Saturday, March 31, 2007

Getting down to business

Thursday night I grabbed a $50 Lowe's gift card I got for Christmas and headed out there to pick up a few things.

Shortly after I started working at the place where, until nearly five weeks ago, I was employed for the past fifteen years, a consultant came in to do a presentation. This was at a time when big new ideas were sweeping through all the industries and new approaches to doing things were being taken everywhere. This consultant - we'll call him T.M. - was a maverick, not connected to any larger group, and his presentation was his own - well, maybe bits of it had been borrowed from this program or that program. He was charismatic, energetic, and put on a good show. My company decided to bring him on board as a sort of in-house consultant to guide us through the new philosophies of business.

He created a mandatory course that every employee of our company, from top executives to lowly new hires, had to go through. And we did. For several years he taught that course until, inevitably, the shifting tectonic plates of the business world realigned and a new order was established. Then the course was discontinued, and he was made a Vice-President and put in charge of a third of the production force.

Nothing lasts forever in business. Years later the plates shifted again, and he was out. Out of the company entirely.

I heard he was working on remodeling his house at the time. So he got himself a job working at Lowe's or Home Depot to get the sweet employee discount on purchases. Not a bad idea. Maybe something I should consider as a temporary step.

Anyway, I went to Lowe's Thursday night to pick up the things that I need to do the jobs that my insurance company is requiring before a May 31 deadline - now just two months away:

Five gallons of Barn & Fence paint (white, self-priming),

40 lbs. of concrete especially designed for walkway repairs,

80 lbs. of general-purpose concrete for repairing the concrete wall under the grapevine,

a mortar box (cheap, thin plastic), a set of trowels, and a paint roller/paint tray/replacement roller kit (too wide for the boards of the garage, so this one will probably be used for the interior painting I'll be doing this summer.) Also a paint scraper and some concrete crack sealer (for my mom's house.) All of that ate up the gift card plus more than $60. (The 40 lb. bag of walkway concrete was surprisingly expensive.)

I dropped the stuff off at the house yesterday. I pulled up in the alley behind the house and went in through the back gate so I could just haul the stuff directly into the garage. My neighbors saw me and came out to talk. Not about anything much, just to talk. It was a pleasant hour or so of Americana as we leaned on a fence and talked about the weather and whatnot (interrupted briefly by the sound of an explosion that was, I would find out later, the ceremonial "groundbreaking" [with dynamite] for a new firefighters' training center a mile or so away) until the conversation turned to taxes and I suddenly realized I had not yet paid a local tax that was due (I thought) by April 1. I ran back to my mom's house to grab the form, write a check, and get it to the Municipal Building before the close of the business day.

I was wrong. The tax is not due until April 30. Still, this little scare served to remind me that the clock is ticking, and there are several things that need to be done before certain deadlines. Time to get to work.

Friday, March 30, 2007

One Thousand Posts

On the morning of May 14, 2004, I posted my first post to Another Monkey. It consisted only of the words “Coming soon...” and was soon replaced with what now stands as my first post, “Another monkey with a blog!” Thirty-four and a half months and 999 posts later, here we are.

This blog has been a lot of fun for me. It’s served as a homepage, a jumping-off point for the Internet, an adjunct to my personal ad, a message board, a personal art gallery, a place to tell stories, and a place to meet new friends and keep old friends up-to-date. It’s allowed me to express myself on a scale and in ways that I simply couldn’t do otherwise. I’ve shared a lot of sorrow, a lot of pain, and hopefully a little happiness and joy along the way. I’ve taken a stab at granting immortality to loved ones who have died. And maybe, just maybe, by sharing these things, I’ve helped a few people to deal with similar situations in their own lives.

So what next? Nothing radical. 1000 posts is just a number. I’ve been experimenting with adding pictures to NEPA Blogs and I may start doing the same thing here. I’ve maintained a post-a-day schedule fairly consistently for many months and I’d like to keep it up as long as I have something to say or something to share and I am capable of saying or sharing it.

I’d like to take this opportunity to do something I don’t do nearly enough: thank you, the readers and commentors, for making this blog possible. Without you this would simply be the random keystrokes of some half-crazed lunatic in a room somewhere in Northeastern Pennsylvania screaming into the void. Knowing that you are there and reading forces me to focus on doing a good job, writing something interesting, making it worth your while to come here again and again. Your kind words and support have helped me through the dark and lonely times. Thank you for reading. Thank you for commenting. And I hope you stick around for a while!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

One Yellow Crocus

Springtime has come to Northeastern Pennsylvania, even to its cemeteries. After my mom and I spent the day out yesterday having my car inspected and serviced and buying shoes in Tannersville we made the long slow trip back home. "Slow" because the State Police have been out in force the past few days, stopping drivers for even the most minor infractions, so all traffic is scrupulously driving the posted speed limits. I already generally drive no faster than the posted speed limit, much to the annoyance of drivers behind me, but to have everyone on the road doing it is a little weird. On the way home we made a detour to stop at the cemetery where our family members are buried.

We were surprised to see that the Crocuses had poked their heads above the soil and opened up. My mom planted a few purple Crocuses a year or two ago and they have multiplied and spread. Somewhere along the line some recessive gene expressed itself and one of the Crocuses is coming up yellow. My mom pointed out that my grandfather's favorite color was yellow, although it should be noted that the yellow Crocus is located on the other end of the plot from his grave.

Daffodils are coming up on the side of my mom's house and soon the Irises will be in bloom. I'll have to divide out some of those roots and plant them over at my house. Next Spring there should be Daffodils and Irises coming up there, too!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Cars, books, and shoes

I took my car in to get it inspected today. I knew going in that it needed some repairs and I mentally set a limit on how much I would pay to have the car certified to be on the road beyond April 30. I dropped off the car in the morning and drove my mom (in her car) down to The Crossings outlet mall in Tannersville.

There aren't many stores down there that interest me, and the prices aren't that great. The outlet is mainly designed to attract shoppers from New York and New Jersey who are coming to Pennsylvania because the sales tax is lower and because there is no sales tax on clothing in Pennsylvania. (Oh, technically these shoppers are supposed to report all those out-of-state purchases on their state income tax forms each year, just like everyone is supposed to report all those sales-tax-free online purchases they've made over the internet. Have you?) There used to be a store called We're Entertainment that sold all sorts of movie, TV, and other pop culture-themed stuff - I got a really cool T-shirt of Curious George passed out after taking a whiff from a bottle of Ether. But that store closed a few years ago, and in its place is some clothing or housewares shop.

I did go to a bookstore there that barely discounts its books. Many years ago I was able to pick up a remaindered copy of The Illustrated Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy there (marked down from its original price of $42), and I've gotten a few other odd books over the years, but nothing caught my eye this time. After wandering through the stacks for a while I joined my mom at the shoe store where she was shopping.

