Monday, December 31, 2007
Have a safe and happy New Year's Eve!
Tomorrow will be a day of rest, followed by what will most likely be another day of frantic, relentless work, followed by four scheduled days off.
Be safe, everybody. Tonight is a dangerous night. And I want to have at least as many readers in 2008 as I did in 2007!
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Just one day
I was on some super-fast presses again today. Four of them - the night shift, which is made up of more experienced operators, was only working on three presses apiece. Actually, three systems, not presses; each system is made up of two presses, two metallizers, a bonder, an inspection machine, and an unloading table. Each stage could have about a gajillion things do wrong with it. And today, each stage of each of my four systems did have something wrong with it.
I also had a buttload of stamper changes. I used to be lousy at those, but now they've become routine. Though the one at the end of the day did not go smoothly. I wonder if the night shift guy was ever able to get that stamper to work.
It was a busy, busy day. How busy? Well...
(You may want to skip the bit in invisible text if you don't want to be exposed to details that might be considered "too much information.")
Every morning before I go to work I have the same breakfast: A big bowl of Weis Markets brand Crispy Rice cereal (sorta like Rice Chex) with a sliced banana and milk, an apple, a glass of fruit juice, and three mugs of coffee. I settled on this breakfast after months of experimentation and determined that it gave me adequate energy to keep going for up to fifteen hours (I eat breakfast between 3:30 and 4:00 in the morning, and there's no guarantee I'll get to eat again until I leave at 6:00 at night), and it doesn't make me want to vomit when I get to work, like, say, hard-boiled eggs do. (No idea why that happens.) On the drive in to work I drink a half-liter of water.
Upon my arrival at work and getting my assignment for the day, I take a break to discard some processed fluids. This is around 5:50 AM. Then I need another break at 6:20 (like clockwork), again at 7:00, and then again at 8:00. And...well, that's it. If I don't eat any food or drink any water for the rest of the workday, I don't need to use the facilities again until the end of the day when I go preemptively before leaving the building at around 6:10 PM.
Some days I don't eat any food or drink any water for the rest of the day. Today was one of those days, a relentless kaleidoscope of production, tests, alarms, and stamper changes. Needless to say, I was a little cranky towards the end of the day. And a lot sore.
It was snowing when I left work. The snow turned into rain as I made my way south. I decided to stop at Wal-Mart to pick up some half-price Christmas ornaments and extension cords. That didn't take long, and I was soon on my way the last nine miles to my house.
As I entered Nanticoke, the snow started to come down more heavily. Heavily enough to cause many accidents in the last few hours, according to my mom's police/fire scanner.
That wasn't the only news to come out of the scanner. Shortly after I sat down to dinner, a report came in of a structure fire a few miles to the east - "smoke showing in all windows." It sounded bad, and it was; the building became an inferno, and at least one person died. Four hours later, fire crews are still in the process of wrapping things up.
Tomorrow is New Year's Eve. I'll be going to a quiet - i.e., alcohol-free - little party down the street, and I want to make more of my oatmeal chocolate chip cookies to take there. (Most of the triple-batch I made last week is gone, either eaten or given away.) It also sounds like I'll have quite a bit of shoveling to do in the morning. We'll see how it goes.
Make the most of the last day of 2007!
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Friday, December 28, 2007
Big exciting end-of-vacation plans
Tomorrow should be the last day of my vacation, but there's a chance that work will be cancelled for Sunday. In which case I will be, once again, eligible for unemployment. Or at least, eligible to open a claim for unemployment.
Got a call from someone who read my Al Scaduto letter in the paper and wants to chat. Maybe he's a fan who wants to know how I got the inside scoop on Mr. Scaduto's death when it was being thoroughly not reported by the mainstream media. Maybe he's some kinda nut. Either way, I've got his number, so I should call him back.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
The new links
Over the past few days I've added a few sites that I've been visiting regularly to my sidebar links. I may start a second group of regular "Blog Links" soon, since Blogger automatically puts each new link at the top of the list, and I almost always want new links at the bottom. To move a link you must step through the existing links one at a time. You cannot loop around from the top entry to the bottom entry. You must move the new link from the first position, to the second position, to the third position, and so on, all the way to the bottom. So I am stuck moving through every existing entry - currently, 52 blogs and associated sites, counting the ones I've just added.
Here are brief descriptions of these new links:
Hedera's Corner: Hedera is a fellow Felbernaut, a regular commentor on Adam Felber's Fanatical Apathy. This means she is witty, intelligent, sophisticated, and impeccably well-groomed. Just like me. "Started out as a librarian, followed by systems engineering and later systems design. Secular humanist, interested in trends in science. Often annoyed by politicians." She is based in the San Francisco Bay area.
The Swordswallowers - Alexander Kensington and Charon Henning and Charon Henning's Odd Angel Studios: I first came across Charon Henning, The World's Most Dangerous Beauty, when I was going through a list of Sideshow links in the weeks prior to this November's Sideshow Gathering. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a sucker for a pretty lady, and if that lady can swallow swords and breathe fire - well, all the better. We started a comment correspondence back and forth, and she was so kind as to link me a long, long time ago. I'm finally reciprocating. The Swordswallowers page is updated more often than the Odd Angel Studios page, but both are worthy of many visits. Someday I have to explore her links, too.
