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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Oil crisis

Did I ever mention that I lost my first car due to an absence of oil?

Funny story. I bought my first car, a used gray 1990 Toyota Tercel, back in 1992 so I would have a way of getting to and from work. (33.3 miles is a long way to walk twice each day.) It came with someting like 20,000 miles on it and a short list of easily-fixable problems that I identified within the warranty period.

I quickly began to heap the miles on it. But I got regular maintenance and had regular oil changes at a national chain place, which I never had a problem with despite hearing all sorts of horror stories.

But all good things must come to an end. In early 1996 my little Tercel developed a few problems I wanted to get taken care of. The third brake light, mounted in the rear windshield, had burned out. The rear-view mirror had become loose and was prone to flopping down off of its mounting. The brake pads were worn and needed replacing. Oh, and I was due for an oil change. May as well get that done, too.

I should have suspected trouble in the days following the repair. I noticed almost immediately that the third brake light was still not working. A while later I hit some rumble strips and my rear-view mirror flopped down again. I took my car back to them, indignantly, and demanded that they fix the things they had charged me to fix before. They made the repairs and apologized profusely.

As I drove off I thought What next? Will the brakes fail?

It wasn't the brakes I should have been worried about.

It was a cold day in the week leading up to Easter as I drove in to work. My car is so quiet, I thought happily as I made my commute. Too quiet. I have nearly run over several people who have stepped in front of my car in city traffic because they did not hear it. In the future, when all cars are electric, how many people will be run over because they didn't hear the car coming?

Right on cue, the noise started.

My family owned Volkswagen Beetles when I was a kid. Not the prettied-up approximations that showed up a decade or so ago, with their safety-glass windshieds and seatbelts and front-mounted engines. No, these were rough and ready little German numbers with rear-mounted engines that sounded like lawnmower engines. They made a very distinct clattering roar as they drove along.

My Tercel was suddenly starting to sound like that.

Must be a hole in the muffler, I thought, or maybe the exhaust system's come loose. This annoyed me a bit, since I had just paid a pretty penny to have the exhaust system replaced the previous December after it had fallen apart. The noise got louder as I got to work. I decided I would call the Toyota dealer a few miles from there - not the place I had had the work done, which was closer to my house - and have them look at it.

They were very worried when I described the symptoms. Very worried. "Drive in slow," they said. "And keep the RPMs down." Well, without a tachometer - Tercels are not so equipped - how the hell was I to know my RPMs?

There are two ways to get from where I work to the Toyota place. One involves the highway. The other involves a very steep hill. Under the circumstances, I decided that the highway was the safer bet.

I almost made it. I was about two miles from the Toyota place when the noise, which was now a deafening roar, reached a crescendo. And then several things happened at once.

I heard a noise like a drive shaft snapping, and then a noise like a bunch of pebbles being thrown against the inside of my engine compartment. (Tie rods, I would later learn.) I lost all power and was suddenly coasting on a busy highway with no shoulders.

Oh, and the Oil light came on.

Thanks. A little late for that.

The bottom line: my engine was all out of oil. The noise I had heard was what you hear when theres nothing left to lubricate the pistons and whatnot. The cracking was what happens when you push the drive shaft a little too far. The pebble-ish noise was what it sounds like when your engine tears itself apart from the inside. While the people at the other Toyota dealer were busy not fixing my brake light and not repairing my rear-view mirror, they were also apparently not changing my oil. Or, at least, not putting enough oil in the engine after they drained it.

Lesson learned: always check your oil level. At every fill-up and after every oil change, at least.

But lessons are sometimes forgotten.

Fast-forward twelve years, to a car - a blue 1996 Toyota Tercel - that has been frozen at just over 282,000 miles for nearly a month because of a broken speedometer. The Check Engine light has been glowing orangely for most of that time, presumably as a result of the speedometer issue.

I had an appointment to get my speedometer fixed yesterday. They were also supposed to reset the Check Engine light so we could see if it came on again, but apparently they forgot. The light was still glowing this morning when I started my commute to work. It went out after a few miles.

The Check Engine light had still been glowing on Saturday when I drove in to work. As I pulled up to the last STOP sign before our parking lot I noticed a momentary red flash on my dashboard. After I parked I looked at the darkened dash and tried to figure out which light it had been. Seatbelt?, I wondered. Maybe I tugged on the sensor as I came to a stop at the intersection?

Today the light lit up again momentarily as I was maneuvering into a parking space. The Oil light.

Oh, crap.

Nothing is worse than an Oil light. Nothing. If it comes on, you pull over to the side of the road and stop immediately. You do not keep going to wherever you're going. You do not drive to the nearest convenience store, or even to a better part of town. You stop, immediately. Failure to do so is to risk engine loss and, depending on when and where it happens, death.

But my Oil light had just winked at me. Twice. I went in to work to my new office, wrote the words "CHECK OIL!" on a piece of paper, and stuck it on top of my coat.

At the end of the day I checked my oil. I didn't see any. The dipstick was coming up nearly dry.

I need oil NOW.

I rolled downhill to a convenience store located near the building where my old department used to be housed. I popped my hood, checked my oil again, read my Owner's Manual, and went in to buy the recommended oil. 10W30. Well, they only had 10W40, and I figured better something than nothing. Carfully reaching past the containers of transmission fluid and lighter fluid, I bought two quarts - one for using, and one for a spare.

The engine drank down both quarts. I bought two more for luck. While I was filling the engine, two teenage girls who had parked their car next to mine, apparently to conduct some sort of business transaction with someone in a nearby pickup truck who, while parked, kept his engine running, asked if I needed help. With a container of oil in my left hand, an oily rag in my right, and a flashlight in my mouth, I could only laugh, and then drool slightly around the flashlight. I took the flashlight out of my mouth and explained that the only problem at this point was that I was potentially using the wrong grade of oil. They then warned me that it was possible to add too much oil to an engine, but I already knew this - didn't they see the Owner's Manual flipped open to that page and sitting on top of the acid-encrusted battery terminals? One of the girls then confided that she had recently wrecked her engine doing just that. I thanked the girls profusely for their assistance and advice, but my task was done, and the proof would come in the driving.

I didn't blow my engine on the way home. But I'll get an honest-to-goodness oil change at the first opportunity - which may be Monday afternoon. If the car lasts that long.

So, um, let that be a lesson to you. Check your oil level. You don't want to blow your engine because you ran out of oil!

I think I'll start checking again. After every fill-up, and after every oil change, at least.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The return of the databoy

The "D.B." in my nom de blog, D.B. Echo, comes from a series of jobs I held from 1993 through 1999. I started out as a Statistical Process Control Coordinator, helping to introduce that discipline to our company, and later played various roles in data collection and analysis. At one point I became part of a group of five people drawn from across the plant who were assigned the task of rolling out data collection and analysis throughout the plant. During a brainstorming session to identify potential pitfalls, one member stated the concern that the data collection responsibilities for the entire plant would be placed on our shoulders - that we would become the "databoys and datagirls for the plant."

It never got that bad. But eventually, inevitably, things changed, and data-based decision making was no longer considered as important as it once had been. In time our group of five was whittled down to one. I was the sole remaining databoy.