Women. Shoes. OK. But my mom has a hard-to-find shoe size (7 Narrow) and most shoes that are technically in her size don't fit her right. The Easy Spirit shop at The Crossings is one of the few places where she can both find shoes that fit her and actually try them on before she buys them. (That's hard to do when you order online.) So I don't begrudge her the time I spent guarding her shoes and her purse as she rummaged through the aisles. I immediately thought of Ashley and her book Behind the Naugahyde while I was there. It's a book about the crazy adventures of two friends working in a shoe store. I kept wanting to run up to sales clerks and interview them, pump them for anecdotes, see what their level of interest level was in purchasing a comic novel about people who work in a shoe store. But I restrained myself.

While we were there the place where I was having my car serviced called with the bad news. The bill would be a big one. I needed new front pads and rotors, a new left front axle (thanks to Car Talk I was expecting that - the thumpthumpthump that came from the left front wheel whenever I would turn to the right was a dead giveaway), and I needed to have the rear bearings repacked, plus some other stuff. The total came to just under my predetermined limit (which I hadn't said out loud, so don't go thinking such wild accusations.) I gave them the go-ahead and resigned myself to holding onto this car for at least another six months.

We walked out of the Easy Spirit store with six pairs of shoes for my mom.

Sheesh, I guess we'd both better get working on our tax returns. Those refund checks sure will come in handy when our credit card bills arrive!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A beautiful day that I was supposed to have off anyway

Back in my former life I had planned to take this week off to see if I could do the last few tasks that my insurance company is requiring me to do before May 31. I had guessed that by the end of March all the snow would have melted and things would be warming up enough to do concrete work and drying up enough to scrape and paint my garage.


The weather was beautiful today, sunny and in the low 70's - warmer than it should be, but we're going to have to get used to that. I did some stuff in the yard and garden early in the day: hung the garden swing, removed the frost protectors from three plants, pulled some dried "straw" from the strawberry patch. I spent most of the afternoon grocery shopping with my mom. That's become our Tuesday thing. She gets a senior citizen's discount on Tuesdays, and doesn't have to worry about buying heavy items (like a 21 lb. bag of cat food) as long as I'm with her. I spent some time this evening at my house pulling out relevant records for my taxes. I guess I should have been saving receipts for paint and paintbrushes and sandpaper and scrapers, but oh well. I'll have plenty of those receipts for 2007. (And I just remembered I need to grab my receipt for my electrical work - that goes in the Big Box of Tax Stuff, too.)

Tomorrow I'm getting my car inspected. At 11 years old and 271,000 miles, the car could probably get totalled by any major service requirements. It isn't showing any problems, but...well, let's keep our fingers crossed that it makes it through this inspection. Then I get the new job, then I get the new car, and then I get the new computer. In that order.

Maybe I'll get that painting and concrete work done before I get the new job.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Rosebush, First Day of Spring

Rosebush, First Day of Spring

Painted 3/26/2007

This painting is based on a photograph I took last week. I took the liberty of demolishing my uphill neighbor's house, and my garden shed, and all of the houses and trees between me and the mountains a few miles to the South. Well, that's not exactly true; there's a ridge about a quarter mile in that direction that then suddenly drops into a little valley (which is how all the terrain around here is laid out), and most of the trees between this rosebush and those mountains are out of sight below the ridgeline. Still, it's fun to eradicate houses in my paintings simply because they're in my way.

I quite like the cirrus cloud in the sky, even though it is trying to dominate the picture. I also took a bit more care drawing the rosebush's branches individually with a 10/0 fine-point brush and a feather - compare to my sloppy branches here.

I reduced the number of branches and rose hips (those little balls at the end of each branch that show where a rosebud had been) by a factor of about 10 - I just clipped each and every one of those hips off the rosebush this morning, so I have a very good idea how many were actually there. And I probably should have darkened down the color of the shadow - in the photo it looks a bit grayer, although realistically it should be pretty close to the color of the sky. (The shadow shows where the direct rays of the sun have been blocked, but the area in shadow is still illuminated by the sky and any other objects reflecting sunlight. On white snow the colors of shadows tend to show up very well.) But overall, I like this painting a lot.

Note: Also compare to the photo and painting shown here.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

China Moon

Moon over St. Mary's Church, Nanticoke, PA, March 25, 2007, 2:39 PM

I love seeing the Moon in the daytime, particularly when there are a few wispy clouds in the sky. The bright parts of the Moon take on the appearance of the clouds, while the dark parts appear to be the blue of the sky. Through binoculars the Moon looks like a delicate piece of china or porcelain hanging in the sky.

My parish is holding a "Spring Fling", very similar to the Fall Festival they held back in November of 2005. Even after combining with several other parishes, ours is still in pretty dire straits financially. The old folks are dying off one by one, and there are fewer and fewer young folks stepping up to take their place. Our Summer Festival used to be a thing of legend, a three-day bazaar the first weekend of August that would bring in people from miles around and would bring in revenue that paid many of the bills for the year. (It also served to signal the beginning of the end of Summer.) But no more; there were not enough people available to run it anymore. And so we are reduced to spaghetti suppers and bake sales and Chinese Auctions. And this is probably just holding off the inevitable.

Oh, well. I bought $20 worth of chances, 100 individual tickets that I spread around among the thirty or forty individual prizes. We'll see if I win anything!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Congratulations to The Comics Curmudgeon!

Josh Fruhlinger's The Comics Curmudgeon is celebrating post #1000 today. As several readers have pointed out, this is not technically the thousandth post, for reasons Josh details here. But that's no reason not to have a party!

I've written about this site in the past, notably here and here. If you love the comics, or used to love the comics, or used to love the comics but have grown to hate them, or just wish you knew more about comics, you absolutely must visit this site. People will bust on comics like Mary Worth or Gil Thorp or Rex Morgan M.D. or Judge Parker or Mark Trail or For Better Or For Worse, and will then reveal that they have been reading these comics since they were first published and have encyclopedic knowledge of every character and situation that has ever appeared. (As a side note, Josh is currently running a campaign to get Mary Worth reinstated on the pages of The Washington Post.) And the cast of characters who provide commentary are among the funniest and most talented people I've met online. Go and visit and join the curmudgeonly snarktastic fun!

In honor of the Comics Curmudgeon Millenipost, I'm going to add the "official" CC Reading List link to the online comics pages of the Houston Chronicle to my sidebar. This way you can read the same comics Josh reads on a daily basis, and be a little ahead of the game when it comes to snarking! (This link works for Monday through Saturday strips only; some Sunday comics can be accessed individually from this page, although you may have to manually alter the date to get the comic to appear. You can also build your own customized comics page here.)

(Another Monkey should, if it be the will of the Cosmic All, see its thousandth post soon, perhaps this week. This is published post #994 and there are sixteen "draft" posts in limbo out there, so my statistics currently show 1,010 posts.)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Everybody knows that the world is full of stupid people

Our second-oldest cat, Joey, threw up this morning. Twice.

