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Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Nanticoke Fair

...is going on right now. Has been going on since June 26. In fact, it ends tonight.

How could I have not noticed this? Granted, I haven't visited that side of town - Lower Broadway near Weis Market and the West Nanticoke bridge - in nearly a week, and I guess the Ferris Wheel wasn't up when I was there last. (Good thing I needed to pick up a bottle of wine!) Still, it seems like they could have been doing better publicity! After all, the Honey Pot Cabbage Roll (benefits the Honey Pot Fire Company #6) has its own MySpace page, and the folks running it (or possibly just Chester Kopco) sought out local people with MySpace pages to become its "friends"!

our web sites for the Cabbage Roll 07 are:

http://mysite.verizon.net/vze7gr1v/ and
http://www.freewebs.com/cabbageroll07/


See, that's how small-town local things can make appropriate use of the internet to publicize their events!

If you get a chance, stop at the Nanticoke Fair, and Cabbage Roll '07, too!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Venus and Saturn in conjunction tonight!

According to my Astronomy Calendar (by Terence Dickinson) , Venus and Saturn will be within one degree of each other tonight and for the next three nights. That's the evenings of June 29, June 30, July 1, and July 2. Venus will be looking like a bright "evening star" low in the Western sky at sunset (though viewing it while the sky is still bright will reveal it as a planet in a crescent phase!) and Saturn will be the dimmer "star" next to it.

If nothing else, this will be a good lesson in what "one degree" looks like in the sky. Plus it should be darned pretty!

UPDATE, 7/1/2007: I didn't get to see this Friday night, but I did get to see it last night. As a bonus, I was in a part of Southern Pennsylvania where the horizon is a bit lower, so I got an extended opportunity to see Saturn hanging directly above Venus. At one point around 10:40 the car I was riding in was headed due West along a straightaway with a fairly clear horizon, and it was truly amazing to have Venus and Saturn dangling directly above the road's vanishing point like a big indicator light pointing our way. (As our overall course was North-by-Northeast, we only had this view for a little while.) I wonder how many UFO reports came in last night from people chasing a pair of lights into the West? "They're flying in formation, a dim one above a bright one...no matter how fast I go they're always staying ahead of me! I'll stick with them as long as I can...tell my wife I love her..."

Thank-you notes

I've never been good with Thank-You notes. To me, any gift, any act of kindness, anything of that sort creates a debt of gratitude that endures forever. Society is stitched together with these little debts. It almost seems like a Thank-You note is an attempt to pay that debt with a piece of paper, to balance things out by being able to say "Well, I said Thank You, in writing. What more do you want?"

But a lot of people don't see it that way. To them, Thank-You notes are a physical acknowledgement of the deed that has been done or gift that has been received. Without one, it seems that the recipient is unappreciative. So they have become expected.

One thing they drilled into us at the Career Link classes is to send Thank-You notes as a follow-up to any interview.

Now, to me that seems...odd. Weird. But sources refer to this as a "professional courtesy." If that is what society expects, that is what society expects. The Thank-You note after the interview isn't just intended as a nicety; it's also a second chance to make contact with the interviewers, who otherwise might start to forget details about you. It keeps you from becoming just another interview.

I bought a box of Thank-You notes a few weeks ago. They're on lovely 80-lb. Ivory cardstock with the words "Thank You" embossed in a masculine sans-serif typeface. (No frilly script for me, baby!) But I don't think I'll be using them.

Oh, I still plan on sending Thank-You notes, but I think I'll be creating custom ones. Ones featuring original artwork by me. I'll have the full citation for each painting (which, I just realized, I'll have to get from my blog, since the original paintings are over at my other house right now!) as well as a brief, personalized message and the full identifying information from my résumé. There were two interviewers today, so they will each get a different image. Even if they decide not to hire me, the recipients will get original works of art, suitable for framing, fun-tacking, or taping to the wall. And maybe they'll remember who I am.

Or not. But in that case, what have I lost?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Nectar Thief

On the way home from the Poconos this morning I stopped at my new house to check on a few things. I noticed that the liquid level in my hummingbird feeder had dropped dramatically since the last time I saw it. Had swarms of hummingbirds descended on my feeder while I wasn't looking? On closer inspection I saw this:

So is that what's been happening here? Have wasps and hornets been sucking up the nutrient-rich instant nectar substitute that I've been leaving out for the hummingbirds? At first I thought that maybe this insect was dead, but looking closely I could see that its abdomen was pulsing as it drank. It ignored my presence, even when I rotated the feeder so a neighbor could get a better look.

I wonder if this feeder has attracted any hummingbirds at all?

So far...

...so good. The computer made the trip back home this morning and booted up OK. As my friend recommended, I'm on a "no-frills" browser - an older version of Internet Explorer. I'll miss Firefox's live bookmarks, but if Firefox was the source of the crash that prevented me from doing pretty much anything with this computer, I cam live without it.

Famous last words

Well, something went wrong with the computer. Very wrong.

I was online yesterday morning - that would be Wednesday morning. I'm losing track of what day today is because of what's happened in the last eighteen hours or so...but I'm getting ahead of myself. I was online, and something was running an update. I realized I must've somehow switched something to automatically update when my friend had set this computer up to only update manually. Anyway, I let the update finish, and then shut down.

An hour or so later, I started up again. Something seemed different - Windows XP gave a generic "welcome" screen instead of one that specifically listed my profile. It opened up Windows, displayed my wallpaper, displayed my cursor, and...that was it. No icons, no nothin'. After a minute or so a box came up that said this:

Windows Explorer Error

And either in the box, or after attempting to clear the box, I got this message:

The instruction at 0x00000000 referenced memory at 0x00000000. The memory could not be "read".

(I especially like the scare quotes around the word "read.")

Long, long story short, my computer was broken. All my stuff was still there, I just couldn't get it to work right. After a bunch of ham-handed attempts to resolve the issue and a frantic (from my end of the phone) attempt by my friend to be remote tech support, we decided I should take the new computer back down to his place for him to look it over and, if necessary, reinstall the operating system. (I was, however, able to get it to print out six copies of the latest version of my résumé before I disconnected.)

Gratifyingly, once he got a look at the error message in person my friend was as baffled by the problem as I was. After a few attempted fixes he decided that the best course of action was to reformat the hard drive and reinstall the operating system and any stuff I had added in the last three days. And it would have worked, too, if it weren't for the massive electrical storm that knocked out power here until about 2:00 in the morning. We decided it would be best if I stayed here overnight, since the storm might easily have knocked down trees that would make extra-dangerous roadblocks at night.

(As I slept I had a bizarre dream about my grandfather having written a fairy tale immediately before his death. The truth of the story was somehow encapsulated in my brain, and was unlocked by one of my friends' cats sucking it out of my ear as I slept. I need to ask them if their cats are actually in the habit of chewing on your ears as you sleep - that would at least explain that aspect of the dream.)

As soon as the power came back on, my friend came down here and completed the reinstallation. Then we loaded Windows Live Messenger, one of the few things I had added since I got the PC home. Fine. We rebooted. Fine.

Then we installed the latest version of Firefox. And Google Earth, too. We rebooted.

Back to the error message and an iconless screen.

He did a quick restore and we uninstalled Firefox. So far, so good. I think we have rebooted since then, but I can't be sure - I'm still half-asleep.

I did some research into this and neither one of these problems seems rare, though neither one seems to have a single cause pinned down, either. And I don't know if the latest version of Firefox - which has been optimized for Windows Vista - is now producing conflicts with older versions of Windows. Anybody have any ideas?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Ninety-eight degrees

The thermometer outside of the Nanticoke school complex reads 98 degrees Fahrenheit on June 26, 2007 at 6:53 PM

It's hot here. A few hours ago this thermometer was showing a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit - nearly 38 degrees Celsius. At 6:53 PM the reading was 98 degrees Fahrenheit - nearly 37 degrees Celsius. A handy thing to keep in mind: while most - well, some - people know that the freezing point of water is 32 degrees Fahrenheit and 0 degrees Celsius, and the boiling point of water is 212 degrees Fahrenheit and 100 degrees Celsius, most people don't realize that normal body temperature, oddly defined as 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, is actually just a conversion of 37 degrees Celsius. (For more Fahrenheit/Celsius conversion fun, go here.)

