to fulfill his basic needs, and his inabilty to cope with the daily traumas of life may all have been symptoms of this depression.

I'm not writing this as a public service announcement on depression. I'm not writing it as a personal attack on a great artist, or even to make any broader statements about people struggling with depression, in general or in any of the many specific cases of which I'm aware.

No, I'm writing it because I just loaded a bunch of pictures from my camera onto my computer, and this was one of them, and I wanted to share it with you.

*Here is the illustration:

Friday, October 20, 2006

A series of smaller and smaller boxes

We got Minnie's cremated remains back from the vet today.

I haven't dug up any good photos of her yet - her aloofness meant she was not the most frequently photographed animal in the house. But I know I have some, and I will post them someday.

A note for people in the business world

When leaving a message on someone's voice mail, be sure to state your name coherently and give your phone number slowly and clearly. You may know your own name pretty well, and know your number like the back of your hand, but odds are the person on the other end of the line does not - or else why would you be leaving it? Most people slur their names and race through their numbers like they are reciting the legally-required "fine print" at the end of a radio car advertisement, forcing me to replay their messages over and over at slower and slower speeds, usually while a parade of people come to my desk to tell me things.

So, just do as I say and nobody gets hurt, mmmkay?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Tony Barr for Congress

When I was at the Felberpalooza a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting (and biking with) Tony Barr, grassroots Democratic canditate for Congress out of Pennsylvania's 9th district. Unfortunately, as an 11th district boy I can't actually vote for him, but I will throw what support I can his way.

Fellow Felbernaut and gracious host of the Felberpalooza Murray had this to say recently about Tony Barr:

The good news is that Esquire Magazine has endorsed Tony and he talked to a reporter with the Los Angeles Times, but so far most of the media is ignoring this district. There is a reason for that. Our opponent Bill Shuster who Esquire called an underperforming representative, has made his campaign strategy to hide and hope that Tony either goes away or is not noticed by anyone. So Shuster doesn’t hold press conferences or do rallies or anything.

I spent Sunday during the day and Monday evening doing door to door then attending rubber chicken dinners with Tony. One was 2 hours drive to the west and the other was over an hour to the east.
It’s hard to imagine the pace Tony is keeping up. His school wouldn’t give him leave (It could be politically motivated) so he works there till 3:30 and then either makes an appearance or does door to door. On Monday we each arrived home after 11:00 PM and he had to be up at 5:00 the next morning.

Tony still hasn’t hit the national media and the local papers and TV don’t see a race so he works with little notice.

The campaign has gotten about $30,000 so far which is a bit less than the million that Shuster has on hand.

If the people of the district could see how much work Tony does and how little Shuster does, if they could talk to each of them, if they compared what each wants to accomplish, Tony would win in a landslide. But the game is so very stacked against him and Tony only has the deep dissatisfaction of the voters to work with.

We think that this election is a toss up. Tony has a good chance of winning but it sure won’t be easy, this district has been Republican for the past 146 years.

In the past half year, I’ve gotten to meet numerous politicians and candidates, I’ve seen the best and the worst. People like Tony who have pure motives and want to change America back to being honest and fair to its people, and others in for vengeance, self promotion and personal gain.

If you want to help out, you can send a check to one of the most honest and hard working people I know. You can find out more at www.tonybarr2006.com . You won’t find a better cause for your money.


Click on the links and have a look at Tony Barr. Support him if you can, vote for him if you can. This is one of the good guys, and we need to send a few more of them to Congress!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

More on road projects and politics

One thing I forgot to mention in yesterday's post: the highway construction zones usually come more than one at a time and are usually spaced out several miles apart, so if you think you've been clever by jumping off the highway and onto parallel secondary roads, and then decide to hop back on the highway after several miles, there is a very good chance that you will simply slam right into the next construction zone. This morning I hit three zones: an unannounced zone just past Nanticoke (I specifically listened to the traffic reports this morning, and this wasn't mentioned), a sign inspection near Scranton (which I got around by taking the exit I should've taken yesterday), and then maintenance to the on-ramp back onto the highway! To top things off, the lead car in our parade of cars trying to get back onto the highway decided it would be a good idea to come to a complete stop on the on-ramp, forcing every car behind him to deal with the problem of going from zero to highway speeds as they merged back onto the interstate.

It's not just the highways that have suddenly turned into obstacle courses of construction zones. Michelle over at mhryvnak.net did a post more than a week ago on the joy of trying to navigate through Wilkes-Barre, particularly for a new mother.

