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Friday, November 30, 2007

Four of six

I am now working overtime on Sunday. I will be working six straight twelve-hour days. This is starting to put a serious crimp in my online activities. But it's money. Money. Think about the money. Focus on the money.

I'd better get to bed soon. My fingers are beginning to linger on the keys, resulting in some words with waaaaaaaaaaaaay too many letters. And I still need to get my lunch ready, and clean the coffee pot, and get my clothes laid out for the morning...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Christmas shopping

I'm ordering some stuff online today from Lee Valley. Christmas gifts, though one of them will be given as soon as it arrives - the Nomex Oven Guards. This is because my mom is currently sporting a pretty nasty burn on her arm from Thanksgiving, and she says "Oh, I always burn myself on the oven." Well, we'll see about that. No fresh burns for Christmas.

I won't be doing all my shopping online, though a large portion of the gifts I will be giving out arrived the other day in the form of gift cards from the Discover Card Cashback partners. I also have a creative and involved plan for a home-made gift I may be presenting to my friends. By the way, anybody know where I can get unprinted 8.5" x 11" x 1" (or so) boxes?

I will be doing my annual "What to buy" recommendation. This year's recommendation comes with a story - a story that is not my own, but a story that you really need to know. It's a story that needs a bit of time to tell, more time than I have while I'm on-shift. I need to go to the local fire safety supply store to make sure I can get these things locally.

Time to go. Day three of five. I think I'll find out tomorrow if I've been mandated for overtime again.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ironically abbreviated post: Support Independent Booksellers!

(I meant to do a longer version of this post, but I have to cut it short...because I was just struggling online with getting a cancelled order restored on Amazon.com.)

Support independent booksellers! Bookstores operate on razor-thin profit margins, when they make a profit at all, and small, independent booksellers have a hell of a time competing against large chains like Borders or Barnes & Noble and especially against the online behemoth Amazon.com.

How can you show your support? Do your Christmas (or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, or whatever) shopping at your local independent bookstore! Unless, of course, you live in one of the many, many places throughout the U.S. where local independent bookstores are a thing of the past. What to do then?

Well, you can always support an independent bookseller who is not located locally. Someplace like, say, Jackson Street Books. They're located in Seattle, so every order comes with a complimentary air of hipness. And they would really appreciate your business! Here's a link to their holiday catalog, and here's their contact information:

Jackson Street Books
2301 South Jackson Street Ste.210
Seattle, Washington 98144

206.324.7000

206.324.7001 fax

http://jacksonstreetbooks.blogspot.com/

Tell 'em you read about them on Another Monkey!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Five to one, baby, one in five

Today was the first day of a five day stretch of work. For those of you not familiar with my schedule, I work something called a 4x4: four twelve-hour days on, four days off...in theory. Overtime is available throughout much of the year. It's more economical to be slightly understaffed and pay overtime during busy seasons than it is to be fully staffed for the busy seasons and lay off trained employees when things slow down a bit.

I officially became eligible for overtime this week. A certain number of overtime slots are available each week, and people are given the option of signing up for it voluntarily. If there are not sufficient volunteers, employees may be "mandated" - obligated, forced, required - to work overtime based on a rotating list. It can happen that a person who has volunteered to work one or more days of overtime can also be mandated for overtime during that same four-day period. So many people avoid volunteering and let the chips fall where they may.

Today went well. It actually started off lousy, but as always I got a lot of help from everybody else. I think most of the experienced employees see me as a big, dumb, slow kid who tries his damnedest every moment of the day - which is a far cry from how a lot of people looked at me when I first started; most of them assumed I was a spy for management. But I think it helps that I do run my ass off every day. I think they've noticed that.

Actually, no matter what I think about the job or how much I complain about it, the people I work with are great. They make it possible to cope. And there's a sense of shared suffering, too: we're all up against the same obstacles. I just don't have the advantage of their experience and the skill that comes with it.

So I made it through day one. In the end, it felt something like practice. Tomorrow my true rotation begins. And after that, who knows? At least the money is good.

*Title reference: From "Five To One" by The Doors. "Five to one, baby, One in five, No one here gets out alive."

Monday, November 26, 2007

Decorating

I stayed over at my house last night and started decorating today. I have the red bows and some of the garland up on the front porch, an artificial Poinsettia in the front window, and I have the tree covered with 180 multi-colored LED lights and some small crystal ornaments a friend gave me last year. (Last year I had 120 multi-colored and 60 white LED lights, but I decided I don't like the white LED lights on the tree.) I still have quite a way to go. Then again, I think last year I was adding ornaments until well after Christmas.

To see what the house and tree looked like last year, go here.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Traveling

I'm visiting some friends today. I did some decorating at my mom's house today, though I couldn't locate some of the decorations that I bought before Thanksgiving, which were apparently cleaned up for Thanksgiving. Tomorrow I'll decorate my house for Christmas, and mail at least one present to a friend overseas. I'm hoping it will make it to her by Christmas.

Still haven't designed this year's card. We'll see what I come up with.

Back to work on Tuesday, one day early. The extra money will be nice.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Life In Hell 2008 Fun Calendar

I tried to order the Life In Hell 2008 Fun Calendar from Amazon.com several weeks ago. I was told that while it had been released on October 2, 2007, it was currently backordered, and would not be available for several weeks. Today I received notice that it was not available at all.

That's just great. So instead of spending the intervening weeks looking for the calendar from an alternate source, now I have waited to the point that it may not be available anywhere anymore.

Life In Hell, in case you're not familiar with it, is a weekly comic strip drawn by Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons. Life In Hell preceded The Simpsons by several years, and The Simpsons are basically humanized, toned-down versions of his Life In Hell rabbits, who have occasionally made momentary cameos on the TV show.

I have a long history with this calendar. Since I don't live in an area where the Life In Hell weekly strip is published, the calendars and the books are my only way of accessing Life In Hell on paper. Eight years ago my search for the calendar led me to Allison Hanna's Life In Hell fanpage. A few years later, after Allison's bulletin board page had been "acquired" by Yahoo in a manner which stole control of the site from her and the site was subsequently infested by spammers and spam-bots, I received a copy of the calendar from the personal stash of a person at Bongo Comics in exchange for working to get the Life In Hell Yahoo fanpage rebooted as a moderated, spam free-version. (I am one of the moderators. Allison is the site owner and primary moderator.)

I have bought this calendar from Waldenbooks, from mall kiosks, from Amazon, from Browntrout, and from Calendars.com. I have chased it all over the internet. I'm currently seeing release dates ranging from October 2 through November 28, but I'm not seeing any retailer who is saying "I have this calendar and will sell you a copy." I've posted a message at the Life In Hell Yahoo site requesting information. Maybe this year I won't be able to get one. Who knows?

UPDATE, 11/26/07: From my contact at Acme Features Syndicate:
I am in the process of finding out who else is distributing the calendar and will post the info just as soon as I receive it. The irony is that we have THOUSANDS of calendars in a warehouse - just sitting there!!!
By the way, I have modified some of the settings on the Life In Hell Yahoo Group so you don't need to be a member to read the messages that are posted there. But if you are interested in Life In Hell, please sign up for the group. Mention that you read about it here!