Debra Pasquella's Let Me Go On and On!: I first encountered Debra through a comment on this post, and I've been visiting off and on since then. In her own words:
Debra Pasquella is the author of “A Prayer Away From Healing”, a book about the power of prayer and relationships, based upon the background on Debra’s life. Some posts in this blog contain articles describing how promiscuity gets confused with loving relationships between two people of the same gender. Other posts are lighthearted and comical, telling you stories about her dysfunctional life. She wouldn’t have it any other way. Normality is something to be avoided. There are many posts about relationships in general--whether you're male or female, straight or gay. Deb welcomes you into her world and would love to hear what’s on your mind- even if it’s an opposing view. Content may be controversial and opinionated. An opened mind is required. Ask your doctor if this blog’s right for you.In tone and content, I find Debra's blog interestingly similar to Bill's blog, currently called "Bill's Notes". (Note to self: change the sidebar description from "Industrial Blog".) In reality, the two are approaching some of the same issues from diametrically opposing points of view. It would be interesting to witness a discourse between the two of them. Possibly also very amusing and, without proper cover, somewhat dangerous.
In non-blog links, I have added two things to "Semi-Daily Visits": I Can Has Cheezburger? - LOLcats and funny pictures, because we all need a little laughter in our lives every day, and Fresh Air with Terry Gross, because I got tired of having to look up the damned site every time I wanted to do a reference, or just listen to an archived show!
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Faked out on Calendar Day!
I hit the Wyoming Valley Mall straight after to check for calendar sales. Waldenbooks didn't have anything marked down to 50%, and while they still had two Astronomy calendars, they didn't seem to have the Terence Dickinson one, which they did have a few weeks ago. I only found one calendar kiosk elsewhere in the mall, and they only had a handful marked down by 50%. Barnes & Noble, outside the mall, had all their calendars marked down, but their selection sucked. The only Astronomy calendar they had had a star chart for each month - which would be nice, if I weren't already getting two star charts each month, one in Astronomy and one in Sky & Telescope.
At least the Hickory Farms kiosk in the mall was still open. 40% off processed meat and cheese!
If I'm stuck working tomorrow - and I still don't know for sure, they haven't updated the recording that tells us whether or not we've been cancelled - after work I'll go to the Borders in Dickson City and the kiosks in the Viewmont and Steamtown malls. (Neither of these malls has a bookstore anymore. I remember when the Wyoming Valley Mall used to have two bookstores. Now bookstoreless malls seem to be the norm.)
I'm continuing to update my link lists. I may have to start a second blog list - adding stuff to the bottom of an existing list is one thing this version of Blogger does not do well. I'll do writeups on the sites I'm adding as soon as I get a chance.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Merry Christmas to all
Some friends have suffered a horrific tragedy - well, it involves one of their parents. I won't give details, but please try to beam some generally positive energy to someone who needs it.
I'm sucking back some wine right now, 'cause I have a blood donation scheduled for tomorrow. Who realized that Boxing Day is exactly eight weeks after Halloween?
Tomorrow isn't just Boxing Day - not that that holiday has any significance for most folks here in the U.S. No, it's also Calendar Day, the day that most stores slash calendar prices by 50%! Prices in most places will be marked down further to $1 for whatever is left in about a week, but by then the calendars will have been pretty much picked over.
The next day, the 27th, I've actually been mandated to work overtime! It won't really be "overtime", since I've only logged 12 actual hours this week - the 24 hours of holiday time for yesterday and today will not count towards putting me over the 40 hour hump beyond which all hours worked count as time-and-a-half. Still, a 48-hour straight paycheck is more than a 36-hour straight paycheck. Most of us who got mandated (there are quite a few) figured that low workloads would cause our overtime to be cancelled, but that was before the power got knocked out for a few hours on Sunday, causing our production schedules to be thrown off.
Somewhere along the way I'm going to try to squeeze in some holiday visiting, too. And I'm adding site links to my sidebar - long-overdue additions.
Merry Christmas, everybody!
Monday, December 24, 2007
Merry Christmas Eve!
A moment of perfect beauty, courtesy of Gort. John Cale (of the Velvet Underground) plays Leonard Cohen.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
The Moon and Mars
It's a beautiful sight, well worth seeing. If you missed it, Phil Plait has some information, links, and appreciations here.
Have you gone out to see it yet? If so, now you may enjoy this classic Staples commercial from 2000, featuring the SnoBot robot. "I love her! Weeping, weeping... "
Saturday, December 22, 2007
I came up with a great gift idea for a friend, something I saw on TV being sold at the same sort of places (mostly drugstores) that carry Chia Pets and other such gifty stuff. Unfortunately, this gift appears to be this year's Tickle Me Elmo, as every drugstore I've stopped at - and I've stopped at quite a few - is completely sold out.
So I decided to get my friend a gift card for the movie theater he goes to every week. How was I to realize that the evening of my first day of work would happen to be one of the busiest times for movie theaters? Is it my fault that this happens to be a Saturday night? No, certainly not! So why did I have to limp halfway across a football-field-sized parking lot to stand in line just to buy a gift card?