If you're a regular or long-time reader, you know my more recent work history: how I served as my company's DVD Asset Manager from 1999 through February 27, 2007, and how on that day I lost my job - as did with over a third of my department and hundreds of other employees. How I kicked around looking for work from then through August, and how in August I returned as a DVD Press operator at a fraction of my old pay. How grueling and physically exhausting and at times very painful this work has been.

A few weeks ago I was approached by a member of upper management whom I have known for most of my work life and was told that a data analysis position - well, more a sort of long-term special project - would likely be opening in a while, and I would be ideal for it. It was still in the planning, preliminary stages, so I shouldn't get too excited just yet. ( I didn't.)

Last week, on the first day of my four-day rotation, she approached me again with the good news: the job was approved, and I would be getting pulled off the press floor and back into the world of data analysis. The job would be Monday-Friday, 8:00-4:30, and was to start the next day, last Thursday.

Immediately warning bells started to go off in my head, and I couldn't think of why for a few minutes. Then I remembered: appointments. Having a four-days-on, four-days-off schedule is great for a lot of reasons. You can figure out what days you will be free long in advance. You can do things on your weekdays off - use the bank, go to the Post Office, make appointments with doctors and lawyers or whoever.

I had three appointments scheduled for this week's days off.

Not for me, actually. Monday was cataract surgery for my mom, on one eye only. Tuesday was a follow-up appointment. Wednesday - today - was an appointment to get my broken speedometer fixed. None of these were things that could be rescheduled easily, especially since I didn't have any free weekdays to reschedule them to anymore.

On top of that, suddenly switching from a 12-hour schedule with work scheduled for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday to an 8-hour schedule with work scheduled for Thursday and Friday only meant that I would be immediately losing 20 hours of pay, plus overtime. I've already taken a huge financial hit in the past year, and I didn't really want to take another hit in the month when the Christmas bills are coming due.

So I asked for - and was given - some accommodation. Last week was a transitional week: On Thursday and Friday I worked from 6:00 to 8:00 on the Press floor, assisting everyone else, and from 8:00 to 6:00 I worked at the new job. On Saturday I spent nearly the full 12 hours in the office and on the Press floor doing data collection and analysis and recasting some things to make them easier to understand, though I had to wait a bit in the morning to have security let me in to the secured office area. (Turns out the locks had already been reprogrammed to recognize my card, though we had been assured that this would not be done until this week.)

Tomorrow, Friday, and Saturday I will spend 12 hours each day on the new job. Sunday I will have off, and Monday I will start on the new schedule. We'll see if I stick with those hours - somehow I doubt it.

A few months as an Operator, getting my hands dirty and occasionally scarred, learning the processes from the inside out - just like in 1992-1993. Now back into data collection and analysis, just like before. What next? Who knows?

All I can say for sure is: the databoy is back.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Some thoughts on turning 40

If you're a regular reader, you're probably aware that I craft a lot of these posts ahead of time. Oh, I don't write them, and re-write them, and polish and edit them - not outside of my skull, anyway. But I come up with an idea, and mentally lay out a basic outline of how I'd like the post to go and what conclusion I'd like to draw, work out a few key phrases, and then do a little research if it's called for.

I've had at least one post completely fall apart in the writing, which is a pity, because it's one of the half-dozen or so that I've had in mind since I started this blog. I haven't given up on it yet, but I may need to outline it on paper to make sure it stays on track.

Last night I was chatting with Ashley (who is cool and wonderful and you should really be reading her blog, Ink On Paper), and I suddenly hit her with a few projected lines from this post, which at that time was to be entitled "Staring Down the Barrel of a 40". I was really just whining about where I'm at right now and disappointments in my life - materially, financially, professionally, in terms of what has happened to so many of my friendships and relationships. And she made me realize that I shouldn't be measuring my life by these things, and that many other people feel the same way - like maybe this feeling is a universal, a general dissatisfaction with how our lives are turning out.

But there is one thing I have accomplished that I am happy with. One thing that I have done that I can say I'm proud of.

Me: "So when it comes to major accomplishments in my life...well, you're reading it. That's my legacy. A blog."
Ashley: Hey, it's a great blog with lots of readers who look forward to it every day. It's entertaining, you get to speak your mind and help others weigh the facts. Don't write it off so easily. Besides the fact that it has brought you many friends, from all over.

She's right.

I am happy with this blog. And I'm even happier about all of the people I have met through it. Here's to many more years of all of us being together out here.

To all of you who have sent birthday greetings or who have just been beaming happy thoughts my way: THANK YOU! I appreciate it more than you can ever know. Thank you, all of you, for making this blog worthwhile. And thank you all for making turning 40 a little easier to take.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Sarah McLachlan: Possession

There are a few things you should not do if you are dealing with a stalker. You should not, for example, meet with them. You should not talk to them. You should not have any other interaction with them. Even your most strenuous attempts to tell them directly to leave you the hell alone will be interpreted as encouragement.

Pretty close to the top of the list is this admonishment: You should not write a song that takes its lyrics from the letters your stalker sends you.

Sarah McLachlan did just that with her song "Possession." Here are two versions of the video to this song. The first one is the Canadian version, and was directed by her*:

The second one is the American version, as seen on MTV. Sony/BMG has posted a higher-quality but non-embeddable version of this video to YouTube.

It turns out that one of the reasons you should not do this sort of thing is because of what happened to Sarah McLachlan: her stalker tried to sue her for using his words without permission or attribution. This worked out in the end, though. The stalker killed himself before his lawsuit could go forward.

Sarah has lived on, and has prospered. Today she turns forty.

Forty. Think about that. FORTY! Sarah McLachlan is forty years old! She's OLD! So OLD!!! Forty is immensely, immeasurably old! She's...she's...

...well, she's older than me, anyway.

By a day.


*This is the second video I have posted in three days that has a Salomé reference. That's kinda odd.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

COP INTERRUPTS WAKE, DEMANDS MOURNERS MOVE CARS

(Clarifications and corrections: It's not clear whether the policeman in this incident was from Dallas or Dallas Township. The event was a memorial service, not a wake. And the aneurysm did not necessarily occur while the woman was sleeping. All other information has been checked and confirmed by the person who witnessed these events.)

This is just outrageous.

It isn't my story. It's a friend's story, and she'll tell it soon. But it ticks me off enough that I want to give the story some air, too.

She was at the wake of her former boss. My friend had worked for this woman at a company that was acquired last year by another company, which then let go of large portions of its newly-acquired staff - including my friend. On December 31, they also disposed of my friend's former boss.

A little over a week ago, my friend's boss had an aneurysm in her sleep. A few days later she died. But she will live on, in the organs that were harvested from her body that will be used to save other lives. Sixteen organs. Maybe sixteen lives saved thanks to her. I didn't know you had that many harvestable organs.

Today was her wake. It was in Dallas, an area composed of rural landscape and overpriced houses. It's a pretty place, and I go there to shop sometimes - the local Agway is there, as was one of my favorite natural food stores.

The wake was crowded. Standing room only. Cars filled the church's parking lot, as well as the parking lots of several nearby businesses. A tribute, of sorts, to the woman.

Until the police showed up.

It might have been a single cop. He entered the wake and announced that there had been complaints about the parking situation, and unless some cars were moved immediately they were going to be towed.

OK. Maybe this cop didn't notice that he was at a wake, and didn't think that maybe he should behave a bit more respectfully. Maybe he had just had a long hard day of protecting the public from the worst criminal filth out there and was under a lot of stress. Maybe extenuating circumstances exist that could excuse his behavior.

