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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cold and tired

Back to work for four and one-third twelve-hour days. One day down, three and one-third to go. Only not really, since I'll be taking Tuesday off as a "sick day." This is one of my unused "personal days" from last year. The rules state that these days must now be taken as sick days, but they also state that sick days may be used for appointments - including family member's appointments. My mom has lots of appointments with doctors. Tuesday is one of those days.

(This all assumes that these particular rules haven't changed. I've got a new copy of the employee handbook I need to go over. I suppose I should document how much time I spend reviewing this new handbook at home.)

It is cold. Very cold. And I am tired. I am going to brush my teeth, wash my face, and go to bed for a few hours.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Susquehanna River Sentinel

For over ten years the clean water enthusiast known as Kayak Dude has been running a site called The Susquehanna River Sentinel, bringing to light all sorts of problems that afflict the Susquehanna River, diminish the ability of people to use and enjoy it, and threaten its ecological and economic future. From the folly of the Inflatable Dam to the dumping of raw sewage directly into the river just upstream of Wilkes-Barre's new riverside recreational facility to the mass poisoning of millions of gallons of water in the hydrological fracturing process of natural gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale formation and the consequent contamination of groundwater near extraction sites, The Susquehanna River Sentinel has covered it all.

Only...you probably can't find any of that stuff.

In its current form, The Susquehanna River Sentinel doesn't have an RSS feed, so there's no easy way for readers to be alerted whenever a new entry is posted. It doesn't use permalinks, so there's no way to link directly to a specific entry.

And, as far as I can determine, it doesn't archive entries. Once a few new entries elbow their way onto the page, the old entries vanish into the aether.

It's not all gone. Mark Cour has diligently covered a few of the entries on his blogs Wilkes-Barre Online and Circumlocution for Dummies. And it was there that I asked Mark to relay my concerns to Kayak Dude - which he did here, along with his own.

Friday morning, Mark posted Kayak Dude's response in an entry called KD goes mainstream. And while it is without any real content as of this writing (beyond the introductory announcement), a new, reference-ready version of The Susquehanna River Sentinel is now online.

I've added a live link to the sidebar, so as soon as Kayak Dude starts posting to this new blog we'll all be able to see. Watch this space!


UPDATE: While we wait, Mark keeps the gas fires burning.
Frickin' frackin': Part 2

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Ultimate Answer birthday

I'm 42 today.

I suppose by now I should have learned some of the answers to life's deep questions. And to be perfectly honest, I have learned a lot, and continue to learn. And I've forgotten a lot, and will continue to forget. Eventually the forgetting will overtake the learning, and at some point I will be left with nothing but random stains of memories popping out at unexpected and inappropriate times. If I live so long.

But the deep answers? The basic stuff? No, I don't have that. Not even close. Hell, I'm willing to bet there are several hundred things you take for granted every day that are complete mysteries to me. But I'm pretty good at faking it, so maybe you don't even notice, most of the time.

I'm not going to try to be profound now, not going to try to impart some imagined wisdom to some hypothetical readers. Hell, I just learned that I have ho idea how to get a cake to pop neatly out of a pan without leaving most of itself attached to the pan. Nor do I know how to ice a cake without causing it to rip itself apart. Good thing we already have a cake on order from the local bakery.

I don't know how much longer I have. Maybe I'll die before I finish this post, in which case I'll never get a chance to hit the "Publish Post" button, so you'll never see it. Maybe I'll live another three decades or so. Maybe I'll live longer than that, sound in mind and body. I don't know.

Hopefully I'll live long enough to get a chance to learn all those things I want to learn. And maybe, just maybe, I won't forget them.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Susquehanna and the Moon, January 27, 2010

Storms charged up the East Coast this weekend. Locally we were spared the worst, and fared much better than other areas affected by the same system. But the Susquehanna River, which slices through Northeastern Pennsylvania on its trip to join the West Branch and head south through Harrisburg and into the Chesapeake Bay, is fed by waters from upstate New York as well as nearer tributaries. This means that the level of the Susquehanna is determined not just by local weather events, but also by weather hundreds of miles away.

I drove over the Susquehanna around midday today on a box girder bridge near West Pittston. It's an old bridge, quite narrow, and its replacement is being slowly constructed alongside it. So it was a little terrifying to see just how fast and high the river was there. I decided to go out and get some pictures from the Nanticoke - West Nanticoke bridge when I was done doing what I needed to do for the day.

The river was clearly higher here than it was when I took photos last February 5th. (See here and here for those pictures.) But it wasn't as high as I expected. I parked my car in a dirt lot full of small, old, beaten-up and mostly foreign vehicles, so it sort of blended in. I took this picture from the riverbank, before I began crossing the bridge:


One of the most obvious signs that the water was higher than usual were the trees that seemed to be standing on a narrow island in the river. In fact, these are the trees that line the coast of the Nanticoke Flats, which were now almost completely inundated. (Se the Google Earth photo at the bottom of this entry to see what the flats look like from above when the river is well below flood stage. The flats are the large treeless area in the lower middle of the photo.)





You can use the green building on the left side of this photo, and the white tree in front of it, as landmarks to compare the level of the river with the level in the large panorama featured at the top of this post.

Taking pictures facing west across the deck of a well-travelled bridge and over a river in the afternoon rarely produces satisfactory results, but I liked the composition of this one. The railroad bridge in the distance is no longer used, and the rail lines have long been rerouted along the southern bank of the river.

While I was stepping back from taking this photo the right pocket of my coat snagged on the left handlebar of a bicyclist who had silently chosen that moment to pass behind me. Neither one of us wound up plummeting over the railing and into the cold, cold water of the Susquehanna.

The Moon plays peekaboo among the clouds in the eastern sky as I walk back to the car.

I turned back to get a photo of the bridge I had just been on.

As I got to my car I stopped to take one last picture of the bridge with some of the old cars in the foreground. Somewhere there is someone who would be willing to pay a small fortune for any one of these vehicles.


BONUS: When I got home I decided to snap a few photos of the Moon - freehand, using only my body and then the roof of my car to steady the camera.



Here's a "stacked" image that combined three individual photos in an effort to remove artifacts present in any one. I'm not sure if my ham-handed stacking made the image better or worse. Still, some genuine detail is visible, including Mare Crisium at the top.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Odd search engine hit of the day

"PUT OXYCOTIN IN SKITTLES BAG TO GET BY AIRPORT SECURITY"

Yep, somebody Googled that...and somehow got to my site.

Good luck with that, person in or near Gaithersburg, Maryland. Taste the Rainbow!

Two dreams

I haven't been sleeping as well as I should be. I've had some soreness in my left shoulder that seems to be exacerbated by non-use - which is to say, it hurts more on my days off than on my working days. But this soreness makes itself known when I try to go to sleep, a presence always just on the edge of my consciousness. At least, until I turn the wrong way and it hurts like hell.

Not sleeping well often translates into more remembered dreams. I remember two from yesterday. Oddly, they have some common themes.