Minnie used to throw up all the time, usually undigested semi-moist food. Joey has never had a history of throwing up. He is also the only one of our cats who regularly ate any of the recalled pet food from Menu Foods. I found that out – with some difficulty – last weekend. Menu Foods has since improved its website to present lists of recalled foods in .html format rather than .xls format – which was a problem if you didn’t happen to have Excel on your home computer.

One of the symptoms being exhibited by pets that have been poisoned by the RAT POISON that has somehow contaminated the dog and cat food from Menu Foods is vomiting. We pulled all of the suspect cat food (Special Kitty, from Wal-Mart) last Saturday, and Joey hasn’t had any since then, and hadn’t vomited up until now. He also wasn’t showing any other symptoms. We didn’t really think he had been poisoned, but having already lost one cat to kidney failure we really didn’t want to see another one die the same way. We called the vet this morning and made an appointment for blood work this afternoon.

I drove, and my mom sat in the back seat with Joey in a carrier. He was frightened going up, and was frightened at the vet’s. But he got a clean bill of health, and we were soon on our way home.

We re-entered Nanticoke just after 3:00.

The street that I live on in Nanticoke is – or was – in the Guinness Book of World Records as the only street where you could go from Kindergarten through the second year of college without leaving the street. I don’t think this is still true, but there are still a lot of schools along the street. All of the elementary schools and the high school are clustered near the North end of the street, while Luzerne County Community College is about a mile away near the South end of the street. In the morning, the police diligently stop any LCCC students speeding through the school zone, but just as diligently ignore any speeding high school students heading in the other direction. After all, the college students heading down that road are probably from out of town, and have no relatives who are related to the mayor or members of city council and can cause problems. The high school students are from the Greater Nanticoke Area and probably do. Logical.

The high school lets out at 2:30, and for a good ten to fifteen minutes the area is full of vrooming, screeching, squealing cars carrying screaming, shouting, cursing high school students. At 3:00 the elementary schools let out and the streets are full of a younger version of the same students on foot, and a slightly older version of the drivers as parents pick up their kids.

We entered Nanticoke and began the virtually impossible crawl up the hill at 15 miles per hour. Kids filled the sidewalks and crossed the roads. A crossing guard stopped us a few blocks up to let some kids dash across at the crosswalk. A block later the street expanded into three lanes: one heading towards us and two going in our direction. The left-hand one was for turning left into the school complex, while the right-hand one was for going straight or right. There was a truck in the left-hand turning lane, a red pickup truck with a white cap. There was no one in the right lane. There was a crossing guard holding a STOP sign in the crosswalk. I pulled up to the crosswalk in the right-hand lane and waited for the kids to cross.

And waited. There were a lot of kids crossing. Every once in a while the crossing guard began to drop her sign and wave us through, and then suddenly she raised it again as more kids dashed into the crosswalk. After a minute or two of this the kids began to thin out. Three stragglers ran up, but one of them decided he didn’t want to cross anymore. His two friends bounded into the crosswalk. One of them ran across, while the other hesitated halfway through, then turned around and went back to his friend on the school side of the street. The crossing guard lowered her STOP sign and cleared the intersection.

“Her sign has flashing lights in it,” I observed to my mother as I began to drive.

“Yes, I’ve seen that before,” she replied.

“HOLY SHIT!!!” I added, as the red pickup truck with white cap cut across our path, nearly intersecting with our vehicle.

Now, in case I didn’t make it clear, this truck was in the LEFT lane. A TURNING lane for TURNING LEFT. We were in the RIGHT lane, a lane for GOING STRAIGHT or TURNING RIGHT.

It is conceivable that a person might find him- or herself in a LEFT TURNING lane when they really want to go STRAIGHT. Lord knows I’ve done that plenty of times. In these cases you have two options: you turn on your right turn signal, wait for a clearing in the right-hand lane, and then join the flow of traffic. If this is not possible, you continue your turn to the left and figure out a way of extricating yourself once you’re clear of the intersection.

The second option is really the only option if you are in a LEFT TURNING lane and really want to turn RIGHT.


When I was but a wee tot I sat in the driver’s seat of my mom’s Volkswagen Bug as I waited for her to come downstairs and drive us to school. Then as now I was an avid reader. One of the only things to read in the car was the inspection sticker on the windshield. At the bottom it had the motto “Drive Defensively”.

Defensively? What did that mean? Was it a special way to drive if we were invaded by the Russians or the Vietnamese?

When she came down to the car I asked her what “Drive Defensively” meant.

“It means ‘Drive like everyone else on the road is an idiot who is trying to kill you’,” she replied.

Best driving advice I ever got.

I looked up at the truck as the front end of our car approached the wheel well of the truck. I slammed on the brakes and leaned on the horn – partly out of anger, partly out of frustration, but mostly to let the driver know that I was there and that if he or she continued to turn as he or she was turning he or she would hook my car. Fortunately the drivers directly behind me had a better view of what the idiot in the truck was doing than I did, and had the courtesy and sense not to rear-end us.

A little girl looked down from the truck’s passenger’s window – scared or perturbed, I don’t know. I could imagine her saying “Mommy/Daddy, why do these stupid people keep trying to crash into us and then blow their horns at us?”

The truck continued its rightward journey, swinging a little wide to avoid the car annoyingly blocking its path. I continued to lean on the horn, hoping to at least get the attention of some witnesses if a confrontation were to follow.

The truck pulled up on the side street and stopped. Another little girl, one of the last few to cross the street before the crossing guard waved us through, ran up to the passenger’s side window to have a conversation.

How nice, I thought.

I drove us the two remaining blocks home, cursing the stupidity of the bulk of humanity.

Title reference: The Refreshments, "Banditos".

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Robins in a tree

A lone Robin perches on the roof of my garage, seemingly standing guard for the birds in the tree* across the alley. Picture taken at 7:03 PM on Wednesday, March 21 2007 through the kitchen window of my new house. I had hoped to get a follow-up Moon-and-Venus picture to compare to the one I took Tuesday night, but the sky was thick with clouds that looked like whipped cream on the verge of forming soft peaks.

*I have no idea what kind of tree. I'n inclined to say Cypress, but I don't know. I'm noticing differences in branch structure in different trees - branches are definitely something I need to work on in my paintings. Maybe I should study tree structures to be able to tell the difference based on their branches.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Vernal Equinox plus four minutes

Venus, the Moon, and a neighbor's house, viewed from the bow window of my mom's house at 8:12 PM Tuesday, March 20, 2007.

My mom is a QVC addict. Loves to watch. Likes to buy, sometimes, but mostly just watches. She calls it her "Wish Book", a reference to the old Sears, Roebuck & Co. Christmas catalog. When we were kids we would look at all the toys in it and imagine what it would be like to have them and play with them. Each Christmas Santa would bring a few, not many, but in our imaginations we had already played with them all. And that's what QVC is like for her: window shopping, a Wish Book, an act of imagination.

