Saturday, July 30, 2005

My garden of invasive perennials, part 1

I've added plants to my garden over the years based on what they do and whether or not I like them. I have roses because I think they're nice, rhododendrons because they provide good sight screening, azaleas because I like the profusion of flowers in the Spring, blueberries because I like to eat blueberries, and butterfly bushes (Buddleia davidii) because I like butterflies.

So it was with some trepidation that I learned that the "summer lilac", the common Butterfly Bush, was considered an invasive perennial.

Well. I suppose there are worse things I could do than provide vast flotillas of butterflies (like the female Black Swallowtail pictured above, photographed earlier today while taking a late lunch with several dozen of her friends) with a quick snack or long-term nutrition for their several-thousand-mile migration.

Still, invasive perennials worry me. Some of the nicest plants in my yard just sort-of showed up on their own, probably as seeds deposited by birds. These plants - Rose of Sharon, Barberry, even a grapevine - have been integrated into my landscape. Others, like the Burning Bush, Trumpet Vine, and my two Butterfly Bushes, have been intentionally introduced by me.

Do they pose a threat to the local natural environment? I don't know. I can imagine a scenario in which civilization collapses and leather-clad gangs of mutant bikers roam the streets of Nanticoke in armored and beweaponed dune buggies, carefully avoiding the butterfly-infested groves of pink Buddleia, crimson Euonymous and pink-and purple Hibiscus syriacus, only to run afoul of the spiny needles of the blood-red Berberis thicket. And should such a future come to pass, it shall be upon my head, for I will have helped to bring it about.

For Nikon Coolpix 4100 owners only

I've been playing around with my Nikon Coolpix 4100 digital camera for a few months now, and one thing's been bugging me: Whenever I want to display the photos stored on the memory card on the camera's screen, the camera assumes I want to actually take pictures and it opens up the lens. So whenever I'm passing around my camera to show people my photos, I have to keep on interjecting (in a Mr. Subliminal fashion) "Don't touch the lens." Typically it goes like this:
Me: "Hey, wanna see the great photos I took of the sunset yesterday?"
You: "Sure, let me see!"
Me: "OK, here - don't touch the lens. Now this button - don't touch the lens - advances the pictures, this - don't touch the lens - button takes you back, and - don't touch the lens - this button zooms in and out."
You: "Hey, what's this picture of you in a leather mask and ball gag?*"
Me: "Oh - don't touch the lens - I really wish you hadn't - don't touch the lens - seen that one."
On the way back from Sesame Place my friend's daughter accidentally stumbled upon the combination of settings that allow you to see the stored photos without having the lens exposed.
Starting with the camera OFF, just turn the little selection wheel to SET UP. Then turn the camera on, and hit the little playback button on the lower left. Voila! (Or Viola!) You can now step back and forth through your stored photos without having the lens pop out of its protective cover.
One note: this doesn't work if you've got the USB cable attached to transfer your photos to your PC. Oh, well, can't have everything!
*An Aqua Teen Hunger Force reference. The Little Brittle episode, referring back to the Wisdom Cube episode.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Another test, with some code

Now I'm trying to post by mail again, but this time with a little code thrown in at the bottom to act as a stop. Let's see if this works...

(Not so good this time. It ended fine, but now the different font is applying to everthing...and my sidebar has been forced to the bottom. Bah. I'll manually reformat the text of these two entries. Bottom line: it's good for getting your text posted, but may do unexpected things format-wise.)

This is a test

I'm helping a friend set up her blog, and I want to see what's involved in blogging by e-mail. This is the first time I'm ever trying it. We'll see if this works!

(Hmmm...aside from the different font and some empty space at the bottom, it looks like it went pretty smoothly!)

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Adding Lauren's Please make rice. I love you!

I tried doing a random walk through blogs using the "Next Blog" button a few weeks ago and was frustrated and discouraged by what I found. Most of the blogs I came across were fake "blogs": lists of advertising links mixed in with random snippets of text. Of the few blogs I found that were "real", only two or three had any coherence or content worth reading, but none of them really caught my interest.

