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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Mayhem of the Mooninites

I did some bill-paying at the Nanticoke City Building today - sewer (city), sewer (Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority), and garbage (one side of the house only), attempted to mail some packages (line too long), picked up my aunt, dropped my mom off for her procedure around 1:00, drove my aunt to my cousin's, mailed my packages (the line had gone away), and then had about an hour to kill until I would be expecting the call to come for my mom. I was in a dollar store picking up St. Patrick's Day decorations when I got a call that they were running about a half-hour late at the pain clinic. With the extra time I hit Sam's Club and picked up packing tape (I used the last of mine on the packages) and Scotch tape and a dispenser (need it for my house.) Then I topped off my mom's gas tank ($2.149/gallon.) I had just started the journey back to the pain clinic when I got a call that they would be ready for me to get her in about 15-20 minutes. I veered into a Toys'R'Us parking lot and decided to hunt for more of the Cars Rip-Cord Racers that I was able to get for one nephew's birthday but which were unavailable just before Christmas. I didn't have to look hard - they were in a display as soon as you walked in the door. I grabbed two, looked around for a few minutes, checked out, and headed to the pain clinic.

Where I waited, since there was nobody at the desk.

I sat there for a few minutes and noticed that the crowd in the waiting room was strangely hushed and intensely focused on the television, more so than with a typical episode of Jerry Springer or Judge Judy. The TV was mounted on the wall, out of my line of sight, but the announcer was saying something about suspicious electronic devices being found around Boston. Was it a terrorist attack, or was it a prank? No one knew, but many highways and bridges in Boston were shut down as a result. The packages featured lights in the shape of a character from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, part of the Adult Swim block on Cartoon Network...

WHAT??!!, I interrobanged.

I quickly moved to a place where I could see the TV. There was Ignignokt - or was it Err? - showing his middle finger to the camera. The image of the Mooninite stood defiant, challenging.

Well, at least it ain't Shake.

Someone came to the desk and let me know that my mom would be out in a minute and I should bring the car around to the door. The one minute dragged on to more than ten and I sat in the car listening to NPR's All Things Considered trying to glean some information about the ATHF scare in Boston. They mentioned it only briefly.

We went for a late breakfast - it was after 4:00, but my mom had not yet eaten and she wanted breakfast, which fortunately is served at the Cracker Barrel all day. On the way home NPR had an update on the Boston situation: it wasn't a bomb threat or a prank, but part of a Turner Broadcasting marketing campaign that had been going on for weeks in several cities.

Why was it just noticed now, and why in Boston? I have no idea. Why did authorities believe this was a threat? Because the devices contained circuit boards, wires, and batteries, components that are also found in bombs. Note to Boston: these components are also found in pretty much EVERY OTHER GODDAMN PIECE OF ELECTRONIC EQUIPMENT IN THE WORLD. TIME YOU START NOTICING. It's like saying blogs are possibly terrorist threats because both blogs and terrorist threats use words arranged into sentences. Actually, it's more like when police arrested several people participating in an outdoor zombie role-play (please don't ask) in Minneapolis because they felt that the wires that led into backpacks they were wearing might possibly be components of bombs. The wires turned out to be headphone cords leading to iPods. iPods. Ever hear of them?

So. Boston is threatening criminal action against anyone who perpetrated this "hoax". Will they follow through? I don't know. Remember, this is the city that dealt with fans celebrating the Red Sox's 2004 World Series victory by firing pepper spray canisters into a non-violent crowd. They killed one girl, a college student, by putting a canister directly into her eye. I suppose she experienced unimagineable pain and suffering in the time it took for her to die as the pepper spray pumped into her skull by way of her eye socket. Way to go, Boston's Finest!

But I'm not sure how "guerilla marketing" like this - sticking up little electronic lighted billboards here and there without first getting permits or even asking the permission of the property owners - doesn't fall in the same category as graffiti and other acts of public vandalism. I mean, I can't just slap ads for Another Monkey all over the place, wherever I think people will notice. Or can I? Hmmm...

Well, assuming that nobody does hard time for this, it looks like the publicity stunt for Aqua Teen Hunger Force: The Movie was more successful than Turner could have hoped!

(For an excellent account of this event, go here. I think I might be in love with Gael Fashingbauer Cooper.)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Fire

I resolved last night to finally get to bed at a reasonable time. I've been staying up until nearly 1:00 in the morning lately, for various reasons. My first alarm goes off at 5:00 and even on my most snoozebarific morning I am up no later than 6:00. But last night would be different: after a blog update and a bit of online chatting, I was headed for bed by about 11:00 for six to seven hours of glorious sleep.

I was wrong.

It was 1:00 in the morning when my mom called to me: "We have a fire in the neighborhood!"

Fire.

The Babblings of Whimsicalbrainpan came flooding back to me. The story of The Fire and its aftermath. The lessons I took away from it. The deep depression that Tiffany warned would settle upon any reader - not because you feel sorry for the blog's author, which she explicitly does not want you to do, but because you are disgusted at yourself for ever having thought any burdens in your own life were too difficult to bear, and because you know that no amount of justice served against the arsonists that hurt her and maimed another and killed a third and destroyed and affected so many lives like waves rippling out from a stone thrown into a pond, no measure of justice will ever undo the damage they have done, ever. Ever.

And for a timeless infinity it was my house that was on fire, and my brain did something like this:

OUTOUTOUTOUT
DISTtoNRSTWNDW:12FTN
ALT1:10FTStoDOOR,EXIT,TURNN,18FTNtoGARAGEDOOR
ALT2:10FTtoSTAIRSEtoBACKDOOR
ALT3:10FTtoSTAIRSEtoBACKDOOR,TURNW,25FTWtoFRONTDOOR
SAVE:MOM(AL2,ALT3ONLY)
SAVE1:CATS(NIKKI,JOEY,BABUSZ)
GOGOGOGO

"Where?" I said.

"Around the block," she replied.

I fumbled with my slippers. Too long, too long. In an emergency, heel spur be damned, let my full weight crash onto my uncushioned right heel. Pain is nothing without damage. But this was not an emergency.

I levitated up the steps - in total darkness, I would learn an hour later when I was heading back to bed and was confronted with an unlit stairwell. "Call it in?" I asked.

"Heard it on the scanner. Three injured." (It would turn out to be only one injured, out of two in the house, though a firefighter was also injured later.)

The orange glow came in through our front window. The house on fire was across the street, but not directly; it was the first house in from the far corner. But you could see bits of the house between the houses directly across the street. Now, of course, it was easy to infer the location of the house from the flames and glowing smoke.

"Evacuate the premises! Evacuate the premises! Evacuate the premises!" the scanner screamed. Evacuate who? Are there still people in there? Are they ordering the firefighters out?

More trucks were rolling up. A second alarm was called in. The fire hydrant outside our house was tapped.

The firefighters made quick work of the fire, with one complication. I watched the glow dim from a bright whitish-orange to a paler shade of the same color. Suddenly, the fire brightened. What the hell? Then I watched flames appear in the sky, hanging several feet above a large pine tree next to the house.

"That tree is on fire," I observed.

The firefighters noticed, too, as the secondary fire was quickly doused.

One of the firefighters was burned. How seriously, I do not know, though - let us call it "WhimB's blog" has made me aware of the seriousness of any burn.

The house, we learned this morning, had burned once before fairly recently, in August 2003. It was also Condemned then, though apparently that's not so immediate a thing in Nanticoke. The owner had allegedly been renovating it, and he and his girlfriend had been sleeping over several nights a week. With no utilities to the house, they had been using candles and kerosene* fuel for heat and light. A burning candle fell on the kerosene and ignited the fire, resulting in serious burns to the owner. He and his girlfriend were able to get out to a neighboring house to call for help.

