Friday, August 31, 2007

Out of time

Sigh. I had so much I wanted to talk about today. Blood. Grapes. Butterflies. The "coal miner mentality." Mariolatry. What it's like to watch all of your friends turn 40, knowing you're not far behind.

But I tarried too long during my after-dinner shopping trip, and now it is time to go to bed, to begin my next four-day shift. So I don't have time to go into detail on any of these topics.

I did, however, get lots of keen Autumn decorations for the house!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Mary of Minersville?

An image of the Blessed Virgin Mary has appeared on a garage door in Minersville in Schuylkill County for the past few weeks, according to local news sources.

"But the reason why is a complete mystery", according to a report by Lyndall Stout on the WBRE/WYOU website. " one can explain it...Is it a miracle?" (Click here for the WBRE/WYOU video.)

WNEP's version of the story
, as it appears on their website, is a bit more circumspect and a bit less credulous: "What some are calling a holy visitor is fascinating one Schuylkill County community...Residents living in Minersville say every night an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been appearing on a garage door for the past couple weeks." Still, the story as it appeared on the air last night had a somewhat less skeptical tone. (Click here for an image from WNEP.)

Well, since none of our local journalists are saying it, I will.


No one can explain it? Anyone can explain it. While WNEP's cameras seemed to keep their distance, the WBRE/WYOU cameras were up close enough to show the "faithful" casting shadows on the image.


Anyone over the age of, say, six months should have some concept of reflections: what they are, how they work, how to do basic ray tracing to determine their source.

"No one can explain it"?

Walk up to the reflection. Cast a shadow on it. Determine the direction that the light rays are coming from. Look thataway. See what's casting the reflection.

It's easy. It's basic. You don't need a degree in Physics to do it.

Sadly, the local news outlets have chosen not to actually do any investigation into this, but have instead pandered to the crowds of pious fools who chant the rosary in front of a random reflection in Minersville each night.

More versions of this story:

An article from the Schuylkill County Republican Herald by Stephanie Lasota and Brandy Rissmiller, featuring this bit:
Kathy and Ed Snukis, Saint Clair, are devoted Catholics who viewed the image for the first time Wednesday.

"There's just no explanation, there's no way to doubt it," said Kathy.
A re-edit of the same article, as it appeared in the Scranton Times-Tribune
(The two lines quoted above are not included!)

Update, 4:02 PM: CNN has just done a broadcast of this story, reusing (I believe) the WBRE/WYOU footage. I'll link it if they post it on their site.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Groundhog Hunter

We have a groundhog in the neighborhood.

My cousin first spotted him a few months ago. She thought he was cute...even gave him a name. Albert, I think.

Groundhogs aren't cute. They're little monsters.

Not that little. Maybe this one was little once, and cute, but now he is big and fat. Because he eats. Everything. All the time.

He ate spilled birdseed, even when I mixed hot pepper with it. He ate my mom's ripened tomatoes. He ate our neighbor's last few plums from her tree. He, or one of his relatives or friends, regularly eats apples that have fallen off of a friend's tree a few blocks from here.

And he digs. He has tunnels all around our foundation, and in some neighbors' yards.

In a less suburban area I would be seriously considering getting myself a gun, or at least going on patrol with a stout shovel. I spent some time yesterday looking for smoke bombs to toss in his holes to drive him out. Today I set out a groundhog-sized Havahart trap near his burrow in our front garden. I baited it with a half-eaten plum, a pear, an overripe orange, and a cat food can filled with birdseed.

We'll see what happens. And if I catch him - then what?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


For the moment, has a Google PageRank of 8/10.

I think this is related to the recent avalanche of hits I've been getting lately. Up until a few weeks ago, my typical daily number of visitors was 70 - 100. Starting a few weeks ago - when I wrote a certain post I've mentioned previously - my daily visits shot up to 200 - 300 each day.

Yesterday I had 1,718 visitors. That's 3.1% of the total visitors I've ever received.

In the past seven days I've had 4,256 visitors, accounting for 7.7% of my total visitors, and in the month of August I've had 7,883 visitors, accounting for 14.3% of my total.

It would be foolish to imagine that this level of traffic will continue, or that I will remain at a PageRank of 8/10. Still, I hope some fraction of these new visitors will become regular readers. If you are one of them, welcome! Please have a look around and let me know what you think of the place!

UPDATE, a few minutes later: Now it's back down to the regular PageRank of 4/10. Perhaps the new post diluted the rankings. Oh well.

Photos of the Lunar Eclipse, 8/28/07

I SAW IT!!!I woke up this morning at 5:00, since that's when I had my alarm set. After getting up at 3:00 for work for the past few weeks this did not present much of a problem. Unfortunately the Moon, which was already moving into the central part of the Earth's shadow, was settling behind my neighbor's house across the street. I wonder if they noticed me taking pictures of their house at 5:15 in the morning.
I relocated to my usual photo-taking spot, with my tiny plastic tabletop tripod from Kmart perched on the roof of my car. Fortunately the Moon was lined up well with the street in front of my house.
Unfortunately, it was obviously going to move behind the big evergreen tree half a block away before it actually reached totality.
So I moved to an alternate site - the trunk of my mom's car.
But the Moon continued to move behind the tree anyway!
In the end, totality occurred when the Moon was not well-placed for me to photograph it - I had to prop my camera against the trunk of an Oak tree to get this photo, and the lack of a stable base caused it to be blurred. The Moon was also moving into the thickest part of the atmosphere anyway as the sky was brightening in the final minutes before sunrise, so it was quickly becoming difficult to see the Moon at all.

If you got to see the eclipse, I hope you had even better seeing conditions than I did!

Monday, August 27, 2007

ECLIPSE TONIGHT! (or tomorrow morning)

I've written about this before, but it's worth repeating: there is a lunar eclipse starting about six hours from the time that I'm writing this. By way of Phil Plait, here's an excellent article from Dr. Pamela L. Gay's Star Stryder site on the eclipse with times and details. If you happen to be in Alaska, Hawaii, New Zealand,or on Australia's east coast, you're ideally situated to see the whole eclipse; the eclipse will be inconveniently timed for the rest of North America except for people who will be staying up extra late or getting up extra-early. If you plan on looking for it, I wish you clear skies!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

That's What People Are Talking About

A few months ago Jennifer D. Wade introduced me to the concept of TWPATA - "That's What People Are Talking About."
In the world of news, TWPATA is an acronym for "That's What People Are Talking About." Want to do a story that viewers will be interested in? Find out TWPATA.
A while back I wrote an entry about an amazing astronomical event that would allegedly be taking place tomorrow night - or tonight, if you understand that "12:30 AM" means "thirty minutes after the date changes at midnight." It's not happening, sadly - see the linked entry for details. But many, many people from all over the world have heard about it, and are searching for information on it. And many of those people have been coming to my site each day for the last two weeks or so - according to my SiteMeter, enough to currently account for anywhere from 60% to 90% of my visitors at any given time, and enough to effectively triple my readership for the moment. That's what people are talking about right now.

