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Monday, June 30, 2008

Lawn Boy

I got home today, jumped out of the car, and grabbed the weed-whacker. While still dressed in my work clothes (which are indistinguishable from street clothes, although they tend to skew a bit warmer) I attacked the plantain spikes that have taken over the yard as a consequence of being virtually untouchable by my reel mower, which just pushes over very tall stuff without cutting it - one of the major disadvantages to using a reel mower. Then I went after the weeds that have grown along the line where the curb meets the street, and did that until I had used up the weed-whacker's charge.

I came in, grabbed some supper, went online for a few minutes, and finally got myself outside to mow. By then it was pretty late - say, 7:30. Still, I was able to get half the lawn done, even with frequent stops to empty the grass catcher - I'm using the clippings to mulch my blueberries - and to grab some early blueberries to eat. (Helpful hint for people with blueberries: mulch all Spring, Summer, and Fall to retain water and suppress weeds around the roots, and cover your blueberry bushes with heavy insulation in the Winter. This won't just protect them, it will also cause them to grow tremendously during the next Spring and Summer. The scrawny bush that I covered with an insulating cone in the Winter of 2006-2007 because I was tired of the mailman stepping on it as he walked through the snow is now the biggest bush of the group. 12-18 inches of leaves, covered with burlap, is probably the bare minimum you want to use.)

I managed to accidentally kill a few fireflies towards the end of the night. I felt really bad about that.

I'll try to finish the lawn tomorrow, though I also have to take my mom grocery shopping. Wednesday is garbage night, but it may also be our only dry night, so I want to spray some anti-fungal stuff on my grapes before they develop Black Rot.

So, anyway, I'm tired now.

Illustrations for other people's posts:

This one is for Mark's latest post on Wilkes-Barre Online:

...and is, unfortunately, unembeddable. Come on, Sony BMG, get with the program! WEA and its associated labels have realized that allowing people to post cheesy low-res videos of copyrighted songs is an excellent way to maintain interest in artists whose fame and sales have faded away - and to generate positive associations that will result in future sales. Drop the old-world thinking and embrace the future!

The video is Lit, "My Own Worst Enemy". For no other reason than the bowling.

The other video is for a post that hasn't been posted yet. The folks from the Ontario Science Centre teach us all aboot slime molds.


(Actually, neither of the people in this video have the stereotypical "Canadian" accent.)

There's more out there, but I'll save it until the post has been posted.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Michael Turner is dead

Michael Turner, comic book artist, writer, and publisher, lost his long battle with cancer this past Friday.

The official release from Aspen Comics:

Hello all,

Unfortunately it's with great sadness that I must inform everyone that Michael Turner tragically passed away last night, June 27th at approximately 10:42 pm in Santa Monica, Ca. Turner had been dealing with recent health complications arisen in the past few weeks. More details concerning Turner's passing, and services, will be given shortly.

Anyone wishing to send their condolences to Michael Turner's family is encouraged to send to:

Aspen MLT, Inc.
C/O Michael Turner
5855 Green Valley Circle, Suite 111
Culver City, CA, 90230

Aspen also encourages anyone wishing to make a charitable donation to please send to Michael Turner's requested charities:

The American Cancer Society

Or

The Make-A-Wish Foundation

Official Contact: Vince Hernandez


I've only mentioned Michael Turner once on this blog, in this post, but it was enough to direct a Google search my way this morning, which is how I found out about this. I must confess that I've never read his work outside of occasional excerpts in Wizard. But I've always admired his drawing style, which celebrated female beauty without merely objectifying it or turning it into cheesecake.

Further reading:
Michael Turner's Wikipedia entry
Aspen Comics site
Seattle Post-Intelligencer Comic Books blog: R.I.P. Michael Turner
In Memoriam: Michael Turner from Wizarduniverse.com

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Headachey

Just got back from a fun day out, and now my head hurts. Not sure why.

(Actually, as I write this my head is now starting to hurt less. Also don't know why.)

I was going to do a post on one of the single coolest life forms around, but the topic really belongs to someone else. I'll post what I've got after she posts what she's found.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Some LOLs, and a song

Last night I was going through the images I have captioned for ICanHasCheezburger.com , looking for the one that I eventually posted. Most of these are not my own images, but are recaptioned versions of images other people have posted. Each time I create one I have an e-mail sent to me from the site containing a link to the captioned image. But something seemed wrong, something that moved me to write this e-mail to them:
I was just going through all of my e-mails of LOLs that I have created when I realized that all of the recent messages are pointing to other people's LOLs - with my name on them! Have all the recent LOLs somehow gotten scrambled and randomly reassigned? I hope I can recover the ones I've made!
It was weird. I didn't remember creating this one:

Or this:

funny pictures

moar funny pictures

And I certainly couldn't allow myself to take undeserved credit for this:


But then I clicked on a few more links...and came to the horrible realization that in the past I had been creating these things and then forgetting about them!

I'm so sorry. I'm reviewing them again, and I THINK they might be ones that I did, but so long ago that I don't remember - or half-remember them, but thought they were done by someone else. I did find the most recent one I did, which is a good sign. Sorry about the false alarm!
SO, in the interests of externalizing these memories, here are some more of the LOLs I've created over the last few months:

(Longtime readers may recall the Mantis of Certain Doom from three years ago!)

funny pictures

moar funny pictures

(I'm pretty sure the goalie can block shots with his hands in soccer. Definitely in hockey.)

(Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 1 - see here for Olivier's version, here for Branaugh's, and here for Mel Gibson's remarkable performance)

(Ummm, you need to know who Kokopelli is to get that one.)

There will be more.

Now, the song. This is one of those songs I can sing by heart. I pulled it up last week for a friend who was going through a hard time. Barenaked Ladies, "What a Good Boy":

I wake up scared, I wake up strange
I wake up wondering if anything in my life is ever gonna change
I wake up scared, I wake up strange
And everything around me stays the same

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Drained

I really should start trying to get more than 4 - 5 hours of sleep each night.

Even though I tried not to, even all the signs pointed to an unhappy ending, I got my hopes up once again. Only to have them dashed once again. Stupid of me.

The latest blog to be added to NEPA Blogs is gone already. What the heck is up with that? Do people simply lack sticktoitiveness, the one trait that separates the bloggers from the wannabees? Or is somebody getting to these bloggers with their rabble-rousing muckraking blogs?

I've seen so many blogs come and go it's not funny. Lots of them start off all full of piss and vinegar and big plans, and then the blogger loses interest in a little while - or they are made to see the error of their ways and decide to shut up, shut down, and slink back into the shadows. I've seen both happen.