It's hot in this room, too. The thermometer on the wall is reading 88.6 degrees Fahrenheit (31.4 degrees Celsius). A thermometer that's keeping an eye on the CPU temperature tells me that the CPU is currently cooking along at 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius). And the computer is not crashing.

Amazing. I can never thank my friend enough for having built this machine for me. Its speed and robustness mean I no longer have to worry about whether I will be able to get online, how many things I'll be able to do once I'm there, or when (not if) my computer will crash. Thanks, John!

A job?

The other day I logged on to Pennsylvania Career Link and noticed that my job searches are coming up 0. I decided to expand my search by abandoning my search criteria and dingo a search for all jobs above a certain pay level in my home county of Luzerne. I found quite a few, but none of them seemed to fit as well as the jobs I've already applied for. I filed this information away for later reference and did a search of Civil Service jobs.

Again, nothing very appropriate. The closest-fit job, for a "Management Analyst", looked worth a shot; I'll have to find out when I could take the relevant civil service test, or if that test is even offered in the Scranton office. The problem there is that every position for a Management Analyst is currently filled throughout the state, so the results of the test would only serve to get me on a waiting list in case someone dies, retires, quits, or gets fired. There are 129 of these positions statewide, but only one position within commuting range, in Lackawanna County.

(FYI: There is no such thing as "The Civil Service Test". There is a different test for every job. You need to take a different test for each job you're interested in.)

I logged on to Pennsylvania Career Link this morning and saw that my resume has still been viewed 0 times. That's 0 times total since I posted it back in April. Fine. I decided to expand my search and do a check for any jobs above a certain pay rate in Lackawanna County, which is where I used to work. Immediately one job stuck out. It's so well-tailored to my experience that I briefly thought my old employer might have decided they had made a mistake and were now trying to re-fill my position - but, actually, the job is really like the position I held before the position I had for the last seven years. And, wonder of wonders, the company wants applications in person! That's pretty unusual - most of the companies I've seen lately want you to apply through their website, and in the end give you a message that says "Thanks for applying. Please wait for a response. Don't call us, we'll call you."

I've done a little research into this company. I know what they do, I know where they are. I know that they must have had someone filling this position before. I was planning on calling today to get details on when I could drop off my application and maybe stop by for a little tour and chat, but then I realized that I need to do a little more homework - dust off some books, relearn some terms, get up to speed on new developments in this field. I would hate like hell for them to tell me to come in first thing in the morning and for me to go up there feeling unprepared. The job was posted last Thursday, so I doubt that another 18 hours will make much difference. I'll call tomorrow, and dig up my old books today. We'll see how this goes.

Monday, June 25, 2007

How to get rich with AdSense, part 2

(So the answer to the question "What will he do once he's got DSL and a stable computer?" is, apparently, "Four posts in one day.")

Last week I wrote a post that was titled, somewhat sarcastically, "How to get rich with AdSense". My point was that you pretty much cannot, unless your entire blog or website is designed around maximizing advertising revenue and you have an enormous number of daily visitors.

In that post I mentioned an article that I had found online that clearly and simply took you through the step-by-step instructions for doing precisely that - an article that I had subsequently lost. Well, I found it again. It's from AssociatePrograms.com and is "How to boost your AdSense revenue" by Allan Gardyne. (Just in case someone searches for "Alan Gardyne" or "Alan Gardine" I'll include those spellings here.) It's worth a read, even though I think the things he's talking about are beyond the reach of mere mortals.

So now I consider my previous post complete. I'll just go add this information to that post, and we'll be done.

Free Josh Fruhlinger's car!

So here's the story: Josh Fruhlinger, creator of the fantastic blogsite The Comics Curmudgeon, which has been responsible for rekindling the interest of many readers in daily comic strips of all sorts, went to New York City at the end of last week to participate in the ROFL comedy event. Being from out of town (Baltimore) he failed to appreciate the basic law of parking in New York City defined by some of the commentors on his site: If there isn't a car parked there, there's a reason for it. Turned out the place where he had parked his car was, in fact, a very poorly marked Bus Stop zone. Unsurprisingly, his car was towed.

And that's where the fun began.

Bottom line: The license plate number on Josh's registration doesn't match the license plate number on his 1994 Toyota Corolla. And they won't let him get his car back.

I immediately thought of Anne from Almost Quintessence and her New York City automotive adventures of nearly two years ago. Let's just say they involved her car, which had problems with its electrical system, getting stolen, abandoned, and tied up in impound for some time. You can read the first part of the story here, and the second part of the story here.

Josh popped back online yesterday long enough to let us know this
, but we haven't heard from him since. We can only imagine the bureaucratic nightmare that Josh is going through. (Or we could all watch the movie Brazil and then locate and play the Douglas Adams-created game Bureaucracy.) But in the meantime there's not much else we can do. The outcomes can be:
  • The wheels of bureaucracy turn and everything works out for Josh - except he has to pay some fines for parking in a No Parking Zone, and some impound fees, and maybe another fine from the state of Maryland for driving with a registration that did not properly list his license plate number. (Everybody should check their own registrations right away!)
  • Josh doesn't get his car back.
  • Josh doesn't get his car back, and it goes on auction, and he's able to buy it back there.
  • Something else, or several something elses.
I'm not trying to make light of Josh's situation; I think he's really, really screwed. Can anyone think of a possible solution? Bribery has been suggested, half-seriously; I have suggested a publicity campaign, since Josh is already a celebrity of sorts among certain groups. Does anybody know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody who can help Josh?

UPDATE: As you can see from his comment, Josh got his car back and returned to Baltimore to bask in the orange glow of the night sky. A full report on his website is promised soon.

UPDATE 2: Here it is!

Introduction to Blogging

I'm wondering if there's enough interest locally to justify an Introduction to Blogging adult education course at the local community college. The target audience would be people who are interested in blogging but have not yet sat down and started a blog.

I was running through a potential syllabus in my head as I mowed the lawn over at my house. Here's a list of topics that could be covered:

  • What is a blog?
  • Types of blogs
  • Who blogs, and why?
  • How to get started
  • Free sites
  • Pay sites
  • Choosing a blog name
  • Registering your name
  • Creating your blog
  • Your first post
  • Blog layout
  • How to get readers
  • Comments beget comments
  • Blogrolls: one-way and reciprocal linking
  • Linking
  • Making friends with the most popular kids in school
  • The dangers of blogging
  • Getting "Dooced"
  • Sniping and trolling
  • Flame wars
  • Dishing on family and friends
  • In cyberspace, everybody knows you're a dog
  • Real names and birthdays as usernames
  • Copyright infringements
  • Invasions of privacy (including your own)
  • Libel, slander, and other fun stuff that can get you in trouble
  • Adding photos, video, and music
  • How to get rich with your blog
  • Am I a blogger now?
I doubted that there would be much interest in this, but then I saw that there is a continuing education course called "Introduction to Journaling" - which might complement this course. Now, I just have to figure out how to run this past the powers-that-be at the community college near my house. Even if it flies, it won't pay the bills. But it's...something.

On the other side

So here I am, with my new computer on my new DSL connection. Things aren't entirely bug-free yet - I had some connection issues this morning, and my speed isn't what I think it should be. This may have something to do with some settings that my friend and I will be going over today, or it may be that the phone lines in this house (DSL travels over phone lines) are the limiting factor. Also, colors seem a little washed-out, which doesn't really make sense since I'm using the same monitor as before with no settings changed.

Heh...
"The server at infospeed.verizon.net is taking too long to respond."

Well, I'll keep trying...

Update: With a direct connection between the modem and the PC, the speed is between 412 and 544 kb/s (51.5 and 67.9 kB/s). With the router between the modem and the PC, I'm having a hard time getting the test to run at all. Maybe the router doesn't like the test packets. I'll keep looking into it.