Anyway. She was watching QVC at 8:07 PM, and they did a countdown to the Equinox. That's pretty cool. I doubt CNN did something like that.

Picture details: This was taken with a Nikon Coolpix L4 in "Night Landscape" mode, using the self-timer to improve image stability. Camera was hand-held and pressed against the frame and glass of a window for stability. Either vibration in my hand or internal reflections in the glass have resulted in multiple image distortions in the Moon and Venus when viewed under high magnification. So don't do that, OK?

Last Moon of Winter

A thin crescent moon peeks out from the gathering twilight at 7:19 PM tonight. In less than 50 minutes from the time I took this picture it will officially be Spring.

The Romans had the right idea, starting their year at the beginning of April*. Even though the snow will be around for a little bit longer, Spring definitely feels like the start of something new.

Happy New Spring, everyone. Maybe this year will be better than the last.

*No, that's wrong. It started in March. Hence, the eighth month was October, the ninth month November, and the tenth month December. The association of April Fool's day with the "old" start of the year was...oh, the hell with it. Look it up yourself. Just don't trust anything you find online.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Peter Sagal Sexiest Man

Another inside joke, this time for fans of Adam Felber's Fanatical Apathy and the National Public Radio news quiz show "Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me".

FA commentor Aaron reported a bit of spam mail with the subject line "Peter Sagal Sexiest Man". Peter Sagal is the host of WWDTM, and I suggested that a "Peter Sagal Sexiest Man" T-shirt would make a good membership premium for those who contribute to their local NPR station in support of WWDTM. So here's my design. The front...
...and the back, featuring the complete text of the spam e-mail:
Even without the T-shirt as a membership premium, you should still support your local NPR station. And for a good time, you should listen to Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me every week!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Glow-in-the-dark dinosaurs

See, this is why we have a trade imbalance with China. Because they can manufacture, package, and ship a tube containing a dozen or so glow-in-the-dark dinosaurs and then sell them for $1. And because I bought them.

By the way, my mom saw the first Robin of the year out in the new-fallen snow this afternoon. By the time I got there with the camera it was gone. Oh, well.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Hooray! 'Tis time for the wearin' o' the green, the drinkin' o' the Guinness, the feckin' o' the lasses, and...

Oh, yeah. The digging out from the 15 inches of snow that fell yesterday.

Well, I'm not sure it was fifteen inches. It might just be twelve or so. I ran the snowblower last night before I went to bed, and there's at least another four or five inches that came down since then. And I haven't been across town to the other house yet.

The last major snowfall - which was also the first major snowfall of the season - was on Valentine's Day. There seems to be a holiday theme here. But what a difference a month has made! Waaaay back then, I used to have a job...

By the way, here's what I was up to a year ago.

Now, let's see if I have enough gas left to clean up the rest of the snow.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Snow on the Galty Mountains, March 2, 2006

This is the first photo I took during my trip to Ireland last year: the Galty Mountains as seen from Anglesboro, Kilmallock, County Limerick on Thursday, March 2, 2006. It had snowed the day before, up to five inches in some places, although in the areas I was visiting it was only on the mountaintops.

There are things that you notice in Ireland once you get past the "Wow, I'm in Ireland!" stage. One of them is the massive deforestation: much of Ireland looks like a green quilt of fields, meadows and pastures divided up by hedgerows and stone walls. Another is the color. It really is a very green place because the year-round climate is moist with temperatures generally above freezing, and the grass never enters a state of dormancy.

There are other things you notice, like the smell. Depending on where you are you may be assailed by charcoal or peat smoke, burning diesel, or the aromas of cows and/or sheep. There are regions where the air is fresh and clean, but usually these are far from any farms or residences.

Here is my first attempt to paint this scene:

Galty Mountains from Anglesboro, Kilmallock (1), painted 3/15/07

I was unhappy with this painting for several reasons. The sky is just an unnatural shade of blue, and doesn't lighten properly as it nears the horizon. The sky dominates the picture, when I wanted the mountains to dominate. The wall in the foreground is too bright, and I hate the tree on the right, which appears to be growing out of the column in the wall. Still, the hedgerows are pretty nice, and the mountain does look pretty good, small though it may be.

My second version of this painting:

Galty Mountains from Anglesboro, Kilmallock (2), painted 3/15/07

Here I have changed the color of the sky to a more realistic shade of blue, increased the size of the mountains, and darkened the wall. I'm also much happier with the tree on the right-hand side, and I've removed the column. But now I can't shake the feeling that we're looking at Mt. Fuji!

(Fun note: I wanted to paint the top of the wall Viridian Green, but I couldn't get the cap off that tube of paint. I tried and tried, but it wouldn't budge. I twisted harder and harder, and realized I was twisting the entire tube like taffy. A little more force and I would have ruptured the tube, splattering Viridian Green all over myself, my kitchen, and my painting. Ignoring all of my instincts, I gave up and put the tube down.)

So. Looking at these paintings, plus the one I posted yesterday, I have to say they're not bad for the first time I've picked up paints in a few years.

Yellow Brick Road, November 12, 2005

I did three paintings today, all of them acrylics on pre-primed 8"x10" canvas. Two of them were two versions of a specific image; I'll show those later.

Here's the first one I did, a painted version of a photo I took on November 12, 2005.
This is the yellow brick road that runs between two cemeteries in Nanticoke. I've done a painting based on a photo taken in this spot previously.

Things I like: the colors, especially the shading in the sky and the road, the color of the mountain, the colors of the leaves, the trunks, the yellow brick road - all of it.

Things I screwed up: the branches (too fat and sloppy), the shape of the trees, the perspective on the left side of the road, not enough leaves on the grass on the right side of the road.

For comparison, here's the original image:

Yellow Brick Road, Nanticoke, PA, November 12, 2005

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Very weird dreams, and Art Space

I'm not going to go into too much detail with last night's dreams. They were just too weird.

In the first one I remember, William Atherton was cast as the Antichrist. He was dying, and had caustic blood. This dream took place in my old High School. The role of my old High School was played by the rehabilitation center in Wilkes-Barre Township where my grandmother recovered from her stroke. I woke up from all this at 2:00 in the morning, completely freaked out. I had been asleep for less than two hours.

Another one involved stone fly larvae, or some other big insect juvenile stage that is used for fishing. Maybe hellegrammites. I don't know, I've never been fishing and I've never seen them in person. In my dream they looked like five-inch long turds with scorpion pincers. Yayy for nightmare imagery. (If you're at all squeamish, I hope you didn't click on either of those links.)

Next up was one that involved either Gil Gerard or Robert Pine, who played the Captain on CHiPs, getting hit by a car.