Blogging is not for the weak, the cowardly, or the faint of heart. Establishing a blog takes commitment, hard work, and a willingness to stand by what you've written - or a willingness to endlessly revise, edit, and rewrite what you've written. I wonder what the three-month mortality rate for new blogs is? Six months? One year? Five?

Time for bed.

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Attack of the Robot Zombie Pirates

This is a bit of silliness inspired by some ideas tossed around in the comments of Phil Plait's Bad Astononomy. The vampire gun comes from Some Canadian Skeptic.

The escape capsule bobbed gently in the purplish ocean under a green sky. No wind blew, no foam-capped waves flecked the sea, but occasional bubbles broke the still surface, releasing brownish wisps of sulfur-stinking gas.

The capsule was quite large, larger than many of the vessels that had plied these waters so many years before. It had been built with just this sort of situation in mind, and had been designed to function as a powered watercraft for as long as it would take to reach dry land - or to arrange retrieval by a rescue craft.

The first mate peered out of the forward viewport at the sheet of purple ocean before him. For the thousandth time he cursed the flight programmer who felt that this would be a reasonable place to use a gravity assist to bleed off excess velocity before the final approach to the lush greenery and blue seas of home. Now two hundred and forty-seven souls lay at the mercy of the things which roamed the remnants of a place long ago abandoned as uninhabitable.

"Earth," he grunted. "What a dump."


Captain Four-Six Blackbeard dot Three-oh-Two raised the farseeoscope to his good eye and scanned the darkening horizon again. Matey Two-Two-Seven had sworn on his own desecrated grave that he had seen something burning through the sky in a trajectory that suggested it was actively trying to slow down, and that it had hit the ocean just over the horizon to the East. Three hours of hard swimming and sailing had brought them to this point, but there was nothing to be seen. Perhaps it had been another satellite crashing down, in which case it might have valuable materials that could be scrounged. Or perhaps it had sunk to the bottom of the ocean. Or...

There. On the horizon, a lump like a dead whale. But it wasn't moving like a dead whale might. It moved slowly and in a straight line, leaving a trail of phosphorescent foam in its wake. If only we could fly, the Captain thought, they would be so easy to track, so easy to catch. But flying would be a bit much to ask from a cybernetically resurrected cetacean.

Four-Six Blackbeard let the scope fall away and squinted at the speck on the horizon. The targeting grid in his eye zeroed in on the spot and enhanced the image, magnifying it almost as well as the scope but at the same time assessing range, direction, and relative velocity.

He adjusted his footing against the barnacles of his great steed's back. The same cybernetic wizardry which had granted it eternal unlife in service to himself and his crew had also kept all of them active and healthy long past their own personal expiration dates. His feet would not slip, nor would his legs give way as the whale changed course. They were designed not to.

"Arrrr!" he shouted, his amplified voice getting his crew's attention, in case the signal being beamed directly into their brain interfaces were not enough. "Change course, hard to starboard, bearing four-two-mark-three-six. There be a vessel a-waiting to be taken!" A cheer went up from the long-dead throats of the half-electronic men and women who served under his command. "Hoist high the Jolly Roger! Break out the coffins! Load the vampire gun!"

Twelve dead sailors, their eyes glowing red with indicator LEDs, removed half a dozen coffins from a hold mounted just behind the whale's dorsal fin. They carried them as carefully as their jury-rigged cybernetics would allow to something that looked like an enormous revolver built into the forward edge of the fin. Each coffin slid smoothly into a chamber that was locked and primed and set to rotate in its turn into the firing position. When fired, the gun would gently launch the coffin and its dormant occupant in a lazy parabola toward the target vessel. Shattering on impact, the coffin would disgorge its now enraged and wide-awake payload onto the deck, where it would proceed to slaughter every last living thing it encountered. Should the coffin miss its target, or the vampire be slain, or the task prove to be too great for a single vampire, there were always additional coffins chambered and ready to fire.

It had never been necessary to launch more than three vampires against a target vessel.

With surprising speed and silence for something so large and so dead, the whale cut a path directly for the stranded escape capsule. Two hundred and forty-seven souls had no idea what was coming for them...

Turnover Point

Six months until Christmas.

EVERYBODY PANIC!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Another Monkey Consumer Price Index, 6/24/08

Ever since I temporarily moved to Delaware in 1989 through 1991, I've been fascinated by the price differences between different places. How much does the price of necessities vary from place to place? What about luxury goods? And do either of these vary based on varying income levels or housing costs? And how do prices for staples vary over time?

I'm no economist, but I do have a tool at my disposal to record the prices of items and give others the opportunity to compare them. This blog.

Today was shopping day. I saved the receipt and noted the prices of several items that may be common in different parts of the world. I'm indicating the price and the size, so these can be translated into the home units for anyone in another country. (I generally use XE.com to convert currency, but currency conversion rates vary from day to day, and I don't know if XE has historical exchange rate data.) I also bought gas yesterday, so I'll throw that in, too.

Here are the exchange rates for one U.S. dollar on 6/24/08, according to XE.com:

$1 =

  • 0.507462 GBP (British Pounds)
  • 0.64215 Euros
  • 1.01238 Canadian Dollars
  • 1.04543 Australian Dollars
  • 5.11534 NOK (Norway Kroners)
  • 107.675 Japanese Yen
  • 1,193.75 Iraq Dinars
  • 5,200.05 Turkmenistan Manats
  • 9,005,149,886.88 Zimbabwe Dollars
So without further ado, here's the inaugural edition of the Another Monkey Consumer Price Index!

Gas, 87 octane, Sam's Club, Wilkes-Barre PA, 6/23/08: $3.959/gallon

Groceries from Weis Market, Nanticoke, PA, 6/24/08:

Milk, 2% milkfat, half-gallon: $1.82
Flour, 5 lbs.: $2.19
House Brand Plain Lowfat Yogurt, 32 oz.: $2.59
Brer Rabbit Blackstrap Molasses, 16 oz.: $3.39

California Celery, 1 stalk: $2.69
Macintosh apples, 3 lbs.: $3.49
Strawberries, 16 oz.: $3.99 (buy one, get one free)
Blueberries, 1 U.S. dry pint, $3.99 (buy one, get one free)
Seedless Watermelon: $0.49/ounce
Onions, yellow, 5 lbs.: $3.99
Potatoes, Russet, 10 lbs.: $5.99
Barley, bag, 16 oz.: $0.99

Gatorade (comparable to Lucozade), 32 oz.: $1.47 (on sale for $1)
House brand diet soda (pop/fizzy drink), 2 liters: $0.80
Chocolate bar, Hershey's, 5 oz.: $1.29 (on sale for $1)

How do your prices compare?