I think the best way to find new blogs is to scan through the comments of blogs you've already decided you like, or your own blog, and look for commenters who have a) something interesting to say and b) a blog link. That's how I've added about a third of the blogs on my "Blog Links" sidebar. And the latest addition comes from a commenter on Anne's Almost Quintessence: Lauren's Please make rice. I love you!

I've only read a few of the entries on Lauren's blog, but already I can say this: she has the most exuberant blog I have ever read. The rest of us may wallow in bitterness and cynicism a lot of the time, but not her! She may owe this to her extreme youth - at 21, she's the youngest blogger I'm currently linked to! (Both Camilla and Sammie were 21 when I first linked to them in May 2004, and I have no idea how old Gareth or Dee are, but I think they're both over 21.) She also does some videoblogging (I may have to wait until I have a faster computer and better internet connection before I try to view this), and she takes really great photos. But don't just take my word for it. Visit Please make rice. I love you! and see for yourself!

Is it Firefox, or is it just me?

I thought Firefox was supposed to be the greatest thing since sliced cheese. Yet it craps out on me more often than Internet Explorer ever did. I just installed version 1.06 with "stability updates" the other day, but it's crashed half a dozen times since then - more often than it did before I installed 1.06. And now I just lost a long and complicated post because, like and idiot, I decided to run a SPELL CHECK BEFORE SAVING IT!

Welcome, Star Wars fans!

I've recently attracted the attention of some Star Wars fans on I'm worried that they're only seeing ONE of my posts of "Deleted Scenes fron the Star Wars series." There are actually three collections of these scenes (all written by me), and the complete list with everbody's contributions on the imdb (I doff my Death Star Commander hat to jedi_From_the_block, who has poured out a huge volume of very funny scenes.)

Here are the three posts, in order:

Deleted scenes from Revenge Of The Sith (and more!) - Tuesday, May 31, 2005
For Star Wars fans... - Saturday, June 04, 2005
Still more deleted scenes from the Star Wars movies - Friday, June 24, 2005

Welcome back, Lisa!

Lisa at Amazing Grace has started posting again, with a truly gut-wrenching question. Check it out.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Relenting and relinking

I have reestablished a link to a blogsite that I removed over the weekend. I've done this partly because I think tit-for-tat unlinking is silly, but mostly because I have found myself wandering over to her site anyway out of curiosity, and having a direct link makes this much easier for me. Besides, she seems to have resumed posting, and my original plan was to relocate these blogs from the "Blogs on hiatus" section back to the "Blog links" section, and I am a man of my word.

I don't really know why she removed her link to my site. Maybe it was something that happened accidentally when she was doing whatever she had to do to bring her site back online. In any event, I'll leave the link up as long as I have some interest in visiting her site.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Life In Hell, Part 1

Long before Matt Groening came to national attention as the creator of The Simpsons, he was putting out a weekly comic strip called Life In Hell. The Simpsons is essentially a watered-down, cleaned-up version of Matt Groening's original cartoon.

My interest in Life In Hell goes back nearly 20 years. Since that time I have had a series of Life In Hell-related adventures that have led to me being the moderator of Allison H.'s rebooted Yahoo Group xlifeinhellx.*

Today was a recovery day for me. An over-the-counter remedy coupled with a diet of toast and tea and chicken soup broth left me feeling a little groggy, and I found myself at the computer Googling Life In Hell sites. I found one that is relatively new and looks pretty good. What The Hell is the self-described "Ultimate Life In Hell Website". (This saddens me a bit, since if it is literally true it means there shall be no more such websites.) It has loads of links, loads of scans, and some information that I haven't gotten from other sources.

I'm adding What The Hell and xlifeinhellx to my sidebar. Check them out, and please join our little Yahoo group. Just let the moderator know that you heard about it from D.B. Echo at Another Monkey!