This may have happened on the street in front of the setting for my last dream, which took place at my new house. The role of my new house was played by my Grade School, which is in reality only two blocks away. This dream was much less coherent than the others, and involved someone trying to steal a car. I don't think the car was mine, and it already seemed to be mostly stripped down of everything, including its windows and metal skin. The robber "hotwired" the car by reaching through the missing passenger's-side window and doing something inside the car while at the same time fiddling with an ignition-like thing mounted in the exposed passenger's door. When I accosted the robber he was a short, thin, late-middle-aged man with very dark skin and a salt-and-pepper beard; after I tossed him onto the sidewalk with his head propped up on the school foundation and interrogated him, he became a feisty late-teenage girl with a much lighter complexion. I never got to see where this dream was going.

So. I think that cast of characters beats the hell out of Abraham Lincoln, a deep-sea diver, and a groundhog.

* * * * *

A lot of people wonder what I'm planning to do with the half of my house I'm not planning on living in. Storage, I tell them, and maybe an art studio.

I'm running into a lot of people who want to express themselves creatively but can't find an appropriate place to do it. Art can be messy, and it can require isolation from everyday distraction.

I have half a house that will be mostly empty, has a Southern exposure partially shaded by the neighbors' house (except for the front rooms, which have an Eastern exposure), and is currently in a semi-wrecked state. (Tenants? You think I should get tenants? Hah!) I also have several tarps and dropcloths that will see duty for my indoor and outdoor house painting projects, but will otherwise go unused.

So I can see myself creating a sort of artists' colony in miniature, each of the rooms its own little studio. An acrylic artist here, a sketch artist there, a nude model in the living room - not that we're painting her, we're all doing landscapes, but it's nice to have nude models around - a sculptor in the basement, maybe even a deranged poet in the attic. No oil paints, though - I don't need the house burning down from turpentine-soaked rags.

Just a thought. I should finish fixing up the other side first, and maybe move in there, too, before I start making plans for an artists' colony.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Welcome back!

There are certain advantages to being off from work as Winter turns to Spring. Exiting the Post Office today (a place I rarely used because it was, as I have often said, one of those places whose business hours are designed to cater to the unemployed!), I heard a distant ruckus of honking, squawking geese. I tried to pinpoint the sound and realized that it was coming from directly overhead. And there, almost at the limit of visibility, was one of the biggest V-patterned flocks of migrating geese I had ever seen! I rushed to the car and pulled out the digital camera I had brought along. It was impossible to see the image on the LCD screen to get a proper zoom, so I just aimed the camera in the general direction, pressed the button, and hoped for the best. The photo above is the result.

Here is the zoom of the flock itself:
I'm used to kamikaze flocks of a dozen or so geese flying just above the housetops, making a sound like a pack of excited dogs. This is the biggest flock I've seen in a long time!

More dreams

As I mentioned the other day, I continue to have dreams each night, dreams that I remember. From what I know about dream science, you only remember a dream if you wake up during it. Most people wake up several times during the night and have several dreams each night, so the likelihood that you will remember a dream is actually pretty good.

I may be remembering my dreams because I'm getting more sleep now - a lot more. Eight to ten hours each night, compared to four to five hours back when I was working. So now the amount of time I'm asleep - and the number of opportunities I have both to dream and to wake up - is about twice what it used to be. Also, since I'm getting so much more sleep I'm probably sleeping much more lightly than I used to, so I'm probably waking up more easily.

Monday morning's dream involved bills. It wasn't so much a dream as an anxiety premonition, as if some pre-programmed post-hypnotic suggestion was telling me that I had forgotten something. I woke up and pulled out my records. The bill that the dream had focused on - the credit card bill which pays for my Internet service - had actually been paid two weeks ago. But I had several more bills that were not due right away but could be paid, so I took care of them while I had my checkbook and my bill-paying checklist out.

This morning I had either one dream, or two, or three, depending on the weird rules that define the structure of dreams.

In one of them I was at work, and there was a big storm coming. Now, in real life the area where I worked had no windows, so we relied on security monitors and reports from smokers and sites like Weather Underground to let us know what was going on outside. Often I would be the first to learn of an approaching storm that might have equipment-damaging lightning associated with it, or could at least create momentary power interruptions that could disrupt or destroy any projects being worked on, and I would be the one who would spread the word for everyone to save their work and get out of any open projects - and make sure nobody was wearing headphones.

Getting back to the dream: The interesting thing is that my work looked exactly like my house - well, my mom's house. But it was work, and all of my co-workers were there, and my real house was 33 miles to the southwest, just like in real life. We all gathered on the front porch and looked at the walls of black clouds to the west and the north, clouds that were closing in on us. And I kept wondering if I would be able to make it home before the storm hit.

Mutation 1: I was at the same house, and the storm was still coming, but now instead of co-workers the other people at the the house were my family members, particularly my nephews, and the house was really my mom's house. And they had left the front door open and all of our animals had gotten loose. We ran around the yard and managed to collect them all, coralling the last few in the garage - all except one. One of the cats was missing. The missing cat was Ashes, who died last April 11.

Mutation 2: I was at work again, only it wasn't so much work as it was, well, a Bennigan's. And work, too. And there was a big audit going on, the audit that in real life is scheduled to take place later this month, which was something I was preparing for when the axe fell - I was in charge of coordinating the audit-related stuff in our area. But apparently the audit was already going on, and we were being ripped apart by the auditors, even though we thought we were very prepared, much more so than last time. And it wasn't just my department, but it was the entire plant, and a bunch of us- including a few auditors! - were gathered at a table, eating, drinking, and discussing strategy. This was the last dream I had, and I kept on fading in and out of sleep, desperately trying to hold onto the thread of this one, trying to see how it would come out.

So. Anxiety + more sleep than normal = weird dreams.

Monday, March 12, 2007

How to Deal

I have approached this whole suddenly-out-of-work situation with an air of great calm. Oh, that's not to say I haven't gone through the standard stages of disbelief, denial, fear, bargaining, shame, depression, self-pity, and the rest.*

It seems like I should be handling this with a great deal more panic and terror. But, see, I've got a secret coping mechanism.

A month before I lost my job I was introduced to the blog The Babblings of Whimsicalbrainpan. After reading the story of The Fire...well, that put a lot of things in perspective. (Start here and then work your way down through the seven entries under the heading of The Fire right-hand sidebar.)

So whenever I'm feeling like I just can't cope, whenever I'm feeling overwhelmed by life or just plain unhappy with the way things are going for me, I remember what she went through. I remember how she came through it and is able to blog about it. And I think to myself: What the hell do I have to complain about?

And that's how I cope. That's how I deal with it.

*These stages are lifted from page 142 of Matt Groening's The Big Book of Hell, from Childhood Is Hell, Chapter 17: D-I-V-O-R-S-E. He also includes the stages of anger (haven't hit that yet), out-of-body experience, empty feeling, looking ahead, and secret hope.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Some dreams

I've been having dreams these past few weeks. It's not that unusual for me to have dreams, or even to remember them the next day, but the frequency with which this is happening lately is a little unusual.