If you are checking these links sometime after the end of August 2007, these statements will probably no longer apply. Perhaps a handful of these visitors will become regular readers, which would be great. But what will people be talking about next month, and the month after that?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Tale of Wiggles and Scooter, part 1

Scooter (formerly Wiggles)
August 25, 2007

A few weeks ago I mentioned a new kitten in our lives
, who at the time was going by the name of Wiggles:
I haven't mentioned Wiggles before. One of these days I'll write a full post on him...and then there will eventually be another post. Wiggles is a feral kitten who was dumped on my mother by a cruel and heartless neighbor who either took him and two other kittens from their mother, or who (as he claims) discovered the litter after their mother had been killed. Wiggles is a sickly cat, and will probably not live to his first birthday. But I will write about that later.
At Anne's request, here is a photo, and an update.

When we first received Wiggles (he didn't have this name yet) as a several-days-old kitten it was obvious that there was something wrong with him. His body moved in jerky fits and starts. His head wobbled like a top. My mom used a syringe to feed him kitten milk (KMR formula, I believe) but it was difficult to get him to take anything. She also used a warm washcloth to stimulate him to poop, something that would have been done by his cat mother with her tongue, but he pooped only occasionally. After a few days he began to exhibit a strange tensing of his muscles, as though every muscle was straining to maximum extension at the same time. After a day or so of this, he lapsed into a coma.

We decided that our goal was to provide him with a comfortable place to die.

We made a nest for him in a plastic box and put it on our kitchen floor. Periodically we would check on him, but his condition remained unchanged. He just lay there, breathing shallowly, his arms and legs stretched out straight below his body, his neck curved back.

On the third day I peeked in his box after I had taken my morning shower, wondering if maybe he had finally stopped breathing. He turned his head, opened his eyes, and looked at me.

He began his "questing" movement, bobbing his head from side to side as if looking for something. We grabbed him and quickly gave him a few syringes full of water.

His progress from that point was remarkable, but it was still obvious that something was wrong. His head was twisted to the left. His motions were random and uncoordinated, as f he had a sort of palsy. When we decided to let him try out his legs for the first time, he began to walk backwards in a circle.

After a few days we took him to the vet. Everyone in the office loved him, but they were also distressed at his condition. They had seen it before. It was indicative of neurological damage, possibly caused by inbreeding, or a virus, or something else. The "bent frame" appearance was a part of it. One of the receptionists had taken in a cat with a similar condition, and he had not lived to see his first birthday.

At the vet's we needed to give a name for the records. My mom and I tossed around several names, but in the end settled on the descriptive placeholder "Tabby." On the ride home we considered other names. As we approached the house my mom suggested "Wiggles", based on his wiggling movements. I liked it. Unknown to her, "Wiggles" was also the name Captain Bender bestowed on First Mate Frye in an episode of Futurama.

The vet recommended that we start trying to feed him solid food: kitten food, crushed into a powder, and mixed with water to make a paste. We did that, for about five days. Getting him to eat was a trick. We would make the paste and the plop it onto a washcloth, then position him so that his face would be somewhere near the food. Sometimes he would just jam his nose in it, sometimes he would walk in it. After a while he got the idea and began to gobble it down.

As he learned to use his mouth we realized he wanted to chew and bite things. This actually became his "I'm hungry" signal: if you were holding him and he started to bite you, it meant he wanted to eat. We began to mix whole softened pellets of kitten food with his paste. After a while he graduated to all pellets.

All this time we had maintained nearly constant physical contact with him. Many times he fell asleep on my left arm as I typed a blog entry one-handed. Other times I would tuck him into my shirt and he would fall asleep resting on my belly, or with his head against my heart.

One day I came home and my mom took him out of his box. "Look what he can do," she said, placing him on the floor. The moment his feet touched the ground, he began to run.

Not very well, not with much coordination, but definitely quickly. He kept slipping on the linoleum of the kitchen floor and clearly had more strength in his right side than his left. He ran all over the kitchen as quickly as he could. At that moment we stopped calling him Wiggles, and began to call him by a more appropriate name: Scooter.

He scooted, and he ate, and he began to poop on his own. His neck stopped bending to the left. We let him run on a carpeted floor where he could get better traction. His left side eventually caught up with his right.

We took him to the vet again. Everyone in the office was astonished at Scooter's improvement. Of course, now it was determined that he had ringworm and ear mites. (He had been cleared of Feline AIDS and Feline Leukemia on his previous visit.)

Since that visit Scooter has continued to grow and improve. In the course of a few days his legs nearly doubled in length, so he looked like a tiny kitten running around on stilts. Then his tail also doubled in length. After a few more days his body caught up.

He continues to scoot whenever we let him. My mom wonders if this is an expression of a neurological condition. I think it's because he loves to stretch his legs whenever he gets a chance to get out of his isolation box. We need to keep him isolated for another week or so until we are done with his daily ringworm treatments. (He hates the syringe of ringworm medicine, but seems to love getting his ear drops.) He has his own litter box, and his own toys, and his own puppy doll that he plays with. His box is clear, so he can see the other cats through the walls. He even has a picture of a look-alike on the back cover of this month's High Five, the Highlights magazine spin-off for the under-six set.

Is he out of the woods yet? I don't know. The early concerns about diminished life expectancy will continue to haunt us. But for now, he seems to be a happy, healthy, active, and growing kitten. We'll see where he goes from here.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Some updates

Updates to yesterday's post:

1. I did finish mowing the lawn. The Yellowjacket stings eventually faded away sometime after I went to sleep last night. I think the stingers were embedded in my ankles. The one in my left forearm I scraped out almost immediately, and it stopped stinging within an hour or so. It left an interesting little scar.

2. Getting my computer fixed might cost less than I anticipated. Then again, it might cost more. I'll find out in a few days.

3. The battery for our portable phone (one of a set of four identical portable phones that all work from a single base unit) will need to be mail-ordered, or ordered over the internet.

Incidentally, today is the second anniversary of the day my father died.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ow ow ow ow ow

So here was the plan for today: finish mowing the lawn here, which I started yesterday (I completely mowed and weed-whacked the other house's lawn yesterday); take my infected computer up to Best Buy for repair and cleaning by the "Geek Squad" (does anyone else find that whole advertising campaign more than a little demeaning?); and then return the cordless phone battery I bought from Radio Shack yesterday and see if I can exchange it for the correct one.

So far things have not gone as planned.

I started mowing the lawn all right; I did a decent job on the northeast quadrant yesterday evening, and so I continued into the southeast quadrant and then the south edge. The southeast quadrant has a lot of obstacles - Adirondack chairs, a wooden bench, a garden hose, clothespoles, a bird feeder on a shepherd's crook, a rosebush, a garden swing - but I maneuvered around them just fine. The south edge has a long garden in the middle of it, which is less of an obstacle and more a sort of break in the lawn. It also has blueberry bushes, a Rhododendron, a recently transplanted Forsythia, a random squash vine that popped up out of the compost around the Forsythia, a compost pile, and a nest of Yellowjackets.

The Yellowjacket nest is something new. I only just found out about it today.