So this wasn't arson. Neither, apparently, was the fire on Saturday night that destroyed a row house about two blocks from my new house, killing one resident. (I slept over at my new house Saturday night and slept through the whole thing, including the helicopter landing a block from my bed.) The fire just outside of Nanticoke last week that also killed a man is also not considered suspicious. This time, we don't have a firebug running around town. On the other hand, the fire last Wednesday in a nearby community that destroyed the home, offices, and film studio of a local producer of gay porn videos who was later determined to have been stabbed 28 times before the fire started...well, that one is considered suspicious.

So there is a great and disturbing convergence of fire events in my life. To this should be added the recent maddeningly lenient verdict in the case of a Seton Hall fire that resulted in several deaths and many injuries - see Bill's Industrial Blog post for his take and some links. Compare and contrast this to WhimB's account of the trial and punishment of the arsonists responsible for the fire that changed and destroyed so many lives. What are the similarities? What are the differences?

Tomorrow I have the day off so I can take my mom for a periodic procedure. I can sleep late. Still, I plan to get to bed early and get as much sleep as I can.

We have had enough of fires for now. Let this night be one of pleasant dreams and uninterrupted sleep.

*This was originally reported as propane, not kerosene. The fire was reportedly caused by a candle falling onto the fuel. Kerosene makes more sense, since propane is not liquid at room temperature and pressure, and a fire involving a propane canister would be something like having a small unguided rocket going off indoors.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Even more snow

This Winter has been a wimp snow-wise, compared to previous Winters. Yesterday we had our second measurable snowfall, little more than an inch. Still, it was enough to require cleaning the steps, porch and sidewalk, something I had to do at two houses.

The snow slowed down enough by 10:00 last night for it to make sense to start clearing it. I swept off our porch and steps here and lightly sprinkled them with de-icing pellets, since there was a thin veneer of ice under the snow. Then I went to my new house and used a shovel to scoop away the snow on my sidewalks and my neighbors' sidewalks on either side. After again sparingly sprinkling some pellets onto the sidewalks, I used a wimpy little dollar-store broom to sweep enough of the steps for me to get up and down easily. Then I pulled out a more substantial old wooden push-broom to finish the job - which it didn't, since the handle promptly snapped off at the head. I used the dollar-store broom to finish sweeping the steps there, then came back here to clean the sidewalks.

So today I had to stop at Sam's Club to make some purchases. Gas ($2.159/gallon, down about twenty cents in the last month), a good-quality push broom ($8.78), a decent-quality corn broom ($5.48), two two-packs of rubbing alcohol ($3.08 each - we were all out), and 50 lbs. of calcium chloride de-icing pellets ($17.48 - I used most of what we had left from last year yesterday.) Unplanned expenses, but necessary. We'll see what the rest of the Winter has in store for us!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Where did THAT lyric come from?

We just had a birthday party at my house. Unsurprisingly, this involved the singing of the song "Happy Birthday to You". I won't reproduce the lyrics here, since (as you are probably know) despite being of quite ancient provenance and perhaps the most obvious example of what members of the public would consider "public domain", the song is in fact copyrighted. How fiercely the copyright is defended I do not care to find out.

We sang the song, and got to the second verse* - not covered by copyright:

May the dear Lord bless you
May the dear Lord bless you
Happy birthday, dear...etc.

(Alternate versions include "the good Lord" or "our dear Lord".)

"Where did that lyric come from?" my cousin asked. "None of my friends have heard of it."

I found this odd. Was it a sign of declining religiosity and increasing secularism in the world? Was this some sort of special lyric invented in the dim past by some ancestor and passed down through the generations in our family?**

The truth is, I don't know. A Google search for "happy birthday"+"may the dear lord bless you" turns up only 66 hits. Not unique, but not common enough to be universal. The "good lord" variant yields 309 hits, and the "our dear lord" version turns up a whopping 10 results.

So where did this come from? I don't know. I don't mind carrying it on, though.

Nor do I mind our other variant verse:

Happy birthday to you
You live in a zoo
You look like a monkey
And you smell like one too!

*Fellow Felbernaut Hedera's comment made me realize that I had used the word "lyric" where I should have used "verse". I have changed two occurences of this. In defense of my grammatical error, I should point out that the second verse consists of a single line, or lyric, repeated twice and then combined with the last two lines of the previous verse. But I also know beans about music and its terminology. My mistake!
**It is also possible this is simply something that was drilled into our heads by the nuns during dozens of birthday parties in Catholic school each year. Any other Catholic school survivors out there who can back this up?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

More reasons for an apology from Chris Pirillo

In October 2005 Chris Pirillo issued a call to shut down Blogspot, the website that I and millions of others use for blogging. I've gone over this issue several times before, and I don't feel the need to rehash it - you can read more about it here, or here. (You can also just Google the phrase "nothing but a crapfarm" to read Pirillo's original statement, or see the writings of sycophantic dittoheads everywhere who simply reproduced his statements and added things like "I agree entirely!")

My bottom line is this: not only is Chris Pirillo a snob about blogs and blogging, and demonstrably wrong in his assertions, he also owes millions of bloggers an apology. Bloggers who are using Blogspot to tell their stories, to share their lives, to do all those things that Anna Quindlen spoke of in her "Write for Your Life" essay. Not "an" apology. Individual apologies, one to each legitimate blogger whose writing and effort he has dismissed with a wave of his hand and a call to his minions.

(Interestingly enough, Chris Pirillo's own "blog" - which I have only visited a handful of times, all as a result of this incident - is not one of these "Write for Your Life" blogs, but is more a sort of technogeek update site, telling you about nifty gadgets that will be hopelessly obsolete in six months. Also interestingly, the blog that first made me aware of Pirillo's call, one that did fall into both the "Write for Your Life" and the "I agree entirely" categories, has not been updated in over six months. Maybe the blogger has lost interest in blogging. Maybe something else happened. I have no idea, and no way of finding out - and, trust me, I have tried.)

I don't expect an apology to me. If Chris Pirillo were interested in that, the time to do it would have been October 2005, or even October 2006, the two times I have mentioned this before and the two times he has deigned to visit my blog and grace it with his comments. No, my challenge - my instruction - to him was to go seek out legitimate Blogspot blogs and leave an apology there, in their comments. I haven't seen that yet.

I've been reading Ashley's Ink On Paper for a while now. It's a blog focused primarily on Ashley's efforts to become a writer, but not exclusively. Little glimpses into Ashley's life appear in her blog. Through her I discovered Tiffany's If I Were Queen of the World, a wider-ranging blog about Tiffany's life, adventures, and opinions. From there I was led this morning to A Whimsical Brain In A Pan* - and that's where I've spent much of the last four hours.

Go there. Read it. Read the posts about The Fire. Remember them the next time you're feeling sorry for yourself, or maybe a little achy, a little down. She doesn't want you to feel sorry for her. Read them.

Chris Pirillo, these three are all Blogspot bloggers. Kids from the blogging ghetto that you spit upon. They're just three of the millions of people you need to apologize to. I suggest you get started.

*This is Tiffany's fault! The real name is "The Babblings of Whimsicalbrainpan."

Friday, January 26, 2007

Snow, more or less

It snowed yesterday. Wednesday night into Thursday, that is. I awoke to a little more than an inch of snow: enough to cover the sidewalks, but not enough to blanket the lawn completely so that no blades of grass poked through. I made quick work of our sidewalks here, but then had to eat and shower and dress to go over to my new house to shovel the sidewalks and wait for my electrician to come and complete the installation of my new electrical service.