The other day I dreamt I was at work. I had gotten the news I was being cut, but it wouldn't be for two weeks, until after a vacation. (In reality I was planning to take the last week of March off to work on the house, but I never got a chance to put in for the days.) So I was walking around the plant on a sort of farewell tour, talking with people I had gotten to know over the last 15 years. (This is something I never got a chance to do - I was packed and out of the plant within an hour of getting the news.) At one point I walked past a room filled with projects that I had not quite finalized yet. Hundreds of them. Unfinished business.

It is true that I left a lot of unfinished business behind. Several of my projects were in process at that time; actually, I had just commented to someone that we had been much busier in the first two months of 2007 than we had been in a long while. But there were also projects that I had never received final approval for. In most processes the final product is delivered, accepted, and approved. With us the final project is delivered - and then may or may not be used to produce discs that are immediately reviewed and accepted or rejected. Most of the time I had to follow-up with clients after a reasonable amount of time* to make sure they were happy with their product, or scour my e-mail records for "hidden" approvals tucked in other e-mails. There are a lot of projects from earlier in the year that I never got to do that for.

Last night I stayed over at the house of some friends. I had at least two dreams there. In one, I awoke in their guest bedroom and decided to watch some TV. The television was mounted on a swing arm, something like a television at a hospital, only the swing arm was made of wood, in keeping with the design of their house. I watched an episode of Star Trek (the original series) that was pretty cool and pretty complicated. It took me a while to remember that my friends do not have a TV in their guest bedroom, certainly not one with a wooden swing-arm mount, and that the episode of Star Trek I was watching did not actually exist, even though it was pretty cool.

The other dream was a bit more standard: I remembered that I had been taking a full semester load of college classes, and I had not been to any of them for nearly two weeks, and I had certainly missed some tests. Would I be able to make this up somehow? Then I remembered that I have not taken any college courses in nearly 20 years, and one of the Professors who figured prominently in my dream had been dead for nearly 10 years.

So. I just got back from the Emergency Room - I was with a friend whose father is being admitted.** Now I'm a little tired. I wonder if I'll have dreams tonight.

*So what's a "reasonable amount of time"? We once had a client reject something based on a handful of consumer complaints nine months after they had officially accepted it, for an alleged "defect" that was not detectable by any normal means. We had to pull out all the stops, rush through a re-do (using new assets they had to supply to us, since the alleged "defect" was in one of their assets), and then deliver the new version of their project via international courier, the most expensive way to do this. Several years later, when they were reviewing some bills they were considering paying, they found this courier bill and refused to pay it, even though they had specifically demanded the courier service.

**Perhaps I shall make it my goal in life to pass out soap and toothpaste to people in dollar stores and Emergency Room waiting areas. Because, damn.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

One year ago...

I was in London.

What a difference a year makes.

London, part 1: Kensington Gardens.
London, part 2: Beginning our bus tour of London. The Marble Arch, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, St. Martin-In-The-Fields, a "very strange-looking statue", Nelson's Column, and a first glance of Big Ben.
Trafalgar Square statue: Alison Lapper Pregnant: Discovering the identity of the "very strange-looking statue".
London, part 3:Big Ben and Parliament.
London, part 4:The London Eye, the Dali statues, St. Paul's Cathedral, The Monument, and Tower Bridge.
London, Part 5:The Tower of London, and the bus tour wraps up. Piccadilly Circus at night, and Les Miserables at the Queen's Theater on the West End.
London, Part 6: Our second day in London. Oxford Street, The London Dungeon, and misadventures with buses.
Leaving London
Back from London, and an Ashes update:My third and final post from Ireland.

More Mary, Mules!

The alternative-dialogue Mary Worth fun continues:
Parody of March 10, 2007 Mary Worth
Mary's moment of self-doubt, glimpsed briefly yesterday, has dissolved into anger and defensiveness...and a sinister warning to the departing Ella Byrd! Will Ella meet the same fate as poor Aldo? Are all who cross Mary's path doomed?

If you have no idea what any of this is about, see yesterday's post!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Strictly 4 My Mudgez

The REAL dialogue for the March 9, 2007 Mary Worth strip

Unless you're a fan of the Mary Worth comic strip (go here for the latest strips) or a regular reader of The Comics Curmudgeon, this little parody will have no meaning for you. So why don't you become both?


After the mysterious phone call interrupted my anti-utopian futuristic musings yesterday I realized it was time to work on my resumé. It wasn't until this morning that I remembered that I had created one several years ago, and it was probably still on my computer.

It wasn't hard to find. Sadly, it also wasn't hard to update. Though I had worked at the same place for the past 15 years, the last eight of those years had been spent doing the same thing.

It wasn't a bad job. Actually, I loved it - sometimes. I loved the people I worked with more. We had all been through a lot together. For the most part we had all been in the DVD business since its earliest days. I will miss it. I will miss them.

Re-reading my resumé I realize that I have to change the tense of the most recent entries from "present" to "past." Oh, well, I guess there's still work to be done there.

Now I have a phone call to make.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

What I did on my late Winter vacation, day 7

My nephew was coming over for a few hours this morning and my mom set the TV to Nickelodeon before he arrived. While waiting I wound up watching two episodes of Wonder Pets, which is the cutest damn show I've ever seen. And hysterically funny.

After he came over he did a bit of running around and decided he wanted to see the cats. Nicky came out to play with him, but Babusz and Joey decided to hide. He wanted especially to play with Babusz, so he got a flashlight and began crawling under the furniture to find her. And he did! She then surprised us by sitting contentedly on his lap while he pet her.

He pulled out some toy cars to play. One of them was a sort of Moon Buggy. "Why did they need cars on the Moon?" he said.

"I'll show you!" I said, and pulled out a VHS from a collection of NASA videos I picked up at Sam's Club years ago. It was one that featured a picture of a Moon buggy on the box. It was the story of Apollo 17 - the last time humans walked on the Moon. That was in 1972. Thirty-five years ago.

He watched, fascinated, and asked why they were collecting rocks, and why they were so excited about orange dirt. He watched the astronauts bounce around, and fall over, and get covered with dust. He saw the lunar module launch from the surface of the moon, leaving its base behind - an amazing sight which I saw for the first time in the video for "Pump Up the Volume" decades ago.

Afterwards we played with Tinkertoys. We made a rocket, and then he made a car - or was it a truck? - and a Sun, which he suggested could also be used as a bowling ball. I made a kickass tractor-trailer.

Then it was time for him to go home.

I did some writing, finally. A four-page backstory to a story that might not be much longer than that. It was extremely dark and depressing and pessimistic. Let's just hope we never get to the point where prosthetics become advanced enough to allow quadruple-amputees to return to the battlefield.