So there I was, mowing the lawn between the Rhododendron and the compost pile. I was wearing shorts, a long-sleeved Henley with the sleeves pushed up to my elbows, socks, and boots. I felt a picking in my left forearm, not as bad as the picking of the raspberry thorns the other day, but still annoying. I pulled up my sleeve and looked. There was something sticking out of my arm - like a thorn, but straight and thin, with a small disc at one end and a tiny sphere as a cap. That's odd, I thought, that looks like a stinger. I rolled up my sleeve the rest of the way and found a tiny Yellowjacket in the folds.

I refocused my eyes and saw a swarm of Yellowjackets around the reel of the lawnmower.

Shit shit shit shit shit, I thought as I hustled towards the back porch. I could see things swarming around me in my peripheral vision. I felt a sting in my left ankle, then in my right.

I got on the porch and kicked off my boots. I opened the door and said to my mom, "Please get me some Benadryl."

I tore off the Henley and then my socks. I found one Yellowjacket in my left boot, and promptly crushed it - it was probably a sterile soldier, so it had no genetic heritage to pass on, so I felt less bad about snuffing out the entire history of life then and there as represented by this living thing.

My mom brought out the Benadryl - well, pseudo-Benadryl, from Sam's Club - and I took three. She also gave me some analgesic gel to put on the stings. How I managed to get away with only three stings, I have no idea.

So the lawnmower is still sitting in the middle of a Yellowjacket nest. I may go out later to retrieve it, after first donning longer, thicker clothing. My arm doesn't hurt anymore - I just looked, and the welt has dissipated into a larger, vague reddish reason. My ankles are still stinging, and I hope that the stingers didn't work their way into the skin.

Of course, in times like this I think of what Whim went through, and I realize what a pussy I am for thinking that this hurts. I also do some Zen limb detachment, and that helps a bit.

So will I finish the lawn? Will I get stung some more while trying to retrieve the lawnmower? Or will I just go out and do my errands while under the influence of three 25mg pseudo-Benadryl pills? Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

An addition to my ad

One of the things I did last night before a malicious program ended my ability to do anything with that computer was make a long-overdue addition to my ad. I inserted this sentence:
I've also come to realize that I'm most attracted to artists, musicians, and writers. If you're not one of these, don't worry; but if you are, you may be in a better position to understand and relate to me.
So have I just limited my options? I don't know. But I felt like this was something that needed to be said.

Oh, crap

Well, I would have been much better off spending the night at the new house. That way I would still have a functioning main computer.

I was doing some fairly typical late-night internet woolgathering, going from this site to that, doing searches based on ideas that hit me out of the blue. In the end I wound up on the "official" site for Andrea Thompson, who played Talia Winters on Babylon 5. For some reason her bio ends in 2003. While I was there I saw an .exe program suddenly pop up as an active window.


I tried to shut it down manually; I couldn't. Suddenly my anti-Virus software popped up a "Threat Detected!" window. Several of them. I immediately backed off and let the anti-Virus program do its thing. Then I cleared my cache, shut down the open Windows, and ran my anti-Spyware program. It detected a DNS Redirect Trojan and recommended that it be quarantined. I deleted it instead.

In hindsight, that may have been a mistake.

Things started to go bad from there. My anti-Virus icon began to flicker; opening it showed that it was now requesting several critical updates - yet it was not responding to any inputs. I also couldn't run an anti-Virus scan at this point. All I could do was shut down.

The computer won't come up again.

Oh, it goes through the motions; it starts up, and starts Windows XP. But when it gets to the place where there should be a "Welcome" screen, it instead displays a black screen with some flickering white rectangles on the left side.

At a guess I would say the video driver has been corrupted. Or maybe the video card has been fried. None of this, I imagine, is simply a coincidence, and it all must be related to the attack I witnessed.

I'm a big boy now. I have a job, I'm earning a paycheck once again. I can't keep falling back on the charity of my friends, especially the friend who provided me with these computers free of charge and then repaired the main computer once already. I'm going to make inquiries as to what it will cost to get this repaired, at the two big box chains locally represented as well as at the local computer maker who has been recommended to me.

Maybe the computer is fried beyond repair. If that is the case - well, I have this wireless laptop as a backup, and as I have said, I'm earning a paycheck now. If I have to, I'll bite the bullet and buy a new PC.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Lazy Tuesday

I didn't get a lot accomplished today, but, hey, it was raining.

I took my mom grocery shopping this morning. Tuesdays are Senior Citizen discount days, and she does love her 5% discount. I'm in charge of the coupons, memorizing them before we begin shopping, dividing them into "stuff we need", "stuff we use", "stuff we can try", and "why did you clip this one?". If we find something on sale that we have a coupon for, bonus.

September will be a four-week blackout period for our shopping trips, since I'll be working every Tuesday that month. My mom will still go shopping, but she won't be able to get the heavweight stuff that I routinely lug. I'll get that stuff on my own on my days off, without a 5% discount.

After we got home I realized that either 1) it is a very bad idea, from a digestive point of view, to eat almost-but-not-quite-ripe grapes, or 2) the week-old slice of cheesecake I had for breakfast was perhaps a bit too ripe. I realized this twice within a one-hour period.

While I was dealing with this realization, my nephews came over for perhaps the last time before they go back to school next week. I presented them with gifts: piggy banks to be kept safely at their grandmother's house, pre-stocked with a dollar, a quarter, a dime, a nickel, and a penny, and the last 18 Wacky Packages (Series 5) that I was able to get at the local Target. (We have almost completed a set of the main cards. We still need card #1, "TUG" "TUB" (parody of "TAB", or "TaB", the early diet soda). We also have an almost-complete set of doubles, and quite a few third and fourth and even fifth copies of cards.)

This visit was a little unexpected, and as a result I never made it to the hardware store for a "humane trap" to capture the groundhog that has been decimating the neighborhood gardens. What I will do with the groundhog once I catch it, I have no idea.

After the boys left, I updated A Blog of Nanticoke and NEPA Blogs. I still need to see about updating Beyond the Needle and A Monkey in the Garden. I think Unknown Failure is OK for now.

After we give the kitten his nightly medicine, I plan to head back over the house to spend another night there and take another stab at doing some yard work there in-between downpours tomorrow.* Failing that, I may come back here early and head out to run some errands on my third day of my four-day break.

*Update, a few hours later: Change of plans. The rain began coming down hard, and the possibility arose that I would once again have to man the pumps. It has since stopped, but I'm gonna stay here tonight. Just in case.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Rain and overdue yardwork

After I arrived at my house yesterday I crawled into bed, continued my re-reading of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that I had begun earlier that evening, tried to call a friend, read a bit more of the book, and tried to call again and succeeded. We talked for a longish while, at the end of which I fell asleep.

I woke up early - I tend not to drink much water during the day at work and compensate by rehydrating myself on the way home, which has some pressing consequences - but managed to get back to sleep. I woke up again at 6:00 when my radio-on-a-timer set to NPR went off in the bathroom. (This will play from 6:00 AM to 9:00 AM, again from 12:00 noon to 2:00 PM, and finally from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM.) Unfortunately the radio was too loud and out-of-tune, so I had to get up again and walk the length of the house again to adjust it. I woke again at 8:40 or so when my mom called to tell me that she was heading out to her pool-based physical therapy, and that it was supposed to start raining in a few hours and continue for the next week or so, so maybe I should get up soon if I wanted to do some yard work. I slept again until about 10:00, woke up and made some calls to people I knew would be either at home or in their offices. Then I got up, dragged myself downstairs. ate half a muffin and put the water on for tea, and headed outside to begin my yard work.