UPDATE 11/27/07: From the same contact:
Great News!!! A big order of calendars shipped to Amazon yesterday - so they should be available soon!! Thanks for your patience!!!
Hooray! Now, I'd better make sure I get myself a copy!

UPDATE 12/1/07: Amazon is finally selling these calendars for real!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Holiday reruns: Rules for Holiday Shopping

I'm getting ready to make my Roast Turkey Soup. The bones are roasting in the oven, and in a little while they'll go into a pot to begin a lengthy simmer. Taking a tip from Mr. Food, I also saved some of the drippings from the turkey roaster pan, and after I've skimmed off the congealed fat these will also be added to the soup.

Just one day of work, but I'm pretty wiped out. Quite a few people did work yesterday - triple time is pretty appealing. Not appealing enough to the guy who was running my three machines, though, who bugged out after the day was little more than half over. I wonder if my three systems are considered particularly problematic and difficult? I have nothing to compare them to, so I don't know.

I was working today, so I missed out on all the Black Friday shenanigans. I don't even know how much shopping I'll be doing this year. I have an idea for a fairly unique home-made gift, but it may quickly turn out to be very expensive. But anyway, here once again are my Rules for Holiday Shopping.

(Some people have found these a bit Grinchy and mean-spirited. But I'm sure everyone will find something that they can relate to on this list.)


This was originally posted on November 19, 2005. (The post was allegedly a "Part 1", but I haven't come up with a Part 2 yet!)

Some rules for shopping this holiday season

I was out doing a little early Christmas shopping yesterday and tonight, and I noticed I wasn't the only one. The Christmas shopping season has definitely begun. To make the Christmas shopping experience a little more pleasant*, here are a few rules I've derived over the years:

1. Please control your children. The time to take care of this one is well before you go out to the Mall. Teaching your children how to behave in public is something that you should have been working on from the day they were born. Once you're out there, don't think you can figure out on the spot how to rein in your children when they have decided to play "tag" through an entire store. And there is a corollary to this one:

2. Please discipline your children, but not here. Yes, it is important that your children know how to behave, but again, the time to instruct them in this is long before you ever set foot in the store. Do not decide to discipline them in the middle of a store or the middle of a crowded Mall walkway. If you are having a problem with your kids, remove them from the store, take them home, and sort it out there.

3. Don't be rude. Few things piss me off more than rudeness in public to total strangers. This includes the use of obscene language in front of kids. Don't piss me off. (That should probably be rule #1, and actually summarizes all the other rules.)

4. Please do not have joyous reunions with long-lost friends in the middle of a walkway. So you haven't seen so-and-so in years? Great! So they're looking good? Fantastic! So you really need to get together sometime and catch up with each other? Super! Now, would you mind stepping off to the side? I'm trying to shop.

5. Please do not engage in conversation circles. A conversation circle is a fascinating human geometric structure created when three or more people meet in the middle of a walkway and decide to talk. If it's just two people, they tend to stand face to face, about 24 to 36 inches apart. (This is true in the U.S.; there was a study a while back that shows that this distance, and the likelihood of physical contact, varies from country to country.) Three people will form a triangle with each person about 18 - 24 inches apart, shoulder to shoulder. Four people will form a diamond, five people a pentagon, with the shoulder-to-shoulder distance decreasing but the diameter of the construct always increasing. I once saw a conversation circle made of about 12 people, all standing shoulder to shoulder, forming an impenetrable circle about ten feet across in the middle of a walkway. People going in every direction had to squeeze around the people in the conversation circle, who were blissfully unaware of the existence of anyone other than themselves. Which brings us to the next rule:

6. You are not the only person in the world. Some people slip into solipsism while shopping. They will stand in the middle of an aisle, oblivious to the fact that other people are trying to navigate the aisle with their shopping carts. You are not the only shopper in the store, nor even the most important shopper. I am. Which brings us to the next rule:

7. Get out of my way. There are many different types of shoppers. The two extremes are the Saunterers and the Guided Missiles. These roughly correspond to "gatherers" and "hunters". In a Mall, Saunterers will move slowly and aimlessly, apparently waiting for inspiration to strike them, or perhaps waiting for the drugs to wear off. Guided Missiles know exactly what they want and where they have to go to get it. They move with determination and speed, which doesn't always work well in a Mall walkway jammed with Saunterers. The Guided Missiles will weave in and out of the Saunterers, who are often known to come to complete stops for no readily apparent reason. I am a Guided Missile, and a big one at that. Get out of my way, and we'll all be happier. And finally...

Special rule for retailers: Baby, it's cold outside.
This is especially true in regions like Northeastern Pennsylvania where temperatures can get painfully cold during the Christmas shopping season. People shopping indoors need to dress for the weather outdoors. That means hats and scarves and heavy coats. So unless your store has a heated indoor parking lot, or offers changing rooms and lockers or a coat check room, please do not heat your establishment to make everybody toasty and warm. This may be great for employees, but it will tend to make shoppers grouchy and overheated. And sweaty. And smelly. I can smell them. If your store or Mall is full of smelly sweaty people, I'm gettin' out of there. And I don't want to walk out of your sweltering hot store into the freezing cold air. That will also piss me off.

So, see? Very simple rules that, if we all follow them, will make me happy this holiday shopping season. And when I'm happy, it's a better shopping experience all around.

*More pleasant for me, that is. But trust me, you want me to be happy when I'm out amongst the crowds.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving thanks

The turkey is in the oven, my sister is en route*, and the house is semi-presentable. In seven and a half hours I should be in bed - tomorrow is a work day, the last of this rotation. (I go back to work one day early next rotation, doing overtime on Tuesday. Five twelve-hour days in a row that are really more like eighteen- or nineteen-hour days, all told. That should be a lot of fun come next Saturday - and I'll probably be mandated for one or more days of overtime during those four days off, too. )

I have a lot to be thankful for. My family, for putting up with me in good times and bad. My friends, too, both the ones I know and interact with in person and the ones I know and interact with online, all of whom I hope to someday meet in person. My blog, and the internet community of bloggers that I've tapped into, which have kept me sane - and possibly kept me alive - through some of the most difficult times in my life. Even my job.

My job. It's not the job I want, it's not the job I thought I would have right now. It is generally recognized by all who do it as the most frustrating job any of us have held, a job where success is determined partly by skill, partly by experience, but mostly by luck, a job where the amount of effort you put into it is inversely related to the results you get out of it - the harder you try, the worse things get, until maximum effort results in guaranteed failure. But it's better than being unemployed. It pays the bills, and allows me to keep my grandmother's house in the family, and lets me do things like buy my mom a new television (hers died a few weeks ago) and a new oven (hers died in February, two weeks before I lost my job, and we had been making do with just the rangetop until the week before last.) I'm even thankful for my employer, which hired me back six months after they eliminated my old job, and allowed me to retain my old seniority and benefits.

I'm thankful for Toyota for making the 1996 Tercel, which even after 280,000 miles still gets 35-40 mpg (depending on air temperature) on the highway, and has provided reliable, comfortable, safe, and economical transportation all these years.