In the first one I was helping my brother and some other people move some bleachers. Why we were moving bleachers is lost in the dream's internal logic. But there we were on the Sans Souci Parkway, a four-lane road near my house that connects Nanticoke with Wilkes-Barre by way of Hanover Township. The bleachers were being towed sideways by a medium-duty truck, part of a small fleet of about five or six other trucks surrounding us. My brother and I were in the bleachers, and he kept walking around in them, despite my insistence that he sit down. And eventually he fell out, and got run over - by the bleachers, and maybe one of the trucks, too. He was badly hurt, with one of his forearms obviously broken and possibly a lot more damage, but he was conscious. I tried to call 911 but had a hard time getting through. Eventually I got through, but after some time on the line with the operator she fell silent, and I had to hang up and try again.* I then moved around from phone to phone, trying different phones in various houses, but never able to complete the call. (How this got resolved, I do not know.)

In another dream I had been visiting someone somewhere for the weekend. I don't know who, but I think it was down around Philadelphia. As Sunday night rolled around I knew that I had to be back to work for 6:00 Monday night, so I decided to spend the night with some friends in the Poconos. The plan was that I would sleep there and in the morning head home and either get ready for work or get more sleep. But I slept in late, and my friends had some interesting company, and we all got to talking, and before I knew it it was after 6:00on Monday night. I tried to grab a phone to call in and let the people at work know I wouldn't be in, but I found the phone impossible to use - the buttons for the numbers were arranged in a strange way, horizontally in two rows I think, and some of the buttons were odd shapes and sizes, and besides, my hands were numb and felt swollen. I tried another phone, and that one was worse than the first, but at least now I saw that the time was really just 5:58, so I had plenty of time. But a third phone was still unusable.

Around this time I opened my eyes and looked at my clock radio and saw that the time was just after noon, and realized I was at home and in my own bed. I went back to sleep and did not have any more dreams.



*A friend had this happen in real life, but it was with an internet service provider customer service line in India.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Lucky break

The storms that have been coming like a freight train from south to north along the Eastern Seaboard have mostly broken around Nanticoke. We've had some moderately heavy rain, but none of the pounding downpours that in the past have caused basement flooding, overwhelmed storm drains, and blown manhole covers off of storm sewers. Other communities just a few miles to either side of us have not been so lucky.

This is a good thing for me. Twice in recent years (in 2006 and again in 2009) I have had to go out in the middle of a storm with a six-foot iron rod in my hand to unclog the storm drain across the street from my house. The last time I did this the standing water in the street was already close to the level of the curbs and was threatening to inundate lawns and driveways. This last time I also had to wade out into the middle of a busy intersection to replace the manhole cover that had been blown off. Fortunately, most drivers are wise enough to steer clear of a very large man dressed all in black holding a six-foot iron rod in one hand in the middle of an intersection in the middle of an electrical storm.

But tonight, for the first time this scheduled rotation, I am going in to work. That means that if any emergencies should arise, if basements need pumping or storm drains need clearing or manhole covers need replacing, I won't be around to do it. So I'm hoping that our luck holds through the night, and the storms continue to break around Nanticoke.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Solar Energy at the Home & Garden Show

I invested $6.50 in a ticket to the Northeastern Pennsylvania Home & Garden Show yesterday. (It would have been $7.50, but some nice lady behind us gave me her extra $1 off coupon.) I wasn't there to see the latest in home improvement gadgetry, though, nor was I there to find any stuff for my garden - and in the latter case I would have been very disappointed, it turns out; aside from people selling landscaping services and poisons, I don't recall seeing many garden-related vendors. No, I was there to see who was offering what in the area of residential solar energy products.

It turns out there were three solar energy vendors there, and I got contact information for each of them. My experience with solar energy is a few decades old (and with a now-defunct company), but it still may prove useful at some point in the future. The three vendors I spoke with were:

Tony DellDonna Construction
12 Blytheburn Road
Mountain Top, PA 18707
570-868-SUN1
FAX: 570-868-0239
http://www.solaruniverse.com/

Endless Mountains Solar Services, LLC
288 Kidder Street
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702
570-820-5990
1-800-496-9620
FAX: 570-820-5993
http://www.endlessmtnsolar.com/

Keystone Energy (a division of Ruckno Construction Co.)
A.J. Bittner
570-728-4024
Cell: 570-885-1397
email: aj (at) ruckno.com
99 Parry Street
Luzerne, PA 18709
http://www.keystone-energy.net/

I've written about solar energy before, in "Fields of Light" and "Can Wal-Mart save the world?" I'm heartened that a place like Northeastern Pennsylvania can allow three solar energy vendors to make a business case for their presence here. Still, I'm waiting for a breakthrough, a point where owners of massive exposed surface area and relatively well-understood energy requirements - say, big box stores* - make the decision to transform their rooftops from being solar thermal collectors to being photoelectric conversion facilities supplying some or all of the electricity needed by their businesses.

I personally know a few Physics professors who are involved in solar energy on the academic side. Now I have contact information for three local vendors who are in the business of solar energy installation. Maybe I can facilitate something somewhere along the line, some sort of local solar forum. Heck, maybe I can even find a way to work myself into the deal somehow. My knowledge isn't that rusty...


For further reading: Renewable Energy World - Renewable Energy News, Jobs, Events, Companies, and more

*An argument can be made that the life expectancy of a big box store (or of any given tenant) may not be long enough to guarantee a return on investment for a significant installation of solar panels. But there are other facilities with plenty of surface area and longer typical lifespans: schools, banks, prisons, supermarkets, arenas...the list goes on.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Halfway Game

About fifteen years ago I was in a bar with some friends. I ordered a beer and paid for it with a ten-dollar bill. The bartender handed me back my change, a few singles and an odd-looking five. I left the singles on the bar and scrutinized the five.

It was a worn bill, and clearly very old. But it was also a different design from the fives that were in use in the mid-nineties. The image of Lincoln looked smaller, the seal and serial number were red, and some other subtle details looked different. My gaze moved to the series date.

I don't remember the exact date, but from the limited research I just did, I believe this was a series 1928 bill.*

My mind reeled. About as much time has passed since this bill was issued, I thought, as passed between the day Lincoln was shot and the bill was printed.

I don't know if this was exactly true. Series dates on bills don't necessarily indicate the year they were printed. Still, it was close enough for my purposes. I wondered about the history of the bill. Squirrelled away in some old-timer's mattress until he decided he needed to raid his emergency funds to wet his whistle? Stolen out of a grandmother's purse? The last legacy of someone's beloved parent? I had no idea. I pocketed the bill and got back to what I was doing.

In six days I will be as close to being sixty-five as I am to being nineteen. As close to being seventy-six as I am to being eight.

Last week I heard someone on the radio talking about Robert Johnson and his influence on the musicians of the 1960's. The bulk of Robert Johnson's creative output dates from 1936 and 1937. Among these songs is "Cross Road Blues," which the British rock/blues band Cream covered as "Crossroads" in 1968.

Let that sink in. "'Crossroads" came thirty-one years after "Cross Road Blues." As of this writing in January of 2010, it has been about forty-two years since "Crossroads." There is a greater distance between the present day and the premiere of the original Star Wars than there is between Robert Johnson's recording of "Cross Road Blues" and Cream's recording of "Crossroads."

Usually when I play the Halfway Game, people tell me to stop. I think I will for now.