Update 2: Got a test to run with the router in between. On the first test the speed came out as 69.9 kb/s (8.7 kB/s). The second test got hung up and I cancelled it after a few minutes.

At any speed, it is sooooo nice not having to spend hours just trying to get online!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Is this thing on?

Testing, testing...

One last post before I go

As soon as I finish this post and burn to disc a few things I have written since Monday, I will disconnect this PC and reconnect the new one that a friend just built for me. This new computer will be running Windows XP, will be DSL-ready, will have vastly superior memory, processing power, and storage space,and should be less crash-prone and more temperature-resistant. Don't know how long this will take, but my friend is standing by ready to serve as tech support. I'll post again once I'm back online!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Deferred

Dammit. My iron levels were too low for a blood donation today, even after a week of eating red meat. I could try again next Saturday, but I've already got plans for that day.

I had other plans for today, too, but those got shifted when I found out that my nephew is playing his last two T-ball games this weekend, and there is a Mass for my uncle tomorrow. So today would have been a quick trip to hang out with a bunch of heavily-armed people making lots of noise for a few hours, followed by a drive home late in the evening. Even without being a pint low, the whole thing would be a bit stressful. So I opted for the T-ball game today, and perhaps planting some roses later this afternoon. (This would not have been possible with a hole in my left arm, so that worked out for me.)

Wow. Assuming I do not give blood next Saturday - which I do not intend to do - the next Saturday after that will be July 7. Time keeps ticking away.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Eight weeks, Sixteen weeks, Thirty-five years

I give blood every eight weeks whenever possible. Tomorrow I will give blood once again. It's been eight weeks since my last donation, though if I didn't have the evidence to prove that I would swear that my last donation was just three or four weeks ago. Eight weeks ago I broke the news to them that my "employer" data field would need to be revised to reflect my "between jobs" status. I fully expected that eight weeks later I would be several weeks into a new job. So far, no such luck. I've applied to several carefully selected jobs, but as of this writing I haven't heard anything much one way or the other about any of them.

Eight weeks before then I actually could have had them change this data field. I had a blood donation the weekend after our little Reduction In Force. I guess I was still in shock at that point, still saw myself as being on the payroll of that company. It's a funny story: we had a corporate blood drive scheduled for the Wednesday of that week, and as I was actually eligible to give blood the previous weekend, I postponed my donation by a few days so I could be a team player, pitch in, and help with our blood collection total at work. Mysteriously, the blood drive was cancelled without explanation shortly before it was to take place, and I rescheduled my donation to the weekend after. The real bloodletting at work took place that Tuesday. The next day, I doubt many of those who were left would have been in the mood to roll up their sleeves and give a pint. Besides, nobody would have probably passed the blood pressure test.

So it's been sixteen weeks since I lost my job. They haven't been idle weeks, although there was a period of enforced idleness during which I did not know what the terms of my severance would be, and could not take certain actions (or certain jobs) for fear of forfeiting my severance. I have filled up the days with classes and training, home improvement work, time with my family, time with my friends, all the things I never had time for back when I was working. I am looking for new employment, though maybe not as frantically as I should be. Soon that will change.

Tomorrow will also mark the thirty-fifth anniversary of one of the most significant events in this area's history: On June 23, 1972, the Susquehanna River, swollen with rainwater deposited upriver by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Agnes, rose out of its banks and flooded the Wyoming Valley. The amount of damage was remarkable, although it pales in comparison to the flooding in New Orleans or the Great Johnstown Flood - both of which were events in which man-made engineering stupidity played a major role.

My uncle, the one who died on the same day as Haley, was getting married during what has come to be known as The Wrath of Agnes, or simply The Flood. His marriage went through as scheduled, though some arrangements had to be changed drastically - I believe their wedding cake needed to be replaced in a hurry. My mom invited a relative living in the flood zone to come stay with us until the danger passed; the relative turned down the offer, pointing out that there wasn't even water in her basement yet. She left her house several days later, by boat, out a third-story window. My most vivid memory of the flood was standing in her living room a week or two later, after the water had receded and the Susquehanna had returned to its banks and the cleanup began, and looking up at the images of book covers pressed into the plaster ceiling. They had floated out of the bookcases, floated up to the ceiling, and then pressed against it, leaking yellow and blue and red and green and brown dye out of their cloth and leather bindings, as the water continued to rise but the books remained in place.

Today the weather is beautiful as we bask in a high-pressure system that followed on the heels of yesterday's thunderstorms - maybe it's even a little windy, but I'm not complaining. Tomorrow I will give blood. And I will remember events of eight weeks, sixteen weeks, and thirty-five years ago.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Line up

I haven't done any astrophotography with my Nikon L4 recently. The weather hasn't been very cooperative, and I haven't always been in the right place at the right time. I didn't see Monday morning's occultation of Venus by the Moon - the relevant part of the sky was a sea of blinding white thanks to moisture in the air. I saw Monday evening's Saturn - Moon - Venus lineup from my car on the way home from my friends' place in the Poconos, but by the time I got home they had all settled into the thin clouds just above the horizon. Tuesday night was rained out. But last night, I got to see the lineup of the Moon, Regulus (the brightest star in Leo), Saturn, and Venus.

The Moon, Regulus, Saturn, and Venus, June 20, 2007

I decided to get some pictures of Jupiter in Scorpius. They didn't come out as well as I had hoped, and after trying to overlay the star chart of Scorpius from Heavens Above onto my photo, I realized that the bright red thing I had assumed was Jupiter was actually Antares! (UPDATE 7/1/07: No, I was right the first time. The bright thing is Jupiter. Antares is lower and to the right, and is only visible in the enlarged version.) It's visible to the left of center in this photo:

Scorpius, June 20 2007, 9:58 PM

Something else is pretty obvious in that photo, too, just above the center of the photo. I have no idea what it is - a lens flare caused by the lights from my neighbor's house, or some artifact of the camera that has never showed up until now? Here's an enlargement of the object:

Tumbling satellite? June 20, 2007 9:58 PM

Assuming this is not an artifact of the camera, what the heck is it? A UFO? Perhaps aliens have taken to flying biplanes? I think the most likely explanation is that this is a tumbling satellite or other piece of space debris, and my several-seconds exposure caught it at the right time to see two flashes from the center portion, while the extremities reflected sunlight the entire time. But Heavens Above doesn't list any satellites cutting across the front of Scorpius at 9:58 PM on June 20, 2007. And would any satellite (aside from the International Space Station, maybe the Hubble Space Telescope, and possibly the Space Shuttle) ever appear that large in a photo? Or could this even have been a very distant airplane, with lights on its wingtips and a flashing light on its tail? Whatever it was, I didn't see it with my naked eyes, even after I noticed it in the image on the camera's screen. Anybody have any better ideas?

Update, 11:31 PM 6/21/07: Yeah, on further consideration, I'm pretty sure that's just a plane. Wingtip running lights, red and blue strobes, all in a 3-to-5-second time lapse. Oh, well.

Title reference: "Line Up" by Elastica. Go buy it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

How to get rich with AdSense

(Step 1: Surrender your soul. And any sense of integrity.)*

I'm starting to realize that the AdSense ads on my sidebar and at the bottom of my blog are not going to make me rich anytime soon. These ads just don't work well with blogs like mine, which I think is considered a "Life" blog. The subject matter of my blog, and therefore the target market of my ads, varies from day to day. Even where the official AdSense site lists "success stories", all of these seem to be from single-topic sites.

I'm thinking I could exploit this by creating "spinoff" blogs using the Labels function. I could, for example, gather all of the posts with the Label "Yard and Garden" and repost them to a blog called "Another Monkey: Yard And Garden". This "new" blog would then exclusively feature ads that are relevant to the posts there - all about gardening and yard work - and would also attract visitors who were looking specifically for information on these topics. More focused content + readers specifically interested in that content + ads specifically relevant to that content = more people clicking on ads that they find interesting. All without needing to generate new content.

Ah, yes. Content.