Or maybe he was just a little tin god, a schoolyard bully all grown up and now carrying a badge and a gun and a chip on his shoulder with the words I AM THE LAW engraved on it.

Scumbags like this give all cops the name "pig". It may not be fair, but it's a problem the good cops should deal with. If there are any of them left.

A little old lady with breathing issues, walking with a cane, approached him. She was one of the people he had called out, demanding that she immediately move her car. She chided him for behaving inappropriately.

He responded by telling her fine, he'll just have her car towed. Then he slammed the door and left.

I'm amazed he didn't arrest her on the spot for disorderly conduct.

Maybe someone has complained about him. Maybe someone got his badge number, or his patrol car number. Maybe someone will read this and start making some inquiries. Maybe the Dallas Police will look into this matter and, after a lengthy investigation, determine that the officer was guilty of nothing more than overzealously enforcing parking laws. Or, if they should determine that some form of punishment is called for - perhaps administrative leave, with full pay and benefits - the Police union will descend upon them, demanding that the cop in question be restored to his previous position, and given a hefty raise and promotion in recognition of his bravery.

Are there any good cops left? Does anyone else have a problem with this sort of behavior?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

More music

I was doing some more poking around YouTube, looking for more videos by my favorite female Alternative musicians. While Sophie B. Hawkins doesn't quite count as Alternative, the Alternative Rock scene presented women in musical roles like nothing before or since (except, maybe, Country and/or Bluegrass.) So I went off on a jag searching for videos by these women. Some of the ones I viewed this evening:

Kate Bush - "Running Up That Hill":



Kate Bush, like REM and The Cure, really predates what became known as "Alternative Music"; her music might also be classified as "Art Rock", though its best classification is "Kate Bush." This can be thought of as the "dance" version of this video, because it features the Godlike Kate Bush dancing, dancing like she's made of water - which, in fact, she is, mostly. I couldn't find the "performance" version, which is the one I remember from 22 years ago, but this one is much better. To see more of Kate dancing, watch the video for "Sat In Your Lap" - but be prepared to lose your mind.

(On a personal note, this song is crosslinked in my memory to the Doctor Who serial "The Pleasure Hive", which was airing for the first time on my local PBS channel at the same time that this video came out. Coincidentally, some scenes from this version of the video strongly resemble scenes from the climax of that story.)

I bounced around to other videos. "Rid of Me" by P.J. (Polly Jean) Harvey - again, not the version I saw on MTV, but it gets the point across. "Bull In The Heather" by Sonic Youth - every version I could locate has atrocious sound, but, hell, Sonic Youth has a video collection out on DVD - I bought it for this video alone.

And then, of course, there is Hole.



This is Hole's dark, edgy cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Gold Dust Woman" from the movie The Crow II: City of Angels. This video helps us to remember that Courtney Love hasn't always been skanky and burned-out and scary-looking. Once she was skanky and talented and gorgeous.

And speaking of gorgeous, who is the beautiful woman dancing and singing and playing bass alongside Courtney Love? Hole aficionados will know that this song came out after bassist Kristen (or was it Kirsten? I've seen it both ways) Pfaff quit the band and died of a heroin overdose. The bassist role was picked up by the lovely Melissa Auf der Maur, who later went on to play bass for the Smashing Pumpkins after D'arcy Wretzky's departure.

(from A Billy Corgan Christmas, CMJ Magazine, December 2000)

Which led me to the final video of this entry: Smashing Pumpkins' "Stand Inside Your Love".

This is post-Pumpkins Pumpkins: D'arcy and drummer Jimmy Chamberlain were both gone; James Iha was still there, and Melissa Auf der Maur (I love her name; it means "off the wall!") on bass and some guy whose name I've never looked up on drums*. Visually and musically, it is related to the post-Jimmy pre-Melissa album Adore, as can be seen by comparing it to the video for "Ava Adore", though SIYL features a less Nosferatuesque vibe.

This song is why I rail against the dollar-a-download no-more-albums paradigm that is emerging in music. Once I made myself an MP3 compilation CD by dumping a bunch of CDs onto my hard drive and then recording all of them as one disc containing hundreds of MP3s. And one day while coming back through the Poconos on Route 80 after visiting some friends in New Jersey, I heard "Stand Inside Your Love" for the first time. What the hell is that?, I asked, and played the song again, and again. That's the Smashing Pumpkins, I thought, but I've never heard this song before.

It took some digging to locate the song on one of the albums - either Machina or the Greatest Hits album. Even though this song was released as a single, I never heard it get any airplay. But because I had the entire album, with all its songs, I also had this one. The only way I actually heard it was by accidentally listening to the entire album. If I were the sort of person to be downloading music, I might not download something I had never heard before. Might I have foolishly considered this some random filler track and passed it by?

*According to the Wikipedia entry on this song, Jimmy Chamberlain was back with the band for this album, Machina/The Machines of God. But that doesn't look like him in the video. And while the drums are good, they're not Jimmy Chamberlain good. But what do I know? Besides, this is Wikipedia, so at least some part of the entry is guaranteed to be false.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Damn, Wish I Was Your Lover

I was just poking around on YouTube looking for a video that I plan to post on January 28th. It's related to yesterday's post, and January 28th is significant to the singer-songwriter. (You now have more than enough clues to identify the song, or at least the singer, especially if you have the Life In Hell 2008 Calendar.)

Anyway. Thinking of, and watching, and hearing this song put me in mind to some other drum-and-bass-heavy songs by female singer-songwriters. In particular, "Damn, Wish I Was Your Lover" by the gorgeous and talented Sophie B. Hawkins. Here is the ultra-sexxxay version of the video, as (allegedly) posted by Sophie B. herself:



I remember this version, or at least parts thereof, from back in the days when MTV still showed the occasional music video. It may have been intercut with this version, which is less sexxxay, but makes certain points about Sophie B.'s sexuality somewhat less opaque. Maybe. None of this is intended to detract from the fact that this is a damn fine song.

And if you're into the drums and the bass and the female singer-songwriters, here's Fiona Apple with "Sleep to Dream". (She's a little too skinny and strung-out looking for my tastes, but, hey, like I would ever have a chance with either of these women?)



Enjoy!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A life lived in the open

One of the consequences of being a blogger is that you open yourself up to the public, one way or another. Maybe you're a "life" blogger, giving details of your personal life to readers one blog entry at a time. Maybe you're a political blogger, standing on a soapbox and proclaiming opinions that you want people to hear, and maybe even pay attention to. Could be that you're a camgirl blogger, showing your pretty face (and sometimes much more) for appreciative strangers who compensate you with the occasional tip or item from your wish list, and writing pieces about the crazy adventures you get into.

All of us are out there in the open. At the mercy of the public.

...'cause deep down
We are frightened and we're scared
If you don't stare...

- Smashing Pumpkins, Cherub Rock

Most of the time it's cool. But sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes a reader may become more than a bit obsessive, and aggressive, and cross the line into stalkerhood.

What do you do then?