So, what's the deal? Did someone find a big pile of use-it-or-lose-it road repair funds somewhere that needed to be disposed of before the end of the year? Is somebody trying to look good for election day by spreading a lot of filthy lucre in the form of road projects? Or, conversely, is someone trying to hinder voter turnout by simultaneously rendering all roads impassable?

Whatever the case, I hope things get wrapped up before Winter. Then the ice and cold and road salt and snowplows can see how much damage they can do.

Meanwhile, in an abandoned warehouse across town...
Bernie O'Hare from Lehigh Valley Ramblings has relayed the fascinating fact that all four of the Pennsylvania Green candidates who are on the Congressional ballot got there with the financial assistance of members of the Republican Party! (This doesn't even count the failed ballot bid by Carl Romanelli, which was also funded by Republicans.)

Now, I know what you're thinking: "Why would Republicans want to financially back candidates whose views in no way coincide with the views of the Republican Party and who, frankly, don't have a hope in hell of winning?" Simple, baby: divide and conquer! Republicans would as soon spit on a Green Party candidate as vote for him (or her), but some Democrats might just consider it. And every Democrat who votes for a Green candidate is a Democrat who didn't vote for a Democratic candidate!

"Ach!" you say. "That's dirty pool!" No, sweetums, that's politics. But now that you know a little bit more about how Republicans play the game, what are you gonna do about it?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Expect Delay

The past few weeks have been a season of construction delays along my commute on Interstate 81. We began with "emergency bridge repairs" several weeks ago and have now carried on to "sign inspection", which caused this morning's commute to be about 75 minutes long instead of the usual 40-45 minutes. (It took me 40 minutes to make my way through a traffic backup to the point where I could get off the highway to begin a secondary-road detour.)

Worse delays are probably coming on Thursday, when the hugely unpopular lame-duck occupant of the office of the President of the United States will be in the area to lend his support to the hugely unpopular incumbent Congressional Representive for the 10th Congressional district of Prennsylvania*, Don "The Strangler" Sherwood. I doubt this visit will do much good for either the Congressman or the President involved. But it will probably mean even more traffic aggravation for me, and tens of thousands of other commuters, come Thursday.

*For a good example of what a Gerrymander looks like, see this image of Pennsylvania's 10th Congressional district.

Monday, October 16, 2006

And now for something completely different

Adam Felber's Talkshow with Spike Feresten is still going strong. It's nominally on FOX at midnight on Saturdays, but baseball playoffs have been kicking it into the wee hours of Sunday morning.

A few weeks ago I convinced some friends to watch it with me. It didn't go over too well, though I think it had a sort of car-crash fascination for them, and it did elicit a few genuine laughs. This bit actually got them engaged, since several of them had experience with mobile hydraulic platforms. (You'll have to watch the clip to understand!)

This week's episode had me laughing all the way through. It featured Slo-Mo Humanimal Races, a piece of which Adam was justifiably proud. (He's the panda.) In addition to the linked sketches listed in my earlier post, you can also find several other Spike Feresten sketches on YouTube, including the Mexican Space Lizard (at the Felberpalooza Adam could not stop raving about the giant iguana in a cowboy hat with a guitar, especially once he had quite a bit of Maker's Mark in him) and the ad for the album "B.B. King Sings About His Other Ailments" (why stop with diabetes?) Go take a look, have a laugh, and then watch the show this coming Saturday!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Death and the blogger

Death sucks. But I may have mentioned that already.

Blogs are more than what a lot of people in the non-blogging world think they are. When people on TV speak of blogs they are often referring to political blogs. "Bloggers are essentially parasitic", one of them said on the Sunday Squabble Shows today, referring to bloggers who seize on things reported in the mainstream media, repeat them, and give elaborate partisan analysis. I wonder if she realizes that these people aren't the only sort of "bloggers" out there?

Someday I'll write something on the diverse nature of blogging. But not right now.

I just wanted to say that for those of us whose blogs are not simply partisan parasitic political puffery, our blogs can often be read in a way that gives outsiders a glimpse into our lives. And quite often, the story of those lives is told at times through the stories of others' deaths.