Monday, June 23, 2008

d.b. echo's 100% guaranteed Astrological forecast

Aquarius: You're going to die.
Pisces: You're going to die.
Aries: You're going to die.
Taurus: You're going to die.
Gemini: You're going to die. Both of you.
Cancer: You're going to die.
Leo: You're going to die.
Virgo: You're going to die.
Libra: You're going to die.
Scorpio: You're going to die.
Sagittarius: You're going to die.
Capricorn: You're going to die.


It's all true.

(UPDATE, 7/11/08: True, and stolen from Chris Rock's No Sex in the Champagne Room. Thanks to a little note on this blog post, now I know where I first heard this.)

I remember when I was young, watching a psychic/spiritualist on the Merv Griffin show. (Or maybe it was Mike Douglas. I could never tell them apart.) The woman went out into the audience to tell people things about themselves. She approached one woman.

"Your mother is dead," she said, matter-of-factly.

The woman blanched and looked horrified. "No she isn't!" she retorted.

"But she's going to die," the psychic responded, not missing a beat.

I don't have much use for Astrology. I've studied Astronomy for much of my life. In the course of studying its history I've learned a few things about Astrology along the way. But I've come to realize that Astrology is just a big pile of nonsense - actually, a whole bunch of contradictory piles of nonsense - that at best takes up valuable real estate on the comics page of the newspaper, and at worst leads people to do dumb things that they otherwise might not do, sometimes with dire consequences.

(Or vice versa: more than a few people have analyzed the horoscopes published in New York City's newspapers the morning of September 11, 2001. None of them said "Do not go to work today" or "Terrorists will attack the World Trade Center today" or anything else that could have been helpful for the thousands of people of all different Astrological signs who died in the worst terrorist attack on American soil.)

I know and like quite a few people who do believe in Astrology, though. And..well, as I've said before, I won't reject you for your beliefs, though you may reject me for mine. But if you start behaving irrationally, in a manner detrimental to yourself or others because your horoscope told you to...well, that's a different matter.

Phil Plait from Bad Astronomy brought this little gem to my attention. It's a parody of Ben Stein's Expelled, with Astrology taking the place of Creationism. There are a few video clips included which people unfamiliar with Expelled may think are in poor taste. In fact, these are just the sorts of clips that the Expelled people used to make the point that Science is evil, and only Creationists know the truth.

My favorite is the guy spouting random pseudo-historical nonsense with a deadly earnest look on his face. Oh, and the redhead. 'Cause over at Bad Astronomy, I think we all agreed that redheaded Skepchicks are really, really hot.

Now, if you'll 'scuse me, the sun is setting, and the stars should be coming out soon. I think I'll go gaze at them.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Let the coundown begin

Webster has a nifty countdown thingy on his site that I decided to steal. Here's a date we can all look forward to!


Widgets & Flash Toys

Why hasn't this guy been impeached yet? I think I know the answer, and I think it has to do with gutless Democrats in Congress who are unwilling to do anything that might potentially jeopardize their victory in November, in both the Legislative and Executive branch elections.

Bush claims Executive Privilege in refusing to turn over Environmental documents
Congress rolls over and gives Bush what he wants in new FISA legislation

I would love to see both the House and the Senate get loaded with real, honest-to-God Independents who have no real expectation of landing a candidate in the White House, and who are therefore able to act free of that consideration. But it won't happen. Best case, we will see the Repugs get kicked to the curb for a while - and hope the Dems don't screw things up too much before the next election.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Northern White Rhino extinct in wild

Extinct is forever.


In Last Chance to See, Douglas Adams wrote about traveling around the world with zoologist Mark Carwardine to document animals on the brink of extinction and efforts being made to pull them back. One of the more hopeful stories involved the last - twenty-two, I think? - Northern White Rhinoceroses in the wild, all in Garamba National Park in Zaire. Northern White Rhinos, which are related to but genetically distinct from the more populous Southern White Rhinos, had once numbered in the hundreds of thousands. But thanks to habitat encroachment and indiscriminate hunting, their numbers dropped to just a few hundred in the 1970s, and then 22 by the time of Adams's 1988 tour.

The situation was desperate in 1988, but a glimmer of hope existed. Dedicated individuals taking great personal risks were putting enormous effort into protecting and preserving this last wild population. The biggest threats to the rhinos were poachers, who would kill the rhinos to take their horns to be made into ornamental dagger handles for sale in Yemen. With international support and a maintenance of the status quo in the local political environment, it seemed just possible that the rhino population might recover, albeit at a glacial pace.

Everything went to hell since then.

Zaire is no more. Like its neighbors, it is awash in violence and chaos. Sudanese poachers, long a threat to Garamba, have taken advantage of the chaos. The wholesale slaughter of the rhinos continued without restraint. The numbers dropped...and dropped...until only four specimens were left in the wild. Now those four are nowhere to be found.

Gareth Suddes's Another Chance to See, which follows up on the fates of the animals visited by Adams, posted this entry this week:

Poachers kill last four wild northern white rhinos

You can follow the sad story through his Northern White Rhinoceros archives.

So now they're gone. A few specimens still exist in zoos, but they do not form a viable breeding population. At this point I think the only hope is to collect and preserve DNA material, put it in cold storage, and hope that some future scientists will be able to do something with it.

This is wrong. This is unnecessary. Yet another magnificent creature has passed from the Earth, perhaps forever, in our lifetime. During our period of stewardsdship. While we were the watchmen on the walls.

What are we doing to stop the next species, and the next, and the next after that, from being driven to extinction?

SaveTheRhino.org
World Wildlife Fund
Another Chance to See

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Cemeteries of Nanticoke




In a lot of ways, the cemeteries of Nanticoke form the heart of the city.

Actually, they form what used to be the Southern border of the city, before a bunch of culm banks were cleared out to make way for Luzerne County Community College some thirty-five or so years ago. But LCCC is separated from the rest of the city by a ravine. The complex of cemeteries belonging to several different parishes and the city itself present about half a mile of frontage along Washington Street alone. They contain the remains of ancestors and relatives of many of the people who live in Nanticoke, and of many more who are forgotten and nameless save for the engravings on their stones.

These cemeteries have modeled for me many times, and have provided scenic backdrops for many photos and even subjects for two of my paintings.
This week the cemeteries have come under attack. Vandals smashed flowerpots and vigil lights and toppled headstones. Estimates put the damage in the thousands of dollars.

Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice: Nanticoke cemeteries vandalized

Nanticoke police are investigating vandalism to St. Mary, St. Francis, St. Joseph’s and City cemeteries.

Someone toppled gravestones and statues, broke candle holders, ruined and stole flowers, and otherwise did a variety of damage in the cemeteries.