The short answer is, I don't know. But there is an excellent article called "Don't Feed the Stalker" that I think everyone should read. It's scary, but very informative; unfortunately, some of the advice may be a little hard to take for people who have created and wish to maintain a public persona.
The only way to break this cycle is to increase the cost of contact to the point where he's finally simply unable to pay it. And that means cutting him off entirely until he either finds something else to obsess about; or he simply hears the "no" at last, and gives up. This is why the best thing a stalkee can do is move to a new town, delist her number, change her online ID, and takes all the other steps necessary to put herself completely and totally beyond his reach -- for at least several years, or (better) forever. (For celebrity stalkers, they recommend other tactics, but the strategy is the same.) Scarce or intermittent contact is, in many ways, the worst of all worlds: it drives the price of contact up so insanely high that the stalker may decide to pay it up all at once in a burst of violence.
If you or someone you know has ever had to deal with a stalker, or if you or they are in a position where you may someday be confronted by a stalker, please give the article a read. At least you'll have a heads-up on what can be done.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

R.I.P. Heath Ledger

The company I work for used to be a division of Time Warner. We still maintain a relationship with Time Warner and its movie and music studios. Part of this relationship translates into getting cool kickass movie posters, which are framed and hung on the walls and periodically rotated. A new one appeared a few weeks ago in a place of prominence: a crazed, bedraggled, clown-like figure, seen through what appears to be a greasy pane of glass, draws what looks like a manic grin in what appears to be blood. Above, the words "Why so serious?" loom menacingly. Below, the movie title: The Dark Knight. The new Batman movie. Featuring Heath Ledger as The Joker, in what is being widely acclaimed as a stunning, original characterization of the old favorite villain.

Gone, now. Dead.

I first heard the news pretty early in the cycle yesterday. I only caught the tail end: "...Ledger was found dead in his apartment..." Immediately my pop-ups came on. Ledger? Heath Ledger. Brokeback Mountain. Batman? Maybe. Maybe it was the other guy.

It wasn't the other guy.

I checked the IMDb entry for Heath Ledger and didn't see a date of death. It hasn't happened yet, then. I confirmed that, yes indeed, he was The Joker in the new Batman film. Back out to CNN to listen for more, and the story repeated and repeated. No two ways about it. Heath Ledger was dead.

Britney Spears. Lindsay Lohan. Amy Winehouse. Keith-freaking-Richards. All alive. And Heath Ledger is dead.

The first person I thought to contact was Immora. (Immora's a camgirl; do you have a problem with that? 'Cause I don't.) I've been reading Immora's blog for several months now, and she has been very excited about Heath Ledger's performance in the upcoming Dark Knight, even using "Why so serious?" as a personal tag for a while. She would want to know.

Several hours later I got in touch with Ashley as soon as I saw her online. She had just gotten home from work, so I figured she wouldn't have heard the news yet. As a fan of both comic books and movies, I knew she would also want to know.

Heath Ledger let the world know what sort of range he had as an actor with his performance in Brokeback Mountain. But I truly feel that, with his portrayal of The Joker, he would now let the world know that he was capable of anything.

Gone, now. All gone.

While others are comparing his death to other celebrities who died too young of excesses of alcohol or drugs, to me his death is on a level with the stupidly tragic death of Brandon Lee. Rather than being a showcase for his talents, The Dark Knight will now be one of several sad, final notes in Heath Ledger's life, reminding us of what could have been.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Snowball of Blogs

I've been trying these last two days to make up for having neglected NEPA Blogs for so long. I've been adding blogs that I've received via e-mail or comments, and I've been going back and tagging all of the existing posts with labels. There aren't that many posts, so this isn't as big a project as the still-incomplete labeling of all the old Another Monkey posts.

One of the things that I'm finding are a lot of dead links and dead blogs, sites that simply don't exist anymore or haven't been updated in months or longer. Things like that sometimes make me wonder if blogging's time has come and gone, if maybe people are getting out of blogging and nobody is getting into it anymore.

One of the reasons I started NEPA Blogs was pure unenlightened self-interest. I wanted to improve my Google rank by increasing the number of sites that link to Another Monkey. I had a vision of a site that would link to my site, and to dozens of other sites, and each of those sites would in turn link back to it, so each site would effectively be two links removed from dozens of other sites. In theory, there would be a certain threshold beyond which this plan would raise everyone's Google rank just by the total value of all the links pointing to and from the central site.

And it might have worked, if I had remembered to ask everyone to link back to NEPA Blogs.

There's a thing - I refuse to call it a "meme", because I hate the appropriation of that term to mean something completely different from the original definition of "a self-replicating unit of information, analogous to a gene in biology" - called "Linky Love" that's going around. It seems to have escaped into the wild from its original source and mutated a bit, but the idea is essentially the same as what I had for NEPA Blogs: by having a lot of sites linking to each other, everyone's Google Rank may effectively go up. The original "Linky Love" site seems fairly unenlightened - "Add your link to make money online." - and sounds almost like a pyramid scheme of some sort. Well, I'm not sure if I'm gonna suddenly get rich by participating in this - I seriously doubt I'll see any financial benefit -, but I'll play the game, at least as it was handed to me by Whim.

I have to tag 5 other bloggers and we just keep adding on to the list. You do not replace anyone, just copy the list and add your blog at the end of it. The list will get longer, attract new readers, and you'll make new friends.

The Strategist Notebook
Link Addiction
Ardour of the Heart
When Life Becomes a Book
The Malaysian Life
Yogatta.com
What goes under the sun
Roshidan’s Cyber Station
Sasha says
Arts of Physics
And the legend lives
My View, My Life
A Simple Life
What Women REALLY Think
Not Much More Than This
Life In The Lost World
The True Tales of a Minivan Mama
"Life" is a Noun
Christie Silvers
Marla's Fun Stuff
My Pretty Face
Simone's Butterfly
Just a Flip Flop Mom
Stone Soup
Gill's Jottings
Work of the Poet
Wakela's World
Modern Day Goddess
Livin With Me
Are We There Yet??
Everything And Nothing
Little Wing
The Babblings of Whimsicalnbrainpan
Another Monkey
Multiple Synchronicities and Sclerosis
Skeet's Stuff
The Dreamtime
Life, Or Something Like It
Ink On Paper
mhryvnak.net/blog
Almost Quintessence
My Distractions In This Modern Age
If I Were Queen of the World

The fun thing is, these are (as far as I can tell) all active, living blogs. And, aside from Whim's and one of the blogs she linked, I don't think I've ever visited any of them before! I intend to stop by each one to have a look around, and see if maybe I'll become a regular visitor.

I've taken the liberties of modifying the list into an actual list, rather than a string of links separated by slashes, and replacing any blogger names that appeared on the list with the actual names of the blogs (as best as I could determine them).

Instead of a pyramid, I guess this is more like a snowball. It will keep getting bigger as it rolls along, and no one is being asked to do anything but post the list, add to it, and then forward it to the people who have been added to it.

So who did I add?

  • Ashley's Ink On Paper. She doesn't get the number of readers she deserves, and if doing this silliness helps to send some readers her way, then more power to it!
So there are my additions. These five are already at the bottom of the list. If you've been tagged, please copy the list and pass it on to five lucky bloggers of your choosing!

Monday, January 21, 2008

"That's a Blumpkin, yo."

When I was a kid MAD Magazine wasn't the only game in town when it came to satire and humor magazines. There were others: Cracked was a kinder, gentler, less edgy sort of magazine. Crazy, from Marvel Comics, was noted for its poor production values. Sick I never picked up, but I had the impression that it was definitely not for kids. And National Lampoon was touted as collegiate humor, even though it seemed to be aimed at adolescents looking for some pictures of boobies.