*The original version of this group, lifeinhell, was created in another application that was later taken over by Yahoo, and somewhere in the transition a glitch popped up which blocked Allison from exerting control over membership - so consequently the original group was taken over by spammers and spambots.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Adding and subtracting

I have added Marisa's Cheatham County Rock Star's Wife to my blog links. She now has the distinction of being the only person with TWO links on my sidebar: she is also the proprietor of (ATTENTION CATHY BAKER FANS:) Risa's Hee Haw Tribute Page!, which I will probably now move into my "Site Links" section.

I have also removed "Home of 5 minute walks!" from Puppetdude's Puppetdude3, since he milked the "5 minute walks" idea dry some time ago. (Check out his latest thing - posting topics alphabetically!)

I have also done something that's a first for me - I've delisted someone. The less said about this the better, since almost everything I've ever said to this person has incurred her (apparently) easily incurrable wrath. She has also delisted me (something I expected months ago, when I first incurred her wrath), and taken the unusual step of deleting my "Welcome back" comments from when her blog returned from the never-never land of non-functionality, and then decried any suggestions that her blog had been "on hiatus" (which simply means "this person has stopped posting, I sure hope they're not dead") or even "down" (despite the fact that it had, for all practical definitions of the term, been down for several weeks.) But, as Karl "When Dubya Calls Me 'Turd Blossom', He's Half Right" Rove once said, I've already said too much.

Sick again

I am sick again. Some of my symptoms are disturbingly like those experienced by my mother two weeks ago. Consequently, on the most beautiful day of this summer (blue skies, low humidity, temperatures in the 70's, cool breezes), I spent the entire day indoors.

I have some theories as to what is wrong with me:

1. Food poisoning. I almost always blame this first for any digestive disorder. Most things people think of as a "stomach flu" are actually cases of food poisoning. My first sign that things were not quite right with me was about three hours after I had a meal at a restaurant with a friend Thursday evening. (Coincidentally, this was the same restaurant where I ate - and the same friend I ate with - the last time I was noticeably sick. But that was something completely different.)

2. I picked up whatever my mother had from my mother. This is disturbing, because it suggests a one- to two-week gestation period for whatever she had. It also suggests a lot more people might be infected. It may also mean that I have a hospital stay in my future.

3. I picked up whatever my mother had from my father. This is also disturbing, because it suggests that visits to the nursing home are a bad idea. Something like this loose in a nursing home could easily result in multiple fatalities, so I am curtailing any plans for visits in the near future.

4. I got a bad batch of water from Sam's Club. I stopped at Sam's Club to get my tires rotated (resulting in a lost hubcap during the drive home), and while I waited I bought something like $160 worth of stuff, including a case of Deer Park bottled water. I drank my first two half-liter bottles on the way to work Thursday morning, and my second two Friday morning. I'm going to lay off the water for the weekend and get my hydration from another source. But I'll be hitting the bottle again Monday morning, and we'll see what happens.

5. Something else, not particularly serious.

6. Something else, serious.

I'm not heading to the hospital just yet. I'll wait this out for a while and see what - shall we say - comes to pass.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Goodbye, Scotty

James Doohan has died, of pneumonia and complications of his Alzheimer's disease, a condition that was made public a little over a year ago.

I met him once, and got to talk to him. Well, I got to ask him a question.

It was at a Star Trek convention at the Irem Temple in Wilkes-Barre about 12 years ago. (Yes, I am exactly that sort of geek.) James Doohan was the guest of honor, and we were at the Q&A session in the big ornate auditorium of the Masonic Hall. Dozens of us held up our hands for the opportunity to have James Doohan trundle his way over to us, wireless mike in hand, and allow us to ask him our question face-to-face.

I raised my hand. I had no idea what question I wanted to ask. I had a vague sense that I should ask about his voice acting work - I've always been a big fan of voice actors, dating back to the first time I heard the Hitchhiker's Guide on the radio. He picked me out of the sea of hands and approached with the microphone.

I stood up and panicked. My question sucked. I was going to waste his time, and the time of everybody else who didn't get picked, with a lame-ass question? Suddenly he was standing in front of me. I opened my mouth, and another question came out.

"Do you have any idea", I said, "how many Engineering degrees you are personally responsible for?"