*It might have been a series 1933. I have it around here somewhere, I'm just not sure where.

Friday, January 22, 2010

HR Cafe, the online world, and job searches

Bill's adventures in job-seeking continue. Bill's is one of the first blogs I ever linked to, and he is the first blogger I knew in person. See what he has to say about his adventures with HR Cafe.


UPDATE: Three hours later, the post I linked to is gone. You know that stuff about "the Internet is forever"? Not really.

UPDATE 2, 1/24/2010: And now it's back, under a new permalink. (Link has been revised.)

Hat tip to Dr. Isis for the photo link.

Hope For Haiti

The "Hope For Haiti" telethon is playing live on YouTube right now. To donate: 1-877-99-HAITI (1-877-994-2484).

http://hopeforhaitinow.org

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Paul Krugman

If you're not reading Paul Krugman, you should be. He's one of the sanest, most reasonable voices out there. Also a Professor of Economics at Princeton, a New York Times columnist, a Nobel Prize-winning Economist, and - most importantly - a blogger who regularly updates his blog, The Conscience of a Liberal.

The comments on his blog are worth reading, too. Some are reasoned arguments complementing or counterpointing his positions. Some are the typical troll attacks that have become standard in what passes for modern discourse. And some are just odd, irrelevant science-fiction references that just go to show that the commenter actually read the Newsweek profile that described how Paul Krugman chose to pursue a career in Economics based on his fascination with Isaac Asimov's Foundation seres.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Facebook cocktail party

Last May I wrote this:

I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook....It's fun. It provides an easy (if somewhat bland) method of one-to-many communication. It lets you keep track of those parts of their lives your friends are willing to share. It even helps you get a sense of how bored people are, based on the number of surveys and quizzes they're taking each day.

But I also hate Facebook. I blame it for an overall decline in the level of conversation - quantity-wise, at least - on the blogosphere. Some of the best and longest-running bloggers I know of have abandoned their blogs in favor of Facebook. And while blogs are a one-to-all form of communication, Facebook only allows other members of Facebook, or even designated friends, to read items that an individual has posted. Instead of madmen shouting on the commons, it is a restricted-access cocktail party.
I am now seeing it more and more as a cocktail party. But at the same time your Facebook friends are at your cocktail party, they are also at an unknown number of other cocktail parties. Sometimes, due to the magic of mutual friends, these parties may overlap in surprising ways.

I have several broad groups of friends. Fellow bloggers - now, in too many cases, former bloggers - were the first people I linked up with. Then people I know in "real life" - or, as I like to say, bricks-and-mortar friends. Then people I know online through sites like The Comics Curmudgeon and later, through the efforts of some dedicated fellow Felbernauts, Adam Felber's Fanatical Apathy. Then the people who I met or saw perform at the Sideshow Gatherings over the last three years. Then an influx of people I knew in high school, many of whom I haven't seen or been in touch with in a quarter of a century. Then occasional random new friends, like the person I met as a result of a comment I made on an article about, of all things, bar codes, who has turned out to be an extremely interesting and welcome addition to my circle of friends. And then friends of friends, such as those who sent friend requests after one of my friends recommended that they link up with me to get automatic access to my daily blog posts.

All this makes for a pretty crowded cocktail party. Some people I know, some people I am just getting to know. Some people I am starting to back away from very quickly, while others remain relatively silent.

Of course, the party I am seeing is not the same party they are seeing. They are seeing comments from and among their own friends, including me. It becomes like a cocktail party occupied by video displays of the various guests, each of which is present at multiple parties simultaneously. I suppose this is less a simile than a definition.

So, if you're at that party, welcome. Chat a bit with the other guests. I'll be making statements from time to time, usually in the form of reposts of my daily blog posts from Another Monkey, but sometimes as Facebook-only exclusives.

But be warned. This is my party. If you act like an asshole, start abusing the other guests, or - well, hey, if I just plain decide I've taken a dislike to you, I'll show you to the door. Maybe kick you off the porch. Maybe hide you or block you or delete you entirely.

If you don't like it, tough. You've got your own cocktail party. Run that however you see fit.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Fear of a Blue Sky

(Blogging note: Two days! TWO WHOLE DAYS! I missed TWO CONSECUTIVE DAYS OF BLOGGING! That hasn't happened in a long time, possibly since I was in Ireland in 2006. But I've been busy, and my routine was disrupted this weekend, so I haven't actually been on the computer since Saturday morning. Here's a post that would have run Sunday, if I had gotten a chance to write it!)

My work is physically tiring, mainly because I'm on my feet and moving for most of a twelve-hour period from 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM. Add in a 45-minute commute each way and it makes for a long day. Or, to be more accurate, night.

I don't have a problem with my drive home most of the time. I take my "lunch" late, usually after 4:00 in the morning, so there aren't any issues with blood sugar dips. (I'm not a diabetic, but these things affect everyone.) I've managed to sprain my circadian rhythms so the ordinary fatigue that kicks in at that time doesn't affect me much. Plus I eat grapes and drink diet cola on the ride home, so I've got that keeping me awake.

I also listen to the radio. Monday through Friday I'm listening to Morning Edition on NPR to get the news of the night and the previous day. Saturdays I surf around a bit but often land on the college radio stations (like VMFM) that play alternative stuff on Saturday mornings.

Sundays are more problematic. From the time I leave work until 6:30 I can listen to Euranet's oddly fatuous weekly summary show on VMFM. (I don't know if they play any of the daily programs on weekdays - I've never come across one.) But after that comes The Lutheran Hour ("Bringing Christ...to the NATIONS!") which, while amusingly and surprisingly strident, only holds my interest for about fifteen seconds or so. So I find myself surfing around a bit, stumbling through the odd mix of programming (particularly public service and interview shows) that fills the airwaves on Sunday mornings when nobody is listening. Consequently my mind starts to wander a bit.

It was while my mind was wandering a bit that I noticed the light in the sky out of my peripheral vision.

Sunday morning was a relatively clear day. Most mornings the past week or so have featured high-altitude fog that does really amazing things to the light pollution that becomes more problematic in the Winter. This is because lights that are properly shielded and directed downward and don't add much to skyglow through the rest of the year are now reflecting off of snow-covered surfaces and salt-whitened parking lots illuminating the sky and moisture-laden air directly above. But Sunday morning wasn't like that, at least not most of the way, or at least not on the part of the trip when I noticed the brightening in the sky.

It was behind me, and over my left shoulder. I was driving along interstate 81 from Olyphant to Nanticoke, which put me on an east-by-southeast* west-by-southwest course. (81 is technically a north-south highway, but it parallels the mountains between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre thanks to the efforts of Congressman Dan Flood, who saw the value in having this major highway connect two of Northeastern Pennsylvania's largest population centers rather than just cutting through mountain passes to continue on its way.) The sky was lit up with an icy blue-white light. Oh, it's the Moon, I thought. Then I remembered that there had just been a solar eclipse visible in the South Pacific this past Friday. Solar eclipses can only happen when the Moon is "New" - well, in the "No Moon" stage of Newness. And after that, the Moon slips into the evening sky to become a slim crescent on the West. Not a big glowy thing that lights up the sky ice-blue in the East in the morning.