“This is the first time we had anything like that in a long time,” Mayor John Bushko said.

The vandalism most likely happened Sunday into Monday, probably by more than one individual, Nanticoke Detective William Shultz said. Police have not been able to determine if anything of value was missing. They are waiting for lists of damages from the churches, Shultz said.

Shultz called it the worst he’d seen, perpetrated by “some type of sick individuals.”

“I wouldn’t even think of doing something like that for fear that I would go to hell when I die,” he said.

Anyone with information should call Nanticoke police at 735-2200.




Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader: Vandals hit 5 Nanticoke cemeteries

Headstones toppled, American flag sticks broken and other damage
reported at sites.

EDWARD LEWIS elewis@timesleader.com

NANTICOKE – Paul Kankiewicz and his friend Dan Kotsko noticed broken wooden American-flag sticks at St. Francis Cemetery earlier this week.

Thinking the damage was caused by recent thunderstorms and high winds, they continued with their summer job of updating cemetery burial records.

But, when they arrived at the cemetery Wednesday morning, they noticed 16 headstones had been toppled.

Police said the damage is widespread and involved four other city cemeteries -- Nanticoke City, St. Stanislaus, St. Joseph’s and St. Mary’s -- that are adjacent to each other in the area of Washington and Prospect streets.

Capt. Detective William Shultz said more than 100 tombstones were knocked over at the five locations. Most of the damage was found in Nanticoke City Cemetery on top of the hill.

A few reports of toppled headstones were reported to police earlier in the week, he said, noting the vandalism became more widespread. Flower pots, religious statues and solar lights were also vandalized, Shultz said.

A toppled headstone was reported on Monday by people who left the cemetery to buy topsoil, only to return to find additional vandalism at the site, Shultz said.

“Based on that report, we can’t say for sure all this vandalism took place at night,” Shultz said.

Shultz believes more than one person is responsible.

Tom Roman, who was cleaning his parents’ burial site in the Nanticoke City Cemetery, said he didn’t notice any veterans’ grave markers missing from other plots.

Contact police
Anyone with information about the vandalism is asked to contact Nanticoke police at 735-2200.

Edward Lewis, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 829-7196.


I don't believe in ghosts. I don't believe in revenants - spirits in corporeal form who are set out to avenge a specific wrong. (Think of James O'Barr's The Crow, later made into a movie that proved fatal for Brandon Lee.)

I don't believe in curses, or hallowed ground, or magic inherent in cemetery soil. I don't believe any supernatural force will marshal itself to see to it that the people who committed this crime against the dead, and against those who loved them and honored their memories, have a fitting punishment bestowed upon them in this life and the next.

I believe in what I call the Cosmic All. Essentially, it's the universe put under an integral sign, with limits at plus and minus infinity. Our task in life is to contribute to this in a positive way. If we do harm to people, to the universe in general, we're contributing in a negative way - and that's fundamentally wrong.

The national economy is in terrible shape. Nanticoke's is even worse. Nobody - no individual, no church, not even the city itself - has a few thousand dollars just siting around waiting to be spent to repair the damage done by a few individuals on a vandalism spree.

But the damage will be repaired. The money will be spent. And if nobody can afford it right now, someone will go deeper into debt. The damage will be compounded.
No, I don't believe that some curse will fall upon the heads of the people who did this. I don't believe that some rotting, stinking, blackened corpse will rise from its grave and dog their steps until the day they die, always just behind them, just out of sight, to be glimpsed briefly in the edges of their vision and in reflections in mirrors in darkened rooms. I don't believe in any of these things.
But I hope somewhere, on some level, they do.

And I hope in time they know fear, and maybe guilt, and perhaps even remorse.

And if I should ever catch them in the act, they will wish that curses and avenging spirits were the worst things they ever had to fear.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Lawnmowing, rainbows, and a brief preview

I tried to mow my lawn yesterday. I really meant to. I went to the house straight after work, jumped out of the car wielding a weedwhacker, and proceeded to whack weeds until the battery lost its charge. I then went inside to change and use the facilities.

While I was inside the rain that had been threatening to fall all afternoon began to fall. It came down hard, but only briefly, leaving the grass too wet to mow. Then the sun came out, bright and strong. Hmmm, I thought, maybe I will get to mow the lawn.

Then it started to rain again, and that was the end of that.

The rain had finished up and the sun was out again as I left the house. I looked to the East for a rainbow. It was just after 6:00, so the sun was pretty high and the rainbow was pretty low. There was a secondary rainbow, but - and I have never seen this before - it appeared to be non-concentric with the first. The lower legs seemed close to the main rainbow's, but the upper reaches seemed to be farther away. I am wondering if this was not an ordinary secondary rainbow, but was actually being generated by a "subsun" - a false image of the sun created by the reflection of the sun off of all the beads of water that had been left on every surface by what was essentially a double sunshower. I wish I had had my camera with me. By the time I got back here, both rainbows had faded.

So I never did mow that lawn. But today, between 6:45 and 9:15, I did mow my mom's entire lawn. So now I'm tired.

The upshot of all this is that I don't have the time or the energy to write the piece I wanted to write today. I need to gather a lot of illustrations for it, and some news reports, and I just can't get all that done before I have to get to bed. So to keep you in suspense and give you a preview of what is to come, I give you this:
More to follow.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Whole of the Moon

Tonight as the Full Moon rises it will appear huge on the horizon. This is true any Full Moon, but is especially true around the solstices, and this effect will be visible for the next one or two moonrises as well. For fun, go outside with a piece of paper and a nice new pencil with a nice new eraser. Observe the Moon as it rises. Turn away and write down how big the moon appears to you - "Nickel", "Quarter", "Dinner Plate", whatever. Maybe even sketch the Moon approximately the size that you remember it being. (No peeking! This is from memory!)

Now, turn back to the Moon and hold out the pencil at arm's length. Move the eraser so it covers the Moon. How did you cover something so big with something so tiny?

It's called the "Moon Illusion" and has to do with our inability to estimate the distance to faraway objects, as well as our distorted assumptions about the size and "shape" of the sky. For a pretty good article, check out this article on MSN:

Don’t miss a huge June moon illusion

And for a howler, read this article, which is linked from the other:

Is the ‘full moon’ merely a fallacy?

It's a bit of pedantry of the sort that really bugs me. The upshot: the Moon is never truly "Full" for an observer on Earth, because most of the time it is not directly in a line with the Sun and the Earth, and is therefore slightly off to one side, and therefore has a teeny tiny slice of shadowed side showing; in fact, the only time the Moon could be Full is when it is directly opposite the Sun from the point of view of an observer on Earth - which would place it dead center in our shadow for a total lunar eclipse. Of course, the percentage of the visible Moon that is in shadow when we say that it is "Full" is often vanishingly small. So let the pedants have their fun; for the rest of us practical, reasonable folk, we have a pretty good working definition of what it means for the Moon to be "Full."