Dammit. It was a rhetorical question. Stupid, stupid, stupid. He looked angry - I swear he was glaring at me. Then his look softened, and his eyes focused on something distant, and he began his answer.

Once upon a time, he was recommended for an honorary degree by some of the faculty at an engineering school. The president of the college was a no-nonsense kind of guy, and he said no, it was ridiculous to honor an actor who only pretended to be an engineer in such a way when there were many real engineers more deserving of the honor.

The president changed his mind when it was pointed out to him that more than half of the incoming students to the college had indicated "Scotty from Star Trek" as the thing that sparked their interest in engineering.*

Without necessarily knowing anything about engineering, James Doohan was the catalyst for thousands of people to begin careers in engineering. It's a hell of a validation, knowing that a little job you did for a few years had a lasting impact on the world.

James Doohan now seemed pleased with the question, and the audience broke into thunderous applause. He nodded to me, I nodded back. I sat down, and he walked off to take the next question.

I didn't mention that my own college double-major in Physics and Philosophy was in part inspired by a fascination with a certain logical pointy-eared Vulcan crewmate of his.

Goodbye, Scotty.

*This story is also noted on James Doohan's IMDb biography.
"He was given an honorary Degree in Engineering by the Milwaukee School of Engineering where apparently half of the students polled said they were inspired to study engineering by his role in Star Trek."

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Finished it!

Just got done with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Damn, that woman can write! She sure knows how to handle an intricate, complicated storyline, with dozens of unique, interacting characters and tons of minor details that turn out to be major plot points several books down the line.

When the time comes to remake a certain six-episode science-fiction epic, I nominate J.K. Rowling to do a rewrite that will do justice to the story and the characters.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Don't get old

My grandmother was always full of advice. A few months before she died she offered this bit of wisdom: Don't get old.

She was right.

I've always wanted to write about what I called "The Gift of Alzheimer's." My grandmother had a touch of Alzheimer's Disease that became progressively worse in the final months of her life. But the effect it had on her was to replace the here-and-now with a subtly altered corresponding set of perceptions. Her room in the nursing home became the living room of her house. She mapped the various people in her life to people from her past: my mother to my grandmother's sister ("Cioci", meaning "Aunt", pronounced "chicchy"), me to my grandmother's brother, my uncle to my grandfather (or "Pop").

I would visit her and ask her how her day had gone, and she would tell me about how she had gone for a walk downtown to shop in stores that had closed 20 years before, or how Pop and Cioci had come to see her today, or how she had sat on her porch eating peaches. After Princess Diana's funeral in 1997 I asked her if she had seen it on TV - and she said "Yes, I laid on the couch in the living room and cried and cried." I was glad that these were the things that she remembered, rather than the fact that she was spending her days in a bed or a wheelchair in a nursing home, with food provided to her via a tube passing through a hole in her stomach.

But it's not always the case that Alzheimer's is a boon companion in your twilight years. No, sometimes Alzheimer's just really, really sucks.

Don't get old.

Update, 7/17/07: This was written a few days after my father had been admitted to a nursing home. His dementia had apparently worsened, though it was entirely possible that this was due to overmedication by the facility.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Back home

My mom was released from the hospital today. Turns out what she had was a bacterial infection of the sort associated with overuse of antibiotics. Thing is, she doesn't routinely use any antibiotics, other than some that she took six weeks ago prior to dental work.

Our best guess is that the infection is something she picked up while visiting my father in the hospital.* Nosocomial infections, infections that you pick up from a hospital, usually affect patients but I suppose that visitors can get infected just as easily.

It was scary for a while. Her gut swelled up like a beach ball. If we hadn't gotten her to the hospital when we did, I'd hate to think what could have happened.

The adventure isn't over yet. She was released with a prescription for something-or-other that she's supposed to take every six hours. Problem is, the pharmacy she gets her prescriptions from doesn't have it, and they can't get it until tomorrow. (None of the other pharmacies in town have it, either.) So she's S.O.L. for at least 18 to 24 hours, three to four doses. Whoopsie. You'd think maybe the doctor prescribing this stuff would send her off with a starter set to cover the first day or two, and would maybe verify that the stuff he was prescribing was actually available locally. Nope. Hope the infection doesn't gain a toehold while we wait for the drugs to come in.

