Monday, October 31, 2005

On the first day of Hallowhog...

Welcome to Hallowhog 2005/2006! As I explained last year, Hallowhog is the season of holidays stretching from Halloween (October 31st) to Groundhog's Day (February 2nd.)

As Halloween draws to a close, it's time to tear down the Jack-O-Lanterns and sytrofoam tombstones and put them away until next year. Time to start getting ready for the next stops in the Hallowhog chain of holidays. For some that means The Day of the Dead (November 2nd, not November 1st), for others Guy Fawkes Day (November 5th.) For us it means flying the flag on Veterans Day (November 11th) and then getting ready for Thanksgiving (November 24th this year.) Tomorrow also brings big sales on all the leftover Halloween stuff, and the new "unofficial" start of the Christmas shopping season.

Happy First Day of Hallowhog!

Death and The Pirate

And like that, it was over.

My nephews were only able to stay for a few minutes. Death quickly dumped the contents of the Box of Souls - glass and plastic gems as well as candy and money - into his black pumpkin candy container, and then asked if the box was for him, too. The Pirate was happy with the chocolate coins and faceted gems and the string of fake pearls and toy telescope in his Treasure Chest. And I think both boxes accessorize well with their costumes.

One note: for some reason my sister-in-law decided not to use any part of the pirate costume I had assembled, with the exception of an eyepatch my mom had bought. (My brother's family just moved at the beginning of September and were too wrapped up with details of the move to worry about things like Halloween, which is why I volunteered to help my nephews get ready.) Here is a photo taken five weeks ago of my younger nephew with the original pirate hat and sword.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Venus setting, Mars rising

For the next few weeks we'll be treated to a pleasant evening skyshow. Shortly after sunset (and even before, for keen-eyed observers who know where to look) Venus will be visible as a blazing white "star" in the Western sky. About an hour later, Mars will rise above the horizon in the East as a bright rust-red "star".

These aren't stars, of course. They're planets, the two closest planets to the Earth. And while spectacular appearances of Venus are fairly common, Mars is currently the brightest and closest it will be until 2018. So when you're running around Halloween night soaping windows and stealing garden gates, spare a glance up at the sky and...enjoy.

More from Market Street Bridge and Kirby Park

As I was reorienting myself after getting semi-lost at Kirby Park yesterday I walked along a path on a ridge that overlooked much of the park. I was able to get this photo of the pond and (I believe) the Maple tree that I photographed on the way back to my car.

Eventually I did find my way to Market Street and the Market Street Bridge. Here are the Eagles on the north side of the bridge, facing Kingston.

As I got on the bridge I noticed this obelisk. It's the sort of thing that you tend to ignore when you are driving along at 25 or 35 mph, trying to avoid collisions with pedestrians and other cars. In the distance, obscured by the Eagle on the right, is the once-proud Hotel Sterling - currently slated for demolition, I believe.

A closeup of one of the four Eagle-topped archways that flank the bridge.

The red-leaved Maple seen in previous photographs, this time from within.

Another tree with only some of its leaves changing color.

As I crossed the final stretch back to my car the wind whipped up and I was caught in a flurry of wind-blown leaves. I took several pictures, but upon review realized that windborne leaves seen against a background of trees look like leaves on trees, and windborne leaves seen against a background of grass and fallen leaves look like leaves on the ground. Windborne leaves against a background of sky, on the other hand, just look like dirt on the lens.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Market Street Bridge and Kirby Park, 10/29/2005

My afternoon didn't quite go as planned. None of my friends that I had contacted were able to come out with me so I wound up at Kirby Park in Wilkes-Barre by myself, which I suppose was better for all concerned. I was more mobile on my own, and no one was inconvenienced by the fact that I started off the visit by walking a half-mile in the wrong direction. After I finally worked out that I was nowhere near the river that I wanted to photograph, I turned around and walked back along the path past the point where I had gotten on, past the place where my car was parked, and then (a great distance later) past the shortcut to where my car was parked. Finally I was at a place where I could view the river: the Market Street Bridge.

The Market Street Bridge in Wilkes-Barre is a magnificent piece of architecture, with great arches surmounted by majestic eagles. It is one of the two main connections between Wilkes-Barre and the cities on the other side of the Susquehanna River. Nowadays it figures in most people's minds as a part of the "cruising circuit" for local teenagers, a site of frequent illegal drag races, and as a place of shelter for the homeless people who live under it.
This is a view of the Susquehanna facing west, or downriver. Nanticoke (and the location of this morning's photo) is about six miles downriver.
Here is a view across Market Street to the east, upriver along the Susquehanna River. In the distance you can see the architecturally simpler span of the Pierce Street Bridge and the dome of the beautiful Luzerne County Courthouse (currently undergoing renovations) on the left.
After making my way back across the river to Kirby Park I took the shortcut back to my car which took me past some trees and a pond that I had previously only seen from a distance. Here is a Maple tree in crimson glory. While its color is extremely vibrant, it has also shed many of its leaves.
Here is a closeup of some of the leaves under the Maple tree. In the shadows under the tree the colors are less vibrant, but still beautiful.
Finally, I decided I could not leave without getting some pictures of the ducks that hang out in the park, to the delight of some visitors and the dismay of others.