What luck, I thought. It hasn't started raining yet.

As if on cue, a huge raindrop went splat on the slate sidewalk to my right. Then another one, behind me. Then a third, and a fourth, and another half-dozen, and then a few dozen more, and...

Crap. So much for yard work.

Well, I could still do some of the work. I walked back inside, slapped on my broad-brimmed canvas gardening hat, grabbed some pruners, and headed back to the rear grapevine.

Both the rear and the front grapevines have managed to produce grapes this year - purple in the back, white in the front. Last year the Black Rot took them all, as it had the past few years. I tried hard to stop the Black Rot this year with regular sprayings of fungicide, but it still took hold. But I managed to slow it down, and that made all the difference. From what I've read, once grapes develop to the 4% sugar stage they are no longer susceptible to Black Rot. I guess a good number of grapes have made it to that stage, since I have quite a few ripe on the vines. At the end of the year I will have to prune the hell out of all the vines and remove any fallen bits that may still bear traces of the disease.

But that wasn't what I was there to do today. No, a number of interlopers have grown up among the grapes, including pokeberry, ragweed, and something my neighbor insists is raspberry, even though the thorny vines haven't produced any fruit. I wanted them out to free up access to my grapes. I shouldn't have to bleed for grapes.

The "raspberry" was the most difficult to remove, with its hundreds of thorns that adhere to anything they touch - skin, clothing, whatever. My first pruners, which I had bought cheap earlier this year, fell apart after a few minutes, so I had to fall back on a fifteen-year-old pair of loppers. I quickly figured out how to safely carry the thorned cuttings by spreading the handles of the loppers fully, turning them over, and lifting up the cuttings with one handle inserted under them at their precise point of balance. (I only just realized how difficult this should have been. Such balancing tricks are second nature to me.)

After about 45 minutes of this my neighbors came out to talk and to thank me for the jar of homemade pickles I had brought over last week. My workday was pretty much over at that point as the rain increased in intensity shortly afterwards and stayed there the rest of the day.

It looks like it may rain for the next three days, which means my lawns - both of them - will go at least another week without being mowed or weed-whacked. We'll see what happens.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Off to sleep my "new" house. It's been a while, maybe a few months, since I slept there.

It's weird. Since starting the new job, I feel empowered - permitted, really - to do things now that I could just as easily have done three weeks ago. But now I feel like I don't have to do these things furtively, worrying that people will notice that I really seem to have an awful lot of free time. Not that there's a single friend, relative, friend's relative, or relative's friend who didn't know about my situation, including neighbors, strangers, and anyone who has read my blog or comments I've left on other people's blogs for the past five months.

But now, if anyone wonders, I'm around because I'm "off shift." For the next four days, baby!

Saturday, August 18, 2007


Sometime today I had my 50,000th visitor. Who it was, exactly, I cannot say - by the time I checked the SiteMeter it was at 50,102, with 141 visitors so far for the day. Unfortunately, SiteMeter only retains rudimentary information on the last 100 visitors to the site, so the information that would have allowed me to take a guess at the visitor's identity has been lost.

So, this goes out to every last one of you, whether you're a regular reader or a first time visitor, whether you've known me for decades or have only come here because you were searching for "two moons on august 27" or "js3250.dll" or "cathy baker hee haw": THANK YOU! Thank you for visiting, thank you for reading. Without you I'd just be sitting here talking to myself on this site. And how crazy would THAT be?

Tomorrow is the last day of my second rotation. I need to go to bed soon. I'll write lots more on my four days off, I promise!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Comfortable shoes

I knew that for my new job I would need a pair of shoes that I could stand up in for up to twelve hours at a time. I decided to buy New Balance sneakers, which are inexpensive, lightweight, comfortable, and American-made. I bought a pair when I began my dogwalks with Haley back in 2004, and actually still have them - though they're a bit worn after several hundred miles of walking, they're still fine for the back yard.

I went to a shoe store specializing in sneakers - where, for some reason, all the clerks wear flip-flops - a few days before work started. I started looking for New Balance sneakers on the women's side of the store, but quickly realized my mistake. I was a little puzzled to find that the first pair of New Balance sneakers I saw were 1) not particularly inexpensive and 2) not made in America. I think these were 651's. I found a pair of 659's next to them - even more expensive, but made in America. I paid the extra money to get them.

On my first rotation I realized that these shoes were not nearly as comfortable as I remembered my old pair, which I think are 657's. I bought two different types of innersoles to try to make them more comfortable: some double thickness pillow insoles, and a pair of Dr. Scholl's Work Insoles. I was a little concerned that the innersoles would interfere with the internal padding of the sneakers, but upon investigation I discovered that they really had very little internal padding at all!

I've got the pillow insoles in now, and I'm not crippled yet - we'll see if I'm walking like Fred Sanford again come Sunday and the end of my rotation.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A new low in "Nigerian" scams

This isn't really new. I've found references to identical scams with different names in them. The linked BBC article is real, but the offer in the letter is a scam, just a variation on the Nigerian e-mail scam.

Nobody is waiting for you to help them smuggle money out of a foreign country in exchange for a cut. Everybody should know this by now, but people still fall for it. In the best case, they just lose a lot of money. In the worst cases, people have died.

From: Lt. Stephen Moralis (
Sent: Wednesday, August 15, 2007 5:38:32 AM

Before you read this letter I implore you to confirm from the BBC News

Dear Sir/Ma'm,

My name is Lt. Stephen Moralis serving in the US 35th Infantry Division in Iraq . I and my superior after going on a rampage on Saddam Hussein's palace in Baghdad discovered a large container where various denominations of currency worth millions are hidden.

You can enter the below website to confirm more of our discovery which was made known to the british government, but this particular one is a top secret:

We have successfully moved this container to a secure place with the assistance of an English civillian (Who is assisting us with the negotiation for onward delivery to America); the total is $25,000,000.00 (Twenty-five million US dollars). Basically since we are still in active service, we cannot keep this fund in our bank accounts and there is no convenient way for us to handle the transportation out of Iraq without alerting any suspense since all our activities are monitored by the central command here in Baghdad. It is at this juncture that I was mandated by my superior to look for a reliable and trustworthy person who could assist us to receive the funds on our behalf for keeps and possibly investments in the United State pending on our final withdrawer from Iraq, hence my contacting you.

There is no risk involved whatsoever. If you are interested, I will send you my identity and the full details of claim. My duty is to find a good partner that we can trust and that will assist us secure the fund. Can I trust you? To ensure confidentiality, when you receive this letter, kindly reply me via e-mail signifying your interest including your contact details for identification.
I await your timely response via e-mail

Please, I will also appeal to you in the name of God to keep this a top secret for the benefit of both of us. If you know you will not be able to keep it that way please do not bother to respond. Not even your spouse, because I am still on duty serving my beloved country, America and do not want any chances. No matter who, I forbid you please.