One the way home I tried one more drugstore. Well, you can't say I didn't try.
So after a quick dinner I went online and got hit with a cold slap of reality. Something I was expecting for a long time came through today. I still don't want to accept it, and I've constructed a logical argument for not accepting it. But I don't much feel like being logical, so that's where it all kinda falls apart.
Anyway. This morning the Moon was farther to the North than I have ever seen it before. Tomorrow morning, when it is more nearly full, should be even more impressive.
Gotta go. Need to do some cleaning, get my clothes ready for tomorrow, brush my teeth, wash my face, and hit the sack. 3:00 tomorrow morning is coming around soon. After tomorrow I'm off for SIX! WHOLE! DAYS! Then back at work for one, off for two, back for one, and off for four. Confusing, I know.
Take care. If'n I don't see y'all before then, have a Merry Christmas, Bitchin' Boxing Day, and a safe New Year's.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Police Protective Fund: Scam, Fraud, or just bad people?
Now, every few months there's another article in the paper about phone scammers who are calling around claiming to represent police or firefighters' charitable organizations. It sounded like this "Police Protective Fund" might be another one of these. The truth, it turns out, is a little more complicated.
Some internet sleuthing revealed that the Police Protective Fund is a legitimate charitable organization - exempting it from the restrictions of the state and federal "Do Not Call" lists - though it dances on the very edge of the definitions of "legitimate" and "charitable". According to reports on the internet, more than 90% of the donations taken in by this organization are skimmed - er, consumed - by overhead, administrative, and fundraising costs. Most local police forces have never even heard of the group, let alone received any of the donations sent to the Police Protective Fund on their behalf.
But Attorneys General and consumer groups have heard of them. The organization has been sued in various locations for its questionable practices. And many reports abound of aggressive, belligerent, harassing, and abusive behavior by people making calls on behalf of the organization - including, of course, the repeated hang up calls received by Michelle.
I haven't gotten any of these calls yet. When I've gotten similar calls in the past, I've always been brief, blunt, and firm with them, never using words like "please" or "thank you" that can be recorded and presented out of context. If I do get one of these calls, I'm thinking I might say something like "Give me your name and a callback number. I'll check this out with my neighbor, the Chief of Police, to see what he has to say." I don't know how they'll respond. But from what I've read online, I expect to be cursed at, and then keep getting the calls.
mhryvnak.net/blog/ : FYI - Possible NEPA Scammer - BEWARE!
nuvo.net: Who are these guys?
consumeraffairs.com: Police fund-raisers accused of fraud
Dover Post: When giving to charities, beware of fraud
Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon: Law enforcement telemarketer sued in Missouri
Notable quote from linked news release:
Nixon says PPF took in more than $5.9 million in nationwide donations last year but only paid $37,000 through the benefits program to the families of police officers killed in 2006. Consumers who are solicited are not told that the benefits paid are limited to the first four officers who die in the line of duty in a calendar year, and that the benefits are capped at a total of $40,000 annually. The organization’s IRS filings show that more than $3.7 million of the $5.9 million PPF raised in 2006 was paid to professional fundraisers. From 2002 through 2006, PPF received more than $24 million in donations nationwide.
In addition, several consumers complained to the Attorney General’s Office that callers representing PPF often employed rude and intimidating tactics in order to obtain donations, and made repeated calls to consumers who asked not to be called.
cvillenews.com: Beware the Police Protective Fund
charitynavigator.com rating: 0 stars
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Here's a recipe that I thought was lost. Literally. I asked my mom to get out the Birds' Nests recipe yesterday, and she also pulled out this one, because we'd been talking about these a lot. Unfortunately, I couldn't find it at the end of the night and worried that it had gotten thrown away during my clean-up. Which was a problem, since last night was garbage night. At about 2:00 this morning I was thinking of pulling back one of the garbage bags and going through it for the recipe card. But then I found it face-down on the floor under the table, looking like a random piece of unlined paper.
These were never traditionally holiday cookies for us, but my mom misses them a lot. She's never been able to get them to come out right - they're supposed to end up as somewhat flattened cake-like hemispheres, but when she and her sister have tried to reproduce them, they have come out flat. I suspected this was a traditional baking soda/baking powder mixup, but it turns out the recipe calls for both. So now I'm wondering if they're properly souring the milk. I read somewhere that milk hasn't properly soured since Pasteurization became the norm.
We always called these "Drop Cookies", though it turns out that that term actually applies to a very large class of cookies - those formed by dropping them onto cookie sheets and allowing them to spread while baking. So my Rocks and Oatmeal Chocolate Chips would also be classified as "Drop Cookies", though the Birds' Nests and Sugar Cookies would not.
The local supermarket chain has started selling near-perfect versions of these cookies, though they vary from my grandmother by icing them. She never did.
A word of warning: I haven't tried making these yet, so I don't know if there's some fundamental flaw in the recipe. If you try them, let me know how they come out!
Babki's Drop Cookies
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup SOUR milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Combine all ingredients. Drop (by tablespoons?) onto cookie sheet.
Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes.
I was busy today with cookies. I made up the dough for Sugar Cookies, though I did not roll them out yet; the dough is now chilling, which is supposed to make it easier to roll out and work with. I also made a triple batch of my oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (just the Nestlé Toll House Cookie recipe with generous portions of oatmeal and milk added). In between I made, for the first time, Birds' Nest cookies.