*Update, 7/17/07: This turned out not to be the case. Her illness was caused by and intestinal bacterium called Clostridium difficile that took advantage of the action of a broad-spectrum antibiotic. Click here for more details.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

No passing zone

I drove my mother to the hospital in Berwick this morning. Nothing serious, we hope*; just a bit of gastrointestinal distress, possibly stress-related, and they're holding her until tomorrow at least. It's not the closest hospital, but my brother works there, and he wanted to be able to keep an eye on her. Berwick is something like 30 miles west-by-southwest of our house. My father is currently in a hospital in Wilkes-Barre, which is about 8 miles east-by-northeast of our house. I work 33 miles north-by-northeast of our house. All of which will make visiting them in the coming days a bit of a trick to coordinate.

The road to Berwick is a long three-lane route along the Susquehanna river. It used to be alternating stretches of passing and no-passing zones, but some genius at PennDOT decided it would be better to convert this into twenty miles of one-lane "No Passing" zones in both directions with a rarely-used turning lane in the center. The upshot of this is that the speed of travel along Route 11 is entirely determined by the speed of the slowest car, at least for everyone behind that car. Unless, of course, people decide to ignore the posted rules.

Traveling at 9:00 on a Sunday morning it seems that your biggest concern should be "Sunday Drivers", little old ladies (or little old men) who only drive their cars on Sundays to go to church and then maybe go for a country ramble afterwards. Such is the stereotype. But stereotypes are often wrong.

No, the two Sunday Drivers blocking traffic by going at 40 m.p.h. through a 55 m.p.h. "No Passing" zone were motorcycle enthusiasts. Two fat, helmetless, ape-hanger-hanging West Coast Choppers wannabees, oblivious to the traffic behind them. Oblivious to the fact that two cars back was a guy trying to get his mother to the hospital.

Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry. You probably wouldn't like me when I'm not angry, so why not avoid the issue entirely?

I cursed. I swore. I expressed opinions on a hypothetical sexual relationship between the two bikers. All the while my mother sat next to me, feeling ill and experiencing more stress thanks to me, and thanks to these two assholes who were getting their kicks by annoying and frustrating everyone else.

I wasn't the first to ignore the no passing zone; that was a pickup truck about two cars behind me. I had wanted to pass them as we went past a State Police barracks, but my mom talked me out of it - we were in her car, after all.

I did my pass with a bit of panache, roaring into the no-passing lane and cutting hard in front of the bikers. I had visions of them getting run off the road, tumbling into a ravine and breaking their arms and legs, coming to a rest just out of sight of the road, to spend the next few days in unspeakable agony, their bodies swelling around their boken bones and then dehydrating from the heat and lack of water as they lay without hope of rescue, being bitten thousands of times by mosquitoes and contracting West Nile Virus shortly before having their eyes and tongues chewed out by raccoons.

It didn't happen. I quickly put distance between me and them as I continued at 55 while they putted along at 40. Car after car joined me in our act of civil disobedience as they passed them in the no passing zone.

We missed our turn for the hospital, but my brother was able to guide us in over his cell phone.

After I left my mother at the hospital, I resolved to be a bit calmer and more even-tempered on the ride home. I decided to use the cruise control to avoid lead-footing it or drifting off into sub-speed-limit territory.

As I passed the nuclear power plant not far from the hospital, I saw a State Police car waiting along the access road, waiting for a break in traffic where he could pull out. He found his break behind me, and rode my bumper (at 55 m.p.h. in a 55 m.p.h. "No Passing" zone) for about ten seconds before putting on his lights. Sensing what was to come next, I began to pull off the side of the road, and he nimbly maneuvered around me, sped about 100 feet past me at 70 m.p.h., killed his lights, and continued along the road well in excess of the speed limit - not in pursuit of anything or anyone, but just because cops hate driving the speed limit.