How blogs commemorate those who die is up to the individual blogger. But if you read enough blogs, you will gradually assemble an idea of the transient nature of life and the relentlessness of death. It's not just me. Look around at a few blogs and see for yourself.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Adding Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy

Despite its title, Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy is actually full of very good astronomy. My sister knows Phil Plait and got me an autographed copy of his book Bad Astronomy a few years ago. It wasn't long before I headed over to his website, which is chock-full of fun stuff, like a thorough deconstruction of the "Moon Hoax" hoax, the Face on Mars, and even movie reviews (in defense of the movie The Core: "...as long as there are copies of "Armageddon" intact, no worse scifi movie will ever be made..")

It's not just an anti-bad astronomy website, though; check out these pictures of Saturn and Mars from the blog. Also, his links make this a great jumping-off point for anyone interested in science, or even just looking for a daily dose of "Wow!" Check it out!

Going to a party

It looks to be a beautiful day today. Crisp, cold, clear. I had been hoping for rain, so I could go to my friend's son's birthday party in New Jersey without any guilt, but the cold would have limited my ability to paint today, anyway. Maybe. Possibly. I don't know. Besides, I could use a long, pleasant drive and a party to clear my head.

Friday, October 13, 2006

One year later and no apology from Chris Pirillo

It's been almost a year since ubergeek Chris Pirillo made his declaration that "Blogspot has become nothing but a crapfarm" in his "Kill Blogspot already!" rant. By his calculations, 99% of the blogs on Blogspot were not "legitimate", and the entire Blospot community should be shut down, or at the very least all Blogspot blogs (like mine) should be ostracized.

I've been thinking about this lately. Not too much, because I don't really give a runny crap what Chris Pirillo thinks or says. But unfortunately, a lot of undergeeks do, and many of them simply dittoed his words in an effort to bask in his reflected geek glory...and possibly garner a few more hits to their sites, which was the strategy being used by "splogs" (fake blogs, usually designed with nefarious intent) that attracted Pirillo's attention in the first place.

It was a visit to another blog that stirred my memory. Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy is a friend of my sister. His site is informative and fun and a hell of a good time, and is definitely getting added to my sidebar links the next time I futz with my template. In a recent post that escaped my attention until today he invoked the "Pirillo Effect", a rule derived from observation that states that you can summon Chris Pirillo to your website by mentioning his name three times. (So far that's four and two half-mentions. Hello, little man. Remember me?) I probably overstepped the bounds of blog etiquette by posting a comment on Phil's post that challenged Chris to apologize for his earlier remarks, something that, to the knowledge of this Blogspot blogger, he has not yet done.

To make it clear what I would consider an apology from him, I will reprint a comment I made to my own post about this issue, a comment that was in response to a comment left by Chris Pirillo:

Maybe "Dick" is a little strong. And I suppose I could have simply checked the Wikipedia to answer the question "Who the hell is Chris Pirillo anyway?" It was interesting to see the Pirillo Effect in action. (Candyman, Candyman, Candyman...)

I would like to extend my congratulations, however. Yes, thanks to Chris Pirillo's call to "Kill Blogspot Already!", Google has decided to take countermeasures against fake blogs. Clearly they hadn't been working on this up until now. Obviously Chris gets the credit for this.

But I think I'll stand by my conclusion that Chris Pirillo is a dick. I'll let his own words explain why:

"Kill Blogspot Already!!! "
OK, when you've got as much exposure as this guy does - and he has a lot - any call to action is going to be echoed by a lot of folks. In later posts Chris will claim that he was trying to encourage Google to address the problem of what he calls "spam blogs". But that's not what this title says.

"Blogspot has become nothing but a crapfarm."
If nothing else had been said, this alone would have earned him the title of Dick. I blog on Blogspot. So do a lot of other people, including many of the people I link to. "Nothing but a crapfarm"? There's not much wiggle room there, boy. You've declared all of our blogs crap. Screw you.

"(T)he 1% "legitimate" minority."
OK, someone as plugged in as Chris Pirillo must have some data to back this claim up. 99% of the blogs on Blogspot (which, remember, is "nothing but a crapfarm") are illegitimate. And how do you define legitimacy? Show us your data, show us your judgement criteria.

Or is this just hyperbole, just spouting off, shooting from the hip? If so - if this is, as he later tries to cast it, a biting satire in the manner of Swift's "Modest Proposal" - well, it falls flat. It comes across as a call to "Kill Blogspot Already!" That's the way I read it, and I'm sure that's the way many of Chris Pirillo's propellerhead minions read it. And maybe everything that he has written should be taken with a grain of salt - it might also be hyperbole.