By the time I got to the house the electrician was already there. Not just there; he was there with a shovel, shoveling a path along the sidewalk to the electric meter, the point where the electric service enters the house. My neighbor Ray had already shoveled the sidewalks in front of my house. Well, not shoveled, but used a leaf-blower to blow away the dusty snow from his sidewalks, my sidewalks, and the elderly neighbors' sidewalks next door. Also my steps and the slate sidewalk at the bottom. This is the guy who mows my lawn in the summer because he loves using his riding mower so much. (As opposed to the neighbor here, who loves to use his riding mower to harass a neighbor's dog by roaring the engine each time he passes the dog's doghouse.) This is the guy who patched a crack in my coal bin wall because he was doing some concrete work on his own house and had some left. A hell of a guy.

I opened up the house for the electrician and left him the key. (Trust is a precious commodity with me, and this guy came highly recommended.) I then noticed that the sidewalks had picked up another quarter-inch or so of snow since Ray had cleaned them - not a lot, but enough to push aside. I grabbed the shovel I had brought and ran up and down the sidewalk in front of my house, Ray's house, and the elderly neighbors' place on the other side. Four or five passes did it, with a minute or so of detail work on the neighbors' steps and porch.

(When I was about six years old, my brother and sister and about five cousins and I were all piled onto this neighbor's garden swing. There we were, singing and laughing and swinging, happy as could be until one chain broke and we all spilled onto the ground. We began running and screaming, going in every direction, terrified at what the neighbor might do since we had broken his swing. So I figure I owe him!)

Finally that was done. I put my shovel in my hallway next to my push broom and sweeping broom, made sure the electrician knew where to leave the key when he was done, and headed for work.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Like photons forming an image on a screen

Friends.
Beer, 22 ounces, Yuengling lager.
Salad bar.
Bacon cheeseburger with fries, extra seasoning.
Photos, cards, and gifts.
Talk. Much laughter.
Cold. Biting, vicious cold. What did we expect? We were on a mountain, and we had just driven into a gully halfway up. Of course it was cold.
Ice cream. Founder's Favorite - pecans, brownie, fudge, and caramel in sweet cream ice cream.
Snow. Snow! Was it just blowing? Was it the residue of the snow guns from the nearby ski resort? No, it was snowing.
UB40, I Got You Babe.
Guster, Amsterdam.
Cold again. But not so bad.
Back to the cars and frozen, ice cream-addled goodbyes.
Friends.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Wilkes-Barre Online

I've made a long-overdue addition to my sidebar: Wilkes-Barre Online.

This is not some sort of official website for Wilkes-Barre, Nanticoke's bigger, richer, and brighter neighbor. No, this is one of the oldest blogs out there, a blog from before the word "blog" was invented. It is many things: a tough-love letter to a city, a personal memoir, a spotlight that shines on everything that is good about Wilkes-Barre and beams mercilessly on everything that is bad.

I don't remember if I came across Wilkes-Barre Online myself when I was searching for local blogs for NEPA Blogs, or if I simply stole the link from Gort, or if it was one of the many local sites Gort brought with him when I convinced him to do all the hard work - I mean, asked him to help me manage NEPA Blogs. Gort calls the blogger who writes Wilkes-Barre Online (whose name I think I know, but I don't see it mentioned anywhere on his site so I can't be sure) "The Blogfather" because of his role as one of the original bloggers in this area, or anywhere. I have met him once (that I know of) at the local bloggers' get-together back in December.

The typical post on Wilkes-Barre Online is equal to about a week's worth of my posts in terms of length and scope. He covers an enormous amount of ground - a single post can contain comments on the local news, personal calls for action, snippets of autobiography, essays, rants, and pretty much every other form of writing possible. When you go over for a visit, be prepared to stay a while!

As always, I am adding this link for my convenience, as much as anything else. Now I don't have to go through NEPA Blogs in order to visit Wilkes-Barre Online!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Politics of Incidental Details

Well, I just watched the State of the Union. That was more fun than I expected.

The secret to watching the address is to remember this: the words are almost meaningless. It's like the Grammy Award for Best New Artist: yeah, there's a lot of buzz about it at the moment that it happens, but what is the relevance down the line? The words are just a rhetorical exercise, a framework for all the really important stuff, the incidental details, the stuff that goes on outside of the words.

Take clothing. In the minutes leading up to the address, as the TV cameras panned across the crowd it became obvious that there was a lot of color-coding going on in the chamber. Red dresses stood out - not just red, but scarlet, the color of fresh arterial blood. Ties of the same color, too. There were blues, too, a deep dark blue. By its nature blue does not stand out as much on TV - but in crowd shots blue ties were obvious. And there were at least three purple dresses, and a yellow, and several greens.

The heavy hitters bucked the color segregation. Nancy "Blinky" Pelosi wore sea foam, a pale, greenish shade of aqua. Cheney wore black with a purple tie. And Bush wore a blue suit with a baby blue tie - not something I expected. John "Winky" McCain (he was blinking and winking, as opposed to Pelosi's constant blinking, which got distracting after a while) wore a yellow tie. In what may have been a faux pas, Cheney wore a flag lapel pin that was at least twice the size of his boss's.

Then there was the body language. Cheney and Pelosi were a yin and yang up there. Cheney cast more than a few sideways dirty looks at Pelosi. Pelosi looked sour at times. Ted Kennedy appeared to be more interested in reading his copy of the speech than watching Bush deliver it. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, appeared to be more alert and attentive than anyone else in the room, at least anyone else who made it onto TV.

Then there were the standing ovations. When did Pelosi lead, and Cheney follow? When did Cheney lead, and Pelosi follow? When did one stand, but the other refuse to stand? At one point Pelosi was the last one standing - because she was fumbling with her copy of the speech, trying to turn it over to the current page.

It looked to me like Cheney popped a pill at 9:20 PM. Not just popped: he seemed to toss it under his tongue, hold it there, and then swallow it 30 seconds later. What was that? Later I thought both he and Pelosi seemed to be sucking on cough drops - and I think a few more could have been passed out throughout the chamber.

When Bush was talking about alternative energy sources, Senator Grassley of Iowa was grinning so hard I thought his teeth were going to fall out. I guess he knows who's going to benefit from those initiatives.

Over on Adam Felber's site we had some rules for a State of the Union drinking game. I made one contribution:

If the President uses the word “nucular” at any point, stand up and shout at the TV “IT’S ‘NUCLEAR’, YOU F***ING MORON! NUUU-KLEEE-ERRRR! HOW HARD IS THAT TO PRONOUNCE???!!!” Drink the entire contents of the nearest bottle of alcohol and hurl the empty bottle at the TV. Then stomp off to bed, cursing the more than six million* fellow-morons who voted for Bush in 2004. Lie awake wondering how you’ll pay for a new TV.

Fortunately I was able to ignore my own rule at 9:30 and 9:53, and possibly one other time. My television is still intact.

*This should have said "more than sixty million fellow-morons". More than 62,040,000, according to CNN. Still, "more than sixty million" is more than six million, so the statement is technically correct.

Monday, January 22, 2007

So...very...cold...

Why does the furnace in this house always choose the coldest time of the year to conk out?

Well, actually this is only the second time that I'm aware of that the furnace quit. Oh, there was a time a few years ago when the temperature started to increase uncontrollably - that was a scary situation. And there was another time when the exhaust blower motor (I think) started to roar and grind. That was pretty scary, too. Plus, the furnace at my new house stopped working about six weeks ago, but that was because the chimney was blocked.

It's fixed now. Once again the service contract on this furnace comes in handy. The temperature is now up to 58.1 degrees here, and something like 61 degrees in the kitchen - I think it got down to about 54 degrees in the kitchen before the guy from the gas company showed up and replaced some parts and cleaned some other parts. But damn, it feels colder than that. Not quite as cold as the 20 degrees it is outside, though.

Anyway. It's warming up now. We'll have to see what we can do to get a few more years out of this furnace.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Letters and the death of handwriting

I tried to write a letter to a friend last week. By hand. Well, more than tried, I actually did it, though I don't know yet if she got it, or read it. Or could read it.