One thing I noticed on the way home: many, many trees are not yet showing the slightest hint of color. So there still may be some time to see and photograph the Autumn leaves in Northeast PA.


On a stretch of Route 309 in Wilkes-Barre between Kmart and the former location of Wal-Mart there is a giant statue of a cow. Other people just call it "The Big Cow", but in my family we always had a special name for her: Three-O-Nina.
"Giant" is a relative term. When I was a kid I thought this cow was 100 feet tall. Even this morning, as I drove to take her picture, I was certain that she stood twenty feet tall at the shoulder. I was surprised when I pulled up next to her and realized that she was perhaps ten or twelve feet high at the tips of her horns.
My mom doesn't remember how long Three-O-Nina has stood watch outside the dairy next to her. She has been there as long as I can remember - say, at least 35 years. But it is possible she is much older than that. She has had many paint jobs in her lifetime. At one point she was purple, at another she was emblazoned with the corporate logo of the owners of the dairy at that time. A decade ago a miniature golf course wound around her feet. Even the dairy has not always been a dairy; recently it was a seedy-looking bar , and for all I know it may now be only an ice cream shop. I have not been in there in over 25 years, so I'm not sure.
Giants like this were once common in the American landscape. They are less common now, having succumbed to the pressures of expansion, and vandalism, and neglect. No one would put up a giant cow to advertise the presence of a dairy anymore. The whole concept of a "dairy" - a special place to buy fresh milk, and eggs, and ice cream - is now antiquated and obsolete. You can just as easily buy these things at the local supermarket - or even the local Wal-Mart.

Someday, I fear, Three-O-Nina will no longer be there. And when she is gone, a piece of this area will be gone with her.



Susquehanna at sunrise

Susquehanna at Sunrise
from Nanticoke-West Nanticoke Bridge,
10/29/2005, 7:32 AM

I woke up this morning extra-early, jumped right into the shower, had a quick breakfast, and was out of the house by 7:15. Not that I was going to work - I go in to work much later than that so that I have plenty of overlap with our customers in California. No, this morning I had an appointment with the sun on a bridge over the Susquehanna River.

Or so I thought. The sunrise was at 7:30 this morning, according to today's weather report. I figured I would be on the bridge by about 7:20 to capture any interesting pre-sunrise colors in the sky. Also, I know from my pre-dawn walks with Haley that the morning fog sometimes rolls in with the sunrise, so I figured I would have plenty of time to decide to abort my mission if that happened.

7:30 came and went with no big ball of fusing hydrogen making any dramatic appearance. The tinges of pink on the clouds near the top of the picture were the extent of the color show for the morning, and they lasted about ten to fifteen seconds. I decided that maybe I needed to allow extra time for the sun to clear the mountains in the east, and the cloud banks in the east, and the fog bank in the east, and the trees in the east...

By 8:20 I decided to hike back to my car and move on to my other planned subjects for the morning. I got a few worthwhile pictures that I will post later.

Today was expected to be bright and clear, but it looks like it will be overcast. Still, trees are now at peak color, and by this time next they may be stripped of their leaves. I will get what pictures I can, wherever I can!

Friday, October 28, 2005

Box of Souls is complete

The Box of Souls got its final coat of gloss varnish Wednesday night. By Thursday night it was ready to be loaded up with the Gems of Deeds.
(These are basically the same assortment of glass and plastic gems that fill the Treasure Chest, with the addition of some black, white, and smoky-clear flattened marbles.)
So now I just have to add some candy and maybe a little cashola, and I will be ready to face Death and The Pirate this weekend...and reveal to them the secrets I have been keeping these past few weeks!

Libby resigns, nothing changes

Ehhh, what do we expect, anyway? Karl Rove will continue to play a role in the Bush administration, regardless of if he is suspected, indicted, or convicted of any wrondoing. And the Bush administration will carry on with its agenda, and Grover Norquist's agenda, and the far-right's agenda. Nothing much will change until the makeup of the Legislative and Executive branches is changed.

Problems posting pictures

The Box of Souls is now complete. I'm trying to post pictures of it, but I keep on getting unexplained errors during upload.

I think every time I have a problem with Blogger from now on, I'm going to immediately suspect sabotage by the Blogspot-haters, either just as a general form of harassment or as specific retribution against me for lashing out at Chris Pirillo's call to "Kill Blogspot Already!" I already suspect that the fake blog (or "splog") problem may actually be a concerted effort by the pay-to-blog forces to discredit Blogspot and steer people away from Blogger's free services. Doing anything to make blogging more difficult for Blogspot users would fit that pattern.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Nominee hypocrisy

How quickly things change. Less than a year ago we heard this from Senator Bill Frist:

Frist: Specter Must Back
President's Judicial Nominees

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist withholds endorsement of
Sen. Arlen Specter for Senate Judiciary committee chairmanship and says Specter has yet to make his case.

'...Frist said he expected the chairman of the Committee to be "responsible to the feelings, the wishes, the beliefs, the values, the procedures that are held by the majority of that committee. That is, in this case, the Republican caucus on that committee, the Republican committee members."

'Additionally, the chairman, explained Frist, should not only "have a strong predisposition to supporting that nominee sent over by President a Republican Judiciary Committee," but also "on the floor of the United States Senate."