I've done some searching on the Internet for information on making AdSense work better for your site, and I found one list of instructions (UPDATE, June 25, 2007: the article is "How to boost your AdSense revenue" by Allan Gardyne on AssociatePrograms.com) that was level-headed and clear, yet at the same time made my skin crawl.

The trick to making lots of money using AdSense, the author said, is fairly simple: first get lots of people to visit your site. Say, something like 10,000 visitors per day to start. (If you can't do this, he says, then don't even bother reading further.) Then republish your blog numerous times throughout the day. Oh, but there's the issue of content. Yes, the writer says, people don't like sites that consist solely of ads. You need to have content to fill up the spaces between the ads, to attract readers who will click on the ads, and to provide relevant subject matter for the ads. No problem, he says: there are plenty of sites that will sell you content. For as little as $5 a post, you can buy content for your site.

Yow.

Blogs can be a lot of things. An open-ended letter, an autobiography in a million parts, a soapbox to rant, a newsletter for your organization, a place to post links to other sites. But I've never conceived of blogs that exist solely to push ads, where the content is secondary (at best) to the ads. I recoiled at the very notion.

Then I realized that that's not too different from the way magazines work. A magazine publisher identifies a market, lines up advertisers, comes up with a title and concept for their magazine, and then purchases content that will steer "readers" towards the advertisers. As long as the advertisers are happy, they will continue to pay for the magazine to publish. A successful magazine will attract more and bigger advertisers. The content is secondary, nearly to the point of irrelevancy. What brings in advertising dollars is what works, and the publisher will be wanting more of the same.

(What, you thought magazines made their money by selling magazines? Honey child, check the annual or bi-annual publication statement that may be tucked into the magazine in fine print - now that I think of it, I haven't seen one in a while. Most indicate that roughly half of all issues published do not get sold. If you were paying to cover the cost of publication, you probably couldn't afford the cover price. And on the subject of content: There are, I suppose, a few magazines that publish on topics because the people who publish them love the topics. These magazines, I suspect, generally struggle for a while and then either find a niche market and sell, or fair entirely.)

So I suppose I could do something like that: carefully salt my posts with words and phrases that currently rank high on search engine searches (HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS IS COMING OUT SOON! PREGNANT WOMAN DISAPPEARS! VINCE McMAHON MURDERED IN WILKES-BARRE!!!...oh, wait, I did do that one.) I could abandon any shred of integrity in my writing and become an advertising whore.

But that's not me. I write. I create content, I don't buy it. And I write about whatever it occurs to me to write. What I write about tomorrow may be completely different from what I wrote about yesterday.

So maybe I won't get rich anytime soon using AdSense. But I guess that's OK.

*Maybe I'm being a bit too cynical here. Maybe content purchasing isn't such a horrible thing, especially if it helps get relevant content to readers. And maybe AdSense does work well for some people. But it seems to me that the article I've mentioned above, which for some reason I can't locate now, suggests a corruption of the art of blogging that flies in the face of everything I believe. But what works, works, I suppose.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Coming soon

I disconnected the CPU (aka "the tower") from my PC yesterday, packed it and the mouse and the keyboard into my Tercel, and headed 70 miles to my friends' place in the Poconos. (It's 20 miles away as the crow flies according to my GPS thingie, a Christmas present from these same friends, but Pennsylvania's geography does not permit cars to travel like crows.) We disassembled the case to get at the hard drive for cloning. There was dust in the case, but not as much as I'd expected, and none of it appeared to be scorched. It also didn't seem to be completely clogging any of the ventilation holes. So the "critical overheating due to dust buildup" theory was moved to the back burner.

(I'm finishing writing this after an eleven-hour hiatus - brought on, initially, by failures of Internet Explorer, Firefox, and finally AOL - during which temperatures soared into the 90's, followed by a decent afternoon thunderstorm that cooled things off a bit. There's another thunderstorm on the way, so I need to get this wrapped up quickly and then disconnect the plugs from the electrical outlets.)

The good news is that the old computer survived the 140-mile round-trip to and from my friends' place, and came back in the company of a newly built PC running Windows XP Pro with vastly superior RAM, hard drive space, and processing power. It also weighs a fraction of what this computer does. I ordered a DSL kit yesterday, taking advantage of Verizon's offer that ends at the end of the month; I was planning on setting up DSL at the new house, but as I don't even live there yet, that seemed like an unnecessary expense. So the DSL will go here, possibly by the end of this week, and will be installed there at a later date.

I'm writing this offline in Wordpad. The time now is 10:07 PM. We'll see if I get back online long enough to get it posted.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Jobs, jobs, and more jobs

In case you're wondering what's new on the job front, here are the latest possibilities from this weekend's classifieds, in order of seriousness of consideration:

Physics / Mathematics Teacher
OK, this is exactly the sort of thing I'm looking for. But, as with all teaching jobs, it requires a stack of things I don't have: official Teaching Certification, PA Standard Teaching Application, Act 34, 151, and 114 Clearances, Official Transcripts, Praxis Scores, 3 Reference Letters. (Well, the Reference Letters are easy enough.) I can start the process of getting a Teaching Certificate, but that will require two years of courses and training - an expense I'm not sure I want to undertake right now, and an investment of time that I would rather spend earning an income. My one hope is for "emergency certification", which is possible when a need exists for a particular specialization in a school district, there are no qualified Certified candidates available, and a qualified but un-Certified candidate exists. Which would be me. I'll send them a letter and a résumé.

Chemistry & Physics Lab Manager/Director, King's College
Anyone who's read the Harry Potter books is familiar with Mr. Filch, the Squib, a child of Wizard parents who never manifested any magical abilities himself who works as the caretaker at Hogwarts. He's miserable all the time, and is surrounded by both teachers and students whose very presence reminds him of his failure. That's what I'm thinking this position might feel like. All of the Lab Managers I've known have also been responsible for maintaining and repairing the equipment - that's not something I'm very good at, at all. On the plus side, I know the head of the Physics department at King's College - he was the drummer for 3 Brix Shy and Blue Sundaze. I'll think about this one.

General Mills Team Leader
This sounds pretty generic, though one of the requirements is a BS/BA in Engineering, Science, or a related field. I'll take a look at it on their website.

Customer Service Representative
Not really a serious consideration, but something to think about. My last job entailed plenty of Customer Service Representative-style interaction, even though we were never officially considered CSR's. I sense that the pay for this job is next to nothing.

Coordinator / Clerical Receptionist / Traffic Assistant
Again, not really a serious consideration, but, dammit, I could do this. The job is at a radio station, so I expect that the pay would consist of promotional black T-shirts and all the office supplies you could stuff in your pockets.

And the rest are worse.

The latest check of my résumé status at Pennsylvania Career Link shows that it has been viewed 0 times. This is a little discouraging. Any job searches on their website using search terms for jobs that interest me also come up with 0 results. Maybe I'm doing something wrong. Or maybe the whole thing is just some sort of front.

A side note: a friend is building a new computer for me, and tonight I'm taking this beast down to his place to either clone or move the hard drive. So I may be offline for a while. I'll let you know if I can.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

I guess that this must be the place

After church yesterday we tarried a while in the parking lot so my mom and my aunt could talk to the son of a friend of theirs. His father had recently retired, and shortly afterwards was diagnosed with cancer. He was undergoing treatment, but his prognosis was not good. "As they say, Carpe diem," my mom said. "Seize the day. Here today, gone tomorrow. You just never know."

We dropped my aunt off at her house, and then we had planned to go out to Kmart so I could buy some screwdrivers and pliers at low Father's Day sale prices. As I no longer have a father to buy for, I take advantage of such sales to get stuff I need for myself.

"How about we go for a ride?" I said to my mom as we drove away from my aunt's house. The sun was moving lower in the sky, as it tends to do in the afternoon in mid-June. She agreed, and we were off.

At the bottom of the hill we turned left instead of right. Right would have taken us out of town; left took us to the other end of town, towards the river and the mountains beyond.