Midway through it I got a call...and that's all I want to say about that. For now.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Letter from my grandmother

I was rummaging around in my attic a few weeks ago and I came across a box from government surplus cheese, stamped with the year 1954.

There was obviously something in it, but what? I carefully opened it up to find it full of...

Letters! Dozens of letters! I gently pulled out the first one and carefully opened it. It was a letter from my grandmother to my grandfather, dated April 14, 1953. This was shortly after they had bought the house,* during a time when my grandfather was working out of town.

I read it. The opening - a postscript - made me laugh, and I read on. It was a slice of life, an encapsulation of a two-day period in my grandmother's life, written to make my grandfather closer to home. It was a prime example of the lost art of letter-writing.

But it was more than that. It was also a portrait of a lost world, a world where people would stop by and visit each other and have conversations, where television was something new, where even radio had an element of novelty to it. I knew I had to type it up and post it on my blog.

So here it is. I've excised the names of my grandparents, and edited the names of their children, but otherwise I present it exactly as written.

P.S. T___ insists on sitting on the arm of the rocker and bumping me while I am gnashing my teeth in helpless rage. grrrr

Tues 7:30 PM
Apr. 14, 1953
Dear ___,

I got your letter to-day & called T__ to tell her. So E_______ didn't see her but to-morrow she's gonna call Herb and get an appointment to see him. She's busy studying for Economic Geography to-morrow. It's hard because there's just mountains of stuff to wade thru: Statistics etc.**

J__ & T___ had their music exam to-day. J__ made 96 the highest in his room and T___ had his this afternoon, made 94, the highest in his room. When J__ heard that he said to me "You know ma, we must be musically inclined." I was really thrilled and so was everybody. ***

B____ went with E______ to the Social Security office yesterday and so he asked for a card and then the guy gave him an application form too. So he filled it out, maybe he can get in for the summer.**** She got one for you & one for herself.

We were over Olivers Sun. and stayed till 9. He was over to-day & brought 16 books. He put up that rotor antenna on top of the roof yesterday in the rain and he said is it good now. I always tho't it was good but he demands perfection. Marie was up with T____ but the job is in Schenectedy and she isn't interested, it's too far.

It poured here yesterday and I had one of those days. We just heard Herb Morris on the air in connection with the Jobs Campaign. The girls recognized his voice. Too bad it wasn't two way, we could have talked back to him. Well, back to yesterday. Ray Stryak was over, still doesn't have the job which he says his wife is already spending the extra money he'll get. Has spent it in fact. Just sat and gabbed for about an hr. He was just out the door, the phone rang & Florence called. We gabbed over an hr, in fact Alice came over and I had her give the kids their dinner. Flossie was was sick, like I was, last week grippe, so we re-hashed our symptoms and everything was the same. She also washed her kitchen and there wasn't much difference so she also skipped the ceiling, just like me. Is it any wonder I like to talk to her, we have so much in common. Then Bert Oliver came over and gabbed a while, and of course my day was not complete until supper when Doris came over but Alice deprived me of her company, she took her over. *****

Frank and Eddie didn't go to work to-day, Margaret was to be operated on to-day. Hedy is down, too. I plan to go and see her some evening. To-day was quite hectic, too. I came up with the basket, (I washed and it was windy?) and Frank came & Bert. So between talking of television etc. they didn't leave when the kids came. I hung out what I had in the basket tho' before I gave them their dinner. Stella Swalla also called when I first started washing. After dinner Aunt Stacia called and wanted to know, if the girls could use a gown. I said and how, so she thinks Loretta will bring it up Sat. T__ isn't going to the dance tho, but there's one in May. Love,


*I believed my grandparents had bought the house in 1953. According to my mom they actually bought it in 1948.
**This is my mom.
***J__ is my uncle who died in May 2005. He was correct about being musically inclined; in addition to becoming a High School math teacher, he was also our church organist for many years. T___ didn't pursue a music career, but instead got involved with some fledgling company called International Business Machines.

****Not sure what this is referring to. Possibly the Navy; my uncle B__ joined the Navy shortly after this. He later became a High School guidance counsellor, and died last May.
*****According to my mom, Doris would sit and talk for three hours at a time. So it sounds like my grandmother dodged a bullet here.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Fanatical Apathy: Seattle

Courtesy of fellow Fanatical Apathy commentor (and owner of the very cool Jackson Street Books) SeattleDan, I bring you this photo of three members of the Fanatical Apathy: Seattle chapter! From left to right: Ann, SeattleTammy (who manages the Seattle Mystery Bookshop), SeattleDan.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Tilbury Knob, March 5, 2007

Along Route 11 in West Nanticoke, there is a great rock outcrop jutting from the mountains known as Tilbury Knob. I took a few photos of it this afternoon.
Closeup view of Tilbury Knob.

I've found some neat old photos of Tilbury Knob online:
- from NEPA Photo Collection
- from Captain Clint's Place
- from Keeper Genealogy Search

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Blog Art

From today's USA Weekend:

"If you love buying art for your home or office but don't have time (or money) for the gallery scene, consider shopping on art blogs, where enterprising artists sell their work directly...Many of these original works are postcard-size; costs range from $30 to $400."

Hmmm...I wonder if A.C. Moore is having a sale on their postcard-sized canvases this week...

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Panhandler in the Kmart parking lot

I gave blood today. Almost couldn't - my iron was a bit low, too low for the old guidelines, but within the less stringent guidelines that have been enacted recently. And my blood pressure was low, which is unusual. Maybe I'm just very relaxed. Maybe the Zen-like calm that I have bathed myself in this week has had that effect. Bottom line, I got to give blood.

Afterwards I went to Kmart to get cat food for Joey. Joey, our middle cat, has become a bit of a finicky eater since he had several of his teeth pulled a few months ago. He does seem to like one type of food, but occasionally will just lick at it and then begin to cry for something else. The food he likes, Fancy Feast in cans, Grilled Turkey and Grilled Chicken, was on sale 5/$2. I bought 16 cans of the Grilled Turkey and 4 cans of Grilled Chicken, plus an assortment of 5 other types just in case he decides he likes something new.

I also bought a 25 lb. sack of cat litter. Clay, not clumping. Still have to finish getting up all the dust from the clumping stuff from the furnace and water heater.

I had just opened the door to my car to begin loading my purchases into the car, carefully favoring my left arm to avoid rupturing the needle site, when I noticed a dark-haired girl coming towards me.

She might have been pretty. She had a very drawn and haggard look to her, and she was smoking a cigarette. Her clothes were in good condition, her long hair seemed clean and well groomed, and I couldn't detect any odors other than her cigarette. She could have been anywhere from 16 to 38, but I was guessing college-age, early twenties, maybe.