'Frist said the chairman also has the duty to ensure every one of the President's judicial nominees receive an up-or-down vote. He discussed the possibility of the "nuclear option," which would prevent filibusters by only requiring a majority vote of 51 to pass a judicial nominee...'
Apparently ensuring that every one of the President's nominees gets an up-or-down vote is no longer a big priority among Senate Republicans.*

Oh, there are those who will tell you that Miers was simply unqualified. There are those that will tell you that they couldn't vote for someone when essential background information was being withheld. That's crap. Look at John Bolton, the unqualified fellow with the secretive background who is currently U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.** There's at least one other example of an unqualified person with a shadowy background occupying a position of power in the United States that I can think of.

It's true that the term of a Supreme Court justice can be much longer than that of an ambassador or a President. Which is, in part, why we didn't want this President in a position to nominate anyone to the Supreme Court.

But the people who opposed Miers so fiercely were only concerned that she had failed to pass their ideological litmus test. They're looking for an ideologue, an activist judge, someone who will legislate from the bench. They're looking for someone to give them the fifth vote necessary to overturn Roe v. Wade. That's the only qualification they're concerned about.

*This can, of course, be spun to show that Arlen Specter had failed in his duty to ensure an up-or-down vote on the Miers nomination. In the next few days, somebody probably will spin it just like that.
**Yes, I know the Senate didn't approve Bolton. He was a sneak-thief recess appointment. But they didn't raise a fuss about him, either, so they've given him tacit approval.

Dracula vs. the Real Estate Agents

And now for something completly different...
I've always wondered: is Bram Stoker's Dracula very popular among real estate agents? It features a villain/pawn (Renfield) who is a real estate agent and a semi-hero (Jonathan Harker) who is also a real estate agent, and the axis of the story is a real estate deal (the purchase of Carfax Abbey.)
Of course, the story also includes high-tech innovations (much of the story is in the form of blog entri- er, diaries, some of them kept on wax recording cylinders) and a very strong female hero (Winona Ryder barely scratched the surface of Mina Murray's character in her portrayal). But really, I'm just wondering if real estate agents get excited about seeing their profession portrayed in a major work of fiction. Besides this, David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross and the 1989 - 1990 sitcom Open House, are there many works of fiction with real estate agents as the main characters?

Harriet Miers backs out

Harriet Miers has declined her nomination to the Supreme Court, and Bush accepted her withdrawal.
Oh, dear. Now it gets ugly. Brace yourselves as Bush tries to make things up to the far-righters who have been howling since he failed to nominate an activist judge who will legislate from the bench in a manner that they find favorable.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Trees at the playground

This picture was taken immediately after the ridgetop view of Plymouth Mountain, and is 180 degrees in the opposite direction. I thought the trees were nice, but the playground fence spoils much of the view. In the background you can see the mountains to the south of Nanticoke - I've shown these before. It wasn't until I was reviewing this photo this morning that I noticed the things in the foreground - more examples of the Unidentified Playground Equipment that Chloe wrote about some time ago.
We never had anything like this when I was a kid. The purpose is unclear, although one commenter on Chloe's site suggested that they were part of a game that involved tossing a ball into the top and having it come out one of the four* openings below. Chloe said that the holes are too small for a basketball, so some other sort of ball must be involved. Probably a tennis ball, but I think it would be more amusing if it were something heavier, like a baseball. And I'm not certain that we're actually seeing the grass at the base of each post, but if we are, then the lack of wear is consistent with Chloe's observation, which suggested that this is not a very popular piece of equipment.

In appearance these things are somewhat sinister, like the Tripods from War of the Worlds or the periscope / speakerphone / mind control devices from Teletubbies. They almost look like they have been designed to inflict pain while maintaining an air of indifference to the suffering they cause. Maybe they're really some sort of monitoring device. Or a pill dispenser - all the kids are on some sort of pills these days. Back in my day the only pills we took were Fluoride tablets (which tasted horrible and were discontinued after first or second grade), plaque disclosure tablets (which were really, really pink and showed all the places you missed when you brushed your teeth, and the stains took forever to brush out), and of course Flintstones Chewable Vitamins. Or maybe...naaah. My cousin, who is a teacher, says that they really are used for some sort of basketball game. Does anybody out there know for sure? Has anybody actually ever played with these things?

*Correction, 10/29/2005: There are only three openings on these things. Perhaps they are a precusor to a Martian invasion.

Another view of Plymouth Mountain

This picture of Plymouth Mountain was taken at about 5:00 on Sunday, October 23rd, 37 minutes before the one I posted earlier, from a ridge about twenty feet higher than the spot where I was standing when I took that picture. (I was standing pretty much where the silver car just to the left of the white house is parked.)

I realized that I missed some great opportunities for pictures along the Susquehanna River last Sunday. This Saturday is currently predicted to be clear, so I'm making plans to meet with some friends and walk on a trail along the river to try to get some photos before the trees lose all their leaves.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

First snow of the 2005/2006 season

It snowed today in Northeast PA - almost nothing in some places, enough to be a problem in others. At least one car in the parking lot had great clumps of wet slushy stuff on it this morning. I left work at about 6:30, well after the sun had set, and as I went through one mountain cut I saw snow accumulated along the rocks on the sides of the highway. A few minutes later I got to drive , briefly, through falling snow, although it soon turned to rain that stayed with me for most of the rest of the trip.