A few days before as we were coming back from my nephew's last baseball game in the mountains beyond the river my mom had expressed a desire for ice cream, and a nostalgic regret that an ice cream stand that had been along that road when she was a teenager was now gone. "No problem", I said, and turned from Route 11 onto Route 29, to an ice cream shop that I remembered from my youth. It was along the road to Moon Lake, and we would always stop there on the way home from swimming. I had noticed it the last time I had been on that road and knew it was still there, but it has been about 22 years since the last time I got ice cream there.

"I haven't been on this road in years", my mom said wistfully as we drove through the wooded pass along a creek.

"I used to come this way all the time, after Mass at the Center," I said. "That was back when there was Mass at the Center. And I would stop at AGWAY and The House of Nutrition...but now it's just AGWAY. And I can't really afford to buy much there anymore...or even afford the gas to come out here that much." When gas was 99 cents a gallon I used to make the trip a lot; at $3 a gallon, not so much. "I..took Daddy this way a few times, too," I said. But then we got to the ice cream stand. The lights there were still yellow, as they had always been, giving the world beyond a blue-tinged sense of unreality. We got the ice cream and went home.

Now, two days later, we were headed back that way. "Where are we going?", my mom asked.

"Like you said, seize the day. You said you haven't been this way in years. Who knows, maybe tomorrow you won't be able to make it out here."

We drove North on Route 29, past the ice cream shop and along the winding wooded road. Through dappled sunlight shining through trees, along a creek that was running well below its normal levels. Past my cousin's house, the one who has a school bus and who sustained long-term damage from Agent Orange back in Vietnam. Past the Ceasetown Dam, past Moon Lake, past Lake Silkworth - once a popular spot for families to go and enjoy, now entirely privately owned - past all the new development that has sprung up in recent decades, past Pike's Creek Quarry, past Our Lady of Mt. Carmel church, and finally to the point that Route 29 meets Route 118.

We turned right on 118, and drove East past a beer distributor and a low-wattage Christian radio station and the Pike's Creek Family Fun center, where they have go-carts. The road went on and on, along a ridge-and-valley mountain one ridge-and-valley removed from the Susquehanna. We drove through forest and past a large stand of dead trees that appeared to be in a swamp - the aftereffects of an old beaver dam on a creek, perhaps? - and past the mansions and lodges that were appearing on the farmland that I had once looked upon with longing, thinking how nice it would be to buy a little old farmhouse out here. We drove past three Sunoco stations, one of them closed, and finally made our turn onto Route 415.

Route 415 took us South to AGWAY. We got there with less than 10 minutes to spare. We picked up some birdseed - the birds have been eating the cat food my mom has been putting out, and clamoring for more - and some fresh spray concentrate to fight the Black Rot that threatens my grapes.

"Want to go to dinner?" I asked.

We went to Pickett's Charge*, a Civil War-themed restaurant near AGWAY. It was one of the last places I had taken my father. (But not the last; that was Red Robin, after taking him to see Revenge of the Sith.) Prices were high for most things, higher than I remembered, but we managed to find things we liked that weren't too outrageous - I had a bacon cheeseburger with fries for $8.95, and my mom got a Turkey BLT for $7.95. After dinner we went around back and fed the ducks and ducklings with fifty cents worth of feed that I bought from the feed-filled gumball machines.

We continued our descent out of the Back Mountain and back into the Wyoming Valley. We had our choice of Kmarts - there used to be three in the area, but the one just outside of Nanticoke closed during Kmart's consolidation a few years ago - and we decided on the Kingston one. This store had been flooded a few years ago and had been mostly rebuilt since then from the inside out. We got the screwdrivers and the pliers and a few other things that were on sale, things that we needed. We checked out and returned to the car, receiving a flurry of cries of "Bye-bye!" from the infant and toddler sons of a woman my mom knows from her chiropractor's office.

"Can we go to the cemetery now?", she asked.

It wouldn't be the first cemetery we went to that day. A few hours before church, after my younger nephew's T-Ball game, we took a detour to the old cemetery where my grandmother's parents are buried. It's a ridiculous, improbable cemetery, built into the side of a hill, and you practically need climbing equipment to get to some of the graves. This had been a part of our regular Sunday cemetery visits when I was young, but I hadn't been there in decades. I was worried that the last people who knew where this grave was would pass beyond the veil without communicating this knowledge to the younger generations. We found the grave fairly easily, and I noted the spot with landmarks: a straight line between these two crypts, lined up with the second tree from the end over there.

The cemetery we were going to now was the one where my father is buried, and my grandfather and grandmother, and my stillborn brother, the twin to my younger brother. My uncle is there, too, the one who died hours before Haley, and my grandmother's sister and brother, too.

We stopped at a spigot as we drove through the cemetery, and my mom filled the water bottles she keeps in the trunk of her car. She watered the flowers that she has carefully planted around the tombstone. A spot for my aunt awaits her next to my uncle. A spot for my mother awaits her next to my father.

...we don't know
just where our bones will rest;
to dust, I guess
forgotten and absorbed
to the Earth
below


I don't know where I will be buried. There's space available there at the family plot, several spaces. But a lot can happen between now and the time I die. I may be living somewhere far, far away. Or I could die before I even finish this post. Who can say?

But my mom knows. In a few years, or a few decades, she will be buried there, in that spot. She can walk on the spot where she will be planted. She knows.

I find it a strangely comforting thought to know where the bones of my father and my grandmother are. I can imagine that they will always be there, though I know that someday that land may be needed for something other than a bone garden. But there is something about the certainty of knowing where they are, and where my mom will be.

We went home as the setting sun turned the clouds above into a symphony of purple and gold.

*The name of this restaurant always screwed me up as a kid. Pickett's Charge, we learned in school, was the farthest Northerly advance made by the Cofederate Army in the U.S. Civil War. They made it all the way up to Dallas?, I would think. Wow.

Title reference: line from Naive Melody (This Must Be the Place) by Talking Heads from the album Speaking in Tongues. Excerpt above is from 1979 by Smashing Pumpkins from the album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (not Siamese Dream as was previously stated.)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Headlights and Turn Signals: What They Are and How To Use Them

A letter to the editor appeared in the paper today regarding the use of the left lane on highways. In Pennsylvania a law was passed a few years ago restricting use of the left lane to passing only. Never mind the exceptions, such as left-hand exits and lanes that merge from the left. Never mind the mechanics of taking all the non-passing traffic from the left lane and suddenly forcing it into the right, potentially doubling the amount of traffic there. (To see an example of this in action, go to any construction zone where two lanes merge into one and see how smoothly things go.) And never mind the fact that Pennsylvania law does not permit drivers to exceed the speed limit, even in the "passing lane."

Drivers who are most strident on the use of the left lane as a passing-only lane tend to be the ones who like to speed a lot. As Maxim magazine pointed out a few years ago, America's highways are a sort of game: since the ratio of State Police to miles of highway is very low, most drivers can violate the law with impunity, although a few will be caught and punished. Is the risk of punishment, or the cost of that punishment, greater than whatever reward the traffic violator accrues?

It's not just the highways. The economy of Nanticoke would turn on its ear if police were to enforce city speed limits or even STOP sign laws. For those unfamiliar with the concept, STOP signs are posted at locations where the driver is expected to bring his or her vehicle to a stop. A complete stop. This is a condition where your vehicle ceases all forward motion. You can recognize it most of the time because your wheels will stop moving first, and the rest of the vehicle will continue forward for some brief but perceptible distance, and will then snap back as the suspension pulls the car back into position over the wheels. No snap-back, no complete stop, generally speaking.

Most drivers don't even come to an incomplete stop. At best they come to a "slow", as they reduce their speed just enough to verify (in their own minds) that it is safe to proceed, and then continue through the intersection. Some do not even do that much, and simply sail through the STOP sign if they believe the way is clear. In Olyphant, where I used to work, the handling of four-way STOP signs was fairly unique: anyone coming to a complete stop was assumed to be yielding the right-of-way to anyone who was still approaching the STOP sign. Hilarity often ensued.