These cookies only vaguely resemble birds' nests. I was horrified earlier this year when I discovered (through an ad on another blog) that Chinese recipes like Bird's Nest Soup actually use real bird's nests. Yuccch.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
1/2 lb. butter (two sticks, slightly softened - save wrappers to grease cookie sheets)
2/3 cup sugar
3 egg yolks (cooked)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour (recipe calls for pastry flour, but all-purpose flour works fine)
Egg whites (uncooked) - as needed, probably at least two or three
Finely chopped Walnuts (slivered to the point of being powdered) - as needed, about one cup
Strawberry preserves (seedless)
1. Crumble egg yolks.
2. Using a fork, mix egg yolks with butter, sugar, vanilla, and flour. (Once you have these ingredients mooshed together, you'll probably want to finish blending the batter with a stout wooden spoon. Remember, electric mixers are the tools of the Devil.)
3. Beat egg whites slightly in a bowl. I would do this one at a time, to avoid using too many.
4. Roll dough into little balls about 3/4 of an inch to an inch in diameter.
5. Coat dough balls with egg whites by dipping or rolling them in the egg white bowl.
6. Roll the coated dough balls in the finely chopped walnuts.
7. Put the coated balls on greased cookie sheet.
8. Flatten each ball and make an indentation in the middle. The recipe says to do this with a thimble, but you can just use your pinkie.
9. Bake cookies about 10 - 15 minutes in 300 degree oven. Do not overbrown.
10. When you pull each cookie sheet out of the oven, check to see if your indentations are still there. If not, re-indent. Be careful not to burn yourself.
11. When cool, place a small dollop of preserves in the indentation in each cookie.
12. Chill to set.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Christmas, coming like a freight train
Goals for the day accomplished: Wrote, addressed, stamped, and mailed Christmas cards. Most of them, anyway. But then I took my mom out grocery shopping, and then shopping at an arts and crafts store, and then we went out to dinner.
Goals for the day not accomplished: Did not bake double batches of three types of cookies. Did not finish making the gifts I will be passing out to some friends on Thursday. Did not finish Christmas shopping. Did not stay over the house, finish decorating the tree, dump the furnace, water the plants, or remove the ice from the water barrels in the back (holy crap! how could I have forgotten about that before freezing temperatures set in?)
So. I've got my work cut out for me tomorrow. Thursday evening is one get-together. Friday a long-lost friend, my old work partner, will be coming to town, so I will be heading out to a bar 35 miles away to see him. But I won't be there long, since Saturday I have to be back at work, which means a 3:00 AM wake-up call - unless it snows, in which case I'll have to be up much earlier. Sunday, too. And Monday is Christmas Eve.
Yeeesh. I'd better get busy.
Submitted for your enjoyment, courtesy of Gort:
I forgot how much I liked this song. But I do remember that when it came out in 1989, I thought "Wow, Cyndi Lauper's getting old." She was thirty-six. I was twenty-one. Hah!
*Yes. I'm cool.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Well, that's not entirely true. I sent out two - to Norway and Australia. None have been sent to anyone in the U.S. yet. I think I'll be presenting a lot of them in person.
UPDATE, 12/18/07: Got most of them mailed a few hours ago. Well, a lot of them. Several. Some. A few. Oh, GOD, who did I forget???
There will be at least three handed out in person on Thursday. I still need to send to my brother and my sister, and to the parents of some of my friends, who send me cards every year.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
I am now officially a crank
Yesterday's was the truncated letter about Al Scaduto. The parts that were cut out were critical of the mainstream media for having ignored his passing, and referred to The Comics Curmudgeon website. (I actually wrote this letter in an "inverted pyramid" format, so I was not too surprised that they clipped the end.)
Today's letter was the one I posted here the other day ("Urban Legends should not be published as fact...OR opinion".) Quite surprisingly, this one appears to have been printed unedited, despite the fact that it took the newspaper to task for failing to fact-check a story it published - even if that story was being published in the Letters to the Editor page. It even includes the preposterously lengthy URL I gave when referring to a previous Urban Legend situation (http://anothermonkey.blogspot.com/2007/09/urban-legend-destroys-local-business.html). But it did get the snopes.com name out there, so with a little luck it will drive some readers to that website and we'll have fewer legends-presented-as-fact to deal with.
Now, I should get started on that response to the Letter to the Editor that stated that America was "founded by Christians." The fools! FOOLS! I gotta just dig up some references....
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Letter to the editor: Al Scaduto
Since my own local paper, the Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice, carries Al Scaduto's comic, I thought it was only proper that his passing should be noted. I wrote up a combination death announcement and scathing criticism of the mainstream media and sent it in as a letter to the editor. It was published today. Unfortunately the letter was bowdlerized, emasculated, by the removal of a few key sentences. Here is the letter as it was submitted; the parts that have been removed are in red.
Al Scaduto died on Saturday, December 8 at the age of 79.