For the record, the first snow that I noticed last year was on November 8th. So this is two weeks earlier than that. Our last major snowstorm of the 2004/2005 season was on March 23rd, just a little over seven months ago. Here is an account of that storm (from a time long, long ago when I was still taking daily walks with Haley, and when a price of $2.089/gallon for gas was considered "high") , and here are the pictures. Oh, the things we have to look forward to.

Oak leaf, 10/23/2005

The trees around these parts are mostly holding onto their leaves right now. But a few, like this oak leaf, have found their way to the ground.

I have always practiced quality through quantity with my photos: if I open the shutter enough times, I'm bound to get something nice once in a while. But I think no matter how many times I press my little button, I doubt I'll ever have the skill or the eye that Lauren displays every day on her blog.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Plymouth Mountain, 10/23/2005

A view of Plymouth Mountain taken from the parking lot of the Nanticoke CVS at 5:37 PM on Sunday, October 23, 2005, facing north. Plymouth Mountain is about a mile distant, on the other side of the Susquehanna River. This picture was taken about seven minutes after the "heavy clouds" picture, from a position about a mile west of that location.

Any old-timers from Nanticoke who have stumbled across this blog may be interested to know that the Nanticoke CVS is on the site of the old Nanticoke Junior High School,which I think served as the Nanticoke High School for many years before John S. Fine High was built.

Under a heavy sky

Another photo from yesterday's outing. This is from the parking lot of a mall about one and a half miles due east of the church in the last photo, facing west. It was taken about 30 minutes after the church photo, at 5:30 PM.

Sunshine on a cloudy day

Yesterday was mostly cloudy with patches of sunlight here and there. There was a brief clearing in the afternoon and I took advantage of it by running all over town trying to get pictures. This is the probably the last time I'll get to see these sights in daylight until next Saturday, and who knows what the state of the leaves will be by then.

Here's a cute little church on Main Street - Presbyterian, I think. This was a little after 5:00 in the afternoon, facing east by southeast.

More later.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Fall Festival and the Get Well Soon basket

My church decided to skip its annual Church Bazaar this past August. This is unfortunate for several reasons. It is an end to a tradition that has always been a part of my life, and has always indicated the "turnover point" for summer - the point where you no longer thought of summer as an escape from school, but rather as a march towards the new school year. Its cancellation was due to the aging of our parish - there just aren't enough able-bodied people willing or able to work the long hours a church bazaar demands. It marked a significant loss of annual income to the parish. And it meant I had to skip my planned blog entry on this year's bazaar.

To make up for this the church has decided to hold a "Mini Fall Festival" on Sunday, November 6th. I still have no clear idea what this is, although I do know it provides me with a truly lame excuse for not going to the Nine Inch Nails concert in Wilkes-Barre that night. (Sorry, Camilla. But I probably wasn't going anyway.) Part of this festival is a "Chinese Auction." If you've never taken part in one of these, here's how it works: Various items are made available for you to win. You purchase tickets - basically raffle tickets - and place your tickets in a container corresponding to the item you would like to "bid" on. Say you have 20 tickets, and there are 10 items up for bid. You can bid two tickets on each item, or all of your tickets on one item, or split them up however you like. At the end of the event there is a drawing for each item. Your odds of winning the drawing for any given item vary based on the number of tickets that have been bid by you for that item, and the number of tickets that have been bid by other people for that item.

Theoretically, a person can bid a single ticket and win the drawing. Also theoretically, a single person can be the only person who bids on every item and can win every prize with just the minimum ticket purchase. The idea is that you can get more if you win than you spent on tickets, and the church will get more in ticket revenue than the actual value of the prizes - or else it would have made more sense to simply donate the cash value of the prize directly to the church.

My cousin and I had the idea for the Get Well Soon basket back in August of 2004. I was sorry that the 2005 bazaar was cancelled and we never got a chance to make it a reality, but the Fall Festival and the call for baskets for the Chinese Auction gave us a second chance. Originally this was going to be a just-for-the-hell-of-it thing, but now we're going to give it in memory of our fathers, both of whom died in the last few months.
It's not likely that the church will get more income from ticket purchases on the Get Well Soon basket than it actually cost. The tub (intended as a foot-soaking tub, although the iconic image of a sick person soaking his feet is archaic and has been mostly forgotten) cost $5, as did the (hard-to-see) blanket that lines the tub. (It was $9.99, but purchased at 50% off.) The contents easily come to $30 - $50 - they range from a $1 seek-a-word book from a dollar store to expensive packets of foot soak, bath crystals, and Breathe Easy tea from a health food store. Even the Get Well card was $2.99. (Other contents include instant cocoa, instant chicken soup, a mug, a can of ginger ale, a bottle of Gatorade, cough drops, Horehound candy, hard candies, skin lotion, antibacterial gel, a thermometer, hot/cold packs, slipper socks, and a box of tissues with lotion.)

If you find yourself in Nanticoke on Sunday, November 6, stop by St. Mary's Church (a.k.a. Our Lady of Czestachowah) at 1030 South Hanover Street from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM. For just the price of some tickets you can take a chance on the Get Well Soon basket!