And then there are the city speed limits. These are completely unenforced, along with rules prohibiting skateboards, ATV's, and snowmobiles on city streets - with one exception: students attending Luzerne County Community College are routinely pulled over and ticketed on their way to and from classes. Never mind that students attending the High School on the other end of the street routinely commit much more serious offenses, nearly taking the doors off the cars of residents trying to start their morning commutes and acting out scenes from The Fast and the Furious at the end of the day. The logic is this: most students attending the High School have relatives in the police force or on city council who could easily get the tickets overturned and/or make life difficult for the officer who wrote them. Most students at LCCC are from out of town, and do not.

Then there are headlights and turn signals. Turn signals should always be used, as a force of habit. When I was teaching my cousin to drive I had her do intricate patterns of ninety-degree turns in an empty parking lot - and chided her whenever she forgot to use her turn signal. That may be a bit extreme, but turn signals are generally the only way of communicating your intentions to other drivers. You may know where you are going, but the rest of the world does not. Turn signals and STOP signs, to me, are the measure of a civilized society: if people still use their turn signals and still stop at the STOP signs when they can be fairly sure no one is watching, they are likely to obey the law when there are witnesses around.

I have a friend who maintains that Red Light cameras are a liberal plot to strip people of their God-given right to run red lights. He also maintains that red light running doesn't happen in big cities, and must be a small-town phenomenon. Car and Driver magazine had a typically excellent editorial on this subject, however, which pointed out that red light cameras are often provided by companies that receive a percentage of the fines collected; it is therefore in their best interest to maximize the number of fines collected, even if this means fudging the data or lobbying to twist the rules to their favor.

Headlights are a funny thing. The law, I believe, does not require them to be used until an hour after sunset or more than an hour before sunrise. I find this preposterous. An hour before sunset and an hour after sunrise seem more reasonable, especially given the fact that most cars these days are muted colors that blend in with the twilight landscape. Better yet is to use headlights all day long; the draw on your car's energy supply is minuscule, and the increase in visibility, even in full daylight, is tremendous.

And FOR GOD'S SAKE, parking lights and fog lights are NOT the same thing as headlights. As a bicyclist, I often interpreted cars at some distance driving only with parking lights as cars with headlights at a much greater distance. Use fog lights in the fog, preferably when you're the only one around.

But back to the issue of highways and the left-hand passing lane. By law, this lane can only be used if the vehicle in front of you is traveling at less than the posted speed limit, and all other requirements for safe passing are met. In practice vehicles routinely travel ten to fifteen miles above the speed limit in the right lane, and even faster in the left lane. Safe following distances are routinely ignored. Tractor-trailers as a rule will travel much faster than the speed limit when they are behind you, and much slower than the speed limit when they are in front of you. The safe following distance for a fully-loaded tractor-trailer traveling at highway speeds is more than a quarter mile; I am reminded of this whenever I see a tractor-trailer rapidly pull up to just a few inches from my bumper while I'm traveling through a construction zone with a reduced speed limit.

Bad drivers and scofflaws are a problem, but they are a problem that I feel can be turned to society's financial advantage. They are a mostly untapped revenue stream, and any fines and penalties levied against them can be seen either as a tax on bad behavior, or a fee required of those who choose to ignore the rules of the road.

So what's the point of all this? I'm not sure. Drive safely. Obey speed limits and all other driving rules. Come to complete stops at STOP signs and red lights. Use your headlights so I can see you, and use your turn signals so I know what you're doing. If you break the law, expect to get ticketed and fined. As the song says, everybody knows that the world is full of stupid people, and many of them have cars. Most drivers I wouldn't trust with a shopping cart, let alone an SUV where the seat is higher than the roof of my Tercel.

And if you drive a tractor-trailer, stay the hell off my ass.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Patience

One of the classes I took at Pennsylvania Career Link was about interviewing skills. This is a useful class, since it's been more than fifteen years since I interviewed for a job at a new company, and a few things have changed since then. One of the things an interviewer will very likely do is ask you to name your greatest weakness. The trick is this: every weakness can also be a strength. You must phrase your response in such a way that you communicate your weakness, but then turn it around and show it to be a strength.

That's easy, I thought. Laziness. I am a very lazy person. I do not mean I am slothful, or an idler; I mean I will not do things the hard way if doing them the easy way is just as effective. I take a Taoist approach to things: just as water flows along the line of least resistance, so in all things you must seek the path along which things flow and learn to travel that path. (In time the water which flows along the easy path will achieve great things - look at the Grand Canyon.) I tend to determine the simplest, most efficient ways of doing things, and then do them that way. Then I teach others to do the same. Other people prefer the harder route because it is harder; they seem to have an instinct to throw themselves at the fan blade of life, over and over again. Of course, the "easy way" can sometimes appear to be the hard way; double-digging a garden is enormous work at first, but once established, it is an extremely labor-free way of growing flowers and vegetables - so much so that in Ireland, double-dug beds are called "lazy beds." So, yes, laziness it is.

"Never say laziness," the instructor added immediately.

Crap, I thought. OK, what else?

Patience.

In about fourth grade one of the nuns said to me in the middle of class, "You'll probably grow up to be a scientist, because you have so much patience." I think that was meant as a compliment, but with nuns you can never be sure. I have always had an enormous degree of patience. My hobbies, which include gardening and backyard astronomy, are not ones for people who need instant gratification. When I plant a seed I know it will be a long time before I see any results; the compost I start today will not be ready for weeks, maybe longer. I must wait hours each day to see the stars, and then I must scan the skies slowly and carefully to pick out the things I am looking for. In my old job I could wait patiently for a client to respond to my questions - there is a fine line between asking repeatedly for information and harassing a client who could choose to take their work elsewhere. And if you've followed my adventures with this computer, the fact that I have not yet hurled it out a window says something of my patience.

But my patience can appear to others to be inertia, a willingness to stay calm and motionless and let the mountain come to me. It is like this even in my job search - perhaps I have been too patient in waiting for responses that might never come. Maybe the patience which serves me so well in some things is doing me a disservice here.

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote "He will win who knows when to fight, and when not to fight." (It's been a long time since I packed away my copy, so I think I'm remembering that quote from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Last Outpost".) Perhaps this is something I need to learn: when to be patient, and when to aggressively press my point. It seems that if I am willing to wait forever for some things, the cosmic all is perfectly happy with letting me wait. Patience is my virtue, and also my vice. It is a strength and a weakness. And that, I suppose, is my answer to that question.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A post instead of the post I meant to write

I don't know about most bloggers, but I generally think about my posts for some time before I write them. Yesterday's post was an exception, since it was really a response to the tabloid-style front page on yesterday's paper. It was also a result of me suddenly realizing why Vince McMahon had been briefly mentioned on CNN throughout the day on Tuesday, or why his name was one of the top search engine strings on that day. Plus I thought it was pretty funny that our little corner of the world was chosen for this stunt - though other people had a different take.

Yesterday's planned post was to be bumped up to today, and it was going to be on one of two topics: either Compost and what it means to me (keeping with both the gardening theme and the employment theme, with a little political side-note thrown in), or Patience (my greatest strength and my greatest weakness.) But it's not going to be on either of those.

No, it's not going to be on either of those because yesterday my computer was extra-crappy and extra-crashy, so much so that I intentionally interrupted it during a reboot to force it into "Safe Mode", a dumbed-down version of Windows that runs without all the background crap going on. This allowed me to do two things that I can never do in the normal Windows 98 SE environment: run Scandisk, and run Disk Defragmenter.

Scandisk ran pretty quickly and, unsurprisingly, found and fixed a ton of errors. You can't crash and reboot so many times without leaving some ugly scars on your hard drive. Disk Defragmenter fired up and started to run around 11:00 at night, and I decided to babysit it - I didn't want to have something come up that would crash it without me knowing about it.

12:30 rolled around soon enough and the program was only about 25% done, but it seemed to be picking up speed. At 2:00 in the morning and 50% complete I decided to take a break and finish taking out the trash. By 3:30 it was approaching 75% done and I decided in for a penny, in for a pound. By 3:35 I was trying to sleep in the computer chair but couldn't because of the glare from the screen and the cold wind that was blowing through the open window. At 4:00 it crept up to 78% and was in the home stretch, working on the little blocks that belong at the end of the hard disk, and now I couldn't sleep because of the noise of the birds doing their pre-dawn singing. By 5:00 it was still at 78% and I said screw you guys, I'm going to bed. The sky was already brightening from the dawn - something I haven't seen in a long time.