I'm thankful for everyone I have ever known and every experience I have ever had. They have all become a part of the tapestry of my my life. Remove one thread, and the tapestry begins to unravel...but that is a topic for another post.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

*Not quite. The phone just rang again. I guess dinner will now be more like 5:00 or 6:00. I may need to slice off a few chunks of turkey to make tomorrow's lunch before we actually sit down to eat dinner.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Holiday reruns: Roast Turkey Soup!

This time I'm posting this before the holiday. Don't throw away the bones from your Thanksgiving turkey! You can use them to make this delicious soup!

This recipe was originally posted on November 28, 2005.

Ingredients:
Bones of one turkey (leg, thigh, and wing bones are probably sufficient, but I threw in everything)
Water
Carrots
Celery
Sprigs of parsley
Salt
Whole black peppercorns
Whole cloves of allspice
Dark turkey meat
Noodles
Canned corn kernels (optional)

1. Remove meat from bones. Roast the bones. (I have no idea what this means, but I was told that it is the secret of this soup. So I put the bones in a foil-lined pie tin, covered them over with foil, and put them in a 400 degree oven for about a half hour. Then I turned off the heat and let the bones sit in the cooling oven until I was done doing whatever I was doing.)

2. Put water in stockpot. How much water? I dunno. How much soup do you want?

3. Add bones. Turn on heat. You are going to be slowly bringing this water to a boil.

4. Clean carrots, maybe two of them. Slice however you like. It won't matter much, because they will have lost their carrot-ness - their taste, their texture, their flavor, their vitamins - by the time the soup is done. Add them to the stockpot.

5. Ditto on the celery. This stuff is basically going to make the soup stock and is donating its flavor. By the time you're done, you'll have a hard time identifying anything that had once been celery.

6. Add sprigs of parsley, fresh if you can get them. Tear them up a bit - you will be able to identify them later on, and you want to get some in each bowl of soup.

7. Add salt. Not too much, maybe two tablespoons (assuming you've filled your stockpot about 2/3 full with water.) You can always add more salt later.

8. Add peppercorns and allspice, maybe a tablespoon of each. Less if you are weak and cowardly.

9. Gradually bring to a boil. But just to a boil.

10. Reduce heat once the soup begins to boil. Simmer on low heat for 1 1/2 - 2 hours.

11. During the simmering process be sure to scoop off any floating globs of fat or scum (my grandmother called it shummy) from the top and edges of the pot. (This won't be as much of an issue as it would be for chicken soup, which uses the same basic recipe but uses uncooked chicken as the meat. The turkey bones have already had much of the fat cooked off of them.) Be careful not to scoop out all the parsley.

12. Taste. Add salt if necessary.

Remember, your flavor is coming from the marrow of your bones. The salt and spices and vegetables add to it, but the marrow is the real source.

13. After you've decided it's soup, or very nearly so, add the dark meat. This will be very stringy, so you may want to cut it into short pieces first, or keep it in very large chunks.

Scoop out into bowls, being careful to avoid giving anybody any of the smaller bones from the ribs or the vertebrae. (You may want to just stick to legs and thighs and maybe wings. That should be plenty for your soup.) Add noodles and, if desired, corn. (The corn adds some interesting variations of texture and taste to the soup. Plus, if you have leftover corn from Thanksgiving, it's a great way to get rid of it.)

One interesting aspect of this soup: about an hour after having it, you will want it again. And an hour after that...and an hour after that... It pays to make a lot of soup at once.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The return of mhryvnak.net!

After a far-too-long hiatus, the sarcastic and witty insights of mhryvnak.net are back! Just take note: the actual address is http://mhryvnak.net/blog/ .

Check it out, and join me in welcoming one of NEPA's funniest bloggers back to the blogosphere!

Holiday reruns: The Littlest Turkey!

(I'm putting this up a little earlier this year, so you can print it out tomorrow and practice before you read it to the little children of your families while they eagerly await Thanksgiving dinner. Tomorrow: A recipe for Thanksgiving leftovers!)

The Littlest Turkey was originally posted November 16 (Part 1) and 17 (Part 2 and Conclusion), 2005, and was originally posted complete in one post on November 24, 2005.


THE LITTLEST TURKEY
by
D.B. Echo

Once upon a time there was a farm where turkeys lived. All of them were young and plump, big and strong and proud. All of them except one. He was smaller than all the other turkeys. He was called the Littlest Turkey.


The Littlest Turkey wanted to run and play with the other turkeys, but they didn't want to play with him. "Go away, Littlest Turkey," they would say. "Come back when you've gotten bigger."

But the Littlest Turkey was sure he was as big as he was going to get. He tried to eat as much as he could, but he never seemed to get as big and plump as the other turkeys. And he knew that unless he got big and plump like the other turkeys, he would never get to go to the Laughter House.

The Laughter House was a wonderful place. The Littlest Turkey had never been in there. He knew that only the big and plump turkeys would get to go inside the Laughter House. He had seen them go in once, and had heard their squawks and gobbles of laughter for a little while. It must be wonderful in there, the Littlest Turkey thought. All those turkeys go in to laugh, and none of them had ever come out again. How much fun they must be having!

The Littlest Turkey decided that, big and plump or not, he would get into the Laughter House the next time they let the turkeys in.

*********


THE LITTLEST TURKEY

Part 2
by
D.B. Echo

The weather started getting cooler, and the leaves on the trees started to change colors. All the turkeys knew that soon it would be time for the biggest holiday of the year, Turkey Day.
"Just before Turkey Day is when they take the big and plump turkeys into the Laughter House," thought the Littlest Turkey. "But this time I'm going to get in there, too!"

It wasn't long before the big day came. All of the big and plump turkeys lined up to go into the Laughter House. The Littlest Turkey waited near the entrance of the Laughter House, then squeezed in between two very big and plump turkeys. No one noticed him because he was so little.

The Laughter House was dark inside, and there was a sort of moving sidewalk there that was taking turkeys into another room, where he could hear gobbles and squawks of laughter. One by one the turkeys hopped up to ride the sidewalk. The Littlest Turkey hopped up, too.
The turkey in front of him, whose name was Tom, turned around. "Go away, Littlest Turkey," he said. "Come back when you are bigger."

"Yes, go away," said the turkey behind him, whose name was also Tom. "They do not want little turkeys at the Market. Only big and plump ones."

"No," said the Littlest Turkey. "I want to go to the Market with you." He had never heard of the Market, but he realized that it must be even better than the Laughter House.

A Man spotted the Littlest Turkey. "Go away, Littlest Turkey," he said. "Come back when you are bigger."

"Oh, please, Mr. Man," said the Littlest Turkey. "I do so want to go to the Market with the other turkeys."

"Very well," said the Man. "We've got a quota to meet, anyway."

The Littlest Turkey rode the sidewalk into the other room. He wondered what things would be like at the Market.

*********


THE LITTLEST TURKEY
Conclusion
by
D.B. Echo

The Littlest Turkey was cold. He was colder than he ever remembered being before. But then again, it was hard to remember much since they had chopped his head off.

He was in a case with the other turkeys, the big and plump turkeys. Turkey Day was coming soon, and people were coming to the Market to pick turkeys to take home.