A partial fix

Interesting...when I'm trying to post through Firefox, I'm getting hung up at the publishing stage...but when I mail in a post, the things that I tried to post earlier become unstuck and appear on my blog. What the hell is going on? Have the Blogspot-haters decided to launch an attack to try to persuade users to abandon Blogspot? Has Blogspot tried to implement a half-assed fix to the problems Chris Pirillo was complaining about and wound up breaking other things in the process? Or is this just a coincidence?

On my parents' 50th anniversary

Today would have been my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. 8:00 Mass was in memory of my father, so we all went to that. After Mass we went out to Cracker Barrel for brunch with my cousin and my aunt, but before that we stopped at the cemetery.

The weather was nicer this morning than it was yesterday, but I still didn't have too many good photo opportunities with trees. I snapped this picture just before we left the cemetery. The trees don't look very colorful, but the sky is nice.

Maybe someday I'll try to turn this photo, or the sunrise photo from the other day, into a painting. If I do, I'll be sure to post it here.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Trees in Dallas, PA 10/22/2005

It was a dismal day for peak color, if we even had peak color today. "Peak color" is always difficult to determine, because it depends on four factors: how many trees are still green, how many have changed color but are not vibrant, how many have changed color and are vibrant, and how many have lost their leaves.

The perception of color also depends on the amount of sunlight. Today was a gray and rainy day, so the colors didn't show up very well in these photos. I will probably play with them a bit later to get them to look more like they do on my camera's viewscreen, which closely resembled how they appeared to my eyes.

These pictures were all taken in a little mini-mall between routes 309 and (I believe) 118 in Dallas, PA around 4:45 this afternoon.

I hope to have some better shots soon, before the trees have lost all their leaves!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Sunrise over Nanticoke, 10/20/2005

Ooooh. Pretty.

A sunrise postponed

(CLARIFICATION, 10/24/2005: I am neither stating nor implying that Chloe's opinions on this matter are the same as Chris Pirillo's. Go here to see Chloe's entry on this matter. It was only because of a link on Chloe's site that I even became aware of Chris Pirillo's anti-Blogspot diatribe. I am not responsible for how people choose to interpret things I didn't say.)

I was visiting Chloe's Watermelon Punch this morning, checking on the status of a comment I had posted last night regarding Chris Pirillo's call for Google to get rid of Blogspot and all the blogs that are on it - 99% of which, he maintains, are fake blogs, or "splogs".

Now, I've never heard of Chris Pirillo, but that may put me in some sort of minority. I am not a propellerhead, someone deeply and passionately enamored with the technical aspects of computers, the internet, and the online experience. I'm just this guy, just another monkey with a blog. A Google search for "anothermonkey.blogspot" will yield 281 results. A search for "pirillo" will yield 1,670,000 results, for "chris pirillo" will give 1,420,000 hits, and for his website "lockergnome", 1,930,000. (He claims he had no idea these sites were so popular. Perhaps he should try Googling himself once in a while?) So this guy's out there, but I've never heard of him.

His call for Blogspot eradication - which he later tries to pass off as a "Modest Proposal", though it sounds more like a bit of technobullying than a piece of Swiftean satire - focuses on a problem I've discussed before: the preponderance of fake blogs. His first approximation solution is to simply eliminate all Blogspot blogs. He maintains that only 1% of all Blogspot blogs are "legitimate". I'm not sure what his criteria for "legitimacy" are; I count blogs written in Portuguese and Farsi and Chinese and whatever the hell language 12-year-olds speak these days* to be "legitimate", even if I have no idea what they're about. By my observations made during recent "Next Blog" walks, the proportion of "legitimate" to "fake" Blogspot blogs is closer to 80/20 - perhaps even 90/10, which is a hell of a lot better than it was just a few months ago.

I don't want to get into this just now. It's a lengthy debate, and it gets into the concept of blog-snobbery. I'm finding out that Blogspot is considered the blogging ghetto. Well, welcome to the jungle, baby.

Anyway. I was on Chloe's site this morning, and I saw that my comment had finally been posted (it had been quarantined after I submitted it last night, possibly because my URL had a ".blogspot" extension), and Chloe had posted a response to it, when I noticed an orange-pink glow behind me and over my left shoulder. I jumped up, grabbed my camera, ran outside, and took some pictures of the sunrise.

Unfortunately, Chloe's website (which is not a Blogspot blog) is a little feature-heavy - which means that not only does it take up to five minutes to load onto my poor little computer over my dialup connection, but also that each of its features leaves little pieces of itself behind after I leave, eating up a little bit of my resources. The upshot of which is that after visiting her site, and Chris Pirillo's site, and a few others this morning, it was not possible for me to post my pictures of this beautiful sunrise before I had to start getting ready for work.

So you'll have to wait until I get back home tonight. Sorry!