MAD is still around, in print and as a website, and as far as I can tell is the only humor and satire magazine left on the stands. According to Wikipedia, Sick folded in 1980 and Crazy in 1983. National Lampoon went through a lot of changes of leadership in the early 90's and eventually folded in 1998, though it lives on in NationalLampoon.com.

Cracked also has ceased publication, but it too lives on through its website. I discovered cracked.com through a link on United Hollywood, the unofficial blog of the Writers Guild strike. And, damn, is it funny.

The humor on cracked.com is edgier (NSFW, in some cases) than the magazine of my youth, and definitely R-rated. But I'm cool with that. The site features a lot of video content, too. My introduction was The Internet Party: What Happens When Google's Parents Leave Town for the Weekend? from the troupe Those Aren't Muskets! What happens when personifications of some of the most popular websites on the Internet go to a party hosted by Google? Unsurprisingly, Snopes is totally hot. The video features some rough language, so kiddies, don't go there. (Or if you do, turn the damned sound down so your parents can't hear.)

If you have some time to kill or are just looking for a good laugh, stop on over at cracked.com and see what they have to offer.

Title reference: The final words in The Internet Party, spoken by UrbanDictionary.com.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

In Search Of

I consider myself to be a fairly decent researcher. When I decide to find something out, I can be quite dogged and relentless in my pursuit. Sometimes this can rise to the level of unhealthy obsession. Sometimes I have to make myself stop.

In my previous job this was a very valuable skill. A customer would contact us and say that their company wanted to make a DVD; here is the information, here is the layout, here are the assets, here is the due date. Only none of it would be complete; everything would be lacking in some critical detail, some missing piece, and I would have to burrow into the client's intent until I knew everything there was to know about it. And then I went beyond that: If we were working on a particular movie, I would learn all about the background of the movie, all of the funky little details of it, so if anything strange popped up while we were working on it (such as a black-and-white movie suddenly becoming a color movie), I would know about it in advance, and know whether it was an issue that needed fixing or not. If we were working on a title about a particular musician or performer, or a concert title for a specific band, I would become - for a brief while - a subject matter expert on that person or group. The incidental details that I learned proved useful in more than a few cases.

When things were slow I would research things on my own. What was the current state of DVD piracy, and what were we doing to combat it? What new consumer video formats were coming down the pike? What were the state flower and motto and some interesting local customs of Alabama or New Hampshire? (OK, those last two were for a friend's son's school project. Sometimes things got very slow.)

In the end all that work didn't make much difference. Now my research is done with my eyeballs, looking for microscopic pits, flecks, scratches, stains, and dents in the DVDs that I am making on my presses.

Two of my blogging friends are looking for information, and I've tried to turn my research skills to their aid. But I've realized that I have not yet utilized a very valuable research tool, one which might hold answers that are beyond my own reach.

That would be you.

So, listen up. Maybe you can help these fine young ladies in their quests. I'm going to keep on searching for information on my own, but if you can be of assistance, please get in touch with them.

Ashley from Ink On Paper is looking for a book. She actually has a book that she has written and is trying to pitch to an agent. The problem is, one of the first things agents ask about works of fiction is "Can you name a similar book?" They're looking to see how books with similar themes have sold before they actually make any effort to get a publisher interested in your book. Which I suppose is a fair an necessary thing, but it tends to discourage innovation and new ideas. In the case of Ashley's book, the structure is a combination of a framing story in the form of a (fictional) writer's journal interspersed with short fictional stories by the writer who is keeping the journal. I have come up with several suggestions, which only imperfectly approach the form she is using. Can anyone else think of a story that has a similar structure? If you can, please let her know.

Whim is looking for information - articles, papers, books, self-help groups, whatever - on the long-term physiological effects of burns. (If you don't know Whim's story, read it. Now.) Not the psychological effects - she's quite familiar with those, and can (and probably will) write her own book about them, but the long-term - say, greater than ten years after the fact - physical effects of severe burns caused by fire (as opposed to electrocution or lightning strikes) on the human body. There are journal articles out there, but like most journal articles online they are available only to subscribers or for a fee. And the only self-help group Whim has found that might fit the bill also wants a membership fee. As she pointed out, she already paid that fee when she became a burn survivor over thirteen years ago. It seems like there should be plenty of information on this topic out there. But if there is, it's buried under tons of other stuff that isn't what Whim is looking for. I'm thinking this may call for a trip to a University library sometime, particularly a University with a medical school that specializes in burn trauma. If you have any good, solid information that can help Whim, please get in touch with her.

Title reference: In Search Of, the old TV series narrated by Leonard Nimoy.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Guilty pleasures

I bought two DVDs tonight. They were both on sale, but the sale was wrapping up a half-hour after I bought them. With the $10 coupon I received in the mail which was expiring on February 23, my total purchase set me back a little over $4 - which I put on a gift card.

The first DVD was one that I actually referenced in a post a few weeks ago. The Boatniks is reported to be a terrible movie, a heist caper combined with nautical slapstic. But I think of it fondly because I had a comic book adaptation of it years ago. I figured it was worth what little money I was spending to finally have the opportunity to see it.

The second DVD...well...

The setup: A ghost ship, its crew mysteriously absent save for a possibly mad scientist, sits on the very edge of the most mysterious and powerful phenomenon in the Universe: a black hole. Another ship arrives, and its crew tries to unravel the mystery of what happened to bring about this situation - and what happened to the missing crew. A cast that includes Tony Perkins, Ernest Borgnine, and Maximillian Schell. A huge budget, massive special effects, produced by a major motion picture studio, and released in the science-fiction-friendly post-Star Wars environment. What could go wrong?

Apparently, plenty. I have seen The Black Hole, at least on television, and I have read both the Alan Dean Foster novelization and the comics adaptation that appeared in the Sunday funnies at the time of the original release in 1979. The story was, at times, dull, confusing, preposterous, silly, inconsistent, and illogical, and at other times definitely not for kids. (One of the characters comes to a particularly grisly end, while another gruesome revelation concerns the fate of the missing crew.*) But on the whole, the movie is remembered more fondly than The Boatniks. It seems like a story ready for a remake, though I'm not sure what of the original story might survive the process.

In any case, I own them both, and can watch them any time I want. Though if my track record with DVD purchases is any indication, I'll just be tossing these on the pile with the others, to remain, unopened, until some point in the distant future.

*As an aside to this aside, I have always been fascinated by "ghost ship" stories, and do not feel that any filmed version of these tales - including this movie, Event Horizon, and, of course, Ghost Ship, has ever done them justice.

Friday, January 18, 2008

...and still tired

Today I had to go to a birthday party I had forgotten about. The timing required that I basically leap out of my car as I pulled up at my mom's house, jump into the driver's seat of her car, and then drive the two of us to the party. It actually worked. But now I am completely spent.

Heard a good review of Cloverfield today that reminded me of the opening of Shawn of the Dead. A major monster-movie story nearly becomes a backdrop for the personal interactions of the characters. I may be interpreting that wrong. Still, even H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds was told from the point of view of the narrator trying to reunite with his wife, who had evacuated at the outset of the Martian invasion.

Last Sunday was another birthday party. Turned out that the date I wrote on the card was December 13, 2007. I wracked my brain trying to figure out why I had written this date. My mom pointed out that December 13 is the day my grandmother died. Still not sure why I wrote 2007. Not quite 40, and I'm already experiencing Senior Moments.