But that's not the funny part. The funny part is this photo and accompanying caption:



Like the article said, the only time the Moon could be truly "Full" is during a lunar eclipse - and lunar eclipses always occur during Full Moons. The Moon in that picture ain't full. Not even close. Probably at least three days before Full, in a "Waxing Gibbous" phase. No Full Moon = No Lunar Eclipse. You would think that for an article being pedantic about a term used to refer to the Moon, they'd be a bit more careful with the choice of the illustration?

Anyway. As is always the case in these situations, you can get a much better explanation from M.G.J. Minnaert's excellent book Light and Color in the Outdoors (item 131, "Apparent enlargement of the sun and moon at the horizon," and item 132, "The connection between the apparent enlargement of heavenly bodies at or near the horizon and the shape of the celestial sphere.")

Title reference: This song by The Waterboys, shamelessly stolen from Gort's site. I probably heard this song once on the radio, twenty-some years ago. Thanks to Gort I have now heard it a dozen times or more.

I saw the crescent
you saw the whole of the Moon


Update, 10:20 PM:

Overexposed Moon rising over my neighbor's shed

Fast shutter (sports mode)

We were nearly clouded out, but the Moon finally broke through the clouds. I didn't have a clear view of the horizon, anyway.

Phil Plait had a bit on this last year on Bad Astronomy. I forgot about that, but it showed up on my SiteMeter!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Wheel of Fortune

Life is a funny thing.

People ask me why I don't have a Facebook profile. My stock answer is that I've exposed myself online as much as I want to at the moment. I have profiles on AOL, MSN, Match.com, and Blogger. I have entries on CareerBuilder and Monster.com and LinkedIn. I have a MySpace account. I have this blog. I get employment spam and MySpace pseudofriend spam and Match.com "date" spam. I have attracted trolls, vandals, maybe even stalkers. I don't feel like putting any more of myself out there right now.

All that is true.

But the real answer is: Friendster.

You've probably never heard of Friendster. Most people haven't. It was a social networking site of sorts back around the turn of the century, maybe aught-two or so. It was very popular, for a little while. It even got a mention in a MAD parody of one of the Lord of the Rings movies. But things happened, bad business decisions were made, the stars that had aligned moved on. According to the Wikipedia entry, Friendster still exists, but it's a shadow of what it once was.

I never signed on with Friendster. Never saw the need. Back then, some tech-savvy people thought that was odd.

Like a lot of other people, I first heard of Facebook in the wake of the April 2007 Virginia Tech shootings. Facebook entries served as a major source of up-to-the-minute information for friends and relatives, and became impromptu memorial sites for those who had been killed. Suddenly Facebook was in the mainstream, and was getting mentioned several times a day on the major news networks.

I'm not an early adopter. Far from it. But with things like Friendster and MySpace and Facebook, the later you buy in, the more people will have moved on to whatever is next. I sense that MySpace's star has already dimmed, and I think soon the Facebook fad may fade away. Already I have watched more and more regular bloggers drop into silence and inactivity, and more than once I have wondered if blogging's heyday has passed.

*************

I recently came upon some archived stuff. It's a collection of archived links from a site that I used to visit semi-regularly in 2003. It was a site that had regular contributors, and stars, and superstars. Two of my friends fell into the "stars" category, maybe even the "superstars" category; a link from one of them led me to the site, and a link from the site led me to the other.

Neither of them is active there anymore. One has had her old stuff removed, but the other recently entered into the attic of archives. While rummaging around there, I came across a few more usernames that I recognized, names that had once belonged to superstars. I clicked on the links to their personal websites to see what was going on with them now.

One of the four people whose usernames I recognized was just accepted into Berkley this past February. (Hooray for Steph the Geek!) Two others have had their personal sites removed. A fourth has had her life spiral into complete and utter disaster, at least as of a week ago.

I always thought of the people on this site as celebrities. I guess I've always had a child's view of celebrities - you become famous, you become rich, you spend your idle hours hanging around the pool at your phat palatial mansion or on game shows like Password and Match Game and $20,000 Pyramid. You don't wind up in the "Where Are They Now?" column or turn into Dana Plato.

But of course any celebrity is more likely to wind up in mundane obscurity or abject poverty than they are to find everlasting fame. The Wheel of Fortune turns; one moment you are on the top, but soon you are on your way back to the bottom, hoping maybe you'll get another spin.

They say that where there's life, there's hope. But in this world, in this economy, I'm not sure that's true anymore. I've tumbled quite a bit from where I was just a few years ago, and I know a few other people who have taken even harder falls. As our incomes drop our daily expenses rise, especially due to the skyrocketing price of oil and the knock-on effect on every product that is made from petroleum or consumes a petroleum product in its manufacturing, harvesting, processing, or distribution. The holes we are in are getting deeper. Still, there are others who are worse off. I only wish I could help them all.

Maybe someday I will. Maybe someday I will be able to. Maybe someday soon.

Hang on, everybody. Better times may be just ahead.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Bloomsday!

Yes, it's Bloomsday, the day every year when people say, "You know, one of these days I'll get around to reading James Joyce's Ulysses." Maybe next year...

Remembering this set in motion a chain of memories that reminded me of someone, a girl I think I used to know. I just missed her birthday, but that's OK. There's nothing I could have done about it anyway.

The Cure: "Catch"

Sunday, June 15, 2008

On Religion

I woke up late this morning, around 9:00, and turned on the TV.

I got to sleep in because I went to church yesterday afternoon, fulfilling my Sunday obligation. After church I stopped at my house and, in between downpours, planted the cherry tree and blueberry bushes that were sent as replacements for the ones I planted last year that never leafed out. After that I came back here, took a shower, spent too much time on the Internet, and went to bed.

I woke and turned on TV. The usual Sunday morning crap was clogging up the cable. (Wait, I'm paying for this?) Megachurch preacher after megachurch preacher spouting their own variations of the gospel of zealous hate that has taken over for what used to be a religion of love. Cults of personality built around men in natty suits with slick hairstyles and headset microphones, all promising special intercession with God in exchange for your donation - checks and money orders accepted, credit cards preferred.

I got to thinking about all the people I know who are atheists. A new zealotry has gradually crept into atheism. Live-and-let-live is not an acceptable approach in the eyes of many modern atheists. Religiosity in any form, to any extent, must be stamped out, ridiculed, its practitioners treated with contempt and disgust. Even agnosticism, the expression of uncertainty about the existence of God or the supernatural, is inadequate and is seen as a form of collaboration, a lack of courage to take a stand and pick a side. And where religious extremists are considered bad, religious moderates are looked upon as even worse - because they put a face on religion that is acceptable to the general public.