Chris, you owe us an apology. Me. Lauren. Rima. Anne. Siobhan. Katie. SuperG. Lisa. Puppetdude. Dee. Teigra. All the others whose blogs are hosted by a service you've declared to be "nothing but a crapfarm". There can't be that many of us - "1% legitimate" can't amount to that many blogs.

Now, I don't expect an apology to me. Frankly, I don't care. But you owe the others an apology, many of whom don't even know that you insulted them. I check their blogs ever day. Post it in the comments of their latest entry. If I see you doing this, you'll be a little bit along the way to not being a dick.

Then use the "Next Blog" button for an hour. If you find fake blogs, flag them. If you find real ones, apologize to them, too.

And post the apology on your site. You reach a lot of people. You've insulted a lot of people. You need to let them know that you're not really a dick.


He never has. I didn't expect he would. So the initial judgment still stands.

And so do I.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The story of Minnie the Church Cat

Minnie came into our lives on Sunday, February 22, 1998. I don't know this date through some amazing feat of memory acrobatics, or because I have it engraved somewhere. I know it because there is a site out there that lists every Third Eye Blind concert by location and date, including the one they played at the Scranton Cultural Center that day.

I didn't go to church with my mom that Sunday. Maybe I had gone the night before as part of a pre-Tink's warmup. Maybe I had gone to mass with my grandmother at the nursing home. Whatever the case, I was home when my mom came back from church.

"Can we take another cat?" she asked. "There's a little cat pacing and crying outside of the church."

This was about six months after our dog Kitty had died. We had Haley the dog, and Josie and Ashes the cats. It was cold outside. The cat was looking for something. It had approached humans and cried for help.

"Yeah," I said. "I hope it's still there."

The cat was still there. It was a Tabby, like Ashes, but not the same color. Where Ashes was the color of coal ashes - gray and silver with touches of pinkish-white and bands of black - this cat was the color of nicotine stains: a yellow-brown with black bands when seen from a distance, but a much more complex color when seen up close. Its coat seemed to have a black base with brown bands and bright hairs that stood out in almost electric contrast with the black. The cat also had what I called a "King Cheetah Stripe" - a line of black that ran along the spine from the top of the head to the base of the tail. The new cat was also much, much smaller than Ashes.

My sister was in town that weekend. She had come up to see the Third Eye Blind concert with me. As we fed and cared for the cat, the question of what to call it came up. Because it was found near the St. John Neumann school, we briefly considered calling it Neuman, with all the unfortunate Seinfeldian connotations that were involved there. A few other names got kicked around. In the end my mom liked Mickey, which seemed like as good a name as any.

I fed Mickey throughout the day, as much as the cat wanted. A morsel here, a morsel there. Not forcing the food, just letting Mickey decide to eat. The poor cat was emaciated and covered with scabs from a hard life on the streets, and was also a bit suspicious of the people who had adopted it. My hands were clawed up pretty severely that day, but as anyone who knows me probably realizes, I have fairly thick skin.

Eventually it was time to head to the concert. My sister and I drove up to the Scranton Cultural Center in my car - the same car I am still driving - and talked about the cat on the way up. On the way back we talked about the concert and didn't think to phone home.

When we got home, well after midnight, my mother was frantic. "I went in the room, and there were little bloody things all over the towel on the bed," she said. "They looked like little fishes. They must be kitten fetuses. Mickey is actually Minnie, and she just spontaneously aborted a litter of kittens."

My mom and my sister ran the cat - whose sex had just been quite positively determined - up to the emergency veterinary clinic about 20 miles away. I stayed to tend to the other animals and to my father, who had been felled by a stroke several years before.

At the emergency vet's things looked pretty good for Minnie. She was not in any immediate danger and was quite healthy. She was also no longer pregnant. There was only one thing that really concerned the vet - a large mass he could feel in her abdomen. He took her away to take X-Rays to try to determine what it was.

A while later he came back. "What in the world have you been feeding her?" he asked. The large mass was actually a solid clump of food that Minnie had been eating all day. She was given a clean bill of health and sent home.

Since that time Minnie took her place in the hierarchy of animals and the feline pecking order. She was Junior Animal, and had no aspirations to be anything more. She was also Junior Feline and deferred to Josie and Ashes. Josie was not especially friendly to her, but was not openly antagonistic. Both Ashes and Haley loved her and played with her as much as they could - which wasn't all that much. Minnie was aloof and highly independent. Where Josie would demand attention and Ashes wanted as much physical contact as he could get, even wrestling with Haley at times, Minnie was content to stay in the background. Her favorite spot was in a corner of the room where I'm writing this, a stack of boxes with some blankets on top.