Falling asleep now......

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Tired yet again

Well, I planned on writing a full entry on my They'll Do It Every Time submission, which was published today. I was going to include the text of the original e-mail I sent to Al Scaduto, the e-mail he sent back, and a scan of the signed copy he sent me.

But I'm just too damned tired. I hadn't counted on snow today, and tonight I had to head straight from work to my house across town to clear and salt the sidewalks, and then come straight here to clear and salt these sidewalks.

And now I'm tired. 3:00 in the morning will be coming around very early, and I need to leave even earlier than usual to account for the fact that Pennsylvania does not clear state- or federally-owned highways overnight.

But, hey, tomorrow is my last day of this rotation! Then I'm off for four. Unless I get tapped for overtime. We'll see how that goes.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Tomorrow's the day

Tomorrow is the day that my submission to They'll Do It Every Time is scheduled to be published. After that you should be able to view the cartoon by clicking here.

I have mixed feelings about this, partly because it is one of the last comics Mr. Scaduto drew up before his death last month; partly because I have just learned via the Comics Curmudgeon that the strip itself is scheduled to end on February 2nd, when the last of Mr. Scaduto's strips run out, and no one will be taking it over, thus bringing an end to a 79 year run; but also, well...

...because my submission is just, well...kinda...mean.

It has to do with the next-door neighbor (who I sincerely hope does not read the funnies) and her bad phone habits. It was conceived in a fit of pique during a time when I hoped that every time the phone rang, it might be someone calling to offer me a job, and instead it almost always turned out to be her. So I submitted it to Al Scaduto, and he mulled it over, and three months later he sent me a personally inscribed copy of the finished product...which turned out to be a painfully literal illustration of my submission.

It's true. It's accurate. But this woman does help to keep an eye on my mom when I'm not around, and I appreciate the hell out of that. Even if she does sometimes call at 11:00 at night when I have to be up at 3:00 the next morning.

What will appear tomorrow? I don't know. Perhaps things will have changed slightly between the copy of the panel that I received and the time it is published - this has happened before. Funny thing is, I won't know for sure until sometime after 7:00 tomorrow night, so I'll be one of the last to know!


Update, 2/24/08: With They'll Do It Every Time officially retired, I'm posting this copy of the strip here so that it is not lost.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Tudor Bookshop is closing

Dammit.

A while ago I wrote about the plight of independent booksellers, and encouraged everybody to support their local independent booksellers.

For me, that will soon no longer be an option.

I haven't shopped at the Tudor much. My favorite local independent bookstore was the Book and Record Mart in downtown Wilkes-Barre, but it closed up shop around 1997. My next favorite - we used to have three independent bookstores in this area! - was Village Green Books, and was open from about 1992 to 1998. It had a huge selection of books and magazines, and I shopped there fairly regularly during their too-brief existence. The Tudor has always struck me as being a bit more upscale and esoteric. Its selection of books has been at times limited, and in recent years it has drastically reduced the number of books available. But for much of the last decade, they have been the only independent bookstore left in the area.

And by the end of this month, or shortly thereafter, they will be gone. Here is the mailing I just received:

Tudor Bookshop is Closing
From: Tudor Bookshop & Cafe
Sent: Tue 1/15/08 5:36 PM

Dear Friends of the Tudor,

It is with great sadness that I tell you that due to rent issues and the economics of independent bookselling, the Tudor Bookshop & Café will be closing.


In our imprinted stationery and invitation department, I want to assure you that all initiated and placed orders will be completed. I am also working on arranging continuity of these services.

All scheduled author appearances and TLC Book Club meetings should take place as planned.

Throughout the month of January, the Tudor can continue to take your special orders for books from distributors and new books will continue to arrive including books by John Grisham, Madeleine Albright and Stephen King.

What is of great concern to me is how to repay all of you who have supported the Tudor for over 30 years, especially those of you who are Preferred Readers or Tudor Gift Card recipients.

Our Going Out of Business Sale will begin this Friday, January 18th with special offers for our Preferred Readers and Tudor Gift Card recipients. The details are below. As the closing progresses we will keep you informed of further reductions and our plans.

I want to thank all of you and my wonderful staff for your loyalty, interest and kindnesses throughout these past 30 years. I will miss all of you so very very much. In the next few weeks I hope that I will have an opportunity to thank you in person.

Lynn

Tudor Bookshop
Going Out of Business Sale


Friday, Jan.18th* thru Thursday Jan.31st.

20%** off everything in the store

Preferred Readers:
30%** off everything in the store.

Tudor Gift Card Recipients:
25% off** everything in the store.

*all purchases will be non returnable as of this date, Friday, January 18th.
**Discounts do not apply to cafe, artwork, special orders or imprinted items.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Tudor Bookshop & Cafe
651 Wyoming Ave.
Kingston, PA 18704
(570) 288-9697
http://www.tudorbookshop.com/
www.myspace.com/tudorbookshop

Hours:
Sun. closed
Mon. - Wed. 8 am - 6 pm
Thu. 8 am - 9 pm
Fri. 8 am - 6 pm
Sat. 9 am - 5 pm

Northeast Pennsylvania's Oldest Independent Bookshop:
Celebrating 30 years!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Prisoners of Suburbia

I have a friend who lives just on the other side of the Mason-Dixon line, in a state that has that uniquely Southern blend of red necks and blue blood. That probably has nothing to do this story, as I've seen the same thing happen in coal mining towns in Northeastern Pennsylvania. In fact, the point of this story is that it can and does happen anywhere. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

She lives in a bedroom community of cul-de-sacs and picket fences, starter homes and soccer moms. Nice place. Quiet. People are neighborly, but generally keep to themselves.

Then the Bad People moved in.

In this case the Bad People are the scions of a local restaurant magnate who bought his twentysomething sons a house - most likely to get them the hell out of his own house. They are not a young couple just starting out. They are not cul-de-sac and picket-fence and bedroom community material. They are hellraisiers, all-night-partiers, tear-around-the-neighborhood-while-drunks, wannabee drug dealers - or possibly the real deal - , punks with no respect for private property and no concern for disturbing the peace. And, thanks to their well-connected father and family (or is it Family?), they have no worries that local law enforcement will present them with any significant problems.

Oh, neighbors have complained, complained about their drunk driving and their parking on other people's lawns, the beer bottles tossed everywhere, the vicious Pit Bull who got through their broken fence and ripped the guts out of a feeble, one-eyed, elderly beagle next door. They've complained to the local Homeowners Association, which collects fees and dictates rules and regulations and totally refuses to take any action against these individuals. They have complained to the police, and have had their vehicles vandalized (with an industrial-strength oven cleaner - the sort of thing that might be used in the restaurant industry), their gardens destroyed, paving blocks heaved through double-paned bay windows, SUV's revved outside their doors in the middle of the night. The neighbors have been on the receiving end of terroristic threats. The police refuse to do anything - including sending the occasional patrol through the neighborhood - until the neighbors have collected evidence proving that these things are being perpetrated by the individuals in question and are not just random, unconnected actions.

This is not a unique case. Similar situations have played out everywhere. A crack house or a drug dealer or a house occupied by an illegally large number of illegal immigrants appears in the middle of what was once a fairly pleasant residential neighborhood. Neighbors are terrified, police are seemingly unconcerned; those who make a fuss get their tires slashed or their porches torched for their trouble.

