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Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Chechen Strategy

In May 2004 Akhmad Kadyrov, the Russian-supported President of Chechnya, was killed by Chechen rebels in a bomb explosion at a stadium during a parade. The bomb had actually been built into the structure of the stadium during earlier repairs. In a sense, the stadium itself had been turned into a weapon.

Now the United States finds itself locked in a deadly impasse as a simple procedural issue that has been performed dozens of times since its institution - raising the limit on the "debt ceiling" - has been turned into an artificial crisis, a hostage situation in which the financial future of the United States of America is being held at gunpoint by a coterie of Congressmen unwaveringly committed to an absolutist ideology.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

$15,600

I was looking over a list of potential jobs yesterday and I saw one annual salary repeated over and over again: $15,600. $15,600, repeated over and over again, for jobs ranging from the most menial to a quality control inspector.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

This is a test

This is a test.1

1. If that test works, the "1" will be superscripted - and I will stop using *,**,***, etc. for footnotes.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Job hopping

Throughout the course of my meetings with job advisers, résumé specialists, career counselors, and other professionals who are paid to help others find employment, I have learned that there is only one absolute that can be distilled from all their advice: One person's "never" is another person's "always" - and vice-versa.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Norway

The first blogger I ever read was from Norway. She was my window on that country, that culture. Most of my opinions of the place are based on things she wrote, things she told me in our online conversations, and on the opinions I formed of her. We haven't been in touch in several years, so I've also fallen out of touch with Norway.

Today's attacks in Oslo and on a youth camp are astonishing, horrifying, staggering. The notion that international terrorists may have fixed their sights on this beautiful, peaceful, and eminently civilized country is horrible to consider. The possibility that these may have been the acts of a lone homegrown madman is even more horrible.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Resources for bloggers

I've received quite a few comments and questions on my post What I've learned so far: Advice for beginning bloggers - mainly because I planted a link to it in the comments section of the Blogger Buzz post "The best blogging advice you've ever received." One of these I haven't answered yet, and I'll attempt to do it here.

Have you ever seen local community colleges or places like that offer classes on blogging tools, etc.? Just curious.

Actually, I haven't, but this is probably because I haven't looked very much. Years ago I contemplated creating such a thing - I thought I wrote up an outline for it, and posted it as a blog post, back in 2006 or 2007 or so, but I can't find it anywhere. (Ten points to the house of anyone who finds it!) Not that even now do I think that I have the appropriate skills and knowledge to teach such a class. On the other hand, I know some people who have taught university classes with even less subject matter expertise, so who am I to say?

Still, there are resources online. I'm going to start off with just a few, but if I discover more, or if anyone would like to make suggestions, I intend to expand this list.

Blogger Buzz: The official buzz from Blogger at Google (http://buzz.blogger.com/) - An official blog from Blogger corporate which manages to be relevant and informative, with news about new and upcoming features and information about what's going on at Blogger. With links to other resources from Blogger: Blogger Status blog,  Blogger in Draft blog, Known Issues, Help Forum, and  Help Center .

The Real Blogger Status: What Blogger Won't Tell You (http://blogging.nitecruzr.net/) - An unofficial blog that tackles many of the issues being dealt with by users of Blogger, as well as advance warnings of upcoming changes. Tends to be a bit beyond the Blogging 101 level as it gets down to the roots of issues and what steps you as a blogger must take to resolve them.

ProBlogger (http://www.problogger.net/): This blog has been around for a while, but I only just learned about it recently. Its subtitle is "Blog Tips To Help You Make Money Blogging," and that's what it's about. I should probably go over it thoroughly. I'm currently bringing in five figures annually from the ads on my blog (six if you count the decimal point as a figure), and I'd be very interested in learning how to earn more.

Anybody have any more recommendations for resources for bloggers? Leave a comment and I'll incorporate them into the body of the post. Thanks!

Update, 7/21/2011:

I just did Google searches for "blogger resources" and "blogging 101." Each turned up a lot of responses. But some of the most detailed results were blog posts from long, long ago - 2010, or 2008, or even as far back as 2006. I realized that these posts were mostly pointing to individual tools, sites that were hip and hot and happening at that moment - many of which no longer exist. And a static post does not encompass advances since that post was written, unless the blogger has actively been updating it.

I did, however, find another blog that has been set up expressly as a resource for bloggers:

Learn Blogging & Social Media -- Blogging Basics 101

Unfortunately, this site disregards something I consider a blogging basic: it is not thoroughly indexed by date. You can see all of the posts that appear on the front page, or search posts by category, or work your way backward using the "Older Posts" button. But there's no easy way to see all the posts from, say, May 2007, or to find the earliest posts, or even to quickly scan through post titles. So, use at your own discretion.