Whatever was making the sky light up was out of my direct vision, so I couldn't see the source. What else could be doing this? A plane? No, that would have moved on, at this was holding steady. A light on a tower? Maybe. I've seen flashing beacons illuminate the entire sky under the right conditions of humidity, but this wasn't flashing, and there were no towers that I had ever noticed in this particular area before.

Ohmygodohmygodohmygod, I thought. Could it be a supernova? A star in the sky exploding so tremendously that it outshines everything else, even the Moon? But anything bright enough to make the sky turn icy blue-white would have to be really bright, really big, really powerful - and might be dosing us with enough radiation to fry the atmosphere, destroy the ozone layer, and leave us wide open to the radiation that our atmosphere usually protects us from.

No. No. Phil Plait wrote in Death From the Skies! that there are no stars within range to go supernova in the immediate future, not close enough or bright enough to light up the sky like this.

My mind raced. So what else could be doing this? What else could be causing the Eastern sky to light up like this in the early morning hours?

And then I remembered something I haven't seen in a while, at least not on my ride home. Something that is usually a bit more colorful in its early stages, but that can be washed-out and icy blue-white.

Something called a "sunrise."

Oh. That. Yeah, that would explain it.


*And with that standard left-right confusion typo, this story officially makes NO SENSE WHATSOEVER.

Title reference: "Fear of a Black Hat", a funny movie from 1994 something like a hip-hop version of "This Is Spinal Tap." The title of the movie was itself a reference to Public Enemy's album Fear of a Black Planet.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Mission of Burma: That's When I Reach For My Revolver

I heard this song on the radio on the way home from work this morning on VMFM, Marywood University's radio station. VMFM has a huge and diverse catalog of music, and they have provided interesting surprises in the past. But this time I recognized the song, even though I wasn't sure what it was or who it was by. When I got home I Googled the phrase "That's when I reach for my revolver" and found that the song (the title of which is in fact this phrase) was by Mission of Burma - an amazing band that was decades ahead of its time. Their initial run was from 1979 through 1983, but their sound is nothing like anything else you will hear from that era. Here is a video of the band performing "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" live.



I had the privilege of working on a Mission of Burma DVD project years back, and that was when I was first exposed to this remarkable band - and this song.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Rush Limbaugh is scum

For several years now I have owned a house that I don't live in. There are reasons for this, good reasons. I won't get into that now.

I do my best to make the house look lived-in. Different decorations go up throughout the year. Lights come on in various rooms, some on a fairly regular schedule, some on semi-random patterns. And, if you happen to be very close to the house at certain times of day, you will hear voices coming from it.

I have clock radios set up throughout the house. Several are tuned to NPR and will play Morning Edition or All Things Considered or, on weekends, A Prairie Home Companion. But I needed voices for the midday, and for that I turned to reliable source of chatter: talk radio.

I'm rarely at the house at midday, and if I am it's usually to do yard work. But there are times that I get to hear the members of the chattering class who fill my empty house with their voices. And among their number is...Rush Limbaugh.

Most of the time I switch off the radio whenever he comes on. Sometimes I can't, because I'm busy doing something like mixing concrete or sharpening mower blades or repotting plants, stuff that I can't just stop doing. And on those days I am subjected to the wit and wisdom of this bloated drug-addicted jackass.

I've heard him take credit for the creation of "Alternative Media", suggesting that all bloggers owe him a debt of gratitude for his invention. I've heard him refer to soldiers who would dare to criticize the policies of George W. Bush "phony soldiers" - and then play an edited recording of his statements the next day and refer to it repeatedly as an "exact transcript." (Apparently when you're a drug-addled multi-millionaire media mogul, you can't afford certain things...like a dictionary.) I've heard him defend golden parachutes for the robber barons who collapsed the U.S. economy, suggesting that to try to deny them would be as uncharitable as, according to an old story he recounted, wishing your neighbor's goat was dead because you didn't have one yourself. I've heard him attack the "media elite" when he is the prime example of that class.

Limbaugh has an enormous network of stations. He has vast legions of listeners, both casual and the devoted "dittoheads" who agree with everything he says. He has a lot of influence on the airwaves.

In the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake - in the aftermath of any major disaster - he has the potential to have tremendous influence for good.

Instead, he has chosen to do the opposite.

Limbaugh: 'We've Already Donated To Haiti, It's Called US Income Tax' (VIDEO)

I don't have time to recount the stupidity in its entirety here. It's being covered extensively elsewhere. But movie critic and social commentator, among many others, has called Limbaugh out on his comments. See here what he has to say:

A Letter to Rush Limbaugh :: rogerebert.com :: Opinion

Note that in the excerpt included, Limbaugh actually states very little - instead he asks a leading question, and then concurs with the proffered response. "Plausible deniability", anyone?


Dear Rush Limbaugh: It's not too late. You have an opportunity to redeem yourself. Will you choose to take it?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Work and blood

Today is my four-hour day. I go in at 10 pm and leave at 2 am. Hopefully my "Check Engine" light doesn't turn out to be something serious. (I checked yesterday, and everything looked OK. I did add oil, but that's become a regular thing with this car. After more than 314,000 miles...)

After that I will work twelve-hour nights on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Monday is a holiday - Martin Luther King, Jr. day.

Wednesday I am scheduled to give blood - which means I should be bulking up on iron right now. I wonder what the blood situation is in Haiti right now? There are a lot of injured people. Are there many in need of blood? Is there a clean, safe supply of blood available? Are blood supplies being shipped there? And is that depleting available domestic stock?

After 9/11 lots of people rolled up their sleeves for the first time - resulting in a massive oversupply of blood, much of which had to be discarded after it expired, unused, weeks later. When this news broke many of those first-time donors vowed never to give again.

This is, to put it mildly, dumb.

Blood is needed throughout the year, in routine situations as well as emergencies. Everyone who can donate blood, should - if not out of altruism, them maybe out of some bizarre fascination with the alleged health benefits of the ancient practice of bloodletting.* A good way to randomize blood donations to make sure there's a steady supply: give blood on your birthday, then every eight (or twelve, or whatever) weeks thereafter. Assuming that birthdays are spread evenly throughout the year, this should mean that donations will also be spread out.

Anyway. Time for a shower. And maybe some red meat.



*Well...yeah. Don't judge.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pat Robertson on Haiti: Jackass, Douchebag, or Useful Idiot?

Yesterday Haiti experienced its greatest earthquake in over 200 years, with a massive loss of life - estimates range from the tens to the hundreds of thousands dead. The national government is in shambles (more so than usual) and the country is in ruins (again, not to be snarky, but more so than usual.) A country that was already one of the poorest and most miserable in the Western Hemisphere has been dealt a crushing blow.

Help is on the way. Even the blogosphere is mobilizing to provide help - see, for example, this post on the very popular Cake Wrecks site, which not only directs would-be donors to sites that can best utilize their donations, but also provides information on avoiding the inevitable scammers.

By now you've probably seen this video, or at least heard of it:



From the CBS article on this:

As Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said "well over" 100,000 people may have died in the natural disaster, Robertson took to the airwaves Wednesday on his show and said that the country has been "cursed by one thing after another" since they "swore a pact to the devil."