They always seemed to want the big and plump turkeys. One time a little girl had seen him in the case. "Mommy, mommy, look at the little turkey," she said. "I want to take home the littlest turkey."

"No, dear," her mother said. "We are having many people over for Thanksgiving. We need a big, plump turkey."

One by one the other turkeys left the Market to go home with people. Turkey Day was coming soon, and people were taking away more and more of the big and plump turkeys. But no one wanted the Littlest Turkey.
Finally, the day before Turkey Day came, and the Littlest Turkey found himself all alone in the case.

"How sad," he thought. "No one wants to take me home."

It was late in the day, and the Manager was about to close down the Market for the night. Suddenly a Man came into the store.

"I have a coupon," he said, "for a free turkey. Do you have any left?"

"You're in luck," said the Manager. "I have one left." He showed the Man the Littlest Turkey, all alone in the case.

"It's a little small," the Man said. "But I guess beggars can't be choosers. Besides, it's just me and my wife this year. A little turkey might be just what we need."

The Manager took the Littlest Turkey out of the case and traded him to the Man for the coupon he was holding. "Happy Thanksgiving!", he said to the Man.

"I'm not going to be left behind for Turkey Day," thought the Littlest Turkey happily as the Man put him in the trunk of his car. "I'm so happy. But I'm so cold." He rolled around a little as the car pulled out of the parking lot. "I sure hope I'm going someplace warm."

THE END

Monday, November 19, 2007

Scenes from a snowfall, Part 2

The snow continued all day Sunday and all night into midday Monday. There was a very unreal sense to it. Even as I was clearing the snow away, I kept thinking, Wow, is this what it's gonna be like when it actually snows later on?

Here are pictures I took today:


Here is the last rose of the season, completely coated with snow. The rose can be seen on the lower left.

The view from inside an Oak tree, looking up.

Japanese Red Maples actually do change color in the Fall from their usual rich burgundy to a bright crimson. The leaves look really nice against the black bark and white snow.

The view from beneath the trees

Evergreen berries

Snow on the Christmas tree, with a Turkey on a stick

Yellow Maples on the Yellow Brick Road. Note how the trees on the right side of this road have lost all their leaves.

This little brick road between two cemeteries is one of my favorite subjects for paintings and photographs.
(a painting based on one of the photos from the original post)

The wall in front of the ruins of Skatarama.

Well, back to work I go. Get ready for some Thanksgiving holiday reruns!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Scenes from a snowfall

It snowed a little last night. Actually, it's still coming down. Not a lot, but enough to get some photos.
Rose Hips with Swing

(Dang, I need to repaint that shed next Summer.)

Christmas Tree with Japanese Red Maple

Not really a Christmas Tree, I think, just a shrub I decided to shape into one. Or maybe it is one. I dunno. My brother bought them about fifteen years ago, maybe he remembers what they are.

Christmas Tree with Front Steps

Snow Angel

Melanie's back! MELANIE'S BACK!

Two years to the day since I announced I was adding a link to her blog to my sidebar, I have discovered that Melanie has resumed blogging on Hyperextended Joints! She actually resumed last Monday, ending a ten-month hiatus.

Melanie's blog was always a fun read. I look forward to frequent updates once again! And I'm so glad she's not dead!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Farewell to wallflower.nu

(Note: I was supposed to be travelling this weekend, but my mom is pretty sick, so I had to cancel my plans.)

Well, it happened, right on schedule. Camilla Henrikke's wallflower.nu is gone. Dead. Kaput.

I have explained in the past that wallflower.nu was the first blog I ever read regularly. All that, and what the site meant to me, is detailed elsewhere.

But fear not. Camilla is not gone, nor is her blog. She now blogs at violentheart.net, and has been since the beginning of October. If you haven't checked it out yet, you definitely should!

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Writers' Strike and the future of the entertainment business

I've worked in the DVD industry since before there were such things as DVDs. Back in one frantic week in 1995 or so I created some of the reports and did some of the analysis for my company's rep at one of the earliest high-level meetings of the industry heads to try to resolve the format war that was threatening to have two different and incompatible versions of digital video released to the market - much like what we are now seeing with HD-DVD and Blu-Ray.*

DVD jumped the shark a few years ago. In the early days, people were eager to replace their old videotape movie libraries with the new technology, with its superior picture and sound quality. With CDs this replacement of old technology - records, tapes, 8-tracks - with the new took over ten years; with DVDs it took only about five. After that the question was, what next? New releases were still coming out, but at a rate of a few dozen each year most consumers were likely to find only a handful of new releases they would want to spend hard currency on. And you could only re-sell the same movie, repackaged as a Director's Cut, an Extended Version, a Special Edition, an Ultimate Edition, and a stripped-down no-frills Bargain Bin Edition, so many times to the same consumer.

TV series filled the void. Chapelle's Show wasn't the first TV show to be released on DVD, but it clearly demonstrated the power of consumer desire: from what I have heard, more people bought the Season 1 DVD than had actually watched Season 1 on TV. At first only big-name, high-demand TV shows got the DVD treatment: Sex In the City, The Sopranos, Star Trek, The Simpsons. Now everything from F-Troop to Rat Patrol is getting the DVD treatment. And consumers are gobbling up the discs as fast as they can.

Back in 2000 or so there was a major push to market the next generation in musical quality: DVD-Audio. The music you knew and loved, remastered for maximum quality, re-recorded at a vastly higher bitrate, and pressed onto a new format of disc incompatible with both your old CD player and your basic DVD player. And to fully appreciate the sound quality, you would need to construct a $50,000 sonically isolated acoustically optimized listening studio in your house to go with your new $500 DVD-Audio player, $500 receiver/tuner and $1200 high-end speakers.

In the meantime, millions of mp3s - highly-compressed, low-bitrate, low-quality audio files - were being downloaded for free each day from the Internet. And this was back in the day when both connections and computers were much, much slower than they are today. Given the option of downloading a crappy but listenable version of the latest hit song online for free or making the investment required for the total audiophile experience of DVD-Audio, consumers voted overwhelmingly with their mouse buttons.

The music studios eventually sued Napster. Kazaa was seeded with viruses disguised as downloadable songs. iTunes came along. But the damage was done. The CD industry contracted dramatically, and now consumers are much more likely to get their music from a pay-per-download store than from the local record shop.**

Video is facing the same fate now. For the longest time bandwidth, connection speed, and computer speed were all limiting factors in the ability to watch high-quality video online. But these days many consumers have broadband connections and faster computers, so the elements are in place for computers to replace televisions as the primary means of viewing video.

Studios were slow to recognize and exploit this. For the longest time most of the videos of TV programs available online were illegal postings to YouTube and bittorrent sites that allowed, for example, viewers in Australia to see what had happened in this week's episode of "Prison Break" mere hours after their American counterparts. NBC recognized the consumer demand early on and, jointly with Fox, established a service where consumers could legally watch their favorite shows online.

The DVD industry is on the threshold of a contraction much like the one experienced by the CD industry in the early years of this century. Though DVD sales are still fairly strong, mostly due to the popularity of TV series on DVD, it is clear that the future of video sales to consumers is online.*** The studios know it, and are taking steps to sue the asses off of anyone who is trying to give away for free what they justly feel they have a right to profit from.