*Update 10/20/05 9:51 PM: I've just spent about an hour walking through Blogspot blogs using the "Next Blog" button. I've been through about 100 blogs, and I've found about seven in Portuguese, one in Chinese (from Taiwan), none in Farsi (though I have seen at least one in the past) and none by twelve-year-olds speaking their own incoherent language (the closest I came was a semi-coherent one from a sixteen-year-old.) And I've found and flagged only three fake blogs. So Mr. Pirillo's estimate of "1% legitimate" is full of crap. He can use either the hyperbole defense - "Hey, you're not supposed to take this seriously!" - in which case the validity of any of his other statements on his site (and he makes quite a few of them, and apparently considers his statements to be Very Important and Quite Authoritative) is called into question. Or he can simply argue that his definition of "legitimate" doesn't include people writing about their pet iguanas, their theories of comparing politics to Yu-Gi-Oh playing styles, their experiences during basic training, their churches, their kids, their problems paying the rent, the books they read, the movies they watch, the jobs they do. 'Cause those are all things I came across during my walk through the Blogspot ghetto. You know what? I think I'll stick around.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Sadness in the trees

When my grandmother was in the nursing home I would sometimes take her out for rides in my car. We especially enjoyed driving around in the Autumn looking at the colorful leaves

As I was driving to visit some friends in New Jersey for a birthday party this past weekend I had a mental Post-It jump into my field of vision. I don't know if other people experience these things. They're like the little pop-up messages that appear on your computer screen reminding you that tomorrow is so-and-so's birthday, or you have a dentist's appointment this weekend, or it's been 11247 days since you last defragmented your hard drive. Only these things are actually post-hypnotic reminders, implanted by me, that pop up in response to specific stimuli. They're very useful for things I don't need to keep in the top level of my memory all the time, like the combination for the lock on the garden shed or the suggestion that I should take my father for a drive in the country to see the leaves.

That was what popped up in my field of vision as I was driving: TAKE DADDY FOR DRIVE TO SEE LEAVES. Yes, of course. The leaves are quite beautiful right now. Even someone deep in Alzheimer's can respond to them. Just a few technicalities of getting my father signed out of the nursing home, getting him to my car, and getting him back in time for his next meal and/or scheduled meds.

Of course, there's also the fact that my father has been dead for almost two months.

This weekend would have been my parents' 50th wedding anniversary.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Box of Souls marbleizing, Stage 2

As planned, I applied another layer of sponged-on marbling to the Box of Souls to cover up the excessive gray from yesterday's application.
I let this coat dry for a little over an hour and then decided to apply the veining. I had a little difficulty at first, but after a few strokes with a loaded feather I was very happy with the results.
I even applied the veining to the inside - this is a box, and it is meant to be opened.
So now I will let this dry overnight and apply another coat of spray-on gloss acrylic sealer. After that there will be a final coat of high-gloss varnish, and then I'll declare it done!

Time for a new car?

My 1996 Toyota Tercel has nearly 246,000 miles on it, and it's starting to show its age. The battery gave out last year and needed to be replaced, and the air conditioner also needed to be recharged. Unfortunately, this year the air conditioner needed to be recharged again, but initial tests indicated that it was leaking and couldn't be refilled without first getting it repaired. I chose not to invest the money, and spent the hottest summer in memory without an air conditioner.

A few weeks ago I started to hear a noise somewhere between a roar and a rattle coming from under the front of my car. I think this is probably a loose bracket on my exhaust system - a hole in the system or a header pipe would probably be much louder, and would be filling the car with toxic fumes.

Yesterday I decided to take a look at my engine and check the fluids while I was getting gas and I discovered the latest problem: my hood won't open. Apparently the release cable has broken. So I guess I need to get that fixed.

The car is reaching the point where it seems like a bad idea to keep putting money into it for repairs. It's still running well, still getting about 37 - 40 miles to the gallon, but soon it will need new tires, brakes, a new exhaust system, and eventually some major overhauls. I think it's time to seriously consider investing in a new car.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Box of Souls marbleizing, Stage 1

Having officially completed the Treasure Chest for my Pirate nephew, I am now turning my attention to Death's Box of Souls* to accessorize my other nephew's costume.

So far the Box of Souls has just received a layer of heavily pigmented black paint and a coat of gloss acrylic sealer. At that point it looked good enough to leave as-is, and I imagine that for future projects I will do something that is simply high-gloss black. But the plan was to apply a faux marble finish to this, and I am determined to follow through. Here's stage 1 of the marbleizing.
I am not 100% happy with this outcome: the paint was much thicker than I expected, and the gray dominates a lot more than I had hoped. Plus I committed the cardinal sin of overworking the piece, something I tried to compensate for by overdaubing with black. The whole thing will need to dry a day or so before I give it another coat of gloss acrylic sealer and then apply veining (and possibly additional black daubing.) After that I will spray on a final coat of acrylic sealer and then finally brush on a topcoat of high-gloss varnish, resulting in a total paint thickness of about 1/4". Hopefully the end result will not be complete crap. Stay tuned...

*So what in Hell's name is Death's Box of Souls? I have no idea. I'm just making it up, because I can't give a hand-finished box to one nephew and not the other. But as best I figure, Death (in Milton's sense of Death as a weird embodied side-effect of the fall of the rebellious angels) keeps his own private tally of the deeds of every soul, perhaps in, say, a big hourglass full of gems. Each gem represents a deed: white for goodness, black for evil, red for courage, green for generosity, yellow for cowardice, clear for purity of action, blue for...whatever. At the end of a person's allotted days the hourglass is shattered and the accumulated gems are poured off into a box, which Death carries with him when he goes to claim the soul. For souls that make it into Heaven, all of the gems turn to clear when the soul is admitted. But for souls that go elsewhere, the gems are tallied to determine the nature of the soul's fate. Hey, that sort of sounds consistent with Dante's Inferno too, doesn't it?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Treasure Chest and Pirate's Booty

The Treasure Chest is now complete.
The treasure contained within consists of various sorts of colored glass things from the arts & crafts stores, fake plastic coins, a fake string of pearls, fake faceted gemstones, a fake telescope from a Long John Silver's kid's meal, and some gold foil covered chocolate coins.
Yes, I realize that the gold coins have modern markings. I don't plan on worrying about that too much. Interesting fact: as long as this picture was called TreasureChest_Booty.jpg, Blogger would always fail at the last stage of the picture posting. Once I changed it to TreasureChest_Treasure.jpg, it went right through.