*Update 7/17/07: Boy, were we wrong. This was Clostridium difficile, or C. diff., an intestinal bacterium which took advantage of the pre-dental-work use of a broad-spectrum antibiotic to take over my mom's intestinal ecosystem. A few more days, a few more hours, and she might have died.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

A teaspoon of sewage

A friend of mine once related what I believe is an old adage: If you add a teaspoon of sewage to a tankerful of wine, you wind up with sewage, but if you add a teaspoon of wine to a tankerful of sewage, you still have sewage.

Another way to make the same point: if you have a lavish, seven-course meal served by uniformed servants featuring sumptuous foods presented on silver platters and during the dessert course you discover a dead rat in the souffle, odds are that what will stick in your mind about that dinner is the dead rat.

Our visit to Sesame Place this past Thursday confirmed what I recalled from two previous visits: Sesame Place would be a great family destination if it weren't for the people.

Sesame Place is located in Langhorne, PA, about 30 miles north of Philadelphia. Many of the people visiting there, and most of the people working there, are from the Greater Philadelphia region.* This means that generally speaking they are surly, rude, arrogant, and hostile. (Say what you like about Disney, but the Evil Empire screens its minions well before they are allowed to interact with people at Disneyworld. And Hersheypark has a naturally friendly atmosphere brought on in part by its bucolic location and in part by the psychoactive chocolate gas that is pumped into the air by the chocolate factory.)

I won't condemn every person I ran into at Sesame Place. The visitors seemed to be a little bit better behaved than the first time I was down there back in 2000, when an angry parent shouted up to a child who was climbing through a multi-level obstacle course "You come down from there RIGHT NOW or I'll break your goddamn arm!" This time around the problem was mostly with the staff - primarily with the staff in a single location.

There are several places to eat in Sesame Place. We chose the Food Factory specifically because it featured pizza, and my friend's daughter likes pizza. When we got in there we found that the menu was limited to about five items, including Cheese Pizza with Fries, Pepperoni Pizza with Fries, and Chicken Sandwiches. There were a few beverages offered, including a variety of soft drinks and coffee.

My friend ordered first, talking to Apparently Helpful Employee #1. He stood behind the food lines and leaned earnestly at any customers who might have questions, but always responded with an incomprehension that led us to wonder if he spoke English, or was even completely sane. The first part of the conversation went like this:

"Could I get the cheese pizza, please?"
"Cheese pizza. Can I get it?"
"Huh? Cheese...wha?"
"The cheese pizza. Do you have it?"
"We're all out."
"Okay. Do you have...never mind. I can see the pepperoni pizza from here. Can I get a coffee?"
"Coffee. I want a coffee."
"We don't have any coffee."

At this point my friend decided to cut her losses, grab whatever food she could, and head for the checkout. I was up next. I grabbed a chicken sandwich, and looked at Obviously Unhelpful Employee #1.

"Can I get a regular fries, please?"
"Regular fries. Please."
"Yah." He wandered off and got them. It was all the work I would witness him do. I then turned to Likely Unhelpful Employee #2, who was filling cups of soda and queuing them up in anticipation of a rush of patrons that was not materializing.

"Can I have a Diet Coke, please?"
"No, Diet."
"No, DIET."
"Regular?" he said, pointing to a filled paper cup of fruit punch.
"Oh, size, is that what you are asking me? Size? Yes. Regular Diet Coke."

I got my soda and turned, bewildered, to the checkout. (Before I did, I witnessed this coffee-related exchange: A woman behind me, probably a Philadelphian, asked for coffee and got the same wall of incomprehension as my friend. She apparently worked out that "We don't have any coffee" meant "We just poured out the last bit from the pot, and now it's empty." She said to Uncomprehending Employee #1 "Could you make some more coffee for me?" To which he responded, "Wha...?" She then replied, a bit louder, "Could one of you people put on another pot of coffee for me?" Before the mentally-ill non-English-speaking Employee #1 could again express puzzlement, Slightly More Helpful Employee #2 said "I'll make another pot.")