I used to write letters all the time. Great epic letters, some that covered a dozen pages and took over a week to write, with illustrated envelopes and sketches within. That was long ago, about twenty years ago. I still have collections of letters that were written to me, and I'd like to think that the recipients of my letters might still have them tucked away somewhere. I tried back then to write letters on a typewriter*, but they always felt impersonal.

Things have changed since then. For a while I was a master of long-form e-mails, lengthy and complex compositions written for the enjoyment of a single person. Eventually I turned my writing efforts to blogging, where multiple people could read my writing over time, and I did not have to worry about a single hiccup in AOL wiping out all of the e-mail messages I had ever sent and received.

Yet sometimes I find myself trying to communicate with someone who has limited access to the Internet and is not always available by phone. In these situations letter-writing is the best bet. Letters have many advantages: they are portable, can be randomly accessed at any point in their body, and will function in situations where a computer or internet connection is not available. Indeed, all that is needed to read a letter is a minimal amount of light and the ability to read.

That last bit is tricky. Being able to read is important, but you're in for a hard time if the person writing the letter has not written it legibly. I discovered last week that my handwriting has degenerated over the years into a sort of ornate scrawl, a shorthand with a ridiculous number of swoops and flourishes - imagine if Thomas Jefferson had written the Declaration of Independence while drunk, in love, and working on his third pot of coffee at 3 A.M., all while trying to get it to the printer's by 8:00 that morning, and you have some idea.

This isn't just a degeneration of my handwriting. It's an evolution. This is an ornate sort of shorthand, complete with visual encoding of complex detail in the form of occasional sketches of TIE fighters and dinosaurs that are interspersed throughout. This is something I developed in college and have elaborated upon during my years of employment. Rereading notes from a presentation or a meeting hours or days or even weeks later, I can extract enormous amounts of information from the mnemonic encoding of my handwriting. (Much beyond that, and I'll have no idea what it's supposed to mean.)

The problem is now that the parts of my brain associated with writing are no longer bound by the speed at which I can write. If I try to write neatly, legibly, in longhand, I find my brain racing ahead of my hand, tapping its foot impatiently, even just saying "Oh, forget about it, just skip that part and move on." Meanwhile my hand, desperately trying to keep up, scrawls out words that resemble lines with bumps, and writes letters and even entire words out of order. My new limit is my typing speed, which while pathetically slow is still faster than I can write longhand. Even my ornate shorthand is too slow; in practice, it is used to create an outline with hooks, a skeleton which I can flesh out later. Hardly ideal for letter writing.

So the letter I wrote last week looked horrible, to me at least. I am waiting to find out if the recipient found it readable. In the meantime I am working on another letter - typed out on my computer. It will lack the charm and personal connection of being handwritten, but at least it will be readable.

*"Typewriters" were sort of like computers without CPUs or monitors, combinations of keyboards and printers. Some of them were electric or electronic, but truly ancient "manual" models were entirely mechanical. The tendency of the "keys" (letters on metal arms that struck against an inked ribbon and left impressions on the paper) to get tangled with each other when the "typist" would type too quickly led to the QWERTY layout of the keyboard in an attempt to slow users down. Examples of manual typewriters can be seen in larger museums.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

TWO MORE YEARS

TWO MORE YEARS TWO MORE YEARS TWO MORE YEARS TWO MORE YEARS

Six years down and two to go. Can our country survive? Can the world?

George W. Bush should never have become President. Not in 2000, and not in 2004. I'm not just talking about the curtailed recount in Florida in 2000 or the voting irregularities in Ohio and elsewhere in 2004. I mean those people who voted for him in 2000 should not have voted for him in 2000. And those people who voted for him in 2004 should have known better in 2004.

Had Al Gore been President on September 11, 2001, I somehow do not think he would have been President on September 12, 2001, given the makeup of the Congress at the time. If he had continued to sit in a classroom and read My Pet Goat to schoolkids after having been informed that the United States was under attack, I do not think the Republicans in Congress would have rallied behind him in a show of national unity.

"Chill out," say former Bush supporters. "How much damage can he do in two years?" The answer is: a lot. Perhaps the eight years of the Bush II administration will go down in history as one of the greatest internal challenges our nation has faced: are the foundations upon which our nation was built strong enough to withstand a sustained attack by an Executive dead-set on undermining them? The damage he has done to our nation, to our international reputation, to our national soul, will take far longer to undo than it took to do.

Whoever is sworn in as President two years from today, I pity them. They will be inheriting an office as Chief Executive of a nation that has been damaged and sullied by their predecessor in a manner never before seen. They will be inheriting the consequences of every failure, every misstep, and every ill-advised action made by the man who held the office before them.

But the day will come when he is no longer President. And unless fate or the U.S. Congress intervenes before then, that day will be two years from today.

TWO MORE YEARS TWO MORE YEARS TWO MORE YEARS TWO MORE YEARS

Friday, January 19, 2007

The blog that changed my life

Camilla was the first blogger I ever read on a regular basis, starting back in late 2002. A link on her site, wallflower.nu, pointed me to another site where, early on the morning of January 1, 2003 I noticed a pretty, smiling blonde girl. On a whim I followed the link to her site, sdfsdf.wox.org. Suddenly I was hooked on Sammie's blog.

I know Bill from Industrial Blog through a mutual friend. I knew him for several years before I discovered in early 2004 that he had a blog. After reading posts in which he eloquently and passionately expressed political and social views with which I strongly disagreed, I realized that I could no longer be silent. I could no longer simply comment and kibitz on other people's blogs. I needed to start my own blog.

And then one morning on NPR I heard that Blogger had just revised its software to be extremely user-friendly, and they were encouraging everyone to start a blog. I took them up on their offer, found my first choice of a name was available, and Another Monkey was born.

But I'm not talking about any of that.

The blog of which I speak is nothing like the personal journal / slice-of-life blogs of which I wrote yesterday. Nor is it like the political blogs, although it does have some aspects in common with them: it comments on and critiques the creative work of others, sometimes with admiration, sometimes with gentle humor, sometimes with outright scorn and sarcasm that will flay flesh from bone.

The blog of which I speak is Josh's Comics Curmudgeon.

I'm a relative newcomer to this site. I believe I had randomly visited it a time or two in the past, but it was not until late October of last year when the death of Mary Worth's Aldo Kelrast - a crushing blow to the phenomenon known as Aldomania - got a mention in a CNN article that pointed to the site.

It's not just a site critical of comics. It's a celebration of the funny papers, a collective work by Josh Fruhlinger and dozens - perhaps hundreds - of regular commentors. Each post by Josh is responded to with hundreds of comments, many of them witty and pithy one- or two-liners, some of them full-fledged song and poem parodies. His commentors are disproportionately made up of Copy Editors and former marching band members. They are literate, articulate, fast, and furiously funny. And they are passionate about the funny pages.

We have developed our own in-jokes and code words over at Josh's site, phrases that instantly recall weeks or months of cross-referenced comments. Ubiquiducks. Molly, the Best Bear in the World. FOOBs. "Pulling an Aldo." Even some things that stretch back before my time. I still don't get the "Glass Swan" references made about Mary Worth - but with enough research, I will!

I have always read the comics in the paper, all of my life. The funny pages were the first place I learned to read - though some of my earliest experiments with trying to make sense of words came with the funny pages' crossword puzzle solutions, where I decided that some of the things in the squares were words, and some were not. (I still think about that every time I see the word EPEE in a crossword.) But in recent years I have cast only a cursory glance at the pages, maybe to see if Dilbert has any bearing on current events at work, or if Garry Trudeau has decided to maim any more of his characters.

Thanks to Josh's site I now find myself eagerly reading all of the comics in every newspaper I come across. There is so much good stuff there, and bad, too. I never realized how much people cared about For Better or For Worse. And now I care about it, too: I deeply, deeply hate it, and its creator, too.