Yet these same studios claim that they really have no idea how much money can come from online sales, and therefore do not want to make any commitments to share these allegedly non-existent profits with the writers responsible for their creation.****

Here are two videos that allow the studio heads to make the Writers Union's points for them. The first one is one I first saw on Adam Felber's Fanatical Apathy. He did not participate in its creation - though he wishes he had.


The second video I first saw on Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy. As regular readers of his blog know, "Bad Astronomy" is the name of his blog, but not a limitation on the scope of his blog. He covers topics that range over all his interests, from skepticism to politics and the separation of church and state. Here is the video, written by the writers of the much-missed Daily Show - and featuring a cameo by one of The Daily Show's newest stars.


Unsurprisingly, there is now a blog about the strike, written by several strike captains. This is the website referenced at the end of each of the previous visits. I haven't read through it yet but I will, to see if there's anything I can do to lend more than just moral support to the cause.

http://unitedhollywood.blogspot.com/


*The company's rep, the scion of the family that had founded the company, who spearheaded and drove our company's involvement in the new technology, was eventually squeezed out by a new CEO appointed by the corporation that had purchased the company a few years earlier. I went on from my position as a statistician and analyst to become a DVD Asset Manager, working directly with the studios to determine the content and layout of their DVD projects. I now operate a DVD press. Life is funny sometimes.

**I had to fight the urge to write this as "than to drive downtown in the rain, 9:30 on a Tuesday night, just to check out the late-night record shop."

***In my old job we were the ones who would receive the assets from the studios and rework them into a digital format that could then be authored onto a DVD. I argued back in 2000 that we would be the last department left standing in the company, because after the consumer desire to purchase round shiny things had waned we would still be able to compress assets into digital formats that could be sold directly online. In the final weeks in my position in the beginning of this year I had exhumed this argument and tried to encourage the powers-that-be to let us branch out into authoring the formats of the future. Now I make round shiny things for a living. Life, as I said in an earlier footnote, is funny sometimes.

****Hollywood accounting is perhaps the greatest publically-tolerated criminal activity this side of war profiteering. Virtually any property can be shown to have made any profit you like, or no profit at all, or even a loss, depanding on how the studios choose to look at the numbers. Even the biggest Hollywood blockbuster can be shown to have failed to break even by skillful manipulation of the financial figures. Still, it's slightly more ethical than the accounting practices used in the music industry, where artists are routinely sucked dry and robbed blind - at their own expense. Perhaps when Congress is done delving into baseball it can take a look at these issues.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Three On Third

NEPA Blogger Mike Burnside of Late Night Meanderings will be having an exhibition of his photographs at Marquis Art & Frame, 122 South Main Street in Wilkes-Barre, from November 16 through December 29. The exhibition is called "Three On Third" and showcases Mike Burnside's photographs alongside paintings by Allison Maslow and Beverly Jean Johnston. There will be a reception on Friday, November 16 from 5 to 8 PM. Plan to attend!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Poop Cake

I mentioned a while back that my friends and I have an annual All Souls' Day gathering dinner in memory of our deceased animal friends. Due to scheduling conflicts we actually didn't get together until Friday, November 2nd. After a fine dinner at the Amber Indian Restaurant in Moosic (I had Lamb Tikka Masala) the highlight of the evening made its appearance: the Poop Cake.

Yes, it's supposed to look like a used litterbox. It was a chocolate cake (made from an eggless recipe) topped with crushed vanilla Oreo cookies and artfully formed Tootsie Rolls. The key, as with so much fine food, was in the presentation, which in this case consisted of an ultra-realistic arrangement of the shaped Tootsie Rolls (the person who made this cake has owned many cats, and has much experience with litterboxes) and the use of a foil pan which fit precisely into a plastic litterbox.

Maybe it's because I haven't had much of an appetite since I started working again. Maybe it's because the chocolate cake and crumb topping brought to mind my grandmother's Shoo Fly Cake, and each bit presented a bit of cognitive dissonance as I was expecting molasses and getting chocolate. Maybe it was something else. But for some reason, I found myself unable to finish my piece of cake. Which happened to be one without a shaped Tootsie Roll on it.

Mmmm, Shoo Fly Cake. Gotta find the recipe for that and try it out in our new oven...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Norman Mailer interview

A while ago Jen from Jennifer D. Wade Journal put up an invitation for suggestions for names for a dead pool, a competition where people come up with lists of people they think will die in the coming year. Although he wasn't on my first list of suggestions, Norman Mailer was one that I submitted. And now he's dead.

In the days since his death I've learned more about Norman Mailer than I knew while he was living. For example, he was not a famous playwright who was once married to Marilyn Monroe (that was Arthur Miller, who died in 2005.) He also did not found People for the American Way (that was TV producer Norman Lear.) And, just for the heck of it, he also did not write The Goodbye Girl (that was Neil Simon.)

No, he was an American writer of some stature, but unfortunately one that I have not read. There is a copy of Harlot's Ghost downstairs, one of the many, many used and discounted books my father bought in the days after his stroke but before encroaching Alzheimer's robbed him of his independence. Maybe someday I'll read it.

I caught an interview with Norman Mailer from 1991 on NPR's Fresh Air yesterday. I was surprised by how much his tone of haughty arrogance tempered by the obviousness of his talent reminded me of a certain aspiring writer I know - perhaps if I ever re-establish contact with her (she has not posted a new blog post in several weeks, and my calls and e-mails are not being returned) I'll be able to direct her here. And his account of riding an ego roller coaster as he went from Harvard (where he excelled) to a stint in the U.S. Army (where he felt incompetent) reminded me a lot of my current situation.

Give the interview a listen. Maybe it'll inspire you to pick up something he's written, too.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Spent

I have expended my Blogging Energy Units for the day. I did this by doing these things:

- Responded to an e-mail which may be very very important to me. My reponse was somewhat complex and full of references and links.
- Checked a handful of blogs for updates.
- Left a comment on the site of someone whose blog I haven't linked to yet. Maybe someday.
- Left a comment on this post on Tiffany's site.
- Talked with some friends I haven't talked to in several weeks. Got an update on their lives.
- Chatted online with another friend.

And now it's 9:00, and I haven't made my lunch yet. Goodnight.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veterans Day

Eighty-nine years ago today The War to End All Wars officially came to an end.

The Great War did not end all wars. Today the United States is manufacturing Veterans at a prodigious rate, and like most aspects of Bush's Discretionary War, there really is no long-term plan for them.*

A recent report stated that veterans make up 26% of the homeless population, though they only make up 11% of the overall U.S. population. Existing Veterans Administration resources are overtaxed. While the care that is given in VA hospitals is often excellent - my father spent several weeks in "respite care" at our local VA, and I was quite impressed with the care he and the other vets I met received - requirements for admission to a VA hospital are quite stringent and require a high degree of physical or mental disability. The existing system simply is not capable of dealing with the number of physically and mentally wounded veterans returning. Yet in discussions of the continuing costs of the war, veterans' care often is not even taken into consideration.

Whoever inherits Bush's mess on January 20, 2009 will need to deal with this problem. Is anyone even talking about it? Does anyone have a plan to deal with it?