Anyway. As I turned to the checkout, the woman at the register was shouting "Next customer! Next!" I really didn't see a need for this, since I was obviously the only other person ready to check out, and I had only just gotten finished dealing with her fellow employees. It wasn't until I sat down with my friend and her daughter that I found out what had preceded this: When my friend checked out, her total came to some ridiculous number of dollars and six cents. (My chicken sandwich, Regular fries, and Regular Diet Coke came to nearly $13, which is about three times what it would have cost in any other restaurant, and about ten times the value of the food and food preparation.) She pulled out the bills to pay the whole dollar amount of the total, and then reached into her pocket for the change. As she handed the coins to the cashier, the cashier abruptly pushed them back and spat "I don't want it." Now that it was my friend's turn to have a moment of incomprehension, the only further response she got from the cashier was a shouted "Next customer! Next!"

(Our attempt to complain to someone who looked like a manager was met by yet another round of I-don't-understand-what-you're-saying incomprehension. I don't know what was wrong with these people, but they all seemed to be working at the Food Factory.)

I can't condemn all the park employees. We ate at another place there, where the food was just as overpriced but the staff was friendlier. But the folks at the Food Factory were our teaspoon of sewage, our dead rat in the souffle. If you do go to Sesame Place, avoid that particular dining establishment. Better yet, save your money and just go hungry.

*In college a bunch of us discovered that an inordinately large number of Freshmen claimed to be from "just outside Philadelphia", a region that we eventually worked out covered the entire southeastern quarter of Pennsylvania, all of South Jersey, and most of Delaware. We labeled anyone making this claim as "JOPs", a term which had the connotation that these people were ashamed of their small-town roots and had decided to make up for this perceived inadequacy by trying to latch onto a big-city identity.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Calling London

Today I took the day off from work to take my friend and her daughter to Sesame Place, which is about 2.5 hours from here. I slept in later than usual and woke up to the news of the bombings in London. Immediately I thought of someone I've worked with in London for the past six years, and decided to try to get in touch with her to see if she is OK. Unfortunately, her phone number is safely scribbled in the back of the black dayplanner I've had for those six years, which is sitting on my desk. At work.

I called a friend of mine at work to get the number from him. Maybe he read it to me wrong. Maybe I wrote it down wrong. Maybe I'm supposed to include the "0" after the international calling prefix (011) and the London city code (44...or is that the country code?) In any event, I'm getting a "your call cannot be completed as dialed" message each time I try to get through. I suppose it's likely that the phone lines into London are currently jammed, or commandeered, or damaged in some way. I suppose I could try to get her e-mail address.

At least 37 people are dead, at least 700 injured. What are the odds that one of the half-dozen or so Londoners I've worked with are among their number? And is it selfish of me to hope that they are not - to hope that Jane, and Caitlin, and all the others whose names are scrawled in my black book are OK, and that the dead and injured are people I've never talked to, never e-mailed, never dealt with?

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

A brief absence, and adding Dee's Deteriorata

Hello there. It's been relentless summering these last few days, starting with an extended session of gardening on Saturday the 2nd, a visit with some friends and a Hawaiian-themed family 4th of July party on the 3rd, another family 4th of July party on the 4th, a viewing of the Hilary Duff/Heather Locklear vehicle "The Perfect Man" last night (a suggestion of my friend's daughter), and a visit to Chuck E. Cheese's tonight. Tomorrow we're off to Sesame Place, and then who knows what for Friday or the weekend. (My friend and her daughter will be going back home on Monday, so we have to squeeze a lot of stuff into just a few days.) So I hope you'll forgive me for my absence - both from blogging, and from real-life interaction with my real-world friends who read this blog.

Having lost a few of my regular blog reads to attrition or real-world encroachment, I have decided to start looking to add a few new ones. The first is Dee's Deteriorata. Dee is a regular commenter on Adam Felber's Fanatical Apathy, and like most regular commenters on his site she is usually more clever and coherent than I am. She is also generally better-informed about things, so she fills a void left by the departure of SuperG's My Distractions In This Modern Age. Surf on over to Dee's site, and see what she has to say!