7/22/2011: Here's a nice post about getting more traffic to your blog:

~How To Get Traffic, And Repeated Readers, To Your Blog - Blogger Help Group | Google Groups

This comes from the Blogger Help Group on Google Groups:

Blogger Help Group | Google Groups

...a truly useful resource which, of course, has this message on its front page:
Zipped versions of the pages and files associated with this group will be available for download until August 31, 2011. After this date, this feature and the zip file downloads will be turned off permanently.

Super. Well, may as well take advantage of this feature while it's still there:

Download pages | Download Files

Sunday, July 17, 2011

This is a test

Blogger is rolling out a new GUI, and it has...issues. The ones I spotted a week ago are unsurprisingly still there, but I figured I may as well start taking it out for shakedown cruises to see just how messed up things can get.

Let's see. One of my upcoming posts is going to be a new entry in The Stained Glass Project. Right off the bat I don't see an easy way to open my blog so I can turn the words "The Stained Glass Project" into a hyperlink to all the other entries bearing that label. Let's see what right-clicking on the name of my blog in the upper left does...

Nope, takes me to another page, but this one has a "View blog" button at the top. Why doesn't the Post Editor have one?

Hmmm: also, in "Compose" mode, I'm in a scroll box with about eight lines of text. Two-thirds of the screen is unused real estate. Why?

OK, just switched over to HTML mode. Full screen to play with. Now, let's see about that link to The Stained Glass Project.

OK, back to Compose mode. Trying to do a hypertext link in HTML gives me a "scripted window" popup warning.

Back to HTML. So the next window I'm going to post about features a guy named St. Maximian and yet another image of Mary, this one in the Immaculate Heart presentation. Here's a two-shot of the pair of windows, added through HTML mode:


Hmmm...still the ugly old interface they used when I first started. Back to Compose.

OK, more options here..was able to increase the image size from "Large" to "X-Large." Still, it's very annoying to be squeezed into a box that's so small.

Looking up St. Maximian through my Google toolbar - let's see how well it adds this...


OK, Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V caused the screen to white out until I hit "Enter." Anyway, there's another St. Maximian - let's try adding him through the HTML editor:

St. Maximian of Constantinople - Saints & Angels - Catholic Online

Not much on this guy. The first one at least got hurled out of a tower. And look, there's a third Maximian:


That time there was no white screen after I hit Ctrl+V. Weird. Anyway, this guy was also a bishop, like the first one. Neither is listed as a doctor or prescriber of remedies, which may be significant, though the last one gets a mention of having built St. Vitalis Basilica. No, nothing there - though Vitalis and his wife were martyred by Marcus Aurelius, played by Richard Harris in the movie "Gladiator."

The GUI doesn't like ampersands, especially when I switch back and forth.

Well, so far, the most annoying thing is the eight-line-high text entry box. What gives? I have to wonder if that has something to do with me having my screen magnified when I first opened it.

Let's see if spell-check works...

Yep, that works. Hey, has this been autosaving as a draft? Only one way to find out, and I'm not gonna try. Saving...

Ummmm.  Where's the "Post" button? That's a big oversight!

Ah. It's "Publish" - white text on a gray background. Yeah, very visible. Let's try "Preview" first...

OK, preview worked fine. I'll hit "Publish" and call it a night - after I apply some labels.

(It also doesn't have a "View Post" option after you publish, just "View Blog." "View Post" is useful when you're editing an older post and want to view it after you've edited it. Also, there's some ugliness in the post-publishing page, which I expect is because I'm working in IE8 rather than the next-generation IE interface.)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Pseudoscorpion on the ComposTumbler

Today was a big gardening day. Lots of weeding, lots of stuff going into the compost. Before I got started on that, I decided to empty my thirteen-year-old ComposTumbler and use the finished compost to mulch my tomatoes.

I had to hack my way through a jungle of Rose of Sharon to get to the front access hatch of the tumbler, and then scooped out the contents using an old pot that was retired from service years ago. The compost had finished nicely: crumbly, fine-grained, smell-free, with only a few of the compost balls that tend to form from the tumbling action of the ComposTumbler. I left some of it in the tumbler, partly to serve as a starter for the next batch of compost, partly because it was too hard to reach in and scoop everything out.

I was in the process of refilling the tumbler with some freshly-picked weeds and a pail full of kitchen scraps when I noticed a tiny insect on the side of the ComposTumbler. It looked like just some garden-variety insect critter except for one thing: it had two extensions on the front that looked for all the world like the claws of a scorpion.

I looked closer, thankful that my bifocals allowed me to focus on tiny things at close range, and saw...that I was going to need to grab my camera.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Stained Glass Project: The cowardly dragon

As a kid I always loved dinosaurs, monsters, dragons, all that stuff. That's something that didn't wear off as I got older.