I got out of bed, made my morning ablutions, started to think about breakfast. I checked our apple supply. Too many. If we were to buy apples this Tuesday, shopping day, there would be a lot of rotten apples by next Tuesday, but if we were not to buy apples there would not be enough to last the week. So my breakfast decision was made: apple fritters. That would take three apples out of the equation.

As I chopped the apples and mixed the batter, Meet the Press was on NBC. It was a special episode, a memorial for longtime host Tim Russert who died on Friday. As Tom Brokaw and James Carville and Mary Matalin and other friends and colleagues of Tim Russert told their stories, one theme kept presenting itself over and over: the pervasive influence that his Catholicism had had on his life. He was a product of a Catholic education, taught by nuns and Jesuits, and he carried his Catholic values with him in his daily life. And as the stories rolled on, I thought about how his religion - my religion - is not the same one as that of the TV preachers I had seen an hour earlier. None of the stories his friends told were about his zealotry, about how he rammed his religion down anyone else's throat.

This is what makes the difference to me. Let your beliefs inform your actions, because it is your actions that convey the content of your character. If this is unacceptable to those who see themselves as arguing from a position of absolute truth, a truth known only to themselves and those who share their worldview - well, that's just too damned bad. I won't reject you for your beliefs, though you may reject me for mine. Preach whatever you want, but what you do and how you treat others are more important in the end. I'd rather be in the company of those who act like Tim Russert, anyway.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Double YouTube weekend

First off is something lifted from Todd's Postcards From Hell's Kitchen: a wonderful Shatner/Shatner mashup by YouTube user kirkslashspock of William Shatner's cover of Pulp's "Common People" expertly combined and synched with scenes from the Star Trek animated series.

Wow, the animation from that series was better than I remembered. It was cool that they were unfettered by the limitations of a live-action series - sets, aliens, and special effects were limited only by the animators' imaginations and skills.

Tiffany posted a song by Shatner a while back, but I couldn't locate it last night. (UPDATE: Here it is!)

The next video is lifted from Gort's site, sent to him by Michelle. It's a PSA / politcal spot spoof called "I'm Voting Republican."

I don't agree with everything in this video. I think food irradiation poses as big a hazard to health as Fluoride in our water. I'm not opposed to letting people know that their produce has been irradiated, and why, but I worry that fear, ignorance, and stupidity would dominate any attempts at discourse on the topic. And I also think this video is about twice as long as would be ideal - as the famously long-winded Polonius says in Shakespeare's Hamlet, "Brevity is the soul of wit." (In an episode of The Simpsons, the Reader's Digest has condensed this further into "Brevity is...wit.") But if watching it doesn't make you laugh . . . well, maybe you are voting Republican.

Tim Russert

The thing that's always bugged me the most about the Valerie Plame leak is that Tim Russert was called to testify during the trial of "Scooter" Libby about what he knew about the leak, while Robert Novak, the man responsible for broadcasting the leaked information, was not.

Now it bugs me that Russert is dead, while Robert Novak, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and puppet / pawn / good soldier "Scooter" Libby all get to see another sunrise.

Sunday morning squabble shows will be a little less civil without Tim Russert's presence.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Best Things in Life, Part 1

So I'm finally sitting down to make up my version of Francesco Marciuliano's How to Truly, Deeply Enjoy Life on a Severely Restrictive Budget list. I've decided that there's no way in hell I'm going to get this all out in one shot, so I'll do as much as I can now and add more later.

Here's the premise, as set forth by Ces:
...I am firmly of the opinion that we were given life for a reason, and that reason is not to see what's behind Door Number Two. That reason is to experience the thrill of life while we still have not just the chance but the cashews to follow our dreams. So with that in mind I created a succinct list of activities everyone should engage in, not only for the amusing anecdotes but also to know what it truly means to be human. And because of a crippling economy, paralyzing oil prices and myelopathic job market I made certain that each of the following life-affirming pursuits would cost no more than five dollars, tops...

I don't know if my list truly meets these criteria. But what the hell. Here goes.

1. Become a backyard naturalist. I've been doing this for quite a while. (That's naturalist, dammit, not naturist, which is something different, and something I have never done in my back yard.) Assuming you have a back yard, or have access to any area of land, you can rest assured that it is jammed full of living things of every size and shape: microorganisms, lichen, fungi, mosses, algae, ferns, worms, insects, spiders, snakes, frogs, birds, bats, rabbits, cats, and even the occasional coyote, not to mention grass, flowers, plants of all sorts, and trees. Push aside a big rock and see what's lurking under it! The world around us is teeming with living things, and most of the time we don't even notice them. Paying attention costs nothing.

Now, this may not be an option for people in urban environments like Todd in Hell's Kitchen, who has to travel to see the sort of backyard wildlife most of us take for granted. Even if your indigenous wildlife is restricted to pigeons, rats, and cockroaches, you can still spend quite a bit of time observing them . . . but you might not want to. In that case, why not try this?

2. Become an urban anthropologist. Also known as "people watching." Humans are animals who behave according to their nature, their will, and the dictates and restrictions of society. Observe how people behave as individuals. Observe how they behave as groups. Observe how they behave according to the rules of probability and statistics - crowds observed over the course of time frequently form three-dimensional representations of the Normal Curve.

3. Be still and silent, and listen. This isn't too hard. I'm not suggesting trying to achieve a level of Zen meditation (envision a blank wall; clear your mind of all distractions; now, take away the wall). Just set yourself up somewhere where you can sit and listen. Shut off all distractions. Make your environment as quiet as possible. Now...listen. Deeper, closer. What do you hear? The hum of distant traffic? The thrum of your air conditioning? Birds outside, or cats inside?

I once did this exercise involuntarily when there was a power failure at my grandmother's nursing home. I walked in and heard . . . nothing. No ventilation system pumping air through the building. No hum of vending machines or fluorescent lights. Nothing but myself, walking down a corridor.Very weird.

This is also very interesting to do outside. Especially at night.

4. Extract the instruments in a song. While some music is a carefully blended combination of musical voices added together with an almost mathematical structure, modern music tends to have a more complex, intertwined form. But even when listening to this music through a single mono speaker, it is possible to mentally disentangle the various elements that make up the song and focus on each one individually. You can focus on, say, just the bass, or just the drums, or just the keyboard, or just the guitar. You can also shift your focus from instrument to instrument. (NOTE: This might not work with mp3s or other highly compressed formats. I have actually heard instruments that should have slipped into the background vanish entirely from the musical picture after being compressed onto an mp3. )

5. Become a naked-eye astronomer. Your eyes are really fantastic tools when it comes to observing, and they're great for looking at the stars, too. Find yourself a dark enough location, or dark-adapt your eyes long enough to open up your pupils wide, and you'll be amazed at the amount of stuff you can see. If you're very, very lucky, you might see an Aurora!