"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about," Robertson said Tuesday.

"They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the prince.' True story. And so the devil said, 'Ok it’s a deal.' And they kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got something themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another," Robertson said.
I've made my feelings about Pat Robertson known in the past - more often than I remembered:

For anyone who thinks "Intelligent Design" ISN'T religion in disguise...
November 11, 2005: Pat Robertson tell residents of Dover, PA who had just voted "Intelligent Design" proponents off the school board "If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city."

Pat Robertson Is Not A Christian
January 6, 2006: He no more speaks for Christians than Osama bin Laden speaks for Muslims. Which a lot of people would say means "He absolutely speaks for Christians." I don't even remember what brought this on.

Pat Robertson, weatherman
May 18, 2006: Pat Robertson prophetically predicts the weather for the rest of the year - and gets it wrong.

God to Pat Robertson: Can you hear Me NOW?
November 30, 2006: One of the mildest hurricane seasons in years draws to a close. But Pat Robertson had pledged to have aid ready to roll in the event of a disaster. "So we're positioning supplies in California. We've got supplies positioned in Florida. We'll have others, and, of course, we have a major presence in the Gulf right now. We're there because we feel the Lord wants us to help people. We feel it's our duty to help the poor and the needy. "


So do the people of Haiti, pact with the devil or not, qualify as the poor and needy?

In answer to the question raised by the title of this post: yes. Yes, Pat Robertson is a jackass. Yes, Pat Robertson is a douchebag. Yes, Pat Robertson is an asshole. Yes, Pat Robertson is the antithesis of a true follower of the teachings of Jesus.

And Yes, Pat Robertson is a useful idiot.

Because he is helping to channel much-needed aid to Haiti. Jackass, douchebag, and asshole, he also has an enormous network capable of raising enormous contributions very quickly - and is doing so. Unlike, say, media mogul Rush Limbaugh, who is (surprise, surprise) using this incident as an opportunity to attack Barack Obama* rather than using his immense influence over his army of devoted listeners to work for good. Pat Robertson's good deeds may not be sufficient to excuse his reprehensible comments and conduct, but he is accomplishing some good. We should all strive to accomplish at least as much.


THIS JUST IN FROM THE WORLD OF PERFORMING ARTS: For those of you in the Washington, D.C. area, please consider attending a special benefit performance of the Cheeky Monkey Sideshow:

Cheeky Monkey Sideshow's Jan 15th show @ the Palace of Wonders is now a BENEFIT FOR THE PEOPLE OF HAITI!

BETTER THE DEVIL THAN PAT ROBERTSON!

The people of Haiti have suffered a devastating tragedy. Cheeky Monkey Sideshow invites you to join us for a benefit show to raise money to aid the earthquake victims.

This is an opportunity to help those in desperate need, and have a wonderful night of fun and sideshow freakery.

You want special guests? We've got special guests!

This month, we are thrilled that spectacular burlesque goddess, L'IL DUTCH is joining us again. We love this lady!

Friday, January 15th
Palace of Wonders
1210 H St., NE
Washington, DC

Show starts @ 10:00 pm

Tickets: $10 @ the door

Hope to see you there!

http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=236512244625


*Who is, one should note, a Wartime President; this action may constitute "Treason" by the definitions being tossed about during the previous administration.

Missed day

Yeah, I missed a day of posting. And the world didn't collapse. Most of it, anyway.

Today had some simple tasks: dental appointment in the morning, take my mom grocery shopping midday, and (I thought) take the latest addition to the menagerie to the vet for the rest of his preliminary check-ups. (Turns out that appointment isn't until tomorrow.)

I don't know who decides on the programming on the sound system at the supermarket. I think it's actually selected by the people working there at any given moment, not piped in or dictated by corporate. I remember once hearing a complete Radiohead album - I think it was "The Bends" - played during a remodeling period. Another time I was just wrapping things up there at a shift change, and suddenly the volume of the music increased to annoying levels, so I had to shout to the cashier as I was checking out. But today - a Tuesday - was senior citizen's day, and somebody was playing the most obnoxious pop from the 70's and 80's. "Rock Lobster" by the B-52s is not good shopping music. Music should make people want to hang out in the store a little longer, not wrap things up as soon as possible to get away from the noise.

One of the last Waldenbooks in Pennsylvania is located in the Laurel Mall in Hazleton, about twenty miles from my house. My friends and I used to go there fairly often, but now it's been maybe five years or more since I made the trip intentionally. Late last year the Borders chain announced that it will be closing most of its remaining Waldenbooks stores, and the Laurel Mall location is on the list. So today a friend and I made a farewell pilgrimage to see if there was anything there worth buying. The store is about 40% empty, but I still found a handful of paperbacks that were worth getting at 50-70% off.

I came home to learn of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, and that occupied my attention the rest of the day...until it was time to make cookies for my cousin's baby shower. I was in the middle of mixing the batter when I realized that midnight had come and gone, and that I had missed my first post in a long time. I could have back-dated this post, but I decided against it.

I did something dumb on Facebook yesterday, and got the results today. Sometimes I guess it's best if we let the past be the past. Still, when your past is often more present in your consciousness that the present, this can be a tough thing to do.

Which brings me to here. It's almost 4:00 AM and I've been awake for over twenty hours. Need to go to sleep soon. More plans in the morning. We'll see how they work out.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sleep day

Today I slept. Most of the day, anyway.

I didn't mean to. I did plan to go over to my house across town after the end of my shift, undecorate, maybe take a little nap. I haven't slept over there in quite a while, possibly since just before Labor Day. But the bed was so comfortable, and it felt so good to just sleep. I wound up sleeping from about 8:00 in the morning to around 4:00 in the afternoon. (Those times may be off by an hour. I haven't reset most of the clocks in that house to Standard Time yet.)

But now I have a problem. I have a dentist's appointment at 8:45 tomorrow morning. Now I have to get back to bed sometime soon so I can wake up in time. Otherwise, my body will just stay on a night shift schedule until it's time to go back to work.

Thursday is the day night I go back to work, though it's for another four-hour day night. Maybe I can arrange to be up in that area and doing something before my shift starts. That's a long haul for very little time spent actually working.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Last of the first of the new

Tonight will be the last night of the first rotation of our new schedule at work. I could call this my "fifth" night, but the first night was actually only four hours long, from 10 PM to 2 AM. As of tomorrow morning I have Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday off, and then go back to work for another four-hour night on Thursday.

Part of my problem with the new schedule - aside from the mathematical result that you get when you compare number of hours worked per eight-day period (up) with amount earned each week (down) - is the fact that regardless of how many hours you are putting in, you still have to make the full commute, and now you have to do it an extra day. In my case, this is an extra 66 or so miles, and an extra 90 minutes on the road.

In recent weeks I've seen one highway accident almost as it happened, and have come across the aftermath of another shortly after it happened.

It would be simple to assign a universal per-mile probability of bring involved in an accident. But the probability tends to vary with the day of the week, the day of the year, the time of day, the weather, and a bunch of other factors.

I know every time I go on the highway I am running the risk of getting in an accident. It concerns me that I am taking this risk now for less than a full day's pay.