Going to church at Our Lady of Czestochowa in Nanticoke was something like being inside of a storybook, with the figures on the stained-glass windows like huge, illuminated illustrations. One of my favorites has always been the rearmost pair of windows on the left side of the church, featuring St. Leo and St. George.


Now, everyone knows who St. George is: knight in shining armor, patron saint of England, fought a dragon. (In reality almost nothing is known about him for certain, but that's myth-making for you!) And it's obvious St. Leo is someone important, and from his pointy hat and walking stick he's probably a bishop. (Actually, the crozier he's holding is one that would be carried by the Pope at a specific time in history; he is in fact Pope Leo, as explained here.)

(...hmmm. Seems that what I'm saying right now isn't a sudden realization, but actually a thought I considered and discarded years ago. Anyhow...)


So, bottom line: there's no real reason for there to be a dragon in the window with St. Leo. He wasn't associated with one, or with anything resembling one, especially one that would be literally hiding behind his skirts. But St. George was. And he killed it, with the spear he's holding, which is noticeably free of dragon gore. So now I have decided, after all these years, that this pair of windows is truly a pair of windows, and the dragon hiding behind St. Leo is actually hiding from St. George!

This wouldn't be the only visual joke in these windows. I believe the rector of the church at the time of its construction, the man responsible for building the church and having the windows installed, is also depicted in another window purportedly of his namesake saint.

The Stained Glass Project: "When will you publish that book?"

I was walking out of church this past Saturday, helping my mom down the steps, when a woman I didn't recognize said hello to her and then said to me, "So, when will you be publishing that book?"

The book she was referring to would be the collection of photos of the stained glass windows of the church we were walking out of - formerly Our Lady of Czestochowa, or more simply "St. Mary's," but now officially the Secondary Site for St. Faustina Parish.

It's been a long time since I started this project back in October of 2008 - and almost as long since I did the last real entry in the project in March 2009. In reality, this is the first photo of the project, taken October 4, 2008 as I waited for my cousin's wedding to begin:


Since then I think I've covered eight of the twelve pairs of windows, so the project is two-thirds done. I've also done posts on the stained glass windows in other churches in Nanticoke, some of which are now closed. The project was covered in an excellent newspaper article (in the Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice, written by Erin Moody) almost as soon as it was started, a full-page article that included several of my photos on half of the page.


If I had the resources I would do this properly, using a rig mounted in front of each window that could be used to photograph a small section of each window at a time - perhaps a square region as wide as each individual window, using a field flattener to avoid the unfortunate distortions that came from using a cheap little snapshot camera at ground level. I would want to take multiple images under different light conditions, too. A stained glass window is really a three-dimensional object, with striations of color and gradations of opacity inside the window itself that cause the image to change depending on the light intensity and the angle of incidence on the glass, presenting a different aspect of the window from minute to minute and day to day.


For now I will continue to work with the images I already have, most of which were taken in October of 2008. As for the book - well, I really have no plans for a paper book. (Though, believe me, I have thought of it: a book, a calendar, a coloring book for kids...)  Such a thing might be very beautiful, if done properly, but might also be prohibitively expensive. When I have completed all the entries on these twelve windows, I will create a single post indexing them all and let people know about that. But a book? Maybe someday. Just not right now.

Friday, July 08, 2011

I'm still here

I haven't felt too inspired to blog much lately. But that doesn't mean that I haven't been using my Blogging Energy Units.

Over on the Blogger Buzz blog there was a post called "The best blogging advice you’ve ever received." It includes a few bits of advice, but then opens the floor for submissions of advice that bloggers have received - or given. This meshed nicely with a post I wrote a few weeks ago, so I decided to do leave a comment with a link to it. As I had hoped, this resulted in a slight uptick in traffic, and a flurry of comments on that post. Some commentors asked for additional advice, or expansions of things I had mentioned in the post, so I have obliged - in some cases, with comments longer than many of my blog posts.

Friday, July 01, 2011

The Dragon of Huangshan

Earlier this week a friend on Facebook posted a link to a fascinating story about a mirage that formed over the river in the Chinese city of Huangshan (or "Huanshan," per the article):

Ghostly mirage appears over river in Huanshan City, China - (UK Daily Mail) Mail Online

Now, if this were true, it would be the most remarkable version of a Fata Morgana I had ever heard of. The Fata Morgana is a large-scale mirage that can cause distant landscapes to appear in a twisted, distorted manner, displayed above the horizon. It is rare and amazing, but not unknown. Still, for these buildings and trees to appear so clearly, so sharply, seemingly just a few hundred yards down the river...