But she was a Tabby, and she had the Tabby tendency to clear off surfaces. Sometimes, in the middle of the night or even the middle of the day, the sound of toiletries being thrown off the bathroom vanity would echo through the house. We always knew that it was Minnie, "cleaning house."

Even after Nikki joined the group in 1999, Minnie didn't lord her status over the new Junior Animal. Nor did she change her behavior when she moved up two spots in one weekend, the Thanksgiving weekend of 2000 (I believe) when Joey came into the family and Josie died in my arms. She mourned, I think, when Haley died last year, leaving her as Second Animal. When Ashes died six months ago, making Minnie the Senior Animal, her behavior changed only a little. She still played chasing games with Nikki and Joey, but she would also sometimes stay near me while I worked on the computer, in the same spot where Ashes used to lay. But unlike Ashes, she did not want to be brushed, or scratched, or rubbed, or even stroked. She was near me; that was enough.

She didn't have a favorite toy, like Nikki with his beloved stuffed dog Dolly, or a favorite activity like Ashes with his brushing, or even a bundle of personality quirks like Joey. Her one luxury in life was her morning bowl of milk, which she would ask for by name - crying "Meeewk, meeewk" even as she saw me remove the jug from the refrigerator and begin to fill her bowl.

A few months ago she began to sleep with me in bed - not in direct contact, just near me, curled up by my head. That was where I would find her, every morning, right up until this past Monday.

Now it is Thursday, and she is dead.

I miss you, Minnie.

Gone

Minnie was euthanized at 11:05 this morning

Her kidneys had completley failed. Short of spending the rest of her life in a hospital hooked to a dialysis machine, there was nothing that could be done

She yowled when we got there this morning. After we opened her cage and took her out she seemed to perk up, but her eyes were still unblinking and did not seem to track on anything. When we put her on the table where we had her last night she simply lay flat. The vet brought out her charts and went over her numbers with us, to settle any doubts we might have about what we were about to do. We said our goodbyes, asked her to say hi to Ashes and Haley for us, and let the doctor give her the lethal injection. She died within a minute.

Goodbye, Minnie. You were a good cat. I wish you could have stuck around longer.

Hell of a time for Blogger to crash

(This is being posted from Hotmail, so it may look weird.)*

Minnie was still alive as of 10:30 last night, and much more awake and aware
than she had been three hours earlier. But she hadn't urinated yet. We'll
find out in a little bit if she's still alive this morning

My electrician called yesterday morning to tell me he wants to do the
estimate today. We're supposed to meet over at the house in a few minutes.
I'm waiting for him to call.

I'll try to visit Minnie on my way in to work after I'm done with the
electrician.

Thanks to everybody for your continued wishes, thoughts, and prayers.

*I fixed the formatting issues.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Quick Minnie update

I stopped to see Minnie on my way home from work, and she wasn't good. Her eyes were fixed and unblinking, her mouth was partly open - from the neck up, she looked dead. She was breathing all right, and the veterinary assistant told me that her heart was strong, but she was mostly unresponsive. Just the fact that she let me hold her for over a half-hour was weird - she would never have allowed that without complaint.

She did rouse three times to close her mouth and look around the room, but she quickly settled back into her semi-comatose state. This was in marked contrast to her appearance when my mom visited her six hours earlier: while she had been initially unresponsive, she rallied while my mother was holding her and became very alert.

We are heading back up in a little bit to see her together. I'll update if I can. Thank you to everyone who has once again sent such kind thoughts and wishes.

I realized when I was trying to find a link to a biographical sketch for Minnie last night that I have never done one. Minnie, the Church Cat, definitely has a story that should be told. I'll tell it as soon as I have time.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Here we go again

Minnie, currently our oldest cat, is in the veterinary hospital in critical condition.

I noticed some behavioral changes in her these last few days. I thought she was sulking because we have begun to let Babusz interact with the other cats. For the last two months or so Minnie has been sleeping in bed next to me, curled up near my head. Part of my wake-up ritual involves reaching over and stroking her and wishing her good morning. Yesterday morning I reached out and she wasn't there. That was odd, but not unprecedented, and as a cat she has the prerogative to change her mind about things whenever she wants. I thought it was even odder when I got out of bed and found her curled up on the carpet by the side of my bed.