I completed my nephew's pirate costume today with a strip of black fabric that when wound around my nephew's shoulder, wrapped around his waist, and secured with a pin, will serve as a sash and sword belt. This will go over a white sweatshirt and random pants and shoes, all topped by a foam pirate hat, plastic eye patch and shiny chrome cutlass. (I have an emergency backup cutlass, a less shiny but less fragile one just in case the main one breaks before the holiday.)

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Project update

Just got back from a birthday party in New Jersey. The colors of the leaves have intensified along Route 115 since our trip last Sunday, but since I was driving I wasn't able to get any photos. The two rest stops along Route 80 where I pulled over specifically to get photos of trees did not have any trees whose leaves were showing much color.

The crackle finish did not work out on the Treasure Chest. Maybe I applied it wrong. Maybe I didn't apply enough basecoat. Maybe it isn't designed to work over the stain that I used on the wood. In any event, I know that there's no project that, with sufficient effort, you can't turn to crap. If I try again with the crackle finish I may wind up with horrible results - may as well save it for a Christmas project I've got planned. I think maybe I'll give the Treasure Chest a coat of satin-finish varnish, apply a foam base and foam liner, and call it good.
Note the sloppiness in the black bands. Not much I can do about it now. It actually looks much worse in this photo.

Another bit of sloppiness worked out for me. I got some of the wood stain onto the closing hasp, and now it has an antiqued appearance.
Note the black spatter on the wood. That was intentional. I should have used a toothbrush and my thumb, but I got lazy and used a short-bristled brush and my forefinger. Still, it looks good, and will look better under varnish.

The Box of Souls worries me. I could easily mess it up at the marbleizing stage. I suppose I can always cover up any disasters with black paint and a layer of gloss varnish and it will look fine. We'll find out soon.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Painting under the influence

When you've just had two 12-ounce mugs of wine and the thought occurs to you that this would be the perfect time to lay down the base coat on that box-finishing project that you're planning as a sort of Halloween present for your nephews, should you listen?

One nephew is going as a pirate - he's getting an antiqued treasure chest full of diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and coins (clear, red, and blue flat marbles from the arts & crafts stire, and some pirate loot from the dollar store.) And the other nephew, who is going as a blank-faced version of Death, will get an onyx-finished box with capitals on the sides, filled with red, white, and black Soul Gems. (Guess where those came from.)

Heeeeere we go....

UPDATE (11:48 PM): Progress report:

Stage 1
The unfinished boxes, and the kits that will be used for finishing them. The Hot Wheels Skulls and Pumpkins are in attendance, as well as the Best Damned Fruitcake in the World. I'm buying it now because it sold out in time for Christmas last year. I actually bought a 3-pound pack a few weeks ago, but we've already eaten two of the 1-lb. fruitcakes. Note the third 12-ounce mug of wine on the right.

Stage 2
Treasure Chest is finished with a lovely light stain - I'm tempted to leave it like this. The Box of Souls (what the hell kind of box would Death walk around with, anyway? - sheesh, me and my damned egalitarian instincts) in its first coat of thick black paint. More than six ounces of the wine are gone.

Now I juat have to wait 2 hours for the first coat to dry, and I've finidhed my box of wine. Which means I'm probably going to bed. Even the Cartman marathon on Comedy Central won't keep me up. Maybe if Sammie is online I'll have a drunken chat with her...

UPDATE 2 (9:51 AM, 10/15/2005): Woke up bright and early after about six hours of sleep. Last night I sloppily painted black bands in the grooves on the Treasure Chest - I've never been very good with straight lines. This morning I touched up some spots on the inner rim of the Box of Souls and applied the second, darker stain to the outside of the Treasure Chest, leaving the inside a more golden color.

Stages 3 and 4:

Now the Box of Souls needs at least 24 hours to dry, and the Treasure Chest needs at least 2. Maybe I'll clean up my workspace (a.k.a. the kitchen table, and in fact the entire kitchen) and read up on how the crackle finish for the Treasure Chest will work.

Good busy

We've been busy at work lately, but it's a good busy. We've got an enormous amount of work to do in a limited amount of time, and we've had to draw up a battle plan for how to approach it. Each of the projects we're working on has to be thoroughly worked over by each of four sub-departments, then assembled by another and QC'd by another. If we approached this wrong we would have conflicts and delays as different sub-departments tried to grab the same projects at the same time. I worked out a schedule to avoid this and developed a plan for carrying it out.

Of course, the plan is falling apart. Plans almost always do. Some sub-departments are moving faster than I expected, and some are taking more time. We have had two critical equipment failures, one of which was resolved almost immediately and one of which has reduced functionality of a sub-department by more than a third. (UPDATE 10/14/2005: Make that three critical equipment failures, two of them in a single sub-department, cutting its functionality in half. And we had a network failure that resulted when somebody randomly pulled some wires. What fun.) We have critical personnel leaving for long-scheduled vacations, and unexpected emergency projects elbowing their way to the front of the line. I am trying to toss these projects back to the end of the line, but as it is they are mostly removing themselves as they turn out to be missing critical components.