*I honestly believe that the plan as originally conceived by the President and his inner circle involved Jesus showing up some time ago and leading the Forces of Light to victory in Babylon. The fact that this has not yet happened has probably led to some consternation in the White House.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Heynabonics

If you have ever lived, worked, or gone to school in Northeastern Pennsylvania, you'll understand this. If you're a fan of the U.S. version of The Office, particularly if you participated in the recent The Office Convention in Scranton, you may appreciate being able to add another layer to your experience. Here, by way of Jennifer D. Wade's site, is a short film about newcomers to the area being given a crash course in the local patois, here dubbed "Heynabonics." (Pay particular attention to the proper pronunciation of "Nanticoke", so you can ask directions from locals when you decide to visit me.)



I wonder if we can convince John Webster to post some classic Daniels & Webster bits, including the song The Heyna Family, to his blog or the Rock 107 site!

Friday, November 09, 2007

An afternoon of minor annoyances

I took a very long time to get my butt in gear today. I didn't really accomplish anything significant (other than the one thing that I'm not going to mention, because it was horrible and disgusting and would have been less horrible and disgusting if I had dealt with it a week or so ago) until 2:00 in the afternoon, which is when I went outside and trimmed some hedges flanking our front steps into lovely conical Christmas Tree shapes - which took five, maybe ten minutes, tops. Thoroughly exhausted from this exertion, I retired to the computer and the Internet for a while and then took a shower and got ready to go out.

I had three major goals today:
  • Get my tires rotated.
  • Get my oil changed.
  • Get gas.
When I got in my car I discovered that my tire rotation was not due for another 1500 to 2000 miles. which was some good news, since this takes an hour or more. Then I found my $3 off coupon for Jiffy Lube, which was also good.

I pulled up at Jiffy Lube at 4:53 and they looked closed. But this was not so. They got my car in and changed the oil in pretty much record time.

From there I went to a Dollar Store (Dollar Tree) where I bought napkins, and then to Country Junction, where I bought nothing. Target, a copy of Elf for $10; Circuit City, nothing; Party City, nothing, though I did make a note to stop there for candy alternatives next Halloween.

It was while pulling up to Circuit City that I resolved to make a purchase. I was going in there because I was looking for a copy of David Gilmour's new DVD, Remember That Night - my brother and nephew had seen bits it when they were in a big-box electronics store, and they decided they wanted it. A quick phone call as I was walking into the store revealed that this had been at Best Buy, not Circuit City.

But the thing that made me decide to make a purchase was hearing The Flight of the Conchords on the NPR interview show Fresh Air.

A little background. Up until about twenty-four hours ago I hadn't really heard of The Flight of the Conchords. Well, maybe a little, here and there. But they hadn't really registered until I saw the videos Tiffany had included in yesterday's post on If I Were Queen of the World. And then I was hooked.

Today I went through the Best Buy ad and saw that the season 1 DVD of The Flight of the Conchords was on sale for $19.99. I hemmed and hawed. Did I really want to buy another DVD I might never watch? I wasn't sure.

So when I got into the car after leaving Target I was musing on this very issue. Should I , or shouldn't I? If only I had some sort of sign. I switched on the radio...and there they were. They were singing "You're So Beautiful", and I came in right on the line that I had quoted back to Tiffany last night:

You're so beautiful
like a tree
or a high-class prostitute...

OK, that did it. I was going to buy this DVD. Particularly because I have it on good authority that knowing some of these songs could very well be the key to getting laid.

I decided I would buy the disc at Best Buy rather than Circuit City, because I have a membership card at Best Buy but not in Circuit City. Also, I had seen the disc in the Best Buy ad, and didn't even see it in the store in Circuit City.

Best Buy had other ideas.

In a nutshell, my Best Buy adventure:
- Couldn't find FotC disc on my own.
- Asked a clerk, who helpfully offered to find a clerk who could help me.
- Waited. And waited. And waited.
- Found another clerk, who told me that a lot of people were in back looking for this disc. Also determined at this time that they did not have the David Gilmour DVD in stock, either.
- Got a raincheck.

Then it was off to Long John Silver's to pick up greasy, foul-tasting fish and chips for dinner. Then to Wegman's for cheap Turkey Hill Ice Cream and my free turkey, courtesy of work.

The checkout computer wouldn't let me have the turkey.

After much experimenting and rescanning, we worked out that the coupon would not work if you were using your membership card. So I finally had them ring up the rest of the order first, and the turkey separately. It worked out.

Finally, at a few minutes of eight, three hours since I had arrived at my first step on this journey, I pulled up to the gas pumps at Sam's Club, where I filled up with gasoline at $3.079/gallon - the highest price since the Katrina price spike.

Now I'm going to check all the NaBloPoMo updates today, and then I'm off to spend the night at my house - and put my 19.44 lb. turkey in the freezer there. Goodnight!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Weather notes

One of the reasons I set up a blog is to serve as a sort of weather journal. I've always meant to get a Gardener's Journal, a sort of multi-year diary where each day's page has entries for multiple years, so if you're making an entry for November 8, 2007, it goes on the same page as November 8, 2005 and November 8, 2002. (I don't know if these are made any bigger than five years. - CORRECTION: Lee Valley has one that runs for ten years.) That way you can directly compare temperatures, rainfall, and what stage you're at in the gardening cycle from one year to the next.

A blog doesn't do this as effectively. But by including a "Weather" tag, I can distill out the entries where I've talked about the weather.

So. We already know that this is the time of year for beautiful clouds. I've always thought that April and October are the prime months for sunrises, sunsets, and atmospheric optical phenomena, thanks to the changing composition of the clouds. But maybe climate change is pushing this into November.

Ditto for the peak of color on the Autumn leaves. When last I had a daytime existence, this past Saturday, some of the trees were beautifully colored, some were past peak, and others had not yet begun to change. Usually by now most of the leaves would be past peak and off the trees.

We had our first frosts last week, on October 29 and October 30. I got to experience these at 5:00 in the morning as I went to start my car.

We also had our first snow yesterday! Technically. Sort-of. Up until the time change, those of us leaving work at 6:00 PM these last few weeks would be treated, briefly, to the last moments of the sunset. With the time change, boom, it's dark when we leave - the sun had set an hour or more before. I walked out of work at about 6:10 yesterday - I tend to be very thorough with my turnover, and also use the facilities one last time before I go once my night-shift counterpart has arrived, and breezing out after 99% of my shiftmates have left beats waiting in line with a hundred other people to get out through the turnstiles and get wanded on the way out - and I was fully prepared to rage against the darkness and the night, when suddenly I was greeted by snow! Light flurries, blowing horizontally, but still - snow! It only lasted a few minutes, which was good, but it was fun to see the first snow of the season.

On the weather this morning I heard a discussion of El Niño (they opened with a clip of Chris Farley explaining that this is Spanish for "The Niño") years vs. La Niña years. Apparently we're in a La Niña year - so we can expect cold weather early on, mild weather in mid-Winter, and cold weather again after February 15 or so. As opposed to last Winter's El Niño year, when we saw our first significant snowfall on February 14. This year, I suppose we can safely assume it will not happen so early. Maybe the next day.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

To sleep, perchance to zZZzzzznorrrrk...