Perhaps more important than anything else: this site is funny. Josh is funny. His commentors are funny. No matter how crappy my day is, I will always find something on The Comics Curmudgeon that will make me laugh out loud - sometimes way too loud. And that's a good thing.

Josh's site has deeply enhanced my appreciation for those few pages of entertainment tucked in amongst the news of the day. It's truly a remarkable experience - something like having discovered late in life that flowers have a smell, or that salt can enhance the flavor of food. Set aside a few hours to visit Josh's Comics Curmudgeon. Read a few weeks worth of posts and all of the associated comments, and then see if you don't look at the funny pages in your daily newspaper in a whole new light!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Anna Quindlen: Write for Your Life

In the January 22, 2007 issue of Newsweek, Anna Quindlen's Last Word column is entitled "Write for Your Life". (Update, 7/22/08: This article is now here.) She begins with the story behind the movie "Freedom Writers", in which teacher Erin Gruwell deals with the difficulties of teaching to a class of disengaged inner-city youths by presenting them with "marbled composition books and the assignment to write their lives, ungraded, unjudged". Ms. Quindlen moves from Gruwell's breakthrough success in connecting with these students by allowing them to freely express themselves through writing to what she sees as a major problem in modern society: the death - or at least dearth - of "everyday prose":
How is it, at a time when clarity and strength go begging, that we have moved so far from everyday prose? Social critics might trace this back to the demise of letter writing. The details of housekeeping and child rearing, the rigors of war and work, advice to friends and family: none was slated for publication. They were communications that gave shape to life by describing it.
If only there were some forum that encouraged such writing!
And in this age of the telephone most communication has become evanescent, gone into thin air no matter how important or heartfelt. Think of all those people inside the World Trade Center saying goodbye by phone. If only, in the blizzard of paper that followed the collapse of the buildings, a letter had fallen from the sky for every family member and friend, something to hold on to, something to read and reread. Something real. Words on paper confer a kind of immortality. Wouldn't all of us love to have a journal, a memoir, a letter, from those we have loved and lost? Shouldn't all of us leave a bit of that behind?

Ms. Quindlen seems to be unaware of the world of blogging. Perhaps this is understandable. To the mainstream media, the word "blog" instantly conjures up the image of someone who sits at a computer in pajamas and poaches the hard-written material that has been carefully crafted by professional journalists and writers, laces it with a few notes like "hits one out of the park" or "still just doesn't get it", offers a line or two of snide commentary, and then republishes the whole thing on their site under their name. And it's true that the most clamorous residents of the blogosphere do just that, and worse. But they by no means represent all of the bloggers out there - or even a significant percentage of us.

The world of personal, everyday writing that Anna Quindlen speaks of in such wistful terms is already all over the Internet, just a few keystrokes away from anywhere. You're reading just such a blog now. My sidebar links to numerous blogs that will also present you with completely different slices of life from other bloggers. Read them and see. And please, if you do not blog yet, consider starting a blog today. Share your life, your experiences, and your writing with us.

I wrote a letter to the editor of Newsweek in response to this column. We'll see in a week or two if they decide to print it!
In her Last Word column "Write for Your Life", Anna Quindlen speaks eloquently and passionately about the value of "everyday prose": personal writing, journals, memoirs, and letters. Yet she fails to mention an important medium for this form of writing that is all too often overlooked by the mainstream media: blogging.

When blogs are spoken of it is frequently with political blogs in mind, websites that offer commentary and opinion but little in the way of original, personal content. While these may be among the most easily-noticed blogs, the majority of blogs are actually online journals that detail the daily thoughts and experiences of the blogger. These are their marbled composition books, in which they express their lives just as Erin Gruwell's students did. "Words on paper confer a kind of immortality," Quindlen writes. But in a manner not possible with ink on paper, bloggers electronically share their writing with the world as they write it.

If your only experience with the world of blogging is some online carping and sniping on a political blog, you are missing out on some truly wonderful writing by everyday people - as Anna Quindlen puts it, communications that give shape to life by describing it for others. Go online, read a few blogs, and consider starting up one yourself.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Unearned hits

A few weeks ago I used to consider a good blogging day to be a day on which I got 30, maybe 40 hits. Small potatoes compared to some, I know, but to me these were the most important 30 or 40 people on the internet - because, for the most part, they were looking for my site.

Something happened around the beginning of the year. Apparently a Hee Haw marathon generated a new wave of interest in Cathy Baker, the "That's All!" girl. Possibly at the same time a large number of people became infected with a bit of malware responsible for the js3250.dll crash that prevents Firefox from starting up. My site is, apparently, highly ranked for each of these searches, so I suddenly was getting a lot of hits from people looking for this information.

A lot of hits. Lately, on average, more than 100 a day. January is only a little more than half over, and already it is the fourth-highest ranked month for visitors in my blog's nearly three-year history. (Only July, August, and December of 2006 had more visitors.)

Google rank is a funny thing. One of the major factors for getting a high Google rank is the number of sites that link to yours, and how highly ranked they are. But I think another important factor is a rule that I first learned when discussing (I believe) electron sharing in covalent bonds in High School Chemistry: "Them that gots, gets." That is, the more hits you get from Google, the more hits you're likely to get from Google.

I always used to be jealous of Chloe's Watermelon Punch. She could post once a week, once a month, whatever, and her site would consistently get three times as many hits as Another Monkey, even when I was posting twice a day every day. But most of her hits were Google searches for things like "visine on nipples" and "pictures of pretty tits" (a link that pointed to a British Ornithological website). Very few people, it seemed, were coming because they were looking for her site specifically.

Chloe hasn't posted since July 23 of last year. I don't know why. I intentionally violated her "all comments must be relevant to the post on which they are made" rule a week or two ago by posting a "Where's Chloe?" comment on her top post. It stayed there for a day and then was deleted - a possible sign of life. But her "forum", where comments are allowed to flow freely, has become overrun with spam which is only occasionally deleted.

Still, given this level of inactivity her site continues to get a huge number of hits, most of them Google searches.

And now I am too. In addition to the searches noted above, I have recently gotten hits for the perennial favorite "the monkeys greatest hits" (it's Monkees, everybody!), "monkey in a dress", "monkey page", "monkey check", "sinusoidal gasoline price 2006", and "who's hotter leia or padme". I have also gotten more than a few for "colitis antibiotics", "mitral valve prolapse orthodontics", and other topics probably related to my post on Clostridium difficile. That last group I'm kinda proud of - if I've helped someone avoid a bout with c. diff, that's a good thing.

Also, I've gotten several hits from people looking for information about Tender Vittles. If the information in this post helps someone who is going through what I went through last year with Ashes, I will be glad that I was able to help a little bit.

Still, I feel guilty. There are other bloggers out here who aren't getting the hits I am, and should. Rima's Rimorama. Ashley's Ink On Paper. Even Tiffany's If I Were Queen of the World, which I only just found out about this weekend. Lots of others. Everybody linked on my sidebar is there because I read them, and I read them because they are worth reading.

Please, regardless of how you have come to this post, do me a favor and click through to some of the linked blogs. You'll be glad you did, and maybe you'll find a place you want to visit again and again. And for me, it will make all these unearned hits feel much more worthwhile.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Brilliant stupidity

A group in the neighboring city of Wilkes-Barre has decided to beautify the city by illuminating the trees in Public Square - by shining floodlights up at them.

Wilkes-Barre is easy to spot from Nanticoke: it's the big bright glow six miles to the East. A few years ago the city decided to replace its corroding, collapsing, but properly-shielded streetlights, boxy units installed during the rebuilding and recovery from the flood of 1972 that directed nearly 100% of the light downwards, with fancy, old-fashioned looking streetlights that send light in every direction, including up. This prompted me to write my first-ever letter to the editor of a local newspaper.