But any plan's nads are ultimately in the hands of the customer, who needs to supply all of the raw assets for the project and needs to approve the project at various stages of completion. Our customers tend to be laid-back Californians who don't understand high-strung Type A folks from DVD Authoring studios on the East Coast. Getting them to cooperate tends to be the bottleneck in any project.

So we're busy, but it's a good busy. I hope we can make it through this with a minimum of pain.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A tip for my fellow Gentiles

I know Jon Stewart covered this a while ago but, what with tomorrow being the day (sort of; I believe the observance begins at sunset), it can't hurt to repeat it: It is not considered proper etiquette to wish our Jewish friends a "Happy Yom Kippur." (I did, once.) The Day of Atonement is not considered a "happy" sort of holiday.

Speechless in the face of tragedy

So here I sit, mentally composing future posts, and I realize that I have almost nothing to say about the incredible tragedy in the Kashmir/Pakistan region. How many dead? 30,000? 40,000?

Mudslides in Guatemala, caused by a hurricane that barely made the news in the U.S. How many dead there?

And how many died in the Tsunami last December 26?

Maybe I've got some sort of compassion fatigue, a temporary burnout of the circuits caused by too many personal and global tragedies in too short a period of time. Maybe the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina - so much smaller in terms of loss of human life - hit so much closer to home that it looms much larger in my mind.

The sad fact is, as the human population of this little planet continues to rise, these tragedies will only become more common. Unpopulated areas will become populated, and earthquakes, tornadoes, mudslides, floods, hurricanes and all sorts of things that would have gone unnoticed previously because of the lack of humans in the area will now result in loss of human life. And tragedies that strike populated areas will have greater impact when those areas are even more densely populated than they are today.

After the last major Central/Western Asian earthquake I remember seeing a map showing the locations and dates of earthquakes in the region. They seemed to form a pattern - an oval track with earthquakes marching along it in a - clockwise? - direction. I seem to recall that it looked like Istanbul was next in line. We'll see if Newsweek or Time reprints and updates that map in this week's editions.

Anyway. That's more than I thought I had to say. Do what you can, support relief agencies, but expect more of the same in the future.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Route 115 two weeks before peak color

The rain seems to have not gotten the memo stating that it was supposed to fall all weekend. Today was much nicer than yesterday, so we decided to take our trip to Marshalls Creek today. (According to the exit sign on Route 80 it's Marshalls Creek, not Marshall's Creek. So I stand corrected. Maybe.) "We" consisted of me, my cousin, her mother, and a friend of ours. My cousin is always complaining that I never mention her or put pictures of her on my blog, so here she is, mugging for the camera. (Interested parties may submit a resume, C.V., three letters of recommendation, three photographs - head, profile, and full-body - and a thousand-word essay explaining why you should be allowed to go out with my cousin. Be prepared to provide blood, urine, and hair samples, as well as sets of finger and retina prints and a scraping of cells from the inside of the cheek.)

There are several ways to get from anywhere to anywhere else in Pennsylvania, but one of the nicest (and fastest) ways to get from Nanticoke to Marshalls Creek is to take Interstate 81 North to Route 115 South to Interstate 80 East to the Marshalls Creek exit. Route 115 is an old, winding, two- to three-lane road that cuts through some of the prettiest parts of the Northeastern Pennsylvania forest. Unfortunately, we still have about two weeks to go until our leaves are at peak color, so only isolated trees are showing much.

Route 115 is too narrow, winding, and hilly to attract the heavy tractor-trailer traffic that fills Interstates like 81 and 80. But we had barely gotten on the road when we were joined by an unusual vehicle - a HumVee stretch limousine. It pulled on from a gas station where it had probably been filled with several hundred dollars' worth of fuel, and it probably gets less than 10 miles per gallon. Fuel efficiency is generally optimized for a speed of 50-55 miles per hour, so when this beast flew past us at 70 mph in a 45 zone, we could be pretty sure is was burning fuel at a preposterous rate.

After it blew past us we figured we'd seen the last of it, but it wasn't too much farther down the road that we found it again, stuck behind one of the few large trucks on the road.
In this case it was a tanker truck carrying water and moving at about 30 mph. The poor little HumVee was behind it in a no-passing zone, puttering away at go-kart speeds.

I tried to snap photos here and there as we went along, but there weren't that many colorful trees, and it's hard to get an undistorted picture from a moving vehicle.
I will be going back this way next weekend for a birthday party in New Jersey. It will be interesting to see how much more the leaves have changed by then.

Here's one last picture, of interest to a few of my friends. The Blakeslee Diner is still there, still renting out the upstairs rooms.
It's been a few years since I ate there. I had a friend who worked there one summer, and that was when I decided the owner/manager was a jerk - he would specifically not sit me in my friend's section, even though I requested it, even though she was the only reason I was stopping there. Eh, she thought he was an OK guy, so maybe I'm judging him too harshly.

Stay tuned for more developments as the leaves in Northeastern Pennsylvania continue to change color!