I was falling asleep writing last night's post. With each added link I would go to the site I was linking to, then read a bit, then start to dawdle, then drowse. I must have fallen asleep half a dozen times on the last paragraph alone.

I'm getting like that again now. But tonight, I have to haul out the garbage.

I had a dream last night that the assistant to the department manager came up to me and informed me that I had been terminated, effective the first of the month. I was very upset by this, partly because I had lost my job (again), and partly because I figured they meant the first day of November - so was I going to get paid for the days I had worked since then?

By an odd coincidence I walked in to work with the woman from my dream. I told her about the dream, and she said "Well, I really don't have that power." I then explained that she was just the messenger in the dream, and she said "Yes, that's how they'd do it."

Anyway. I just dozed off in the middle of that last sentence. Time to take out the garbage and go to bed.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

NaBloPoMo, NaNoWriMo, and We'reOnStrike,Yo

November is a special month for bloggers and writers, for various reasons.

First there was NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. Now, the notion of writing a novel in a single month seems a little...odd to me. To me, a novel is an organic thing, a creation that is grown and nourished and carefully developed and torn from the very soul of the author. Compare Frank Herbert's masterpiece Dune - which was the end product of many years of careful crafting and conceptual layering, and is a complex and multi-layered feast that can be read and re-read over and over again with new nuances and meanings being gleaned each time - to, say, Dune Messiah, which reads like a sequel that was knocked off in a hurry. So the idea of just sitting down and writing a novel from scratch in thirty days seems unlikely to produce many truly readable final products. But I could be wrong, and I definitely do not want to discourage anyone from trying to achieve this goal.

Inspired by NaNoWriMo, some brave souls have come up with the concept of NaBloPoMo - National Blog Posting Month. The idea here is to encourage bloggers to post once a day (at least) every day for the month of November. Now, some of us have been posting at least once a day every day for...well, it feels like forever, though I know I've missed a day here and there. But I didn't sign up for NaBloPoMo for two reasons: One, I'm a chronic non-joiner, and always have been. And Two, I'm planning to travel for a few days in a week and a half, and there's a real chance that I'll be unable to write a post on some of those days.

I know a handful of people who have signed up for NaBloPoMo, and two who are - or were - participating in NaNoWriMo. Anne from Almost Quintessence is in, which is a refreshing change of pace from her recent once-every-few-months schedule of postings. Ashley from Ink On Paper is trying to accomplish the goals of both NaBloPoMo and NaNoWriMo, but she has recently come to the realization that a novel that is an act of love and inspiration and effort is not something that should be rushed out in thirty days. Tiffany from If I Were Queen of the World is doing NaBloPoMo, and her friend Aimee from Aimeepalooza is on board with NaNoWriMo. Best of luck to everyone! Please visit them and encourage them to continue writing and/or blogging!

(Now, one obvious question springs to mind: why is NaBloPoMo the same month as NaNoWriMo? I'm sure someone thought this was a good idea at the time, but to me it seems that you would want to think about the people who might want to participate in both endeavors. If it were up to me, I would move NaNoWriMo to a longer month, one with 31 days - January, March, May, July, August, October or...well, maybe not December. And NaBloPoMo should be moved to February. Posting once a day for 28 days (29 in leap years) is a lot more doable than 30 days.)

And as you are probably aware, the Writers' Strike is on. Author, television writer, and blogger Adam Felber from Fanatical Apathy gives some background here and here. Check out what he's written and learn a bit more on this topic.

Oddly enough, as the first rumblings of the strike began this weekend, Adam's site went offline, and many of the regular commentors from Fanatical Apathy streamed across the border into the blog of Wait Wait Don't Tell Me host Peter Sagal. Fanatical Apathy is back online now - turns out it was a hosting glitch. Thanks for sheltering us during our refugee days, Peter!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Hey, guess what I forgot?

(I'd toss up a picture of the miniature Guy Fawkes mask that came with my deluxe V for Vendetta DVD, but I've never taken one, and I haven't got the time or the energy to take one now. So you'll just have to imagine it.)

(And if you don't get the joke of this title, go here.)

(By the way, tomorrow is election day. Get out and VOTE!)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A movie question for y'all

I was chatting with Whim from The Babblings of Whimsicalbrainpan the other day and we got on the topic of horror movies. I mentioned a movie I've been trying to track down for several years, to no avail, and we realized that perhaps if I turned the question around to the readers of this blog, somebody might know the answer. It worked before with my "Musical unanswerables" - and, coincidentally, this movie is connected to that post.

Here are the facts, as succinctly as I can put them:

  • I saw bits of this movie on the Independent Film Channel.
  • I believe I saw this movie sometime on Sunday, May 15, 2005 (the day after the last HFStival I went to.) The movie looked pretty recent.
  • The movie may be set in Baltimore.
  • The plot involves someone (a woman, I believe) digging into the mysterious history of an old hotel.
  • The hotel dates back from either the Depression or some time before when there was great hardship and famine.
  • The hotel restaurant in those days was frequented by the local elite.
  • The hotel restaurant always had plenty of fresh meat, even when there was no meat to be found anywhere else in the city.
  • I believe local disappearances of area children were connected to this hotel - and its supply of fresh meat.
  • The truth behind what had happened was a closely guarded secret among the descendants of the people involved.
  • There was at least one rotting-corpse-in-the-mirror-behind-you shot.
  • The cinematography of the movie was fairly conventional, for the most part, but the edits felt very film-schoolish. The acting was uneven - a few good performances, several atrocious ones.
Everything that I saw of this movie made me think it might be an exploration of the "facts" behind the legend of the Blair Witch, as seen in The Blair Witch Project. Lots of elements seemed to mesh, including the location and the disappearances of the children. It seemed pretty clever: during a time of starvation, the wealthy elite of a region engage in casual cannibalism, feasting upon the sweet tender children of the lower classes, and then concoct a story pinning the blame for the disappearances on an old hermit lady who lives in the woods - who is then dealt with by an angry mob. Yet aside from Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, I am not aware of any other Blair Witch movies out there.

So, how about it? Some of the "facts" I have listed above may be wrong, and may therefore be red herrings. Does anyone know of a movie that seems to fit this description?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Scenes from the Sideshow Gathering

I had dinner with some friends today, an annual All Souls' Day get-together in remembrance of dead pets, delayed a few days by scheduling conflicts. On the way home I decided to stop at the Sideshow Gathering that is being held this weekend at The Woodlands in Plains on Route 315.

I got there sometime after 9:00, I think, but just in time to see the tail end of Zamora the Torture King's routine. He had just put a six inch needle through his forearm when I got there, then pushed another through his bicep, then another from under his tongue out through the underside of his jaw.


After he had removed these needles, he proceeded to tell a version of "The Aristocrats" - the hook being that every sick, twisted, perverted act he described was an actual description of a real modern sideshow act.

There followed a brief intermission, during which time I wandered around a bit and saw this marvel of nature:
Two-Headed Turtle - ALIVE!
As the intermission drew to a close, a smallish man in top tat and tails (seen wielding a camera in the photo above) began to ask members of the audience, fellow performers, crew members, and people who had wandered over from the Tattoo Convention on the other side of the room for "memories" - physical objects from their lives. He wrote these down on a flip chart easel at the front of the stage, in front of a banner for Dr. Wilson's Memory Elixir.