If you don't know who Al Scaduto is, turn to the comics section of the weekday version of the Citizens' Voice and look at the lower left-hand corner. Al Scaduto has single-handedly written and illustrated the one-panel comic They'll Do It Every Time for the past eighteen years, and prior to that co-wrote it as part of the team of Dunn and Scaduto.
Al Scaduto was a gem of a man, gentle, kind, and polite, as noted on the blog The Comics Curmudgeon (joshreads.com) in comments by his many fans, correspondents, and even several family members. Sadly, his passing has gone almost completely unnoticed by the mainstream media. He was loved, and will be missed.
Friday, December 14, 2007
A man I frequently sat next to in church - in the choir loft, which is where we both habitually sit, though neither of us is a member of the choir - was killed in a horrible auto accident on Tuesday shortly before noon. I just got back from his wake. The 20-year old driver who struck his vehicle head-on with an airborne 2007 Mustang (he hit a concrete road divider while speeding and launched his vehicle into oncoming traffic) died Wednesday morning. I don't know the status of the investigation, or if it is even continuing.
Today was quite a day. I got in to work to find that my three presses - the presses I have worked on exclusively since starting in early August - were all down. I was assigned to three other presses in a nearby section of the plant, but when I got there I noticed three things: none of the presses were running, none of the presses had any work scheduled for them, and none of the presses had run in over a week.
So I was reassigned to another area, where fast presses were running big numbers. My day consisted mostly of unloading discs from these presses, running tests, and answering alarms. Unfortunately, with the speeds at which these presses were running - twice what I'm used to - there was no time to investigate problems or fine-tune performance. The day was a race to stay ahead of the alarms, and that was about it.
On the way home I stopped to buy a gallon of gasoline. I fired up the snowblower for the first time in nearly ten months yesterday afternoon to clean up some of the six inches of wet, heavy snow that had fallen throughout the day, and I wound up pouring the remnants of last year's gas-oil mixture into the tank after running the tank empty halfway through the job. The snowblower's tank is now full, but my gas can was empty. I needed more gas - right away, since it sounds like there may be more snowblowing fun in store tomorrow.
I have no idea what work has in store tomorrow. Maybe I'll get sent home, which is what I half-expected today. I hope not. And if I do stay in work, I hope the snow starts after I get there and ends well before I leave, so everybody has a chance to plow and salt the highways. Maybe I'll pack a change of clothes, just in case.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Urban Legends should not be reported as fact...OR opinion
The lead letter in the "Your Voice" pages on Thursday, December 13, 2007 tells (in great detail) the story of eleven-year-old Patricia Harrington, who successfully thwarted a home invasion thanks to her father's handy (and, apparently, loaded) shotgun. It asks the question, "Ever wonder why good stuff never makes NBC, CBS, PBS, MSNBC, CNN, or ABC news..."
Well, the answer to that question is probably, "Because they use fact checkers before they publish urban legends as true stories."
A quick check of "patricia harrington" on the Urban Legends Reference Pages (snopes.com) will reveal that this has been known to be an false story since at least April 2007. It is getting a lot of mileage, and is being passed around, by certain groups and individuals who feel that it helps make whatever point they are trying to make. Unfortunately, it's a lot of hooey. And now that it has appeared in the pages of the Citizens' Voice, it's a lot of hooey that people will mistake for truth.
In September we saw a business in Schuylkill County destroyed by another urban legend, the old "foreign-born storekeeper refuses to serve U.S. Servicemen." Even though this was soon shown to be an urban legend and a maliciously-planted lie, the damage was already done and the owner closed his store and left the state. (http://anothermonkey.blogspot.com/2007/09/urban-legend-destroys-local-business.html)
I believe that there exists a responsibility for all news outlets to verify the veracity of any information printed in their pages, whether it is news stories, editorials, advertisements, or letters to the editor. Otherwise there is a chance that they will be used as vehicles for spreading false and malicious information.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Raking, not baking
I tried to buy a bottle of brandy at a liquor store yesterday, but I got there ten minutes after they had closed. I planned to get out early today to get it, but then I remembered a stack of bills that needed to be paid by the end of the month, so I spent some time this morning making those out. By the time I was showered and ready to roll, it was nearly 2:00, and I had a birthday party to go to at 5:30. So I just had time to go to the post office, mail my bills, go to the liquor store, buy a bottle of brandy and a box of wine (blood donation in two weeks!), and then stop at my house across town to transfer some stuff from here to there, including some frozen food that we didn't have enough room for in our freezer here. While I was there I added more decorations to my Christmas tree. It's really starting to shape up.
I got home at about 3:30 and decided that I had just enough time to to rake the leaves which up until this morning had been buried under a quickly-melting blanket of snow. These included two bags full of leaves that had blown across the street onto my neighbor's yard. Hey, these are oak leaves - I'm not just gonna let somebody else rake them up! (To help make my point, as I was raking up the leaves I uncovered an earthworm who had apparently been nipping at their nutrient-filled goodness. I left the earthworm on my neighbor's tree lawn - I should have flung it into my yard!)
So the leaves are raked, but the cookies are not baked. The bills are in the mail, but the Christmas cards are not. The birthday party was fun, but the garbage still needs to be taken out.