"Excuse me," she said, and I knew what was to follow. "This is going to sound strange, car - I'm in that Subaru over there - my car is completely out of gas, and I'm 40 miles from home, and I don't have any money for gas or tolls, and so I pulled into this parking lot with the crazy idea that if I ask enough people I might be able to scrape together enough money..."

I reached for my wallet. I still have residual guilt over refusing a guy near the entrance to Wegman's a few years ago who was asking for money to buy food for his kids, who turned out to actually be buying food for his kids.

Twenty dollars would do it; that would buy her four gallons of gas and leave enough for tolls to anywhere within 40 miles. I should have asked her where she lived - the only toll road within 40 miles is the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and she would really only need to use that if she was heading South, because I-81 is a far better road for getting to points North. Maybe she wouldn't have been able to answer correctly and I would know she was a fraud.

I opened my wallet to see seven dollars. A five and two ones. I gave her the two singles. "I'd have more, but I lost my job this week," I said. She made noises of gratitude and disbelief at what crappy deals we were all being handed lately, and then made her way off to her next mark - sorry, potential benefactor.

As I pulled away I saw her next target hand her some cash. Was it enough? I don't know. He seemed amused, pleased with himself, as he got into his car. I guess I was, too.

If she was for real, I hope she got what she needed and got home safely. If she wasn't...well, I wish her the best, anyway.


(This post has been date-stamped to stay on top until after the actual event.)

There will be a total lunar eclipse after sunset on this Saturday, March 3, 2007. (Depending on where in the world you live, it may actually take place in the early morning hours of Sunday, March 4.)

This eclipse will be visible in whole or in part from every continent in the world, although extreme northwestern Canada, all of Alaska, extreme northeastern Asia, the eastern fifth of Australia (sorry, Sammie!), and any location in the Pacific Ocean (including all of New Zealand and Hawaii) will miss out on the fun. The eclipse will be visible in its entirety, from beginning to end, for observers in Europe (including Iceland and most of Greenland), the U.K., Africa, and the Middle East.

In "Universal Time" the moon will begin to enter Penumbra, the outer portion of the Earth's shadow, at 20:16 (3:16 PM here in Pennsylvania - at which point the moon, which is always full during a lunar eclipse, will still be well below the Eastern horizon). This is the dimmest part of the eclipse, and even if you live in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, India, Eurasia, or Asia, where the moon will actually be visible at this time, you might not even be able to tell anything odd is happening until nearly an hour later.

Assuming you can see the moon, you will really start to notice things around 21:30 UT (4:30 PM Eastern Time) as the moon starts to edge into the Umbra, the inner, darker potion of the Earth's shadow. It will be during this phase that the partially eclipsed moon will rise over the Eastern horizon here in NEPA. I have watched a partially eclipsed moon rise once before, back in 1992, when I was carpooling with a friend to the place where we had both just started working.

At 22:44 UT (5:44 PM Eastern time) the moon will enter totality, where it will stay for the next hour and 14 minutes. If you can, try to observe the moon for at least a half-hour before the start of totality. The change from a partial eclipse to a total eclipse is striking and dramatic, even though it is very gradual. And definitely observe the moon during totality with binoculars or a telescope. There is nothing quite like looking at our nearest celestial neighbor, usually so blindingly bright, sitting like a burned-out cinder in the sky.

What color the moon will be is always a surprise and will depend on atmospheric conditions around the Earth's limb - the ring of the atmosphere through which the sun (which is totally eclipsed from the point of view of the moon) will be refracting. I have seen the moon turn dark amber, and purple, and brown, and nearly black. If you observe it, note what color it appears to you, and leave a comment about it.

BONUS: The moon will be parked in the vicinity of the constellation Leo, near the giant backwards question mark that indicates the head and mane of the lion. (Or it could just as easily indicate the lion's butt. I'm lousy with figuring out constellations.) Seeing the darkened hulk of the moon sitting against a field of stars, stars that are normally washed out by the blinding light of the moon (well, the light of the sun reflected from the surface of the moon, which curiously has a reflectivity approximately equal to that of an asphalt parking lot!), is a striking and memorable experience.

And then, at 23:58 UT (6:58 PM ET), the moon will leave totality, and over the next hour and a half the moon will gradually move out of the Earth's shadow and back into the light.

For more information:
March's Moon Mania, article from, Sky & Telescope's website
Total lunar eclipse March 3, article from, Astronomy Magazine's website

Friday, March 02, 2007

Blah Friday

I think maybe the events of this week are finally starting to settle in. I didn't do much today. Breakfast. Checked storm drains. Checked blogs. Housecleaning. Made lunch. Checked blogs. Read e-mails. Responded to a few. Had dinner. More online time.

Ironically, the weekend is packed with plans. Blood donation. Tutoring session with a friend's son. View the lunar eclipse. Meet someone at a bookstore - maybe. Go down to Poconos - maybe.

I wish the snow would just go away. There are a million things I could be doing outside. We'll see how next week goes.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

So, this is rather...specific

This was the pop-up on my opening screen. Coincidence? Or have these things gotten more sophisticated?

A few - well, ten - years ago I was in the mood to buy a house. I started looking around, checking out mortgage calculators and real estate listings. After a while I started noticing that a lot of the pop-up ads on my Internet Explorer seemed to be geared towards someone shopping for a house. Now, maybe this is the law of selective attention in action; maybe these ads had been there the whole while, but because I was on the market for a house I noticed them. Or maybe every site I had visited had deposited a cookie that could be viewed by some ad-targeting program - so that if, say, I had been visiting a lot of travel sites, I would start getting ads for vacation destinations.

(I never did buy a house back then. That was when my grandmother let me know that she wanted me to buy her house. Which I eventually did.)

Thing is, I haven't been looking for a job online. I've mentioned my situation on my blog, and in some e-mails, and in some comments on other blogs - but that's it. So if this isn't a coincidence, how did an ad-targeting program learn I am now on the market?

Look, I'm on TV!

Oh, boy. Here's one of the articles on the changes happening at my former place of employment. If you click on the "Watch" button, you should get a video of a bunch of us hanging out at a bar a few hours after the axe fell. I'm the jolly fellow on the left. My friend and former co-worker Howard delivered a killer soundbyte that knocked us all dead. WBRE got the interview because they got to us before we had been drinking for very long.

Of course, the article still gets some of the fundamentals wrong. We did not work at an "Olyphant warehouse" but rather at what was once the foremost DVD Compression, Encoding, and Authoring center in the nation, at a facility that was one of the pioneers in the DVD industry. This article from WBRE's sister station WYOU also gets its facts wrong when it says "The workers are all part of the DVD manufacturer's warehouse and distribution departments". Umm, sorry, we were neither warehouse nor distribution. Honestly, where are they getting this bad information from? At least this article from WNEP is written a bit more circumspectly.

But let that be a lesson: don't believe everything you read, or see on TV. Take it with a grain of salt, even when it's "official" information.