Observing the sky during the daytime is very cool too - and it's free.

6. Watch the Moon through an entire lunar cycle. This may not be possible due to weather conditions, but it's a great way to make you aware of the rhythms of nature. From the youngest Moon, a thin sliver bathed in reflected Earthshine visible just after sunset, through the Cylon Moon of the afternoon, through the Full Moon rising as the Sun sets, to the "Astronomer's Moons" of the late night and early morning, you'll develop an awareness of the Moon's changing appearance that most people have forgotten.

OK. None of these are as much fun as swimming with ducks or enjoying the hell out of an apple. But they are definitely under five bucks!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Polyphemus Moth

Having mowed my own lawn yesterday, I had to get started on my mom's lawn today. I didn't expect to get the whole thing done, but I would have gotten farther ahead if I had started around 6:00 rather than 7:00. But the sun was hot and high at 6:00, and lower an hour later. Besides, I figured the light would last longer today.

I hadn't gotten very far when my mom called to me from the front door, asking me to come around to the back porch. She had found - something - and didn't know what it was.

With that much information, I knew what it was. My baby had come out of its cocoon!

This was what my mom had discovered:
Polyphemus Moths are huge and beautiful, but they can be quite startling to see - heck, they're supposed to be. (I was going to say "they're designed that way," but I don't want anyone thinking I'm an "Intelligent Design" proponent. I'm not.) It's especially startling to find one of them on your back porch.
When last we saw this particular moth, it had just entered its pupal stage last July 25th - ten and a half months ago! I was worried that a coffee can with some leaves on my back porch would not provide adequate protection against the cold of Winter. Apparently it did.
If I had thought it through ahead of time, I would have gotten my Audubon field guide and set up some photos just like the ones I took of the caterpillar last July, including one of me going eye-to-eye with it. But the newly-hatched moth is a bit more delicate than the caterpillar stage, so I really tried to handle it as little as possible. It wasn't quite ready to fly - considering how fat its abdomen was, it may take some time to get into flying condition - so I looked around the yard for a safe place for it to finish stretching its wings. I settled on a semi-shaded flat rock near a cherry tree, nestled among some ferns. I poured some water on the rock in case it needed a drink. I hope it gets a chance to mature and go about its mothly business.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Meme in the making

The term "meme" has been hijacked and repurposed on the Internets to mean "something that is passed around on the internet, usually requiring some response or modification by each recipient." This is pretty far from what the term first meant when it was coined by Richard Dawkins decades ago,but that's the way these things go.

I'd like to try to turn this list written by Francesco Marciuliano into one of these latter-day memes. The premise is simple: "(A) succinct list of activities everyone should engage in, not only for the amusing anecdotes but also to know what it truly means to be human. And because of a crippling economy, paralyzing oil prices and myelopathic job market I made certain that each of the following life-affirming pursuits would cost no more than five dollars, tops."

I plan to do my own list, but after mowing and weedwhacking the lawn across town, I'm too wiped out. Maybe tomorrow. Be sure to read Franceso's list, and start thinking of items you'd like to add. Or just make your own list!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Storm

Shutting down. More later.

UPDATE, 9:14 PM: Later...


We sustained some minor damage. Trees down.

(Those are Christmas trees, little prelit numbers whose prelit lights bit the dust before last season. So we redressed them with strings of white LED lights, which we didn't want to use anywhere else because of their intensity, and use them as substitute porch lights. The solar rock lights, visible to the left and right, really don't add much light.)

OK, I was seriously scared for a while there, when the police scanner started lighting up with messages of trees down all over town and my brother called from a bit earlier in the storm's path to tell us to take shelter right away. I began the shutdown/disconnect process on the computer - so naturally it decided that this was the best possible time to install some updates. Six updates later, my mom and I rounded up the cats and ushered them into the cellar. We followed, armed with portable phones, cell phones, emergency lights and emergency radios.

The storm passed quickly, and I took advantage of our regularly scheduled conference call at work to call in and tell them to RUN FOR THEIR LIVES, or at least secure all systems against damage caused by power interruptions.

After the storm had passed almost entirely I drove across town to see if my 100-year-old house was still standing. It was, and nothing seemed amiss...until I drove past it and noticed all sorts of crap on the side of the house. Crap that I recognized. Crap that should have been stored on the back porch on the other side of the house.

I continued past the house and turned at the big pink asbestos-shingled castle that used to be a gift shop that sold all sorts of little figurines and whatnot. Its chimney had collapsed onto a car parked in the street. Police tape warned away anyone who might try to gawk.

I tried to turn onto the alley that runs behind my house so I could swing around to park in front, but somebody had thoughtlessly blocked the alley halfway down with a truck. The nerve.

I came the long way around the block and parked in front of my house. I moved along the side, collecting strewn stuff: a watering jug, a plastic bag, the big can everything had been in...

My Adirondack chairs were tossed around the yard like they had been in an angry giant's way.

The alley behind my house was blocked off with yellow tape because of the tree that had collapsed onto a neighbor's garage, narrowly missing the neighbor's boat and car.

Chunks of shingles were missing from another neighbor's roof.

I got off easy; I just had to walk around and gather up stuff, and then put the assembled bits (which now weighed about, say, thirty pounds) back where they had started from. Other people have extensive repairs ahead of them.

I didn't take pictures of the damage, partly because I didn't feel like engaging in the sort of weather damage porn that is so popular these days, but mostly because I had left my camera in the car. When I got home, while I was trying to determine which recycling containers belonged to which neighbor, I decided to get some pictures of the post-sunset glow, the salmon and pink and gray and purple and green clouds interacting in the blue sky. I think they came out nice.



So now the heat wave is over. Tomorrow I have to mow and weedwhack the lawn across town, and plant my cherry tree and blueberry bushes. Then I have to turn my attention to mowing this lawn.

Monday, June 09, 2008

It's rather hot

Gaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

There is so much yard work to do right now, but doing it could result in death. Seriously. One of my next-door neighbors died while doing yard work during a heat wave.

It can wait. The cherry tree and blueberry bushes, the ones that arrived last week to replace the ones that I planted last year that never amounted to anything, are sitting dormant in the kitchen of my house across town. They are in packaging that is supposed to keep them that way for up to three weeks. The grass isn't all that tall, but spiky weeds are everywhere. That's OK. Nothing worth dying over.