By the way, there has been another death in my vicinity. The story is still unfolding. "Death in the Choir Loft" will have to wait until tomorrow.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
How NOT to deal with a customer
a) "Sir, we apologize for the problem. Perhaps it is a computer glitch. If you have another credit card you can use to pay your bill, you can use a phone at the Customer Service desk to contact Discover and rectify the situation."
b) "We don't take Discover. Never have."
I was just astonished that the woman who said this to me said this to me. I sputtered "But you do take Discover. You have always taken Discover." - to no avail. She just stared me down and repeated her assertion; clearly, I was wrong and crazy to have thought that I had ever used my Discover card while grocery shopping at the Weis chain. I cracked her skull open with a psychic pulse and read what was underneath: I'm too busy to deal with this crap. This isn't my problem, it's your problem, and I'm not gonna deal with it.
To say I was furious would be an understatement. Little things like this shouldn't set me off - I have a wallet with several backup cards, so there was no problem - but the matter-of-fact arrogant wrongheadedness of the woman's stance really pissed me off, as did her terse response to the girl at the Customer Service desk I went to question about this - who was as bewildered as I was with the sudden refusal to accept Discover cards, and the retconning of their credit card policy to somehow erase years of Discover card use. "Apparently, we've slipped into an alternate dimension," I told my mom as we left the store.
The folks at Discover were a bit bewildered, too, since they noted that my card is used roughly once every four days at Weis Market. (My mom has a copy, and she uses it for gas, groceries, and other necessities and non-necessities; this saves me the trouble of throwing her a few bucks every week.) When I told the security rep* at Discover about the "we don't take Discover, we have never taken Discover" assertion, she just laughed. "They can't change things just like that," she said.
So. A note for all you managers out there who deal with customers. Please don't just make up random assertions about company policy, and then treat customers - and Customer Service reps - like idiots for questioning these assertions. So you're having a rough day? Yes, we understand, we all have rough days from time to time. But that's no excuse for not showing customers and employees the respect they deserve.
*When your card glitches like this, it gets locked down, and the only way to get it unlocked is to call 1-800-DISCOVER, and be directed straight through to security by the flags that have just popped up on your account.
Monday, December 10, 2007
It didn't have to be like this. At 8:30 last night I was dozing in a lounger with the footrest raised, sitting on a back-massage pad with the heat option turned on, a kitten curled up and sleeping on my belly, watching snippets of "Tin Man" on the SciFi channel. (Doing this is highly recommended, by the way - well, all except maybe the "Tin Man" bit, which the jury is still out on. It disturbingly reminded me of the "White Dwarf" miniseries which I only saw in pieces some twelve years ago. Zooey Deschanel, who was brilliant in "Elf" and was one of the best things about the movie version of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", seemed pretty dull here, but Alan Cumming was typically brilliant and excellent as Glitch, and the Tin Man himself, Neal McDonough...well, if I were even slightly inclined to be attracted to guys, he's be right up there with Christopher Eccleston and...well, Alan Cumming.) But then I roused myself and decided to jump online and read the blogs, and write my own daily post.
I saved The Comics Curmudgeon for my last stop, because I figured I'd spend a long time there reading the comments. I was right - but not for the reasons I expected.
I went into a bit of a funk and wound up online for a long time. I signed the online guestbook at the funeral home for Al Scaduto, and mourned not just his passing but the general lack of note being taken of it by the mainstream media. Then I putzed around online for hours, chatted a bit, and nearly fell asleep several times.
I dragged myself off to bed at 3:00, my "Reset" function having been completed. It was no longer possible for my internal alarm clock to wake me up as it would on a work day. I could sleep as late as I liked.
I woke up just after 7:00 when my sister called. But I rolled over and went back to sleep. One of my cats became concerned some time later and woke me up by sitting on my head. The time was 11:12.
I haven't accomplished much today. Printed out my Christmas cards - some of them, at least. Finished the decorating here. Downloaded the Akbar font, one of the many things left behind on my old computer. Washed some clothes. Ummm...fed the cats outside. Spent too much time online. Chatted a bit.
Now I'm heading across town to spend the night at my house so I can do a bunch of things there tomorrow - and maybe make a few calls tonight. We'll see how that goes!
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Al Scaduto is dead
Many people seem to think that The Comics Curmudgeon is a mean-spirited site where people get together to cast aspersions on comic strips they don't like all that much. In reality, it's a community of people who love comics, headed up by blogger Josh Fruhlinger. In the fourteen months that I've been going there I've become far more interested in the daily comics than I ever was before, and I find myself reading the funnies with a newfound intensity. (On several recent occasions I have raved to friends and family members about things like the meticulous linework in the current Blondie strips!)
They'll Do It Every Time is one comic that has gone from being a target of derision and ridicule to a target of submissions from the Curmudgeon community. Many Curmudgeon-submitted ideas have been turned into cartoons, and many more are in the pipeline - including mine, which is scheduled for publication on January 18 of next year. I had planned on celebrating the occasion by having a picture taken of myself wearing a black sweatervest (the standard apparel in the TDIET world) and holding the published cartoon - and then sending it to Mr. Scaduto. Too late, now.
I hope he knew. I hope he knew what we thought of him, and how much we loved him. I toyed once with a submission that would blow the whistle on our community's Al Scaduto fascination, but then I thought No, he might be offended - and then I thought Heck, he probably already knows about us. Now I guess we'll never know.