Last night Minnie was acting even more strangely. She wouldn't jump into bed at all and was lying listlessly on the floor. When I picked her up she was limp like a ragdoll, and her eyes seemed extra-large. She also seemed to have very suddenly lost a lot of weight. She vomited, which is not at all unusual for her - she has always preferred milk to solid food and will sometimes vomit up solid, unchewed, undigested food in a clump shortly after eating it - but she vomited several times more than her norm. We agreed that we would get her to the vet in the morning.

This morning Minnie was again weak and listless, and was not at all interested in the morning bowl of milk that she on any other morning would ask for by name.

My mom ran Minnie up to the vet while I got an extra-late start on the day. When I heard the weather forecast confirming that today would be beautiful while the rest of the week would be rainy, I decided to exercise my "floating holiday" to take the day off to work on the house. As soon as I was out of the shower and dressed I loaded up the car with my painting clothes and headed up to meet my mom at the vet's.

The news was not good, at all. Minnie was severly diabetic, something that came as a surprise to us. Her blood sugar was way high, she was dehydrated, and her kidneys were beginning to fail. The vet checked her in to his hospital and began a rehdyrating IV, but was not completely optimistic about her chances of recovery.

Keep in mind that two days ago Minnie was her normal active self, climbing on top of the enertainment center and knocking things off the top that got in her way. She has always been very aloof, nowhere near as cuddly as Ashes, which may be why we never noticed her weight loss - we never got to hold her or pick her up or do anything else that would have clued us in, since she always ran away as we approached.

So Minnie is getting the best care possible. I threw myself at the task of scraping and repainting the rest of my wrought-iron porch railings, a task I worked on from about 11:00 in the morning until nearly 7:00 at night (which is when I finished washing off the mops I had just used to clean off the filthy porch.) I got everything but the banisters on the steps. I look like I got caught in a tar pit - some of the railings could only be accessed by reaching through other railings, sometimes freshly-painted railings.

I wrapped things up and drove from my "new" house to my "old" house. As I pulled up, filthy, tired, and hungry, I thought: There's no one to give Minnie her bowl of milk tomorrow morning.

And I cried.

Tomorrow it will be six months since Ashes died.

Monday, October 09, 2006

North Korea and the Nuclear Genie

The genie's been out of the bottle for 61 years. And more recently A.Q. Khan saw to it that anybody with the cash could have their own personal genie. What did we expect?

Here's an old joke:

A man is searching all over his kitchen for his glasses. "I can't find them anywhere!" he laments to his wife.

"Well, where did you last have them?" she asks.

"In the basement," he replies.

"Then why are you looking for them in the kitchen?"

Without looking up, he says "Because the light is better here!"

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Tired

I managed to do a little more wrought-iron painting today. I have half of the railing done now, not counting the banisters and the uprights.

It was a beautiful day today. If I had managed to dedicate a few more hours to the work I would have gotten twice as much accomplished. If the weather holds, I may take a day off just to work on the railing. Maybe I'll be able to get an electrician in at the same time to give me an estimate on rewiring half the house.

Now I am tired. I can't wait to go back to work to relax.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Progress report

Today I repainted a part of the wrought-iron railing on my new house.

That wasn't the plan. The plan was to paint all of the wrought-iron railing, except maybe the banisters on the steps, and the only reason I would skip them is because I was planning on putting another coat of paint on the central part of the porch, including the steps. (I didn't.)

The reality was that I was very comfortable in my bed this morning (flannel sheets, gotta love 'em) and didn't want to get out. And I was trying to call a friend who I can only talk to on weekends. And my stove took an hour to boil water for tea (I need to get that taken care of, or get the antique stove replaced.) And I decided to follow-through on the part of the plan that involved cleaning the front windows - inside and out, both sides of the house - and hanging up some Autumn gel window cling decorations that I bought the other day. (What? What are you lookin' at? They give the house a lived-in appearance, OK? So I don't wanna hear none o' your lip. What? You wanna take this offline? OK, pal...) And in the end, it was about noon when I finally gathered up my wire brushes and went out into the cold to begin scraping off the loose rust.

I quickly reformulated my plan. I would focus on the lower parts of the wrought iron, the parts where the rust was the worst. The rest I would deal with later.

My mother, aunt, cousin, and a friend all went to 4:00 mass just up the street from me. I suggested that after church they could come over and have a pizza party - as long as they picked up the pizza.