The memory list. My contribution was #24, "PCV valve".
The man known as Dr. Wilson then began a presentation for Dr. Wilson's Memory Elixir, "A wholesome blend of natural extracts of thirty different herbs and root vegetables that promotes and revitalizes the capacity for learning and memory, strengthens the nerves, and effectively wards off cataleptic neuroplexy." After a spiel, he demonstrated the efficacy of said tonic: while blindfolded, he was able to name items on the list based on their numbers, and was able to give numbers for the items based on names. And then he recited the entire list, while still blindfolded, backwards. For a finale, he did an amazing version of the cups and balls trick.
The last act I saw was the "geek act", the Swami Yomahmi. He explained that he was not a "geek" in the traditional sideshow sense of "one who bites the heads off chickens", but was more in keeping with the modern sideshow definition of "a relatively unskilled and unrefined act." But more specifically, he was a geek in the sense of "one who knows too much about Star Trek, Dungeons and Dragons, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Heroes." (His knowledge of trivial details of past Sideshow Gatherings was pretty extensive, too, though I didn't get these jokes, as I was not at any of the previous Gatherings.) He started off with a "blockhead" routine, pounding a nail into his head through his nostril. He followed up with a "hypnosis" routine that involved four guys in an uncomfortably intimate proximity to each other. He ended with a "bed of nails" trick...and an upskirt photo of a lovely female volunteer from the audience.
The Swami Yomahmi, during his "Kodak Moment", when everyone in the audience is invited to take pictures. The Swami also took the opportunity to snap a quick photo.
The Sideshow Gathering continues through this Sunday. Admission is $13 but allows re-entry for the entire weekend. For more details, see the official website.

UPDATE: Go here to see Professor Jason Mundie's flickr photo album from The Sideshow Gathering 2007! If you look very carefully, you'll even see me in one of the photos of Doc Wilson!
ALSO! : Sideshow World has also posted a page of images from the Sideshow Gathering 2007!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Halos for Halloween

My first day off this rotation, which coincidentally was the first day of Hallowhog, was not as productive as I would have liked. I had planned to give blood, get an oil change, get a haircut, and then prepare for the little ghosts and goblins who would come to my house that night, demanding candy. But several days earlier I had found that my house was without dial tone, and I really wanted to get it fixed. The earliest Verizon could get to it was October 31, which worked for me, though their scheduled appointment was for sometime between 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM. I called them that morning and was able to get this narrowed to between 2:00 and 6:00 in the afternoon. Since my blood donation was scheduled for noon, I figured I would be able to squeeze in the haircut and maybe even the oil change, depending on how long the blood thing took.

I had not counted on having four or five people ahead of me at the blood center. One delay led to another, and I did not get to the actual donation part until 1:03. The donation process also took longer than usual - when I used to go there on weekends, the blood donation staff often outnumbered the donors two to one, but now the ratio was more nearly the opposite. I was not done, refreshed, and back in my car until 1:50 PM.

Just enough time to get back to the house by 2:00. I didn't expect the service guy to be there at the stroke of two, but there were things I could do around the house while I waited. I watered my plants, fired up the furnace in preparation for a furnace dump (purging the rusty water from my steam radiator system), did a few other things, and then settled in to my re-reading of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

The service tech called at 2:48 and said he would be in Nanticoke in about ten minutes. A half hour later I was beginning to get worried. It seemed that every vehicle that drove by was a service truck, but none were from Verizon - until the one from Verizon showed up.

The tech looked a lot like Toby Keith, which I suppose would have meant something if I gave a damn about Toby Keith. We got straight to business, and once he realized my old house did not have an external access box, we went straight to my cellar. While we were heading down there, he pointed out that I did not have a inside wiring service plan (idiot idiot idiot, that was something you were supposed to deal with when you set up the service!), so any repairs to my inside wiring - if it turned out to be an inside wiring problem - would be quite expensive. But after a few minutes of line testing - which required the use of a broom to clear away a few decades of cobwebs from the vicinity of the wires - he determined that the problem was in the outside lines.

He repositioned his truck on the other side of the street and ran a ladder up the pole. I sat on my rocking bench on my front porch, non-functional telephone handset in my lap, and talked with my next-door neighbor about the weather while the phone guy did his thing.

It took the better part of a half-hour for him to locate and deal with the problem - a short in the main box. But once he was done, he said that he would also be installing an outside box on my house, just to make things easier if this ever happened again. He went into my basement again and drilled through the wall, coming perilously close to one of the brackets holding my new electrical service to my house. I stayed on the outside and fed a wire to him through the newly-drilled hole.

While I waited I happened to glance up at the sky and noticed that the wispy cirrus clouds were doing remarkable things. I like to take photos of clouds to use as potential future photo references for paintings. I ran back into the house to retrieve my camera from the kitchen and snapped this photo:

Crosshatched Cirrus clouds, 10/31/07
I was most interested in the crosshatched clouds in the middle of the picture. This suggested to me that there were winds at different altitudes moving nearly perpendicular to each other. But then I noticed the rainbow-colored patch on the left.
I zoomed in on this patch. A single cloud , located above the position of the sun in the sky, was showing a halo effect - a refraction of sunlight through ice crystals that are aligned just so. But something seemed odd. The bend to the halo seemed to be away from the sun.
More photos confirmed it: this halo was definitely not forming a ring around the sun. So what was it?
By now the phone guy was back out of the house, and couldn't help but notice me standing in front of the house taking pictures of the sky. "What are you taking pictures of?", he asked. And I told him. He looked up and said, "Well, that's definitely not a sun dog. Wrong place for it." And I agreed that a parhelion would not be in such a place - of course, everybody knows that! He went to work on the box on the side of the house.
After a while, as I stood out front showing the sky to the neighbors, the phone service guy called out from the side of the house. "There's your parhelion!" Clouds had aligned themselves just right for a sun dog to appear between my house and my neighbor's house.
The halo above us gradually resolved itself into a segment of a circle which, if extended, would form a ring around the top of the sky. "Upper tangential arc!", I called out, realizing that the phone tech knew a bit about atmospheric optical phenomena. "Or circumzenithal arc! I'm not sure. I'm gonna have to look it up!"
And look it up I did, in my trusty copy of Light and Color in the Outdoors by M.G.J. Minnaert. I now believe this was the circumzenithal arc, as described in section 165 on page 218:

One of the most beautiful halo phenomena! Of fairly frequent occurrence, it is a vividly colored arc parallel to the horizon and showing the colors of the rainbow.

Closeup of the colors of the circumzenithal arc
The arc persisted for a while. It brightened at first and then faded. The geometry of the refractions was very specific: I called my mom across town, but less than a mile away she could not see it at all.

While all this was going on I remembered that my original intent was to get reference photos for paintings of clouds. But I laughed when I noticed the cloud on the right in the photo above. Here is the photo, from October 31, 2007...
...and here is the painting, from March 26, 2007, more than seven months earlier. So maybe I don't really need those reference photos after all!