What can be done?

The way I see it, there are several options. Each one comes with its own problems.

1. Do nothing. Hope the problem will go away, hope things will get better on their own. It won't, and they won't. But you can always keep hoping.

2. Move. You will find that once Bad People have moved into a neighborhood, property values will go down, so you may not be able to get a fair price for your home. And who is going to want to buy it? There's a very good chance that as each home in the neighborhood is sold, more Bad People will move in, and things will get worse for those who have chosen to stay - or do not have the option of leaving.

3. Stay and fight. Usually this option requires getting the local media involved, and managing to hold their attention for more than two or three days. Sometimes this works; often it doesn't. Always there is a price to be paid, as you may find yourself villified by the very organizations you're trying to prod into action, and may find your brake lines cut or your house burned down with you and your children inside it.

4. Surveil. For those who choose not to move, a security system almost always becomes a necessity. Sometimes surveillance systems can be rigged to monitor criminal activity on the streets outside of your house. Of course, if the police do not want to get involved - if, for example, your neighborhood has been declared a sacrificial site, a place where a blind eye will be turned towards criminal activity in an effort to steer criminal activity away from other neighborhoods - you may find it difficult to get anyone to take any action. And making an audio record of things that go on in the streets is, in some cases, considered a criminal activity in itself. (At least, this was true some time ago.)

5. Hire private security. This is an extremely expensive and somewhat risky proposition. Private security firms, as I understand them, have no more rights to act against observed criminal action than any other private citizens. While their presence in a neighborhood may help to quell criminal activity, they can also have a chilling effect on the everyday lives of residents in the neighborhood. And hiring a private security firm that is trustworthy, reliable, and effective can be a bit of a trick. If you have a Homeowners Association that does more than just collect dues and threaten people who leave their Christmas lights up too long, this might be something for them to pursue.

6. Burn them out. No, that's not really an option. Forget I mentioned it.

Most people, I believe, choose options 1 or 2. Some choose option 3, and spend the rest of their lives having to fight - unless and until they choose to move. So what's the answer? I don't know. I've never have had to deal with this myself - not yet. If you have, I'd appreciate your input.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

mhryvnak.net/blog is (temporarily) offline!

If you've tried to visit mhryvnak.net/blog this weekend, you've seen this official WordPress error message:

Can’t select database
We were able to connect to the database server (which means your username and password is okay) but not able to select the database.
  • Are you sure it exists?
  • On some systems the name of your database is prefixed with your username, so it would be like username_wordpress. Could that be the problem?

If you don't know how to setup a database you should contact your host. If all else fails you may find help at the WordPress Support Forums.

Which is odd, because Michelle didn't change anything in between the last time her blog was working and the first time the blog was not working.

I like the way the error message is phrased. Are you sure it exists? What, my database? The one that was working fine up until this moment? Yes, unless you have deleted it, I'm pretty sure it exists.

Michelle has put in quite a bit of effort to get her blog back online, and has determined that the failure was caused by an outage on the server where her domain is hosted, an outage that is affecting everyone else on the same server. After some more attempts to work with her hosting service, she got this response:

Hello,

I've been hammering away at your mysql issues, however, I can't seem to get it working. Everything should be set up right, and I had aadministrator verify that it's working.

Unfortunately, it won't let me select your database, even by hand!

I'll let you know when this is taken care of, and apologize for the problems this may cause!

Thanks!

Which is nice, but still no blogging cigar.

So. For the duration, Michelle has created a Blogspot version of her blog, http://mhryvnak.blogspot.com/ . She'll keep us all up-to-date on any new developments there.

In closure,

I'm not dead yet!

Michelle

Stay tuned!

UPDATE, 1/14/08: She's back!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

This will be going on your Permanent Record

When I was a kid those were the most terrifying words you could hear. Your Permanent Record. We didn't even know what this was: some sort of sheaf of indestructible papers filled out in unerasable ink, perhaps, which contained a meticulous record of every major infraction you had committed - or were suspected of having committed. And it would be automatically filled out in triplicate, or quadruplicate, or quintuplicate, with copies sent to your parents, and the police, and any schools you might be attending in the future, to be forwarded later to any prospective college or employer. Your record is exceptional, Mr. Johnson...but I see in the third grade you were caught drawing a picture of a nun pooping on a desk. I'm sorry, I'm afraid we can't hire you.

That was a million years ago.

Today kids create their own permanent records. Literally - more literally than any of them realize. Every little I-like-violence website, every YouTube rant and diatribe, every garishly styled and grammatically reprehensible MySpace site, every blog entry and blog comment, - every one of these is another fingerprint left on the Internet. Every one is another entry in their own permanent record.

It's not just kids. Some full-fledged "adults", considered as such by virtue of their age if not necessarily their maturity, snipe and spout off as regularly and vehemently online as moody, hormone-fuelled fourteen-year-olds. Sometimes they think better of this afterwards, and try to erase the evidence and cover their tracks. But the Internet is very good at creating a permanent record of anything posted on it - and anything posted on the Internet can easily be grabbed and re-stored elsewhere, suddenly making it virtually impossible to recall and erase.

And, of course, it's not just people spouting off radical opinions or ranting mindlessly. It's admissions of petty crimes and wrongdoing, statements of belief or sexual orientation, even expressions of political opinion - all of which can and will be held against you somewhere along the line.

And then there are the boobies. All those boobies.

Yes, the Internet is also the world's greatest porno shop, where any variety of pornography can be located with just a few words typed into a Google search box. Untold numbers of young ladies have taken the opportunity to display for free (or for a very reasonable cost, payable via PayPal) those things that a few years ago might have garnered them a modest modeling fee, and a few years before that, half of a man's worldly possessions. It's not just the Internet, of course; how many aspiring teachers and politicians and scientists and executives have seen their career hopes dashed by having years before drunkenly flashed their tits for the cameras of Girls Gone Wild and other such organizations?

Not that I'm saying there's necessarily anything inherently wrong with that - though others will. I loves me the ladies, and I loves me the boobies. (Oh, geez, did I just type that? Note to self: Go back later and erase that last bit.) But until society has fundamentally changed in ways that it's not necessarily going to change, flashing your tits for a camera crew or a little webcam on top of your computer monitor will continue to be a very risky career move. And let us all remember The First Rule of Pornography:*

THE PICTURES ARE FOREVER.

Thanks to things like Google's caching of websites and the Internet Wayback Machine, other things posted on the Internet can be forever, too.

There is hope, of course. Back in the olden days of espionage during the Cold War, when things were simple and comprehensible to mere mortals, the United States and the Soviet Union would spy on each other by monitoring "secure" radio transmissions leaking from the other side's embassies. In one case, our once and future mortal enemies found their attempts to record useful signals coming out of one embassy were foiled by the sheer number of signals vomiting forth across the broadcast spectrum, essentially setting up a situation where the signals became noise, and no one coherent signal could be extracted. (This would most likely not be an intractable situation for today's technology.) Similarly, the sheer amount of noise being pumped onto the Internet by a nearly infinite number of monkeys with a nearly infinite number of typewriters means that any particular website or comment or set of boobies is likely to be buried under millions of others.

Maybe. For now. Someday technology may improve to the point where any given signal can be extracted from the mass of noise that is the Internet. For now we should all assume that with each and every image and keystroke, we are all adding to the things that are going on our Permanent Records.