Respectfully Yours.

Lt. Stephen Moralis

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Harry Potter and the Catholic Cycle of Readings

I'm hoping I wasn't the only Catholic Harry Potter fan whose ears pricked up at today's Feast of the Assumption mass. The second reading was from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, chapter 15, and included this line from verse 26: "The last enemy to be defeated is death."

Hey, I thought, that's from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows!

Well, OK, Paul wasn't quoting J.K. Rowling; it's actually the other way around. Still, it was pretty strange to be hearing this line just three and a half weeks after the book was released.

Stranger still was when I started doing some digging and found that this wasn't the only biblical reference in HPatDH. The other was "Where your treasure lies, there your heart is also." This is from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 12, verse 34...which was the Gospel reading for this past Sunday!

What are the odds that the two biblical quotations Rowling included in this book would both coincidentally appear in the current Cycle of Readings in the Catholic Mass within three and a half weeks of the book's release? Pretty damned slim, I should think! Did Joanne Rowling plan this? She's being very open about all the formerly secret stuff behind her stories. I wonder if she'll be confronted with this question?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The greatest video for the greatest song by the greatest band ever

My Bloody Valentine, "Only Shallow":

You may disagree, but of course you'd be wrong.

I first experienced this song as a video - this video - in early 1992. Shortly afterwards I began working at Specialty Records and discovered two things: My Bloody Valentine's albums were available through our shop, and the VHS tape "The Story of Creation" being sold on the counter at the shop was not a religious video but was, in fact, the story of Creation Records, the label which first signed MBV. This video was also included on that VHS, of which I have several copies.

This song made me fall in love, completely and absolutely, with lead singer Bilinda Butcher. Her voice is that special sort of voice that is heard sometimes in the music that was once known as Alternative Rock. It is a voice that tells you that she is the most desireable woman in the universe, but there is absolutely no way, never, ever, she would possibly consider sleeping with you...except maybe she just might.

The loneliness between galaxies

I was multitasking last night: stargazing, meteor-watching, and talking on the phone long distance with a friend. Our conversation ranged all over the place, and eventually I got to the nightmares that have plagued me during my fitful work nights. I suddenly realized how dumb it was to be talking about my really creatively horrifying nightmares while sitting alone, after midnight, in the dark, with the sounds of the night creaking and crashing all around me.

And then I remembered my trip to the planetarium last year, and the truly chilling sense of loneliness and isolation that came upon me as the presentation demonstrated the darkness between galaxies. From where I sat in an Adirondack chair in my back yard, the only extragalactic object visible was the Andromeda Galaxy, a faint oval blur near the big M of Cassiopeia.

I looked again at the Milky way stretching across the sky above me; by looking just over the top of my house, I could stare straight into the heart of the galaxy in Sagittarius. Looking up, the arms of the galaxy reached out to embrace me. These stars were not far away; these are our neighbors. The distances to them are like nothing compared to the distances between galaxies.

After that, I didn't feel so freaked out anymore.

(This was originally written as a letter to a friend. After I finished it, I decided to recast it as a blog post. And here it is.)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Dont miss the Perseid Meteor Shower...which was last night!

Aw, crap. I missed it. And I never even got around to telling anyone else to keep an eye out for the Perseid Meteor Shower.

A friend IMed me that he saw a few when he was getting out of his car last night, and stayed up to watch the show - which included one that left a trail from horizon to horizon. Pretty.

Well, there's still hope: even though the peak was last night, there may still be a few stragglers tonight. I plan on setting myself up in a comfy Adirondack chair, leaning back, and waiting.

Let me make it up to you: in the pre-dawn hours on the morning of Tuesday, August 28, look to the West to see the Moon in eclipse! (This may come as a bit of a shock to people who are still up after expecting to see two Moons on August 27!)

UPDATE, 9:30 AM 8/14/07: Wow. Even though I missed the main party, there were still plenty of meteors to be seen in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. I even saw what I'm thinking was a meteor that had split apart some time before it became visible, so I saw two simultaneous meteors separated by several degrees in the sky that started at the same time, stopped at the same time, and could be traced back to a common point.

Oh, bonus: The sky was absolutely clear and dark, with the Milky Way running overhead from Northeast to Southwest, and the kite shape of Scutum Sobieskii (named in honor of a distant relative) Delphinus the Dolphin directly above. Well worth spending the night under the stars in any case!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

What I did on my first day off

I was completely drained by the end of the day yesterday. I came home and grunted out a brief but semi-coherent post, and then got involved in a chat with a friend living several time zones away. After a while I realized that fatigue was making me feel like I was drunk, which might have explained why I was ranting and raving and mourning lost loves and coming very close to saying some stupid things.

So, naturally, after the end of that chat, I proceeded to stay online and surf the internet for hours.

I'm not sure why. I think I was resetting my biological clock by actually lapping myself, staying up for more than 24 continuous hours - 25 hours and 30 minutes, actually. I finally went to bed at 4:30 Sunday morning.

I woke at 9:00 and cleaned up some of the residue of the previous night's surfing. I had managed to pick up some adware called "Internet Speed Test" which popped up a column of ads alongside any Google search results, but it was fairly easy to remove using a combination of the "Add/Delete Programs" function from the Control Panel and an AVG Anti-Virus and Anti-Spyware sweep. Then I made breakfast, did some surfing, and got ready for church.

After church I went to my house to check the mail and water the plants. I also realized that there was no way, sore as I still was from almost continuously standing for half of the previous four days, that I would be able to meet with some friends to go to a County Fair as they had suggested. I called them with my regrets, and then decided to take a Sunday Afternoon Nap.

Not a long one, since I had just learned on Friday that there was an awards ceremony for my nephew's Little League that I was supposed to go to. This was starting at 5:00, so we would need to head out by 4:00. I woke just before 3:00 and headed back to my mom's house, for a "dinner" of corn. (My mom has always referred to the second meal of the day on Sunday as "Dinner", even though it is usually eaten closer to what is normally considered "lunchtime", and is then nibbled on again later for "supper".)

The ceremony took well over an hour, which was a bit of an endurance test in the hot sunlight. My mom and I stopped for ice cream from a local stand and then went to Burger King for a "supper" of Kid's Meals (with toys from the Simpsons movie.) And then I came back home, and back to the internet.

Now I'm going to bed.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Lastday is the best day of any 4x4 shift.

For many people, Lastday isn't their last day. They work overtime - sometimes an extra day, sometimes two, three, or even four. When I was doing this stuff 15 years ago, I never worked more than one day of overtime in any four days off.

My feet hurt. I'm not used to being on my feet for nearly 12 hours each day. By today I was walking like Fred Sanford. I hope I'm back to normal tomorrow!

Friday, August 10, 2007


The best thing about Thirdday is that you begin the day with your shift halfway over, and you end it with just one day to go.

More troubled sleep, more weird dreams. Last night featured a nightmare so weird that I sat down on my morning break and wrote it down in the little notebook that I brought in to jot down notes on procedures. (This may be odd in the future: "Run a mechanical test under these a final test under these circumstances...the movie trailer featured people-eating trees, but that wasn't really the plot of the movie, and no one was giving away the plot or the ending, but everyone who had seen it swore it was the scariest movie ever...maggot-white flesh, swollen and pruny, claw-like hands, tearing themselves apart at the abdomen...L0 gets these tests, L1 gets these tests...")