As a backyard astronomer, proponent of responsible lighting, and member of the International Dark Sky Association, I've probably put more thought into issues of glare, shadows, dazzling, and skyglow than most people who look at these things and say, "OK, this is the low bidder. Next on the agenda..." Wilkes-Barre's new streetlights are not the worst thing possible - for that you would need to travel to Jessup, just outside of Olyphant, to see the rows of blinding, dazzling, upward-pointing orbs that now line the tiny community's Main Street. But they are part of a trend towards wasteful, irresponsible, skyglow-producing lighting in an era when we should be working hard to conserve every last bit of energy.

We don't need to light the sky. There are plenty of lights up there already. If you live in a place like Nanticoke, maybe you remember once being able to see the Milky Way stretching across the sky almost any clear night. Now? Now if you want to see it, you'd better hope for a blackout. It's still visible, if you know where and when to look, but odds are it's not going to catch the eye of a seven-year-old kid the way it once did.

Meanwhile, searchlights have swept the sky for months to advertise the newly-opened movie theaters in Wilkes-Barre. The newly-opened casino in nearby Plains Township has made its presence known by turning all the lights on in the attached racetrack formerly known as Pocono Downs. Stores at the Wyoming Valley Mall have installed Nuremberg Rally-style upward-pointed lights for a dramatic effect. Flags of enormous size are lit at night by equally enormous floodlights.

And now someone thinks it's a good idea to aim lights up at trees.

Brilliant.

Monday, January 15, 2007

King holiday

I spent the night at my new house, and spent much of the day taking down the Christmas decorations and putting up Valentine's Day decorations, all in the spirit of making the house look lived-in. Not exactly the way I think one should spend a holiday dedicated to the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr..

I think, given a choice of days, Martin Luther King, Jr. would not have selected his birthday as the day for a holiday. First of all, it comes hard on the heels of the Christmas/New Year holidays, and most people have only put in one partial week and one full week of work by the time his birthday observation rolls around, so many people may be a bit holidayed out. Secondly, it falls in the middle of the most miserable time of the year, a time when Winter has started to wear out its welcome - not exactly ideal conditions for encouraging people who are not already actively socially conscious to suddenly become actively socially conscious. (This year things are a little different, and people are starting to wonder if Winter will ever actually show up.)

Birthdays are accidental holidays. Until recently there was very little control over when exactly a baby might be born. (Last June there were stories of deliveries being accelerated or delayed to avoid having babies born on 6/6/06, a birthdate which might haunt them for the rest of their lives due to quasi-religious superstitious stupidity.) I am sure there are many other events throughout MLK's life that suggest much more appropriate dates for a holiday commemorating his life - one that springs to mind is August 28, the anniversary of his "I have a dream" speech. (The nearness to Labor Day argues against this date, of course.)

I first learned about Dr. King when I was a little kid. A book about his life and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's was one of the selections automatically sent as part of a book club my parents had subscribed to for me and my brother and sister. Nanticoke at the time had even fewer black people then ("black" was the accepted self-identifier used when I was growing up; "colored" and "Negro" had tumbled into the past, though they live on in the names of the NAACP and the United Negro College Fund, and "African-American" was still a few years in the future) than it does now. I was fascinated by this man from a world so different from mine, who stood up for oppressed people in the face of overwhelming opposition, who died because of his beliefs and his willingness to act. I admired his courage and his spirit.

I heard a recording of a sermon given by Dr. King once. It was stirring, breathtaking. The topic wasn't Civil Rights or anything you're used to hearing in documentaries or news clips. It was a sermon dwelling on the meaning of the day's Gospel reading. Yet he imbued it with such spirit, such passion, it made me think Damn, our priest sure as hell could learn a few things from this guy. If all you've heard of Dr. King are snippets of the "I Have a Dream" speech, there's a lot you haven't heard. It's worth seeking out.

And I spent his holiday taking down Christmas decorations and putting up Valentine's Day decorations. Sorry, Dr. King. I'll see what I can do over the next 364 days.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Pre-change changes

When I eventually switch over to a new template (to take advantage of all the new features of the new Blogger) I will have to re-do all of my customizations. No big deal for me, sonce my customizations are mostly just on my sidebar. But my sidebar was in need of a little maintenance. So the question is: update the sidebar now, or change it after I change the template? I decided to update now.

Her's a list of the changes:
- Camilla's old moblog site is gone. Long live Camilla's NEW moblog!
- Camilla has begun posting videos and songs to YouTube. For my own convenience, I've added a link. Check out her version of "Me and a Gun"!
- Marisa moved her Cheatham County Rock Star's Wife site over to Blogger a long, long time ago. I'm just getting around to linking it, and I've also kept the old site.
- I finally added Lauren's new site, Sundays Off. So now she has three sites on the sidebar!

UPDATE: I've also added Tiffany's If I Were Queen of the World. I found her by way of Ashley's site - more specifically, her SiteMeter. Tiffany was also promoting "De-Lurker Week", a week in which bloggers would encourage visitors who normally don't comment to comment. I didn't do this, because I think I mostly would have gotten comments like "I'm glad I'm not the only one having problems with js3250.dll on Firefox!" and "Hey, thanks for the links on Cathy Baker of Hee Haw, but where are the topless pictures of her?" (As far as I know, there aren't any. Sadly.) Tiffany's writing, what little I've read of it, is great fun, occasionally gut-wrenching, and is at least as far-ranging as my own blog. So, go visit Tiffany's site, and leave a comment for her - don't be a lurker!

A few sites have moved into the "Blogs on hiatus" category. Remember, this just means "These people haven't posted in a long time, I hope they're not dead." There are at least two other blogs that could be moved into here based on non-posting, but I'm in frequent contact with these bloggers and I hope they will post again soon.

A few more have been added to the "Gone but not forgotten" category. These blogs no longer appear to exist. This is always a sad situation, and I keep the links in the hope that they will come back someday.

One special category is Issy Reyes' site. She switched over to a different site (her third since I've been linking her) some time ago. But the new site no longer seems to exist, while the old (second) site is still around. So I've left the link in place, hoping to find her again. We've been in touch off and on for something like ten years, and I hope to keep in touch!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Party time

Yeah, it was a big party for my cousin's birthday, with pizza and soda and three types of cake. I wound up watching SpongeBob SquarePants and The Fairly OddParents with a bunch of kids. I never did find out if Norm the Genie was played by Norm MacDonald, or just based on him.

I've noticed more and more knots of kids sitting around on the streets talking after dark. Last week there were some sitting on a curb near my house when my friends and I were going to eat - this was around sunset. I saw some more today when I went to pick up a cake for the party, and when a friend and I went to get the pizzas there were some more, about half a dozen, some of then sitting on a sofa convenently placed on the sidewalk. What's with this? Have kids rediscovered the art of conversation? Or are they just discussing where to break into houses to steal money to buy some dope? (Or, these days, some ketamine, oxycontin, and/or crystal meth?)

While I'm on the subject of the social behavior of adolescents, allow me to make two observations from a trip to the Mall last night.

I was there after work, wandering around trying to find last-minute gifts for my cousin. I was in Waldenbooks, looking over the half-price calendars (I eventually got her a half-price Magnetic Poetry calendar) and there was a large-ish group of semigoth teenage kids moseying out of the store - girls, mostly. One of them said, "OK, on the count of three, everyone get out your coconuts!" And - well, I'm not sure what I was expecting. But suddenly they were doing a routine from Monty Python and The Holy Grail. And I was impressed. Did these girls know Monty Python routines?

Then one of the girls started to sing the old Merv Griffin song "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts", and I was doubly impressed. There's no reason that I could think of that she should have known that song.

Maybe there's hope for the future after all.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Rocks

Another recipe from my grandmother, passed on to my mother. I made these cookies this year for her - using only a wooden spoon to mix the batter since electric mixers are, of course, the tools of the devil.