Three and a half hours later I was back at the computer to shut it down after a successful defragmentation. I took another brief nap, and then restarted the computer to see if it worked better. It seems to be better, though Blogger is acting funny, so I'm writing this in Wordpad. (I haven't tried Word to see if it got fixed, but I have a feeling it didn't. Maybe the problem that's preventing me from installing anything has been fixed, though.)

So that's why I'm not writing my planned post. After a night like that, how could I possibly write something so involved?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

VINCE McMAHON MURDERED IN WILKES-BARRE (Township)!

UPDATE 6/25/2007: OK, with the news of the deaths of WWE wrestler Chris Benoit and his family, this little Vince McMahon joke is even less funny.

Bottom line: The Vince McMahon "murder" in Wilkes-Barre was a hoax, folks. A joke. A publicity stunt. As the linked article from the Citizens' Voice describes, the pyrotechnics were filmed the night before, and the car was re-torched and placed in view of people leaving the Wachovia Arena. It was a fake. Vince McMahon was not blown up, was not murdered, was not dead.

Chris Benoit and his family are dead, for real. So are Owen Hart and Eddie Guerrero.

Vince McMahon, at the time of this writing, is alive and well.
***

How could I have missed this? Beloved WWE Chairman Vince McMahon was apparently MURDERED in a fiery explosion outside of the Wachovia Arena in Wilkes-Barre Township (not to be confused with the nearby City of Wilkes-Barre) Monday night. The Citizens' Voice has full details.

Oddly enough, I managed to also miss the frenzy of police and fire department calls that must have followed such a brazen act, as well as the subsequent local news coverage. While some might hope that he might have miraculously survived such an explosion - perhaps being blown clear, not unlike Robert DeNiro's character in the beginning of Casino, and possibly landing on the roof of the neighboring BYOB bar, Gentlemen's Club X, to be rescued, resuscitated, and lovingly nursed back to health by a bevy of performers - sadly, this does not appear to be possible, according to eyewitness accounts reportedly posted on the WWE website. I suppose the Arena will now become a pilgrimage destination for mourning fans of the WWE and its recently-shaved kingpin.

Shockingly, this calls to mind the recent murder of a local "adult" film producer, who was stabbed to death inside his Dallas Township home, which was then torched. Is there a connection? Who can say?

Read the article on Vince McMahon's MURDER from The Citizens' Voice
Read the latest developments on this shocking story on the WWE Website

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Strawberries someday

Yesterday I took a few positive steps. I e-mailed a headhunter who had been recommended to me by a friend. This is a person who will go out and look for a job for you, and his specialization is Engineering and Technology fields in Eastern Pennsylvania. I also transplanted three Forsythia "babies" to my new house. (I had been planning to transplant only two, but I managed to uproot three. There are still a few left attached to the main plant - I think I'll leave these as they are in case the ones I've already transplanted don't take.) And I started a strawberry garden.

I had been planning to start this strawberry garden sometime later in the season, but yesterday seemed like a good time for it. It gave me an opportunity to use some leftover stuff I had after all of my planting and construction projects. I had picked out the location of the strawberry garden early in the process of laying out the gardens and plantings in my back yard. It's just off the back porch, a longish stretch of grassy area along the border of my property to one side of a slate walkway, about two feet wide by ten feet long, ending a few feet from where I planted my closest blueberry bush. It will make for convenient early-morning strawberry harvests. If they so desire, my neighbors could easily lay out an empty garden on the other side of the fence and let the strawberries expand into their yard.

I started with a roll of contractor's paper - also known as butcher block paper or craft paper (or maybe it's Kraft Paper, I don't know.) This is the brown, thick stuff that shopping bags used to be made of before they were made of polyethylene. With the assistance of a neighbor and a few chunks of concrete that had once been part of the grapevine sidewalk, I pulled a length twice as long as the garden I had in mind. We folded it in half lengthwise, fighting the wind that had suddenly sprung up, and then folded it again widthwise to properly fit the space. I then placed the paper on the site of the future garden and held it in place with the chunks of broken concrete. Then it was time to begin adding things.

I gathered together the remnants of the last few weeks of work: half a bag of sand that had been used to fill in the cracks in the grapevine sidewalk, about a quarter of a bag of peat moss, a few pounds of topsoil, and two mostly-empty bags of "organic" potting soil by Miracle-Gro. I started with the sand, sprinkling a few dozen handfuls across the paper. Then the peat moss, sprinkling again, going for total coverage of the paper. Then some topsoil, to hold it all down. Then I took a sprinkling can and wet everything down until any visible paper was soaked. Then more sand, more peat moss, more topsoil (finishing the bag), more water, more sand, more peat moss, more water.

And then all the bags were empty. Now nothing left to do but wait.

The thick paper will smother the grass below, causing it to die and begin to decompose. Soil microorganisms will begin to dissolve the paper after a while. Earthworms, those invaders from Europe most likely introduced to the North American continent some 400 years ago as the first European settlements were being stocked with live plants and animals from across the ocean, will burrow to the surface in search of the tasty organic morsels. They will churn the sand and topsoil, the peat moss and the decomposing grass and paper, mixing it with the top few inches of soil. By next Spring, everything will have been thoroughly mixed. No further effort necessary.

Then I will plant my strawberries, refugees from the strawberry patch that I started here several years ago which will need to be thinned before next year. Rather than simply composting the thinnings, I will transplant them to this new garden, and to anyone else's garden who would like them. I may also relocate a few strawberries of amother variety that have continued to thrive in the soil just outside my garage. Perhaps next year I will have a garden full of strawberries conveniently located just outside my back door.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Forsythia

On Saturday I transplanted a Forsythia "baby" from our main bush near our back steps to a position that will screen my composting area from my neighbor's view. Forsythia is incredibly easy to propagate - in fact, it's difficult to avoid propagating. This member of the olive family grows long, whiplike branches each year, covered with long, sawtoothed leaves. There's a temptation to cut all of these branches off each year, but there are two reasons not to do this. The bright yellow blossoms that herald the earliest days of Spring grow on the previous year's growth, so cutting all of them off in the Fall will result in a poor showing the following Spring. The other reason is that wherever a branch touches the ground, it will take root and begin to send up shoots of its own.

This second point is also the reason why you should keep a careful eye on your Forsythia. An unpruned bush will soon begin to spread through branches taking root, and in time a single Forsythia may become an entire stand of Forsythia. I would see this sometimes during my commute to work, as long stretches of lemon-yellow blossoms betrayed the presence of Forsythia thickets stretching along the highway. But at more than $12 apiece for new Forsythia plants from a Nursery, it's worth letting a few branches take root so you can make your own.

As with all things in gardening, a lot of patience and a little care are required. I allowed these rooted branches to stay unmolested for about two years, to allow them to develop healthy root systems and reduce their dependence on the parent plant. About a week before transplanting, I found the branches that still connected the babies to their parents and I cut them, forcing the offspring plants to rely entirely on their own ability to gather resources. Finally, I pruned them before transplanting. Well, my mom did the pruning while she was doing some general pruning in the back yard, but this was really something I should have thought of. While this reduced the total leaf area for photosynthesis, it also reduced the amount of leaves and branches that would need to be supplied with water through the roots, and also cut the water loss through transpiration through the leaves. At the plant's new home I dug a hole slightly larger than the root ball, to allow some room for the roots to expand comfortably. I then filled it back in partially with dirt taken from the hole, positioned my new Forsythia so the roots would be at the same level they were in its original location, and then refilled the hole with the rest of the dirt. I then topped this all off with a thick layer of mulch - finished compost taken from deep within the base of the nearby compost pile. As a "welcome to the neighborhood" gift, I gave the new plant a good soaking using a water wand attachment on my garden hose.