Today was a lot smoother than the first two days. I'm working with a great group of people. They work together as a team, but differently from my old team in my last position. In that team we each had specific tasks which were all interlinked and interdependent; each of us depended on the others to play their role to make each project a success, and only by working together on each project could any of us succeed. In this new area, each person works independently on a slightly different group of DVD presses. But when one person has a problem with their systems, everyone throws in to solve it as quickly as possible. Whereas my old group was like a small orchestra, this group is more like a largish jazz combo. Sorta. Kinda.

Anyway, I'm fading again. I should shut down soon and head to bed. Maybe I'll have dreamless sleep, and wake up right at 3:00 once again. Goodnight!

Thursday, August 09, 2007


My second day back at work was a lot less hectic than my first.

It got off to a better start. I slept fitfully, again, and woke up many times throughout the night, but I got up on the first alarm at 3:00. The weather was clear and dry for the ride in to work, and I had a waning crescent Moon (about four days from New) to light my way.

Work was good. Busy, but not as nuts as yesterday. I also had my bearings, literally, as I was now able to figure out just where in the plant I was, how it connected to the rest of the facility, and how I could navigate to places I was familiar with from my previous life.

I visited my old department for lunch. That was a little weird. I felt something like a ghost.

I think my old boss tried to visit me today. I was running some tests about thirty feet from the presses that I'm learning on, and as I was heading back to file the results I saw him walking away. The press floor is a noisy place, but I suppose he might have heard me if I yelled.

Our CEO came to visit me, too, to welcome me back. I have actually known him for about thirteen years. We had a little chat, mostly just call-and-response stuff.

I was going to try to describe this job today, but I'll save that for later. I'm spiraling in rapidly right now. I'll also explain later the pervasiveness of the "Firstday / Secondday / Thirdday" way of thinking, and how I got tripped up by it yesterday. But right now I have to get my lunch ready for tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


My first day back at work almost got off to a disastrous start.

I got to bed fairly early, around 9:00, but couldn't fall asleep. I tossed and turned for an hour or so, finally dozed off, and then I woke up again around 11:00. Then 12:00. Then at 1:15, I woke up to the sound of a titanic electrical storm. Thunder crashed, lighting flashed, and I was wide awake. I looked at my clocks to check the time. I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep again.

An exceptionally loud thunderclap rolled. I looked at the clocks again - and watched them wink out.

It was just for a few seconds, but it was enough. One of the clocks faded back on - it has a battery backup. So did the clock on the VCR. But my clock radio began flashing "12:00...12:00...12:00..."

"Yeah? Well screw you, too," I thought, to no one in particular. Actually, that's not exactly what I said, but if you're familiar with John Carpenter's The Thing, I think you know the line. Grabbing a trusty battery-operated atomic clock, I reset the clock radio and went back to sleep.

(Turns out our phone lines didn't fare so well, and according to the phone company the phones may be out of order until Friday. Strangely, the DSL connection works just fine.)

The rest of the day went pretty much the way you would expect for someone who has gone from a beige-collar semi-cushy office job where I would be on a computer and a phone more than half the day to being in a blue-collar production job where I'm on my feet 10 out of 12 hours. Actually, today was a really, really, unusually hectic day, according to the people I was shadowing. And it was nice having tangible, immediately observable results from my work.

So I need to go to bed soon. 3:00 will roll around mighty early, and I want to be ready for it.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Outerinfo: AdWare, SpyWare, and Pop-Ups

I have a friend whose computer is infected with the Outerinfo pop-up...thing. I don't know whether to call it a virus, or SpyWare, or simply AdWare. It's a program that will cause advertising pop-ups to appear on your screen, regardless of pop-up blockers or other steps you have taken to normally avoid pop-ups.

Pop-ups suck. First of all, they're annoying. Secondly, they consume processor resources that you might have wanted to use for other purposes - like, say, using your computer. Pop-ups may consume 100% of available resources and render your computer useless. Thirdly, they represent an invasion of privacy - it's bad enough having ads on television, but imagine ads suddenly popping up and over the program you're watching. (Oh, that's right - a lot of networks do that now, having cutesy little moving ads for other shows occupying a significant portion of your screen and plopped right on top of your program.)

Finally, they're dangerous. These ads may be providing a gateway for more serious computer invasions.

I haven't been hit with these problems, not yet. I always surf with the Google toolbar with the pop-up blocker activated, and I keep AVG Anti-Virus and AVG Anti-Spyware (from active at all times. But if you do get infected, what can you do?

I've been looking into this problem for a while, and I still don't know the answer. Pretty much every discussion I find of "outerinfo removal" or "outerinfo cleanup" starts with something like, "Here is my HijackThis! log, and it shows that..." I did some digging into HijackThis! and found this page, which started with these words: "Editors Note: Hijack This is for advanced users. If you are not familiar with running processes on your computer as well as anything ever installed that could tie into your web browser, it will not be much help to you." Great.

I'm posting this in the hope that someone, somewhere, knows a simple solution to getting this taken care of - even if that simple solution involves taking the computer to Best Buy or Circuit City and paying them to remove the program. But while I'm waiting, I'll post what links I've found.

First off, Outerinfo offers uninstall instructions, which I have been told do not work:

Here are various examples of people posting HijackThis! logs to various forums, and the removal instructions they received:

(And check out this quote: "Outerinfo is now being installed with other nasty malware that this procedure may not fix, so after following it I strongly suggest you post your HiJackThis log as well as the other logs on the forum and we'll clean up the rest of it.")

Finally, the question that's on the mind of anyone who's dealt with Outerinfo, or something similar, from Yahoo! Answers:

"Why hasn't OuterInfo been prosecuted? I keep getting these OuterInfo popup ads. And, I can tell by my web searches that many people are bothered by this problem. So, why is OuterInfo still in business? Can't the Department of Consumer Affairs shut them down? Can' t they be sued? They need to pay a hefty price for all the harm they cause. They are a criminal company and need to be prosecuted. And, the people who run it should be sent to prison."

And the responses:

"Best response", as selected by Yahoo! voters: "The reason this type of activity doesn't result in criminal prosecution is that there are no effective criminal laws covering the activity. They can be sued, but that's expensive, and the probability of recovery is relatively small, especially compared with the cost of the lawsuit."

Another response: "There are specific restrictions in place under the federal CAN-SPAM law and other related laws. But most companies skirt the edges of those provisions. But you can file a complaint with the FTC. "

If anyone has some solution that non-expert users can apply, or has a recommendation for professional assistance, please let me know. Thanks!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Two Moons on August 27?


From an e-mail that's making the rounds:
Two moons on 27 August. 27th Aug the Whole World is waiting for Planet Mars which will be the brightest in the night sky starting August. It will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. This will cultivate (sic; I think they meant "culminate") on Aug. 27 when Mars comes within 34.65M miles of earth. Be sure to watch the sky on Aug. 27 12:30 am. It will look like the earth has 2 moons. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287. Share this with your friends as NO ONE ALIVE TODAY will ever see it again

I read about this a while ago on Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy (link updates, 8/2/2010: see here and here), and I've seen it on before. NASA even has a page about it, from when it made the rounds in 2005! It's nonsense, it's wrong, it's untrue, it's easy to investigate, and it's based on a real-honest-to-God e-mail about a real honest-to-God event.