*I didn't just make this up. I heard it from some porn actress on a VH1 or MTV special on pornography. Why VH1 or MTV were doing a special on pornography, I have no idea. I came across the show while channel-surfing and only watched for a few minutes. Honest.

Videos from Nanticoke

I've been neglecting my other blogs for waaaay too long.

While we have been accumulating new blogs for NEPA Blogs for a while (and have just determined that at least two of the currently-linked blogs are definitely dead), I've only actually added one to the sidebar in recent months. One of these days I'll get around to adding the others, after first verifying that they still exist. Plus I should change the seasonal images from Autumn to Winter...but damn, those Autumn pictures are purty.

A Blog of Nanticoke is in the same boat. I meant to do stuff about Christmas in Nanticoke, but never got around to it. I'd like to do some more profiles of businesses in Nanticoke, though I don't feel it would be fair to jump into one of those while I've got a request from the owner of one (Rutter Auto Service, at the corner of Kosciuszko and Main) hanging out there. (Walter, now that the construction is done in front of your place, get in touch with me with any information you think I can use.) And I've been planning to do a piece on The Churches of Nanticoke for a long time, but that's actually a huge undertaking - like, potentially book-sized. We've got a lot of churches.

Anyway, turns out someone in town has been posting videos to YouTube from around Nanticoke. As of this writing nanticokeweb has posted 25 of them. It looks like so far they're all from either Musicfest 2007 or Christmas 2007. While my photos tend to be idyllic images that aim for a Rockwell-esque effect, these videos are more honest warts-and-all views of Nanticoke and its inhabitants.

Here's a sample - the Christmas in the Park parade:



Also, check out the Pierogi Eating Contest from Musicfest 2007:



Go here for all of nanticokeweb's YouTube videos!

Friday, January 11, 2008

And the Strike goes on

I have a confession to make: I don't watch much television. The Daily Show, The Colbert Report...maybe Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Robot Chicken (I haven't seen new episodes of either in a long, long time), The Simpsons and The Family Guy. CNN, local news, World News Now on weekday mornings that I work.

Still, I care about the Writers' Strike.

I care because I've always given a damn about fairness. And fundamentally, that's what this strike is about: the writers getting their fair cut of revenue generated by their work. I won't try to rehash their arguments; I'll direct you to the United Hollywood blog and let you find out from there.

The strike has been going on for quite a while, and it may go on for quite a while more. I think the timing could have been better: the networks were able to fill the month of December with wall-to-wall Christmas specials. And January has been nothing but solid crap on television, but that's typical for January. But soon people will begin to notice, when the "second season" would normally kick in - when mid-season replacements would be introduced to take the place of shows that hadn't worked out. For the most part, these mid-season replacements just aren't there. Get ready for increasingly bizarre and desperately lame reality shows.

The strike boils down to the writers, who have all the creative talent and none of the money, vs. the corporations, who have all of the money and none of the creative talent. My concern is that money without talent can outlast talent without money. And no corporation exists to make sure that a fair share of revenue is provided to the people who actually create the product or service that generates the revenue, which is what the writers are seeking. What are you, Communists or something?

But it sounds like things have become more personal, with studio chiefs acting in ways that do not necessarily coincide with the best interests of their corporations. From a post today on United Hollywood:
Here's how we can win, here's what's vital to remember: these guys are managers of publicly held companies.

Wall Street matters. Stockholders matter. And collusion and anti-trust laws matter too.

People are starting to talk about this in print -- questioning moguls who are putting their own personal vendettas and greed above the good of the companies they manage. And as more ad revenue is returned, and more bad press on the moguls' intractability comes out, this conversation is going to get louder and louder...

...The point is this: it doesn't matter that the CEO's don't care. They aren't kings. The shareholders are more powerful, and the truth is, all we are asking for is a fair deal that the companies can easily afford. Politicians are powerful, and the AMPTP doesn't own all of them.

The more evidence piles up in the public eye that we're reasonable and fair, and that they're frankly acting like spoiled children, the sooner this will end with a fair deal for Internet work. IT'S ABOUT THE INTERNET.
If you care about fairness, or if you just care about television, please support the writers who are fighting for a fair share of the revenue generated by their work, and do what you can to help bring this strike to an end.

Title Reference: "The Beat Goes On" by Sonny and Cher.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Thinning the herd

Bill Richardson, perhaps the most qualified and experienced of all of the candidates vying to be the Democratic Party's nominee for the U.S. Presidency, dropped out of the race today, joining the also extensively qualified and experienced Joe Biden.

I don't know all that much about Richardson, other than what I've read about him online and what I've seen of him on television for the last ten years or so. But what I do know, I like. That's no longer relevant, I suppose. Even if I were a registered Democrat (I'm not; I am and always have been a registered Independent) I would no longer be able to cast a vote for the candidate of my choice. Even if I didn't live in the state of Pennsylvania, whose Presidential Primary election is largely ceremonial, since the candidates have already been effectively selected long before. Iowa and New Hampshire (and, of course, Bill Richardson and his campaign backers) have determined that Bill Richardson shall not be an option for any of the rest of the states.

I saw Joe Biden speak at the University of Scranton once, probably back in 1988. He struck me as having all of the smoothness and studied sincerity of a used-car salesman. Subsequent appearances on television did nothing to dissuade me of this impression.

Sadly, this campaign seems to be less about experience and qualifications, and more a race between idealized concepts. You have your choice of a First Black President, First Female President, or The Guy Who Had The Last Election Stolen From Him By Evil Republicans. The option of First Hispanic President is now off the table.

In fact, experience seems to be seen as a negative. In a campaign where both sides have embraced the theme of "Change", being a Washington Insider has become a liability.

But what do I think about the other candidates?

Hillary Clinton seems to me to have the charisma of a jar of pickles, and the people skills of a Queen Victoria caricature. She seems lacking in the very areas where her husband had an abundance.

Barack Obama strikes me as something of an empty suit, though quite skilled at speaking to a crowd. I suppose if I read some of his writings more closely, I might have a different opinion.

John Edwards spoke in Wilkes-barre during the 2004 campaign. I didn't see him, but my mom did, and she was pretty impressed. When I watched a video of his speech later, I was pretty underwhelmed. Instead of the legal-eagle attack dog I had come to expect, he came across as a whiny and pampered puppy.

As for Mike Gravel...well, he's done a lot of good things in the past. Maybe he'll continue to make a positive contribution in the future. If he isn't currently completely nuts.

Speaking of which, Dennis Kucinich was surprisingly coherent and funny on The Colbert Report a while back. (I'd link to this video, but Viacam ordered YouTube to remove it. Screw Viacom! SUPPORT THE WRITERS' GUILD!) I hope he, too, will have something to contribute in the coming Democratic Administration.

Because it will be a Democratic Administration. The Republican President and his cronies have done a lot of damage in the seven years since he took office. Time to say Enough is enough, and throw the bums out.

Now, if you've made it this far, here's a treat for you: I Found Love by Lone Justice. It has nothing to do with the election or politics, but it's been on my mind a bit lately. I believe LJ did a version of this song when they were on Saturday Night Live, which was also the William Shatner episode.



No...wait. Change of plans. Here's two versions of I Found Love by Lone Justice. I prefer the music and vocals in the first one, but the dress is very nice in the second.