I will have a stretch of four days off at the beginning of February, the fourth through the seventh - though I think I may already have plans for those days. After that my next four day stretch off is April 9th through the 12th February 27th through March 2nd. Make your reservations now!

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Tapestry revisited

I was thinking about a post that I wrote the other day. This is actually a post that had been rolling around in my head for more than a few years, with essentially the same arguments and conclusions as presented here. My thinking on this subject has been pretty consistent.

But a thought occurred to me: what if, instead of having the ability to change my own decisions, I had the ability to change decisions made by others?

Oh, hell, that's a whole different question. As much as I draw a blank when trying to come up with a list of things that I would have done differently (and there are a few, on further reflection), that's how powerfully the floodgates open when it comes to picking out decisions made by others that I'd like to see done differently.

Some of these are serious - if those two guys hadn't decided to burn down the apartment building, if 90% of the nursing staff hadn't been in the habit of taking smoke breaks together - but frankly, most of what I can think of involves women (and, in my earlier days, girls.) I would love to be able to set down with a dozen or so of them now and say, "Remember back in 1987 when you..." or "Having now seen how badly things worked out with Person X and Person Y, have you ever wondered..." or "If you realized (X) all those years ago, what might you have done differently?"

If I were to hop in a hypothetical time machine / persuasion amplifier to tweak all those decisions and actions made by women in my life that I feel could have been made better, or at least made better from my point of view, I think I would have to be very judicious in how many changes I might make. Or else things could get very complicated, very fast.

Some people don't need any hypothetical gadgetry to get this stuff done, at least not in the here and now. Some people are far more persuasive than others, and are able to bend, almost manipulate, the wills of others to actions that correspond to their own best interests.

So what decisions in the past would you have others make differently? If you could meet face-to-face with people whose decisions you would like to have been made differently, would you tell them? I am wondering what people might say to me that they would have liked me to do differently. How many things have I done that could have had more positive outcomes for others that I'm not even aware of? Could people even muster this level of honesty? And would people be willing to hear such things without becoming defensive?

I'm going to have to think about this. Asking this question of my friends - and directing it at myself - may provide me with dinnertime conversation topics for a long time to come.

Friday, January 08, 2010

On a snowy January morning

Well, what the hell do you expect? It's January. It's Pennsylvania. It snowed. Maybe two to three inches on the car at work, maybe one inch in Nanticoke, where I shoveled my sidewalks and my mom's sidewalks.

It could be worse. We could be in Atlanta, or maybe even England!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Confusing new schedule

Last night I worked for four hours, from 10 PM to 2 AM this morning. I had slept until about eleven yesterday morning, and then got up and did things as normal for the rest of the day until it was time to get ready for work. After I got home this morning around 3:00 I ate and then screwed around on the Internet a bit, going to bed at 5:00.

I woke up at 9:30 this morning but forced myself to stay in bed. Ditto at 11:00. By 1:15 this afternoon I was ready to start waking up.

This afternoon before work I need to go to the wake of the father of a friend. Then I will leave for work around 5:00 and work from 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM tonight and the three nights after.

I need to use my "personal days" from last year, which have now been transformed into "sick days" for this year. They expire at the beginning or end of March, I forget which. Nice thing is, I can use them to schedule myself to take my mom to appointments. She has a lot of appointments, and this is the time of year when I really, really don't want to see her driving herself.

I also have to schedule my unused vacation time, but I can do that for my non-working days.

I'm off again January 11 - 13, then go in on another four or six hour day on the 14th, then work again the 15th through the 17th, with the 18th off for Martin Luther King Day. Thank goodness I have a scanned copy of the calendar in case I ever lose mine!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Another Monkey's Greatest Hits, Volume 2

Volume 1 of this list (from nearly four years ago!) was mostly a list of things that I considered my best posts. This will be a much shorter list of the things that have perennially attracted the most traffic and generated the most comments.

It's hard to pick a top hit generator, but I'm pretty sure this is it:
Another Monkey: Computers, bloody computers: Firefox and js3250.dll
I find this somewhat upsetting. This was a post from two years ago about a persistent bug that led me to finally stop using Firfox altogether. Now, before all you Firefox partisans start telling me about how Firefox is the greatest thing ever, and Internet Explorer sucks, and how you've never even heard of the js3250.dll bug, I'll just say: don't bother. This post is responsible for ten of my last hundred hits, and it's been around there since I first posted it. Obviously, this problem is still out there, even if you haven't encountered it personally. I haven't had a problem with it, because I am quite happily running IE8 on Windows XP. No crashes, no need to reinstall my browser every few days.

Another major hit and comment generator continues to be The Strange Case of the Headless Rabbit. This post has become one of the global repositories for information from people who have found decapitated rabbits in their yards. It is so popular that I often tell people that if they can't remember to find me by Googling "Another Monkey", they can just Google the more memorable "headless rabbit."

A lot of people seen to be looking for information on The Poop Cake. Though some are actually looking for a "poop shaped cake." Sorry, can't help you there.

An awful lot of people are looking for information of the Police Protective Fund. I'm glad I can help them.

Finally, as was the case four years ago, people always want to know about Cathy Baker from Hee Haw.
Cathy Baker, Hee Haw, and how they relate to the Hubble Space Telescope and other endangered species
Sadly, a lot of people seem to believe that she is dead. I suppose eventually they'll be right.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Tapestry

Note: Some of these blog posts have been composed long before they are written. This is one of them. It - well, the thinking that went into it - dates from before the events of Tuesday, August 12, 2009. If I were to be initiating these thoughts now, I might have a different answer. But...well, see the Afterword.

If you knew then what you know now, what would you do differently?

In other words, if you could change some action, some decision, some direction in your life, what would it be?

For the longest time, my answer to this has been the same: Nothing. Each action, each decision, each direction chosen was done, made, or taken for very good reasons - or what I believed at the time were very good reasons. Have I done stupid, regrettable things? Sure. Am I happy with where my life has taken me? Not entirely. Is this the best I could have done? Probably not.

One of my favorite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation is the sixth season episode called "Tapestry." It's A Q episode, which probably should have disqualified it from consideration - having a mischievous deus ex machina hanging around in the series, beginning with the first episode and ending with the (excellent) final episode, was just annoying to me, and a potentially fatal flaw. (What is the point of anything if this guy could pop in at any time and change everything?) And while the presence of Q is necessary to the story of "Tapestry," it also undermines the theme of actions having consequences.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

In the episode, Captain Picard receives a fatal wound - more precisely, fatal damage to his artificial heart, a prosthetic necessitated by the fact that his original heart was damaged in a bar brawl when Picard was a young Starfleet officer. (Or cadet. Whatever.) The bar brawl was actually a fight with three Nausicaans, large, belligerent aliens who...well, let's just say they had it coming. Picard fought them, got stabbed in the back, his heart was destroyed, he got an artificial one. Decades later, his artificial heart was fatally damaged by an energy discharge.