On August 27, 2003 Mars was at opposition, at its closest approach to Earth in some time. It was big and it was bright, but don't you think if it were the size of the freakin' FULL MOON just four years ago, someone would remember that?

No, what the original e-mail stated - four years ago - was that on August 27, 2003 (not August 27, 2007) and through a telescope with "a modest 75-power magnification" Mars would appear as large to an observer looking through the telescope as the Full Moon does to the naked eye.

It's not a hoax, not really. But it's not true. It's a misinterpretation of an e-mail about a real event from four years ago, being forwarded by people for one reason or another. If you're reading this, and you've gotten here by way of a search engine, it means you've taken the time to look into this for yourself. And that's a good thing. Congratulations!

Interesting side note: The full Moon isn't as large as you think it is. Next full Moon, take a new pencil with an unused eraser on it outside with you to a place where you can see the Moon. Hold the pencil at arm's length. Blot out the Moon with the eraser. Ask yourself how you were able to block something so big with something so tiny.

Another note, 9:08 PM August 26, 2007: The big bright thing in the southern sky right now is Jupiter. The bright red star below it is Antares, the Rival of Mars and the Heart of the Scorpion - it's a part of the constellation Scorpius.

Even more interesting side note: in the pre-dawn hours of August 28, the Moon will be in eclipse for much of the Western Hemisphere! Read this transcript from the relevant episode of Jack Horkheimer, Star Gazer! Also see this article for full details!

UPDATE!!! Photos of the 8/28/07 eclipse!


I've fallen into some bad habits during my period of unemployment. I've been staying up late and staying in bed late. As of Wednesday morning I need to start getting up at 3:30 so I can be out of the house by 4:45.

I've been gradually shifting my wake time lately. This morning I was up at 5:00, and tomorrow I intend to be up at 3:30.

I don't mind waking up early, not really. I'll get to experience the pre-dawn hours again, something I haven't done since my walks with Haley. But I will miss my late-night online chats with my friends. Those chats have meant more to me than I can say. I will try to keep the lines of communication open, somehow, even on days when I'm not able to chat.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Belated Blogiversaries

At least two blogiversaries for blogs linked on my sidebar have come and gone without acknowledgment by me.

Gareth has been writing Another Chance to See for three years as of July 30, 2007. I first linked to him in October 2004. It's really amazing how much time has passed since then. It feels like it's been a lot longer.

The blogger known as Whim first started The Babblings of Whimsicalbrainpan on July 28, 2006. It was nearly six months later that I first read her site - just over six months ago. Again, it feels like forever. Reading Whim's stuff, you get the feeling that she has been blogging for a lot longer than that.

In other blog news: Ashley has a new blog in the works, A Positive Blog in Lansing, which focuses on HIV/AIDS in the Greater Lansing, Michigan area. And Teigra has started a new blog, **~**~**Letters From the Stars**~**~**. Check them out!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Me as a book

You're Ulysses!
by James Joyce

Most people are convinced that you don't make any sense, but compared to what else you could say, what you're saying now makes tons of sense. What people do understand about you is your vulgarity, which has convinced people that you are at once brilliant and repugnant. Meanwhile you are content to wander around aimlessly, taking in the sights and sounds of the city. What you see is vast, almost limitless, and brings you additional fame. When no one is looking, you dream of being a Greek folk hero.

Take the Book Quiz at the Blue Pyramid.

(Thanks to Ashley for letting me know about this quiz.)

Friday, August 03, 2007

Final days

Next Wednesday I go back to work. Twelve hours a day, 6 AM to 6 PM, four days out of every eight. My first shift is Wednesday through Saturday, then Thursday through Sunday, then Friday through Monday, and so on. Overtime is available, sometimes mandatory. All at an hourly rate that works out to 2/3 of my effective hourly rate in my old salaried job. (I retain my 15 years of seniority and accrued benefits, though, which is really good news.)

This isn't where it ends. I will continue my search for a new, better job. But I have learned a few things in the past five months.

First of all, this area is very deficient when it comes to good, high-paying jobs other than nursing. And when I say "this area" I mean a region within 40 miles of Nanticoke, about the most reasonable commute you can expect to make given our terrain and climate. This is a very depressing realization, as I have made a commitment to stay in this area. There is some industry here, but most facilities are fully-staffed and are not looking for skilled employees. Options seem to be: leave the area, get into nursing, commute over 40 miles to get to a better job, or bring new industries and businesses into this area. Maybe I'll try to rally support for option 4.

Secondly, job hunting sucks. The new paradigm, as I have discussed before, is for employers to simply ignore any applications sent to them. There is no real way of knowing if you have been rejected or if your résumé has been put in a file for later reference. In many cases, you don't even know if it was received, or having been received, if it was read. If it was received by Human Resources, odds are no one who laid eyes on it was capable of understanding anything even mildly technical; but more likely no human actually laid eyes on it, and it was simply scanned by a computer looking for key words and phrases.

The new approach that I've been coached on had similar results. By directly contacting key personnel in manufacturing I should have, in theory, been able to leapfrog over the HR gatekeepers. But in some cases my carefully collected contact information has turned out to be wrong; in others, it has been impossible to contact the people directly, and those that I have contacted have pushed me aside as they would a salesman or a fly-by-night consultant. The one person with whom I had a "successful" contact essentially told me there was no hope of me getting a job with his company, because they outsource all their Statistical Process Control and Operations Management to a third party company. At least I got the name of that third party company from him, and put in an application there, too.

Thirdly, having all the time in the world isn't as useful as you might think. Maybe some people would have made the most of these past five months; I didn't. Sure, I finished most of my large-scale home projects, and did a lot of landscaping work, too, but there are large stretches of time that are essentially unaccounted for. I think those are the days I spent job-hunting full-time, which in retrospect feels like a waste of time.

Fourth, most job-hunting services are also, as far as I can tell, a waste of time. I submitted my résumé to Pennsylvania CareerLink in the beginning of April, and in that time it has been viewed zero times. I attended a ton of classes, both through CareerLink and elsewhere, and have signed up with every online job site I could find. The result? Not a hell of a lot. For the most part I've just gotten job scam e-mails. The one bit of advice I received that has been helpful was something I was told in my first class: "You're going to search the newspapers, search online ads, contact companies, do all these things, but in the end most of you are going to find jobs through a friend." And it's true. It's true for my friend that I was taking the classes with, and in my case, my job is courtesy of my old employer - not quite the same as a friend, but close enough.