At 4:00 I had finished brushing, sanding, and masking-off and was just beginning to put brush to railing. I didn't finish even my reduced-scope task until about 5:30, a half-hour after everyone had shown up.

We ate the pizza. It was good.

I came back here around 8:00 tonight.

Now I'm tired.

Friday, October 06, 2006

First night

Tonight I will be spending my first night in the house that I bought more than four months ago.

It's not that I'm moving in yet. That's still a while off. Right now I'm undergoing a household reclamation effort that will be familiar to anyone who has read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It's a purely practical matter: days are growing shorter and colder, there is much work that must be completed by next May 31 (at the risk of losing my homeowner's insurance), and it takes me an eternity to get myself out of bed and across town to work on the house on a Saturday. It will be much easier (in theory) to simply roll out of bed, roll down the steps, and roll out the front door to begin this weekend's task, wire-brushing and repainting the wrought-iron railing around the porch. (This is one of the tasks specified by my insurance company; for some reason, they were untroubled by the rusty wrought-iron fence that runs along the front of the house. I would rather work on that, but as far as the insurance company is concerned, the porch railing is the higher priority.)

That's the plan, anyway. The practical consideration of breakfast just hit me. Maybe some cold Pop-Tarts and an apple - I don't want to tax the electrical system with a toaster just yet. I may make some tea, too, which means I may blow the house up by using the antique gas stove. I sure hope that doesn't happen.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

What not to do when you're about to be struck by lightning

Yesterday some titanic electrical storms blew through the area.

We've been having some big ones lately, with bright, almost continuous flashes of cloud-to-cloud lightning and short, intense shots of cloud-to-ground (or, more accurately, ground-to-cloud) lightning. A line of powerful storms stretched diagonally across the northeastern part of Pennsylvania yesterday afternoon, but I thought the worst was over by the time I headed home. I was wrong.

As a result of making some stops, I didn't get to my new house until almost 8:00 last night. I had things I needed to unpack - a set of pots and pans, a big box full of kitchen odds and ends. I needed the space in my car today, so leaving the stuff in my car wasn't an option.

It was still storming when I pulled up. The rain was pounding a little less insistently, though, so it seemed like a good time to hustle the stuff into the house. I parked the car, unlocked the passenger's side doors (no automatic locks for me, baby!), turned off the ignition, took the keys in my left hand, grabbed an umbrella in my right, opened the door, stepped out onto the road.

My car keys began to tingle. My, that's peculiar, I thought, in exactly the same voice that Eddie Murphy used when he said those words on his Comedian album. Car keys usually don't tingle and squirm like there's electricity running through them.

I hunched over and ran around to the passenger's side of the car and began to unpack, shielding the boxes with my umbrella. When I touched the metal shaft I noticed that it, too, was tingling and crawling.

I'm gonna die, aren't I? I thought.

Well, needless to say, I didn't. But I could have. Vast fingers of electropotential were reaching out of the street around me, trying to shake hands with oppositely-charged fingers in the clouds above. Had they met, the resulting lightning bolt would have taken the shortest possible path, possibly through the top of my head. The safest place would have been inside the metal shell of my car, since all the electrical current from a lightning strike would have washed over the outer metallic skin and left everything inside unharmed.

That's what I should have done: retreated to the safety of the car's interior, maybe even gotten the hell out of the area. Instead, I walked around my car and unpacked it, tingling keys and umbrella in my hands. I could have been killed. I wasn't. I was stupid, and I was lucky. And I'm still alive.

Kids, don't try that at home.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Voter registration deadline fast approaching!

This is from MoveOn.org:

In many states, this Sunday will be your last chance to register to vote. In some, you have to get your registration in the mail as soon as Thursday.

You already know how important voting is—you wouldn't be a MoveOn member if you didn't. But that doesn't necessarily mean you're properly registered. Thousands of names are mistakenly purged from the voting rolls every year.

So, our friends at Working Assets have created a website to make registering (and re-registering) very, very simple. The whole process takes under 5 minutes. Just click here to get started:


https://www.govote.org/

Even if you think you might be registered, there's no harm in re-registering. Better to re-register than be denied your right to vote on Election Day. (And there are no legal problems with doing so, as long as you only vote in one place.)

On the page above, you can also send emails to your friends and family to make it easy for them to register. You can even send registration text messages for free to your friends' cell phones.