Monday, July 04, 2005

Rove's head. Platter. NOW.

Now that it looks like Joe Wilson's contention that Karl Rove was the source of the leak to conservative darlin' Robert Novak that Wilson's wife Valerie Plame was actually a covert CIA operative is being confirmed (which I first read about here on Saturday), it's time for us wimpy liberals to demand a few things:

1. Karl Rove must be immediately arrested on suspicion of treason. Ideally he could be granted a speedy trial and be executed tonight during the Fourth of July festivities, but that may be asking a bit much.

2. Robert Novak must be detained immediately as a material witness. He knew who leaked the information to him, but failed to do anything about it. Charges must also be brought against him as the person responsible for broadcasting the leaked material.

3. Congress must reinstate the Office of Independent Counsel to immediately conduct an investigation of the Bush Administration. What did they know about this leak, and when did they know it? And just how did Karl Rove come into possession of this information?

How Rove must have laughed to know that his identity was being protected by the integrity of the very reporters who refused to broadcast his leak, reporters who were willing to do jail time rather than violate their journalistic standards. They deserve special Pulitzer prizes for their courage and integrity.

And Rove deserves to be hanged by the neck until he is dead, dead, dead.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Blue Sundaze: The End

Blue Sundaze has played its final public show, as far as anyone can tell. With little more than a month before a key member of the group heads off to grad school, the band put on a pull - out - all - the - stops performance at O'Brein's in Avoca, PA last Friday, June 24.

It was a slightly odd show: their drummer was out of town - out of the country, even - so for the first time a fill-in drummer sat with the band. (He did a very conventional "Mr. Customs Man", which clashed with the screaming guitars of the more energetic Blue Sundaze version, but he got into the swing of things as the night went on.) Several friends of the band joined them onstage to sing and play guitar. Add to that the fact that the three regular members of the band were all variously sick and/or exhausted, and it was a remarkable show indeed.

It was also the first show I was at where I was armed both with my digital camera and the presence of mind to use it properly. (The last time they played I had it with me, but I was too wrapped up with my dying dog's condition to bother to do much with it.) This setting presented a challenge: there were no stage lights, just two bar signs in the windows behind the band, and dim house lights. Any flash photos had a flat appearance with sharp, dark shadows, and tended to blind everyone in the room with the nuclear-blast brightness of the flash. Long-exposure flashless photos tended to get washed out by the very dim house lights. Sometime after midnight the bar's owner showed up, apparently drunk, and turned down the house lights to almost nothing. Now I had something to work with.

I set my camera to the "Night Landscape" preset, pulled over a chair to use as a stable base, set the ten second timer, and tried to hold very, very still. I must have made an odd sight: a Very Large man propping something roughly the size of a cigarette pack on the back of a chair, pressing some Very Tiny buttons, then freezing in place for ten seconds until...nothing happened. No flash, no nothing, I would simply pull up the photo and (more often than not) hiss "Yessss!" at another oddly beautiful shot: blurred, indistinct silhouettes backlit by red and green neon signs, reflections from the floor and drop ceiling making the setting look more like a cathedral than a tiny bar in Avoca, PA.

There may be more shows - it's not impossible. If any do come about, I'll let you know. But for now, it looks like this was The End.

A long dry season

It's cooler here today, but we still haven't had any rainfall in the last three weeks more significant than a five-minute sprinkle on Wednesday night. All around us communities are getting hit with sudden downpours, but not us.

My lawn is so dry that the only signs of green in the field of brown are the Dutch clover (which is mistakenly thought of as a weed) and the spiky weeds that I think are narrow-leafed plantain (not the sort that you eat). As this is the Fourth of July weekend, in which many Americans celebrate freedom, liberty, independence, and the foundation of their nation through such traditions as drunk driving and illegal fireworks, I am concerned that a tossed cigarette butt or a stray bottle-rocket could easily turn the neighborhood into a blazing inferno.

I will go out soon and water my tomato plants and continue to plant my new garden. I hope it doesn't all go up in flames this weekend.