To celebrate the early arrival of late Summer, I present you with a mini-tune from a few years back: "Pleather" by They Might Be Giants. Granted, the sponsor is a dimwitted company that allows itself to be led by the nose by whackos like Michelle Malkin, but still...



NOTE: That video embed doesn't work for me. Am I doing something wrong with Google Video? Too bad there isn't a YouTube version of this. Well, sorry folks. You'll just have to follow the link!

Whoops, I was grabbing the embed code wrong. Not sure how I did that. All better now!

...Actually, no it isn't. But it isn't me. I had the correct code in there, but Blogger (a Google product) modified it when I re-edited the post to include that last comment! We'll see how long this one keeps!


The backs of my legs
sticking to the pleather...

Image from http://tmbw.net/wiki/Image:Pleather.jpg

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Final throes?

I think having the stock market crash and oil prices spike on a Friday (namely, last Friday, June 6) was a fortunate turn of events, as it prevented too much damage being done by panic sellers dumping stocks and greedhead buyers finally trying to hitch their wagons to the oil rocket. Except for after-hours traders. And weekend traders. (Is weekend trading even allowed?) Anyway, come Monday people will be going at the problem clearheaded after a weekend of thinking it through and planning strategies and developing contingency plans...or else they'll be too hung over from a weekend of heavy drinking to do much more than switch off their monitors and rest their heads on their keyboards and cry.

Things are bad and getting worse. Job losses are increasing, the difficulty in finding a job comparable to the one you lost - or, often, any job at all - is increasing, the cost of getting to a job or just driving around looking for a job is increasing. Food, electricity, heating oil, all up. (I just paid 88 cents for the largest container of Wal-Mart's Equate dental floss - 55 yards long. The last time I bought this dental floss it was in the largest package at the time - 125 yards - and about the same price.) Discretionary income, the excess money left over after you account for all of your necessary expenses, the money that keeps the economy running, has dried up or fallen into negative territory. And Bush's Discretionary War grinds on and on.

I had a burst of hope earlier today that suggested that this is a temporary situation, merely an orgy of economic raping, pillaging, and plundering by the people who have been engaging in such behaviors with impunity since the installation of the Bush Administration by five members of the Supreme Court. It's something like the Magnificent Seven: until now, the banditos have been content with coming around periodically and carrying off the women of a certain age, and the crops, and the wealth that the villagers have accumulated since the last raid. But now that those days are coming to an end, they've gone on a final push to squeeze the system for everything they can get out of it. In the past, it's been in their interests to maintain a certain level of sustainability in the system, so that there will be something more to rob in the future; but now that it's become abundantly clear that business as usual is about to change, they've realized that in a few months there will be no tomorrow for them, and they'd better get everything they can today.

Will they kill the goose that lays the golden egg? Will they leave the economy scorched and incapable of regenerating itself? Will the damage that is being done now be fixable in the next four years, or has rapaciousness pushed our economy past the tipping point, beyond the point of no return?

And even if things start getting better on January 20, 2009, can we afford to wait that long?

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Out of sorts

Eh. I'm in a mood. It will pass.

Maybe it's related to the retirement party last night. So many Physics and Electronics Engineering alumni in one place. I can't say for certain that every one of them is more successful than I am, or was more successful at my age than I am, but I'm seriously questioning what I can do to get myself out of the pit I'm in. Right now I'm thinking that the best most of us can hope for is to stand our ground until things pass. But when the stock market crashes that same day that the oil market makes it abundantly clear that it is not fluctuating according to simple laws of supply and demand, I'm not sure standing our ground will soon be an option for many of us.

I'm having car problems. Stupid car problems. My right rear tire is losing air. I had these tires installed at Sam's Club back in April. This is where I have had every set of tires on this car installed. A few weeks ago, after the problem was first brought to my attention, I reinflated the tire using my handy portable air compressor and took my car to one location to have them look at the tire and check it for leaks. They told me that the tire was losing air around the bead and that the problem appears to be with the rim itself, and showed me a large lump on the rim that looked like a welding mark. They reinflated the tire and reinstalled the wheel. The tire held air for two days after that, and then lost enough that I had to refill it again with my portable compressor. (These tires were installed in the beginning of April, and the problem first became apparent as of mid-May.) I took the car for a second opinion to another Sam's Club, the one where I had the tires installed, and they told me the same thing, but also applied some sealant along the bead where the leak was happening. That held for about two weeks. But today I had to reinflate the tire again. At some point I may have to bite the bullet and take another day off so I can get this dealt with. Since some 90% of the miles I put on this car are for commuting to and from work, all these expenses - repairs, maintenance, even gas - should be partly deductible on my taxes. Shouldn't they?

I wanted to do some planting today, but the weather was just so insanely hot. Then it was insanely stormy. Now it's just wet.

I gave blood today. Three weeks of getting extra Iron paid off, and my donation went off almost without a hitch, except for some confusion with the PalmPilots that are used to streamline the donation process. Someday I should look into the question of why my Iron has been low-ish for the past few years. As with many things, I'm worried I might not like the answer I get.

I opted out of the Belmont Stakes gathering today. But I heard that Big Brown, the horse who was not only favored to win the Belmont and, consequently, the Triple Crown, but also was as much out of the league of the other horses as Tiger Woods was out of the league of other golfers when he was playing at his peak, didn't simply fail to win, but actually came in last. If Big Brown's victory over Eight Belles in the Kentucky Derby could be viewed as an omen of Barack Obama's eventual triumph over Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic nomination, then the outcome of the Belmont Stakes is a very bad omen for Obama indeed.

On a positive note: My nephews were over and - I have to wipe a tear from my eye when I say this - have recently turned into Star Wars junkies. Having burned through all of the movies, today they contented themselves with the documentaries and featurettes on the Special Features disc from the Special Edition Trilogy boxed set, as well as some DK visual guides I've had tucked away for a few years. My younger nephew drew and colored a lightsaber on a legal pad my mom gave him as drawing paper. I then turned his drawing into a three-dimensional object with the help of a paper towel tube and some tape. (I even tapered the tip with some folds and tape, so it comes to a point like the lightsabers in Revenge of the Sith.) He then drew a Boba Fett-style jetpack for himself. I designed an alternate jetpack for him out of three sheets of scrap paper: two rolled up loosely and taped to form two 8.5" cylinders, and one rolled up more tightly and taped to form an 11" cylinder. I then lashed the three cylinders together with tape, and affixed the assembly to his back with two more pieces of tape, and then he was all ready to hunt for bounties until the day that some blind guy with a stick accidentally launches him into a Sarlacc Pit.