The more progressives vote, the more representatives will pay attention to us. It's that simple. So take a moment today—before the deadline this Sunday—to make sure you're registered. And please pass this note on to others who would find it useful.

Thanks for all you do,

–Eli, Justin, Karin, Wes and the MoveOn.org Political Action Team
Wednesday, October 4th, 2006

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Tragedies

Last week an armed man managed to walk into a Colorado high school not far from Columbine, site of the worst mass killing in U.S. educational history. Undeterred by guards, metal detectors, or any other sort of system designed to keep armed strangers from walking into schools, he seized several young girls and reportedly molested them. In a final confrontation he allegedly* shot and killed one of the girls before killing himself.

Yesterday a heavily armed 32-year-old milk truck driver walked into an Amish school near his house in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and in what may have been a copy of the Colorado incident, selectively seized the school's girls and killed or tried to kill them. According to reports, among the many items he took with him into the school was what amounted to a bondage-and-rape kit, which he apparently never had an opportunity to use. He too allegedly killed himself.

This morning the Country Junction in Lehighton, a sprawling wonderland of retail items that calls itself "The World's Largest General Store", burned to the ground. Millions of dollars in inventory were lost, as well as all the buildings located on the three-acre facility. While all but one of the animals in the petting zoo escaped (one llama was too terrified to flee), all of the animals in the pet department died.

Why does the last incident affect me more strongly than the first two? Is it because I have been to the Country Junction many times, have played with the animals, have seen the petting zoo? Is it because this is someplace real to me, while the other two incidents are very nearly abstractions? Or have I just become so numb to human suffering that the accidental deaths of animals affect me more than the brutal murder of children?

*Please God, let this be true. I hope there isn't a forensics report buried at the bottom of a locked cabinet somewhere that shows that the girl was killed by friendly fire during the attempted rescue.

Monday, October 02, 2006

You must read this book

The Truth (with jokes) by Al Franken

I should have read this book long ago. I waited too long. I waited until it was in trade paperback, and offered by the Quality Paperback Book Club, and until several fellow Felbernauts recommended it to me at the Felberpalooza.

I was a little disappointed with Franken's last book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them (A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right). I thought it was too jokey, too silly. There was plenty of important stuff in there, but it was wrapped in a marshmallow coating of humor that prevented some people from taking it seriously, and allowed others to dismiss it outright. Not this time.

The jokes in The Truth (with jokes) are actually few and far between, and are generally told through gritted teeth. The book is incredibly information-dense and has twenty pages of references at the end, enough for considerable follow-up and self-study. Franken covers many of the topics I have tried to address myself, but covers them with a thoroughness beyond my capabilities. Every person in America should read this book - it's that good, it's that thorough, it's that important. Depending on which side of the political divide you're on, you'll either find much fuel for your cause, or many questions that you must address before you carry on. Franken so thoroughly deconstructs the hypocrisy of the Bush Administration and its fellow travelers that supporters will find themselves realizing that they are in an ethically, morally, and logically untenable position.

Franken ends (well, nearly ends) the book with a summation of his criticisms of the Bush administration, its policies and supporters, and a call to political action for everyone else - starting now, with the November 2006 elections, the elections that will determine whether Republicans will continue to control all three branches of government for the next two years.

He truly ends the book with an imagined letter to his grandchildren written in the year 2015, a letter which outlines the course of action that (Franken hopes) the country will follow between now and then. And in a very clever passage, he assuages the Republican fears that a Democratic-majority Congress will tie up the business of the nation in an endless gridlock of impeachement hearings, while at the same time he assures those seeking justice that justice will be done. I will not give away the trick, but rest assured that it is very satisfying, minimally disruptive, and very doable.

This is not an easy book to read. Every few minutes I found myself flinging it across the room in anger. But because my anger was directed not at Franken, but at the political criminals who he exposes on every page, I was compelled to pick it back up and continue reading. I hope that you do the same before the November elections.

Read this book. Get angry. Do something about it.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Register to vote NOW!

The deadline for voter registration in Pennsylvania is October 10. In your state it may be different - check here to find out.

This is the most important election since the last one. We will not be able to correct the great national tragedy of November 2004, but this election is important for another reason: it will determine whether the Bush Administration will be held accountable for any of its actions, or whether it will continue to be allowed to carry on for the next two years as it has from the moment George Bush took the oath of office for the position he was granted by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in December of 2000.

Time to take back our country.