Goodbye, Mr. Scaduto, and thanks for everything. We all die too young.
The Comics Curmudgeon: Al Scaduto 1928-2007
Biography of Al Scaduto (with self-portrait!) from the National Cartoonists Society (Reuben.org)
Appreciation from friend and fellow cartoonist Mike Lynch
Wikipedia entry for Al Scaduto
Saturday, December 08, 2007
I seem to remember that there's something special coming up on Christmas Eve, astronomically speaking. Or maybe that was last year. I'll try to look it up.
Friday, December 07, 2007
I walked into my work area this morning and saw the biggest man I have ever seen, training on my DVD presses. I kinda kept my distance in the morning, but I was able to check him out at the shift change at the end of the day - well, I had to, because his trainer wasn't there yet, so I had to give him the turnover. If you know me, imagine me sitting on my shoulders, and that will give you some idea of the immense size of this man. My eyes came up to about his chest level. I think that would put him at over seven feet tall, and he was probably closer to 500 pounds than to 300. He looked a lot like Jack O'Halloran did when he played Non in Superman II, or when he played Ivan in March Or Die.
I can't imagine he will be at all comfortable in this job. Besides all the standing, walking, and running, there is also a lot of stuff designed to be done at a comfortable height for someone between five and six feet tall; he will have to stoop to do these things. There's also a lot of finicky detail stuff that needs to be done in cramped quarters. Even I find some of these things at the very least annoying, and I'm pretty nimble. Can someone so much larger than me find a way to do these things without placing undue stress on his body? We'll have to wait and see how things work out for him.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Well, at least I got the cards mailed.
After we got back to the house the boys had some supper that my mom had had cooking in our BRAND! NEW! OVEN! and then they settled in for some homework and television while I got down to the serious business of chatting online and writing yesterday's blog post. As I was starting to begin thinking about possibly considering getting my butt up out of the chair, my mom's police/fire scanner lit up. "Do not use Hanover Street;" came one voice. "Use Market." A few minutes later: "Market Street is now a sheet of ice. Accidents all along Kosciuszko Street. Rescue vehicles are stuck at the following locations..."
Sometime after we got to our house the soft and gentle snow that had been falling for a while turned into something a little meaner. Now, little more than an hour later, Nanticoke's roads had become useless. Impassable. So much for doing anything across town.
My brother came to our house from work in his four-wheel drive truck, so he didn't have too terrible of a time navigating the roads. But I was not going to chance them in my Tercel. Besides, there was barely time to replace the old strand of big-bulb lights on the back porch with 120 blue LEDs, resulting in a total blue LED domination of my mom's Christmas lights. (The house now looks something like a crashed spaceship or an interdimensional portal. I swear these lights leak into the ultraviolet.) Then I had to make my lunch for today (which I ate around 5:30) and, as a final act, spread calcium chloride on our sidewalks.
Which meant that the sidewalks at my house went untreated.
At least, untreated until I got home from work today. This is a big disadvantage to this schedule: if you wind up doing something before or after work, something like shoveling snow or spreading salt, it means you have less time for your normal before- or after-work routine. Shoveling and brushing away the loose snow and spreading the salt on my sidewalks after work today meant that I got home half an hour later than usual. (I also had to stop for gas on the way home, so that didn't help.)
And now it's nearly 9:00 again. Time to make the lunch, pull out the clothes, and get myself to bed. Take care! I'll talk to you later!
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
What to Buy for Christmas: Emergency fire escape ladders
But it happened. It happened on December 21, 1994. It happened to Whim from The Babblings of Whimsicalbrainpan. If you haven't read her account of The Fire and its aftermath, please do so. Now. We'll wait for you.
OK, let's continue.
Douglas Adams said that predicting the future is a mug's game. Second-guessing the past is, too, but is even less profitable. What benefit can be gained by asking "You know what would have been great?" Unless you can somehow benefit from it in the future.
You know what would have been great? If Whim had had an emergency fire escape ladder available to her. These are compact devices designed to be kept at a window that can be used as an escape route. At first glance they seem expensive - a 3-story model on Amazon has a list price of $79.99 - but they are absolutely cheap when compared to the alternative.
How would Whim's story been different if she had been able to get 25 feet closer to the ground, 25 feet farther from her burning apartment? If she had been holding onto the rungs of a ladder rather than the windowsill of her apartment?
I hesitated to write this until I got Whim's permission. It's one thing to play the "What if this had been different?" game in general, but it's quite another to play it with someone else's life. But I really wanted to get this recommendation out there. And when I mentioned it to Whim, she gave her permission right away.
Not everybody needs something like this. Not everyone has a bedroom on an upper floor, or has no way of getting to the ground other than a precipitous drop. But for those who do, having an emergency means of escape can make a whole lifetime of difference. Please think about it.
UPDATE, 12/9/07: Aw, hell. I had the link to Whim's account of The Fire screwed up. It's fixed now.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
The Flaming Lips: Christmas At The Zoo
This song always has a bittersweet feel for me. I first heard it sometime between Christmas and New Year's Day back in 1995 - days I would traditionally take off from work whenever I could manage it. I was driving in Wilkes-Barre near Lee Park Avenue, having just been at Gema Comics, and I was listening to one of the many local college stations - most likely WUSR from the University of Scranton. Back then "college music" was still synonymous with "alternative music*", and hearing a song from a Flaming Lips album (Clouds Taste Metallic) that had just been released a few months earlier was not that unusual.