So starting next Wednesday, I might not be able to keep up the post-a-day schedule. My workday life will be: up at 3:30 AM, out of the house by 4:45 AM, begin work at 6:00 AM, leave work at 6:00 PM, get home by 7:00 PM, in bed by 9:00 PM. Not much time there for blogging or catching up on blogs (or anything else, really), but I'll see what I can do.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Tragedies and miracles

It was just about this time that some people arrived and told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with that of their sacrifices. At this he (Jesus) said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than any others, that this should have happened to them? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen on whom the tower at Siloam fell, killing them all? Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did."
- The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 13, verses 1-5, from The Catholic Online Bible

I'm not one to thump. I have officially described myself for years as a "semi-agnostic Jesuit-trained lapsed Catholic" - though as a regular churchgoer, I'm a lot less lapsed than most, to the point of being "active". (Maybe that description is due for revision.)

This has always been one of my favorite passages in the Gospels, for reasons pointed out by our parish priest (whom we share with four other parishes) the last time this reading came up: this is considered the "current events" Gospel, where Jesus is hanging out discussing the news of the day with some people.*

This was the passage that came to mind in the days following September 11, 2001, when so many neo-Christians came out announcing the reasons why the towers had fallen, or after Katrina devastated New Orleans, when so many smugly assured us why this sinful city had been brought low. But Jesus assures his audience, as he does elsewhere in the Gospels, that bad things happen to the just and the unjust alike. Not a sparrow falls without God's knowledge, but sparrows fall nonetheless.

Yesterday something horrible happened. That this bridge collapse in Minnesota was not more horrible than it is turning out to be is simply amazing. But this morning I heard the usual stuff on the news, the stuff that could easily be expected: the school bus that did not fall into the river is considered a "miracle"; one survivor** told his tale of coming to a stop twenty feet from the edge of the bridge, and the anchor responded "Wow, someone sure was looking out for you!"

So what does this imply for the folks who died? Mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and cousins and friends and lovers, crushed and drowned and mangled in the waters of the Mississippi? Why did they miss the "miracle" cut? Why wasn't anybody looking out for them?

It wasn't a miracle that some people didn't die in this tragedy, any more or less than it's a miracle when a baby is born, or the sun comes up in the morning. Miracles weren't being doled out selectively as people plummeted to their deaths. Angels weren't preferentially applying brakes for people they happened to be watching over. Tragedies happen. People die. These things happen. Try to be ready when your time comes.

Or those eighteen on whom the tower at Siloam fell, killing them all? Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem?

*It also helps to squelch the image of Pontius Pilate as a Roman functionary who was a victim of circumstances, caught between political obligations and the demands of the local leaders he was trying to keep under control; here he comes across as quite creatively bloodthirsty. "Oh, what did I tell you silly fools about blood sacrifices to your so-called god? Well, if it's blood your god wants..."

**I am assuming this was an actual survivor, and not one of the many mentally ill attention-seekers who are drawn to events like this one and claim to have been involved when they were in fact nowhere near the incident.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Blogging Ethics and the permanence of the written word

The Moving Finger writes: and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
(Fitzgerald translation)

Earlier this year there was some controversy regarding two bloggers hired by the John Edwards campaign who were attacked by the leader of a right-wing political organization calling itself "The Catholic League" for blog posts they had written prior to their involvement with the Edwards campaign, posts which were critical of the Catholic church and its policies. While right-wing bloggers - who just a year before had trumpeted the vital necessity of defending the right to criticize, denigrate, and insult religious institutions - openly applauded this attack on freedom of expression, and the John Edwards campaign waffled in defense of the two bloggers, at least one of them undertook an effort to expunge her records of some of the offending material. This action was seized upon by right-wing bloggers as an admission of culpability - even by bloggers who themselves practice "redaction" as a matter of stated policy.

It has always been my belief that all bloggers, indeed all people who make statements of any sort, should carefully consider their words before they release them into the universe, and should be willing to stand by them once those statements have been made. If you are the sort of person who regularly retracts and revises statements, you eventually lose credibility with anyone who critically considers what you have to say.

A post on Gort's site pointed me to a post on Bernie O'Hare's site which pointed to this post on Rebecca Blood's site. It's an excerpt from Rebecca's book The Weblog Handbook: Practical Advice on Creating and Maintaining Your Blog, from the section called "Weblog Ethics". What really hit home for me was item #4, which I reproduce in its entirety here:

4. Write each entry as if it could not be changed; add to, but do not rewrite or delete, any entry.

Post deliberately. If you invest each entry with intent, you will ensure your personal and professional integrity.

Changing or deleting entries destroys the integrity of the network. The Web is designed to be connected; indeed, the weblog permalink is an invitation for others to link. Anyone who comments on or cites a document on the Web relies on that document (or entry) to remain unchanged. A prominent addendum is the preferred way to correct any information anywhere on the Web. If an addendum is impractical, as in the case of an essay that contains numerous inaccuracies, changes must be noted with the date and a brief description of the nature of the change.

If you think this is overly scrupulous, consider the case of the writer who points to an online document in support of an assertion. If this document changes or disappears — and especially if the change is not noted — her argument may be rendered nonsensical. Books do not change; journals are static. On paper, new versions are always denoted as such.

The network of shared knowledge we are building will never be more than a novelty unless we protect its integrity by creating permanent records of our publications. The network benefits when even entries that are rendered irrelevant by changing circumstance are left as a historical record. As an example: A weblogger complains about inaccuracies in an online article; the writer corrects those inaccuracies (and notes them!); the weblogger's entry is therefore meaningless — or is it? Deleting the entry somehow asserts that the whole incident simply didn't happen — but it did. The record is more accurate and history is better served if the weblogger notes beneath the original entry that the writer has made the corrections and the article is now, to the weblogger's knowledge, accurate.

History can be rewritten, but it cannot be undone. Changing or deleting words is possible on the Web, but possibility does not always make good policy. Think before you publish and stand behind what you write. If you later decide you were wrong about something, make a note of it and move on.

I make a point never to post anything I am not willing to stand behind even if I later disagree. I work to be thoughtful and accurate, no matter how angry or excited I am about a particular topic. If I change my opinion in a day or two, I just note the change. If I need to apologize for something I've said, I do so.

If you discover that you have posted erroneous information, you must note this publicly on your weblog. Deleting the offending entry will do nothing to correct the misinformation your readers have already absorbed. Taking the additional step of adding a correction to the original entry will ensure that Google broadcasts accurate information into the future.

The only exception to this rule is when you inadvertently reveal personal information about someone else. If you discover that you have violated a confidence or made an acquaintance uncomfortable by mentioning him, it is only fair to remove the offending entry altogether, but note that you have done so.
(Please see the linked post for even more information on Weblog Ethics.)

Rebecca Blood puts this better than I can ever hope to. And I must confess that I am not guiltless here: while I reserve the right to fix typos and grammatical and stylistic errors at any point, I have only ever rewritten one post to fundamentally change it after publication, in an attempt to preserve a personal relationship. (That attempt failed, and the relationship was apparently already doomed well before I wrote that post.)

Whether individual bloggers adhere to any such code of conduct is, of course, up to the individual blogger. But for me, whether or not a blogger is taken seriously depends, in part, on whether or not they adhere to such a code - particularly rule #4.

(Now, maybe I should get a copy of Rebecca's book. Hmmm...I wonder if I could use it as the textbook for my Introduction to Blogging course?)

(Heh. I misspelled "permanence" in the title. That's been revised.)