Not sure why they're called "Rocks". Perhaps it's because the raisins, dates, and walnuts make the cookies look like certain types of rocks. Or maybe it's because if you overbake them they become as hard as rocks. (Note: DO NOT OVERBAKE THEM. ) I have always thought of these as a sort of fruitcake cookie, and some people have compared them to granola.


Rocks
Ingredients:
1 cup butter
1.5 cups brown sugar
3 eggs
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1.5 pounds raisins*
1 pound dates* (pits removed)
1/2 pound English Walnut Meats**
1/2 pound Black Walnut Meats**
1 wine glass of Brandy***

Utensils:
- Large mixing bowl
- 3-4 cookie sheets
- Chef's knife
- Sturdy wooden spoon for mixing
- Teaspoon for spooning out cookie batter

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Chop dates and walnuts to about the same size as the raisins. Use a big chef's knife. Wet the knife before and occasionally while chopping the dates. Do not chop walnuts too fine.

3. In LARGE bowl, combine butter (save wrappers!), brown sugar, eggs, flour, and baking soda.

4. Gradually mix in raisins, dates, and walnuts. Add brandy (or whiskey or Scotch) while adding these ingredients. This will make it easier to mix the batter.

5. Grease cookie sheets with the butter wrappers.

6. Spoon out cookies onto greased cookie sheets by rounded teaspoons.

7. Bake cookies in 300 degree oven for approximately 20 minutes. DO NOT OVERBAKE. Cookies will be done when they are no longer glossy and are slightly firm to the touch. Allow to cool on cookie sheets to continue baking while out of the oven, about 5-10 minutes. Once cooled, sample each sheet to make sure they are done, and adjust cooking time as needed.

*Size not critical. Odds are you won't find raisins or dates conveniently packaged in 16-oz. bags or boxes. Just try to come close-ish.
**Or just do what I did, use 1 pound of Walnuts from a bag.
***Or Whiskey. Or Scotch. Whatever.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Going backwards

I've only labeled another hundred or so posts since the last time I wrote about this. It's really a wrenching process, dragging myself backwards through my posts. I've made it all the way back to the end of last January. I've watched Ashes die, and then watched him weaken tremendously. I've come back from Ireland, experienced St. Patrick's Day in Ireland, come back to Ireland from London, visited London, toured Ireland, arrived in Ireland, left Ashes behind, sought out the Tender Vittles that were the only thing he would eat, watched him worsen, watched him getting sick.

And so much more. There are many things I've written about, but there are many more that I haven't. I'm re-experiencing them all as I read these posts. I'm remembering what I was thinking, what I was feeling, what the weather was like, what people were saying and doing around me. I once wrote about how I read books while I'm traveling so that by re-reading the book I can re-experience everything that happened in my travels. The same is true with my writing. As I re-read it, I am there again.

Nearly out of 2006, and soon I will head into 2005. At the end of August my father will die, then he will be in the hospital, then he will suffer his ultimately fatal fall. Haley will die at the end of May, on the same day as my Uncle. I will go with her on many walks, and I will structure my vacations so we can spend more time together. In the beginning of February 2005 we will find out about her condition. We will take a winter hiatus, and then take a last few walks in December of 2004. In the Summer of 2004 we will begin her walks. And soon before that we will come to the start of this blog.

I hope I can make it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

New look, coming soon

I was searching for my first post about my Christmas tree when I discovered a limitation in the new version of Blogger: searching using the "label" search will display only the 20 most recent posts with that label.

This isn't a bug, it's a feature. If my blog template had the appropriate code there would be a "Next 20 posts with this label" button at the bottom which would allow you to step backwards through all posts with this label, 20 at a time. Actually, if it had the appropriate code there would be a list of Labels (or "Categories" - dammit, that's what they are) somewhere on the sidebar, which would let you see all the wacky labels I've applied to my posts.

But I don't have the appropriate code. I have an old-style template that's been modified only a little. And while some of the features of the new Blogger will work regardless of the template you're using, many of them are built directly into newer templates. If I wanted to include these features in my existing template, I would have to locate the appropriate code and incorporate it. Much easier to go looking around for a new template I like and bring along my customizations.

I won't do this right away. I wasn't going to do it at all until I have labeled all my posts, but as I'm only a little more than a third of the way there, that may take a while. I think I may make the change on NEPA Blogs first and work out the bugs there.

There are at least two limitations in the new Blogger that I don't like. One, the total number of characters in the labels that you are applying to a post can be no more than 200. When you have some of the label names that I do, you hit that limit very quickly, especially on something like a "Greatest Hits" post. I hope this is a limitation that Blogger lifts soon.

Secondly, the nature of "Previous Posts" seems to have changed. It used to be that the list of "Previous Posts" was the list of the ten posts that preceded the top post, or the displayed post. So if I was looking at a page of ten posts and selected the tenth one, I would then see posts 11 - 20 now listed as "Previous Posts". This was a fairly easy way to walk through multiple posts without displaying, say, a month at a time.

Now, "Previous Posts" always seems to be the ten most recent posts prior to the most recent post. So it doesn't matter if I'm looking at my most recent post or one from a year ago, the "Previous Posts" list will always be the same.

Maybe this is another bug resulting from having an older template in the new Blogger. I don't know. I guess we'll find out soon enough!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Water in the basement, again

This is, from what I hear, an El Niño year. That particular pattern of weather behavior is largely responsible for the unusual weather we have been experiencing this Winter - largely, but not solely, because there is also a longer-term warming trend going on resulting from global warming. The upshot of all this is that it's been very warm and we've had virtually no snow, but we have had a lot of rain. Yesterday it rained extra-hard at times, something I didn't notice while I was in a windowless office 33.3 miles northeast of here trying to nail down the details of several projects with several clients.

Babusz went to the veterinarian to get declawed and spayed yesterday. Everything went fine, but she needed to spend the night at the vet's place. This gave me a chance to prep the house for her return, replacing the clumping Sam's Club kitty litter with some dustless stuff made from compressed newspapers called Yesterday's News.

Clumping cat litter is great stuff because, well, it clumps. You don't have to change a whole litterbox at a time; you just scoop out the clumps and add more as needed. But clumping cat litter tends to be very dusty. Pour it in from any height and you will raise a cloud of dust that will settle everywhere. If you keep your litterboxes near your water heater or furnace it may even produce enough dust to eventually foul the contacts and shut your home heating system down. And the cats love to kick it out of the litterboxes. Usually you can just sweep this up and put it right back in the litterbox. But if the stuff on the floor should get wet, you will have a slippery, goopy, clumpy mess on your hands.

I went downstairs last night to change the litterboxes and discovered I had just such a mess to deal with.

The water was gone from the floor, having come in and receded sometime during the day, but it had left a mark. I could tell how far it had come in, and could even guess at how much earlier it had gone away. I cleaned up the mess and thought about it.

Once upon a time water in our basement was rare. Every few years, maybe a little; every five to ten years, a major flooding incident that calls for pumps. Lately I've been using pumps several times a year.

And that's not the only thing that's new. Over the past few years I've noticed a strange pattern to ice formation on our sidewalks. There's always an ice flow across our front sidewalk, flowing down from our upper yard, on the same side of the house where the water is coming in.

And I've noticed that our entire upper yard has turned into a waterlogged mess. When I was taking out the garden a few months ago I was worried about quicksand - it's that wet. And it never seems to dry out, even when we go weeks without rain.

There's also the matter of our uphill neighbor's rain gutters. Rather than directing them into his yard (his property is a double lot with a huge yard) or out into the street, he's got them all directed onto our property. He's always had a few of his gutters directed downhill, but what are new are the extensions he has put on some of the gutters that redirects them from their old targets of various places on his own lawn to new targets on our lawn.