Picard is given the opportunity to change the past - to avoid the event that led to him needing the artificial heart. (The energy discharge that damaged his artificial heart would not have been lethal to a flesh-and-blood organ.) He takes this path, and then gets to witness his life unmade: that single change leads to a series of different actions, different choices, different directions. Returned to his present time, he is now a subordinate officer who plays a menial role in the functioning of the ship he had once captained, running reports to his superiors. One thread of his life has been pulled, and the tapestry of his life has unwoven.

In the end, he gets a chance to put it all back the way it was before, with a knife through his heart in the past, and a damaged artificial heart in the present - and finds that the surgeons operating on him after the energy discharge were able to save his life. The series continues, with Picard as captain of the Enterprise.

A few months ago (well, eleven months and four days ago, to be exact) a blogfriend was having a crisis of faith, wondering if perhaps academia was not the right path for her, if maybe she should just stop being a scientist at a major research university. More specifically, she was starting to feel a case of Impostor Syndrome. I left a comment for her:

Ooooh. Impostor syndrome. Fight it. That's like doubt to a Mentat. Let it get a hold and next thing you'll know is that you've been working in a factory for seventeen years, and it will suddenly occur to you to wonder why you didn't re-apply to your first choice of grad schools (which wasn't accepting ANY grad students the year you graduated from college) after you washed out of your soulless second choice after one semester.
And as I left that comment, I realized that there was something I might have changed in the past.

I've told this story before - I think. Brief overview: I was in my final year as an undergrad at the University of Scranton, double-majoring in Physics and Philosophy. I had applied and been accepted to several graduate programs, including Bryn Mawr and the University of Delaware. Both of these schools had programs in Non-Linear Dynamics, which was the field I wanted to specialize in. Bryn Mawr was a better fit, much more closely resembling the University of Scranton: small Liberal Arts University with a small Physics program and a fantastic student/teacher ratio. The University of Delaware was a much larger state University with a much larger Physics program and only a single professor specializing in my chosen area.

But Bryn Mawr suddenly stopped taking graduate students for the Fall 1989 semester - after I had been accepted. I knew this before the head of the Physics department did. He only received official confirmation minutes before I was supposed to head down for my first face-to-face meeting.

Suddenly I was heading to my second choice school, the University of Delaware.

Delaware ate me up and spit me out. The experience, as I have said before, was like being mugged while drowning. I felt incompetent in every way possible. I washed out after a single semester.

There's no guarantee this wouldn't have happened at Bryn Mawr, of course.

And what did I do afterwards? Did I jump right on the Internet, check out the current status of the Bryn Mawr grad program, maybe see if they were accepting students for the Spring semester? Drop an e-mail to the head of the department to see if I could get on a waiting list, or an announcement list for when the program was back on track? Try to bounce right back, get on the horse, take this as a blessing in disguise?

No. None of that. Partly because the Internet, and email, and computers as we know them didn't exist back in early 1990, not in a form any of us would find useful. Contact Bryn Mawr? I'd have to go hunting for an address or a phone number, maybe do some digging in the library. Maybe type out a letter on my electric typewriter - on carbon paper, so I could have a copy.

Partly because I had decided, stoically, stupidly, to play the hand I had been dealt. I had no car - back then, Newark, Delaware was a pretty bike-friendly area. I was less than halfway through a one-year lease. There were employers in the area. I decided to find a job (now that I had lost my teaching assistanceship) and try to earn at least enough money to pay the rent and my living expenses for a while.

And partly because, until I wrote that comment, it had never occurred to me that that was exactly what I should have done.

Would it have worked out? Would I have continued along on my life plan, gotten my Ph.D. by age 27? Would I now be writing popular science books for laymen?

I have no idea.

I stayed in Delaware for another year, working at the solar cell manufacturer to which a kindly University of Delaware Physics professor had pointed me. At the end of that year I went back to Rockville - well, Nanticoke.

A few months after I came home my 81-year-old grandmother was felled by a severe, crippling case of sciatica. She needed a round-the-clock nurse to watch over her.

I took that position.

Several months later she was well enough to return to her home. By then I had found a job at a CD manufacturer. The rest, as they say, is history.

So if I had bounced back after Delaware and somehow gotten right into some hypothetically rebooted program at Bryn Mawr in the Spring or Fall of 1990, how would my life after that point have been different?

Well, in most major respects that's unanswerable. There are too many points of divergence to make any statement. But one thing is for sure: I would not have been there when my grandmother needed me. Her life, and my life with respect to her, might have played out completely differently. Would she have spent the rest of her days in a nursing home, rather than first entering one in early 1996? Would she have had a stroke in - when was it, 1992, 1993? Would she have lived beyond 1998, or maybe died before then?

I don't know. Our lives are a tapestry of actions we have taken, decisions we have made, directions we have gone, people we have known, places we have been. Pluck one thread and the whole fabric begins to unravel.


Afterword:

A few weeks ago, I took my mom for an outpatient procedure - the same procedure for which I had taken her the day I believe I accidentally killed the kitten Gretchen by crushing her under an electric-powered recliner/lift chair. The day that we discovered her decomposing body under the chair, I wanted to cut the plug off to stop it from ever being used again. But my mom stopped me, because she knows there may soon come a day when someone actually needs such a chair. But from that day the chair has been unplugged, and I have allowed no one to use it.

Until the day of this recent procedure, when my mom insisted she needed to sit and put up her legs. I assented, but only on the condition that I check under the chair before she put down the leg lift, the mechanism that I think broke Gretchen's neck.

In her post-procedure stupor she didn't entirely adhere to the plan. When my mother tired of sitting in the chair she decided to get out out of it without putting the leg lift down. This required some acrobatics on her part, and could have undone the effects of the procedure she had just undergone. But once out of the chair, she looked under it to see if it was safe to put down the leg lift.

And there was Amber, curled up almost exactly where Gretchen had been. If my mom had lowered the leg lift, Amber might have died as silently and horribly as Gretchen.

So because Gretchen died, Amber lived.

The chair is once again unplugged and off-limits.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Slacking off

Yeah, I have been slacking off in my blogging duties lately. On work days my output naturally suffers, though one of my better pieces in recent months was written just after I got home from a night of work. But I'm currently going through a longer stretch of days off (December 31 - January 5) than I have experienced since my last major layoff, and haven't done a fraction of the writing (or anything else) I could have.

There are reasons. Seasonal Affective Disorder makes the Winter months feel like a total drag as my body simply wants to hibernate. I've got other things going on, too, some of which I have blogged about, some of which I don't plan on blogging about.

I did get out and spend some money today. Actually, far more money than I wanted to, possibly to get news that I won't want to hear. But I am now the owner of a shiny new stack of comic books (purchased at a 20% discount!), a shiny new Scientific American Space calendar, and a shiny new all-brass toilet flush handle and lever. (Actually, this isn't that shiny, which is the way I like it. I wonder if I should go over it with paste wax to keep the finish the way it is?) Also some lovely foam weatherstripping and some rope caulk - which will probably sit, unused, through the rest of the Winter and continue to sit until whenever the hell I get around to applying it.

Anyway, note to myself, and anyone else who might care: the comic book store I've been going to for the past few months, Fanmax (aka Max Saturdays), located at 800 Wyoming Ave in West Pittston, PA has new hours. I know I will screw this up, since I left the note downstairs, but here's my preliminary recollection:

Sunday, Monday: Closed
Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday: 1 PM - 5 PM
Wednesday: Opened later. Maybe until 6:00. I think.