I did all this on Saturday. The Forsythia is showing no signs of transplant shock or any other sort of distress. Today I'm planning on transplanting two more Forsythia babies to my new house, where they will provide some good line-of-sight screening in my back yard. With the right amount of care and luck, in a year or two I will have three big, healthy Forsythia bushes that cost me nothing but a little time and effort!

More information:
Forsythia entry from Wikipedia
Forsythia entry from About.com
The Garden Helper page on "Golden Bells" (Forsythia)
The Gardener's Network: How to Grow and Care for Forsythia Bushes

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Blogging from an undisclosed location...

I'm visiting some friends this weekend, and I'm blogging on one of their computers. It's strange to be working on a system that doesn't freeze and crash every few minutes.

Not much action on the job front. I'm discouraged by the poor signal-to-noise ratio on Careerbuilder and Monster.com, but I just learned that a friend used them to successfully locate a job. I also received some encouraging news on my "Plan A" job, though I'm still not holding out much hope there. The "Plan B" job is still open. "Plan C" is in limbo, and I'll need to send a follow-up to see if my original message was actually received - and maybe I'll include the original message, as well as a copy of my resume (can't figure out how to get those specially-accented e's on this computer.)

Well, I should go in for a shower soon, so I'm out when my friends get back from church and the after-church social. I was planning to go with them, even though I went to my own church yesterday, but I woke up feeling too woozy to contemplate being out and about and pleasant and sociable for two or more hours this morning. Maybe it's the high pollen count down here.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Beautiful day

A big storm blew through here yesterday, and the weather broke. Temperatures are down, humidity is down, the sky is blue and the birds are singing. I think I'm going to go visit some friends this weekend.

I've noticed that the ads on this site target better if you look at all the posts in a given category at once. If I open the post "The Moon, Venus, and Mercury" I see a lot of ads for Mercury cars. But if I go to the "Astronomy" category (or "label", as Blogger calls it) the ads will specifically target Astronomy-related products. The same with labels like "Death" (you get a lot of ads for memorials and things like that) and "Yard and garden". These ads function best for blogs that cover a single topic. This is also true of search functions - if your blog only deals with a single topic, you will be able to attract more searchers looking for information on that single topic. Unfortunately, my blog is all over the place, which confuses the hell out of the program that determines which ads to insert - currently most of the ads are about weather and blogging, but that can change. We'll just have to wait and see how well the ads perform.

By the way, I have to say that I absolutely love Blogger's new autosave function. I still crash sometimes (Firefox crashed halfway through this post) but now I can pick back up right where I left off, once I manage to get a browser to open. (Right now I'm finishing up the post in Internet Explorer.) It's great!

Friday, June 08, 2007

A Blog for the Mill Memorial Library?

The Mill Memorial Library will be having a Book & Bake Sale on Monday, June 18 and Tuesday, June 19, from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM. The library is located on the corner of Kosciuszko and Main streets in Nanticoke, directly across from the CVS. Directions: When entering Nanticoke from the East, turn left onto Kosciuszko Street at the first traffic light on Main Street. The entrance to the library will be on your right.

Now, how do I know this? Is it because I live just a few blocks from the library, and drive past it every time I come into town? Is it because I am currently unemployed, and therefore strategically positioned to take advantage of the library's services? Is it because of their website, or their other website?

Nah. It's because they had a plug in my church bulletin this past weekend. Otherwise I would have no clue. Even when I went to the last sale back in April, the little old ladies working there told me that they would be having another one "sometime in November".

I like blogs. I like blogging. I wish everyone in the world had a blog. Of course, if that were the case, nobody would have time to read more than a few, especially since they would be busy with their own blogs. But blogs are a way of letting the world know what you have to say. And they're not just for individuals - they work great for organizations, too.

I had this idea for a library blog a long time ago, but I've never acted on it. As I see it, it could be a sort of open-ended newsletter, a place for a library to make announcements, to list upcoming events, to solicit donations, to feature recent acquisitions, maybe even to spotlight book reviews by patrons. It would be a way of getting the community involved in the library without even having to be there.

One of the attractive features of blogs is that, ideally, they are frequently updated, so readers will return again and again to see what's new. Websites in the traditional sense tend to be far more static, reliables place that people can navigate to find the information they want without having to worry too much about design changes. But as such they tend to be dull. It's hard to tell the difference between a website that has reached a mature, stable state and one that is simply no longer being maintained.

Most websites require a "webmaster", somebody who knows and understands things like html code and SQL. Blogs are also incredibly simple to create and use, designed so that anybody can make one in just a few minutes, can maintain it with ease, and can update it with no more effort than typing an e-mail. I happen to use and favor Blogger, the free program that allows users to create and customize their blogs with incredible ease, but there are plenty of other blogging platforms out there, some free, some for a fee. Most websites are also only available for an annual fee, but Blogger hands out Blogspot domains for free, though it also gives the option of using the Blogger platform on your own website.

So I'd like to propose a Mill Memorial Library blog. I could create it for them, and then after they've botten to know the program I would transfer the administration to anyone willing to accept that awesome responsibility. This isn't even a new or radical idea, as a Google search on the words "library blogs" will reveal. But I don't know if any of the other libraries in the area have blogs. I could see this rapidly spiraling into a network of blogs for all the local libraries, complementing and working with their existing websites. I could even see non-library organizations getting into the act - the YMCA and local historical societies, churches and synagogues, community organizations , even local governments. I would be happy to link them all from the NEPA Blogs site.

Maybe, somehow, I could even make a living from this. "Do what you love and the money will follow", the saying goes. We'll see about that.

But all this has to get started somehow, somewhere. Maybe this post is that start.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Ads

Long-time readers of this blog may have noticed a certain change in recent weeks. Like MAD Magazine, for a long time I avoided having any ads on my pages. Like MAD Magazine, I finally gave in and started carrying ads. And like MAD Magazine, this wasn't really the first time ads had graced these pages; in both cases they were there, briefly, in the very earliest days.

I avoided carrying ads on my blog because of some abstract sense of blogtistic purity. Hah. Back in April I found myself wondering if there was any way that I could possibly use blogging to earn some extra revenue. After all, blogging is something that I like to do, that I do every day, and that I think I'm good at. The Google Adsense program seemed like an easy place to start. It's a known commodity, it's integrated directly into the Blogger templates, and, hey, everybody's doing it.

And the ad revenue is just pouring in. Since I started posting ads in April, I've earned $4.81. They cut a check after $100. At this rate, I can look forward to that first big payday in just over three years.

I expanded from a single ad to multiple ads yesterday, mainly because I only just figured out how to do this. (Here's the trick: you have to select an ad box that's big enough to hold multiple ads, and then it just fills itself up with as many ads as will fit.) The ads are supposed to be content-based, but a quick scan will show that this is a hit-and-miss proposition: some ads are well-targeted based on the posts that they appear on, but some are just...odd. A mention of Windows Vista the other day seems to have prompted a flurry of ads for replacement window services. Other ads seem more appropriate, but when I checked recently one of my most popular posts (responsible for nearly 50% of my site traffic in recent months - thanks, Firefox, for not addressing the js3250.dll issue!) is only getting non-revenue-generating Public Service Ads. (This happens whenever AdSense can't figure out which ads might be appropriate based on keywords. I guess keywords like "Mozilla", "Firefox", "Google", "Mozillazine", "js3250.dll", "ipvmonl.dll", and "malware" aren't explicit enough for AdSense.)

AdSense rules prohibit me from asking anyone to actually click on my ads, so I won't. Check them out if you like, and see if they're appropriate - the rules also prohibit me from clicking on my own ads, so I don't know how well these ads are targeted. But as far as I know, the rules don't prohibit me from telling you to click on the ads on somebody else's site! So I'm encouraging you to go visit The Domestic Zoo and click on the ads on the Domestic Zookeeper's site! Baby needs a new...well, everything, you probably know how expensive babies can be! Plus, the DZ's subject matter covers such a broad array of topics, she's sure to have a lot of interesting ads being generated. So, go there, check out her ads, and put a few coins in her pockets. In, maybe, three years or so.