"Why not go talk to this guy and ask him not to do this?" you might ask. Well, this is the stereotypical "bad neighbor". He always has been. He will gleefully dump carcinogenic herbicides onto his property and let the runoff go into my gardens. He uses a noisy riding mower on Sunday afternoons, but complained when I used my reel mower in the early morning during a heat wave so that I might not die of a heat-induced heart attack like my other next-door neighbor. (He was whining that the noise of my mower - a faint click-click-click - had woken him up. I had to ask him to speak up several times as I could not hear him over the din of the early morning truck traffic on our street.) . He will cry blue murder if any leaves blow over from my yard into his, even leaves from trees several blocks away. He's a loudmouth and a lout and a bully. He's not the type who responds positively to being asked politely to stop doing something he obviously knows he shouldn't be doing.

But now he's almost certainly in violation of city codes. There's gotta be something somewhere that says you cannot deliberately dump rainwater onto someone else's property. And he's denying us the use of about half of our property - the swampy half. And he's probably threatening the structural integrity of our foundation.

So we're looking into it. We've got photos. We've been talking about this for a while, but maybe now we'll get some action. And maybe, finally, we'll see an end to water in our basement every time there's a hard rain.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Too tired to undecorate

Yesterday was Russian (Orthodox) Christmas. Many of us non-Orthodox Christmasers had our lights on one last time for them yesterday. But now Christmas is officially over. The decorations do not need to come down immediately, but they do need to come down soon.

I'm working on several intense projects for West Coast clients, which means I'm back on my old schedule of late to work (9:30 - 10:00ish) and late home (6:30 - 7:00ish) to more closely match the Los Angeles workday. So it's always dark when I get home. Not that there's really any way around that when the sun is setting well before 5:00.

I thought maybe today I would stop at the house and start to shut things down and take things apart. But when I got there at 7:30 I didn't have the energy or the heart. My LED lights were on when I came in - I have them on a timer so they would be on whenever I stopped over the house - and I took a last look at the tree before I pulled the plug. Then I dug out the box to the antique glass tree topper from Sears (made in West Germany), took the topper off the tree, and put it away until next year.

And that was it. That was all I could manage, aside from taking out the garbage, which was mostly the remnants of gift-wrapping from the past few weeks. It was too cold - finally! - to do much work on taking down the porch garland at 7:45 at night. I even left the wreaths on the doors. I'll get to them.

Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next weekend.

Eventually.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Waiting

A chance encounter with a very friendly waitress on New Year's Eve got me thinking about two other women I have gotten to know through their positions as waitresses.

It was back in 1990, in Newark, Delaware, after I had dropped out of grad school at the University of Delaware and started working for a solar cell manufacturer. One of my friends from the grad program was seeing a woman named Genie. We all continued to hang out together even after I was no longer going to school. That summer she picked up a job at a new coffee shop, the Café Americain. (It was attached to a video store and was trying to play on the name of Rick's place from Casablanca.)

The coffee shop was OK. I never spent much time in the video store - I didn't have a VCR, and DVD players were still years in the future. (Seven years, to be exact, and now they've been around for ten. Weird.) Possibly the first time I ever went in there was when I was trying to get in touch with Genie. I don't remember what it was for, I just remember riding my bike up to the place, chaining it to the steps outside, and going in looking for Genie. She wasn't there, but a pretty dark-haired bright-eyed girl was. I asked about Genie, she told me she wouldn't be in until later, and I asked if she could pass along my message. She told me yes, gave me a little smile, and the espresso machine she was filling exploded.

Well, it didn't really explode. But something happened, and the high-pressure water that is forced through the coffee grounds in an espresso machine did so while the basket was still partly opened. Damp coffee grounds shot everywhere as I was headed for the door.

I offered to stay and help clean up the mess, since I felt somehow responsible, but she shooed me away with a laugh.

I would be back.

Her name was Jessica Wolvek. She was a student at the University and worked most afternoons at the Café. I would stop in on my way home from work to get a hazelnut coffee and a cherry cheese croissant. Sometimes there were other people in the Café. Sometimes it was just me. Those times, she and I would spend a long time just talking. About...stuff. Coffee. Croissants. Relationships. Her nickname and how she got it. Life. The Universe. Everything.

Some days she wasn't there. Some of the time there was a pretty, thin, young, quiet redhead there instead. Very young - still in High School. Her name was Rejoyce Soukup. She and Jessica were friends, I think, at least through work. I would talk to her sometimes, though our conversations were not as far-reaching as with Jessica. I did learn from her, however, that the infrared signature of eggplant plants matches the infrared signature of marijuana plants, at least as far as DEA helicopters could tell in the early '90's. So that was interesting.

In time things started to change and go away. One day the Café stopped carrying the cherry cheese croissants. Then they stopped serving hazelnut coffee. After a while Jessica and Rejoyce were no longer working there, and I no longer had any reason at all to go there. Eventually the Café went out of business. Nothing ever stays the same.

Early in the morning of the first day of 2007 I found myself online and completely wound up. My mind was mulling over auld acquaintances that should not be forgot and ne'er brought to mind. I thought about Jessica and Rejoyce. Where are they now, and what are they up to?

Jessica I have looked up in the past, around the time that I discovered traces of Rindi online. Looking her up again produced fewer hits, but one was recent and quite definitely her. Jessica is now a professional flower arranger in New York City. That sounds pretty amazing. Good luck with it, kiddo. If you need flowers arranged and you live in The Big Apple, get in touch with her. Tell her I sent you!

Rejoyce should have been at least as easy to find, but her name doesn't appear anywhere I could find it as a single unit. I found her first and last names mentioned individually on a blog by a guy in the Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan. I wasn't sure it was her until I saw a reference to Newark, Delaware and some good close-up photos. It's been almost 17 years, and I do have a touch of prospagnosia prosopagnosia, but I'm pretty sure that's her in the pictures. So the answer to "Where is she now?" is, for the moment, "Kyrgyzstan"!

It was gratifying to see that these two women who I knew so long ago are still both around and about and are both doing things that they love. Good luck to them both!

A day without posting

I missed my first day of posting in I don't know how long. And you know what? That's OK.

My friends came into town early this afternoon and we did quite a bit of running around. We spent a while at my house, where my friends were a bit, shall we say, amazed at the number of relics of my grandmother's life - and of her extended family's lives - that remain in the house. At some point these things will be dealt with. But I'm not about to, say, rent a dumpster and throw out all my grandmother's old stuff, or my mother's or aunt's or uncles' stuff, or a whole bunch of religious paintings just because they're old and belonged to someone else. Some things are worth holding onto for more than just their resale value.

We ate at the same Italian resturant that my friend and I ate at last week. Didn't run into the same cute waitress. Oh, well.

We then went down to the Poconos and met with some mutual friends from college. All their kids played together for a few hours, exhausting the adults and alternately amusing and terrifying the animals.

A note on the weather: It's just freaky to be having the warm temperatures we're experiencing this Winter. No accumulations of snow beyond a few dustings so far. Kids in T-shirts riding skateboards outside of my new house on Christmas Eve. Cherry Blossoms are already opening in Washington, D.C. And today the soil outside of my friends' house smelled of earthworms! Earthworms, active the first week of January? I'm starting to feel like I should be mowing the lawn or painting my garage or doing cement work on the grapevine wall and sidewalk. Is this just a fluke, or a preview of things to come?

After a long while it was time for everyone to head off to their respective beds. I lingered for a bit, but eventually got my butt back to my car and started the 70-mile journey back to my house. It's a 20-mile distance as the crow flies - if the crow can lift itself over some fairly substantial mountains. My Tercel is light and nimble but unfortunately is still a ground vehicle. I got home a little after midnight and had to deal with the effects of my computer being stuck partway through a spyware-removal procedure for the entire day. Several ungraceful reboots later, here we are.

It's late now, or early, depending on your point of view. In any case, I am tired and will be going to bed soon!