I'll update that when I get around to it. And, hell, one of these days I may follow through on my threat to just create a small business blog for the place.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Calendar Fail

I finally went shopping yesterday.

This is the first time I have been shopping (other than at a grocery store) since I pretty much did all of my Christmas shopping on December 20th. I had taken my mom out shopping on the 18th and picked up a few things. But other than that, and weekly grocery shopping trips, I really haven't been participating in the economy that much lately.

I was on a mission yesterday. I wanted to buy a calendar. Not just any calendar, but the Terence Dickinson Astronomy Calendar. I've had luck finding this in the past during the half-price days on calendars, which have probably been going on since December 26. Unfortunately by the time I got around to shopping yesterday, the two calendar places I visited - a kiosk in the Wyoming Valley Mall and the Barnes & Noble near the mall - were pretty much picked over. I could have gotten the Scientific American Astronomy Calendar at the kiosk, but I was holding out until I visited Barnes & Noble. I never did head back to the mall.

Actually, this was the first time I visited the Wyoming Valley Mall since the Waldenbooks there closed last January. (That used to be another reliable stop on my calendar searches.) With the departure of the resident Joe Nardone's Gallery of Sound some time earlier, there's very little of interest to me left in that mall now.

Shopping yesterday had a grim feel to it. Maybe because it was so late (I think it was after 7:00), maybe because most Christmas stock has been exhausted, maybe because most of the people who were out and about were either miserable-looking adults (and in this economy, who can blame them?) or clueless teens and pre-teens looking to spend their parents' money until the credit cards max out. I wonder if things would have felt different earlier in the day? Or during the Christmas shopping season, which I so carefully avoided?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Ave atque vale

Well, the time has come. Time to ditch some links to sites that are dead, or at least completely comatose.

http://crackblogstuff.blogspot.com/ - An angry yet happy perspective. - From one of the first people who ever commented on my blog. Has not been updated since September of 2006.

Blue Sundaze - Classic Rock-n-Blues for Northeast PA (be sure to check out the photos!) - The old Blue Sundaze site. Now locked up and inaccessible.

Til August - The birth, life, and death of a rock band! - A brilliant idea that never got off the ground.

What The Hell, the self-described "Ultimate Life In Hell Website" (hell.capefeare.com) - Link taken over by something else.

Jen's Virtual Jen (virtualjen.com/blog) - Domain parked.

Siobhan's Trying To Find My Own - Not updated since August 2005.

Chloe's Watermelon Punch - One post in 2008. No posts in 2009. Went offline for several months in 2009, then came back to sit idle.

Wistful Romantic - Friend of a friend blog. No updates since October 2005.

Random Thoughts of a Deranged Mind - Friend of a friend of a friend blog. Updated several times in 2009, but it's not anything I would read.

M.J. Simpson's Planet Magrathea (planetmagrathea.com) - Dropped shortly after Simpson had a falling-out with the corporate machine that has taken over Douglas Adams's legacy over his bad review of the HHGTTG movie. Taken over by what appears to be a legitimate German blog that has nothing to do with the original.

dok's Innisfree Online - Domain taken over by someone else. dok now posts at House of the Flying Mermaid.

j's secondcup.org from the Philippines - Closed and reopened by someone else. Her old livejournal issy (by the blogger formerly known as j) has been "deleted and purged." Still keep in touch with her, my absolutely oldest online friend (more than eleven years), through Facebook.

SuperG's The Hurricane's Eye - A place where everything is calm - Closed, taken over.

Puppetdude's Puppetdude - deleted.

Wallflower.nu, Camilla Henrikke's blog from Norway - Closed. Dammit. One of the oldest blogs on the blogosphere. Taken over by a link site that has a virus/spyware component.

Also getting rid of these associated links:
Camilla's flickr photos
Camilla's deviantART site
Camilla's YouTube songs and videos
Camilla's NEW moblog

I will hold onto Camilla Henrikke's violentheart.net . It's the last known web presence of the person who was the first blogger I ever read. (Well, the aforementioned "j" may have technically had this spot, though I don't think either of us knew in 1998 that her old site was a "blog." And for that matter, the articles on Penn & Teller's old Sin City site would be considered blog posts today - so maybe they were the first.)

Technically, Sdfsdf.wox.org, Sammie's fun and funny blog from Australia should come off. It's dead by any reasonable definition of the word. Still, Sammie, the first blogger I began reading after Camilla's wallflower.nu, assures me this is just a technical glitch, and she has in fact recently renewed her domain for a two-year period. So I'll keep it up.

Hmmm...I must have known that Super G ditched his new site (supergworld.com/thismodernage/) in favor of his old site (http://thismodernage.blogspot.com/).

The Babblings of a Whimsical-Brainpan is gone, removed by the blogger. I still keep in touch with her daily through Facebook.

Lauren changes blogs about as often as she rearranges furniture. She currently blogs at http://laurenmalone.tumblr.com/. These old blogs of hers are dead or inaccessible:
Lauren's Things I Carry (squarespace version)
thingsicarry.com - Taken over by link site with virus/spyware component.
Lauren's Sundays Off - Open to invited readers only.
Lauren's Please make rice. I love you! (Old site) - Open to invited readers only.
Lauren's Please make rice. I love you! (The Sequel) - Deleted.


There are probably more I could remove, but this is all I have energy for now.

Ave atque vale, old friends. Hail and farewell.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Brave New Year

Well, I can't very well start off 2010, a new year and a new decade, by missing a post.

I was up fairly late last night at a party at a friend's house. I realized this morning that I didn't have anything to drink all New Year's Day. In fact, all I had to eat at the party was a slice of the chocolate pie I had brought. (I filled up on lobster before going.)

Roads were treacherous coming home, even though the drive was less than a mile. I could have walked, I suppose, but I didn't feel like it. There were numerous accidents last night - maybe due to the snow that was falling through the night, maybe not. Human behavior is a stochastic process. Even if we accept the existence of free will and random chance, the fact is that some houses will burn down during the Christmas season due to hot lights on dry trees, and some people will die on New Year's Day in drunk driving accidents.

Spent some of the day with my nephews. I haven't seen them since Christmas Eve. I will see them again Sunday morning at a Christmas pageant.

I haven't done any calendar shopping yet, and I need at least one. I will try to take care of that tomorrow. And I will try to get in some visiting on Sunday afternoon, if my friends are around.

We have acquired an eleventh cat. One of Amber's brothers. I was hoping it was a sister - I really want to eliminate the litter-bearers from the ecosystem outside, but wouldn't mind having some stray males around to keep outsider cats from entering the territory. We thought this kitten was female and hard-of-hearing, but apparently he is neither. Hopefully once he has a clean bill of health we will be able to pass him off to my aunt whose dog died a few weeks ago.

I still haven't done the blog maintenance I spoke of earlier. I can't really bring myself to do it, to cut the final remnants of any connection to someone who has been a part of my online world for seven years. But she is gone. If she decides to come back and wants me to know about it, I'm sure she'll let me know directly.

Anyway. Forward into 2010.