I remember the place I was the first time I heard this song because...well, that's how my memory works. I remember the time because "Christmas At The Zoo" had meant death for a lot of primates in Philadelphia a few days earlier. There had been a fire at the Primate House at the Philadelphia Zoo on December 24, 1995, killing 23 rare and endangered primates. While I had never been there, I found the incident shocking and saddening, and hearing a song about someone who deals with a snowless Christmas Eve by attempting (unsuccessfully) to free an entire zoo full of animals was somehow...hopeful, maybe? Relevant, perhaps. At the very least, it was an odd coincidence.
(If, by chance, the copyright holder removes this embeddable version of the video from YouTube, there is also an "official" but non-embeddable version here.)
*"Alternative music" had burst onto the mainstream with Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in 1991, though it had previously gotten considerable airplay on college and pirate radio stations for years. Of course, once it was mainstream, the "Alternative" title became somewhat invalid. Kurt Cobain abstracted himself from the scene in April 1994, signalling the beginning of the end of the era, and the Coming of the Pop Princesses in 1997 spelled the start of the final throes. The Alternative Era, by my reckoning, officially ended with the breakup of the Smashing Pumpkins in 2000. (The Pop Princesses, who appealed to both their own Generation Y demographic - which wielded considerably more buying power than the anti-materialistic, demographically insignificant Generation X that had embraced Alternative Music - as well as horny males from very other generation, may have effectively slowed or even stopped the collapse of the music industry, which had been undermined by both slowing music sales and increased music piracy, or at least forestalled it by a decade or so.) (Author disclaims any responsibility for damages resulting from attempts to diagram that last sentence.)
Monday, December 03, 2007
You hungry, You hungry, Your momma says you hungry...
This is just a bizarre little commercial for Hillshire Farm, maker of lunchmeat. I remember seeing it earlier this year and wondering how the hell these production planning meetings might have gone.
"OK, so there's this gal in an office..."
"Woman. Nobody says 'gal' anymore. It sounds like something you would have heard in The Boatniks."
"Never mind. Go on."
"Well, there's this gal - sorry, woman - in an office, at her desk, and she's making lunch. A salad."
"A salad? This campaign is for a lunchmeat company!"
"Right. And the mail room boy - sorry, mail room person - pushes his cart past, chanting "Go meat, meat, go meat, meat..."
"That's pretty weird."
"Oh, it gets weirder. 'Cause then this other guy pops up from nowhere next to the woman and starts doing a rap about how much better her salad will be if she just adds meat. And then other people join in, and start tearing the office apart while they rap."
"Any casting ideas?"
"Well, I was thinking we would get the weirdest-looking people possible to play the parts..."
Another, sharper version of the commercial can be seen here as TV Spot #3.
UPDATE, 12/4/07: Upon further review, this commercial actually appears to be for a Hillshire Farm pre-packaged salad - "Just add lettuce and you're done." I never realized that before. So the things the woman is putting on her salad are probably not croutons but some sort of processed meat product. This commercial very nearly commits the typical clever commercial sin of being so clever that you have no idea what product was being advertised, but saves itself with the chant at the end: "When I say 'Hillshire' you say 'Farm' - HILLSHIRE!" "FARM!" "GO MEAT!" Still not gonna buy the product, though.
UPDATE #2: Dammit, the title should be "Your momma says you hungry". I changed it from what it originally was, which was "Your momma said you hungry."
Sunday, December 02, 2007
A bit of weather
It snowed overnight. By this morning there were about four inches of packed powder everywhere. I expected it, and got myself ready early so I could leave earlier than usual. Typically I get to work 15 to 20 minutes ahead of the scheduled start of my workday, so I figured I would have at least a half hour of extra travel time.
It wasn't enough.
There were three hazards on the road today: cars driving too slowly, cars driving too fast, and the snow itself. The cars driving too slowly...well, they slowed things down, and forced me to use my brakes more than I would have wanted to use in this weather, which is not at all. The cars driving too fast would zip up behind me, often while I was trying to maintain a safe following distance behind the too-slow car in front of me, and then would pass me - all while the highway had little more than a single lane of usable surface with traction, usually right down the middle. And then there were patches where the road was simply nothing but tamped-down snow. Whether this was because these were areas where the snow had fallen after the plow trucks had gone through, or whether it was because the localities responsible for maintaining these roads, or maybe the state government itself, had decided not to bother with these sections of the highway, I do not know. Such considerations faded in importance each time I felt my car sliding sideways.
You might think that a large local employer like the one I work for might have some pull with the folks who make the decisions as to where and when to send out the snowplows and salt trucks, so that perhaps employees driving in to work or home from work at shift change time could do so on safe, clear roads and highways, but you would be wrong. The roads and highways within a mile of the plant were in some of the worst condition that I had seen on my entire journey in.
But I made it. Three minutes late, but not late enough to get docked. Next time, I guess I have to leave the house even earlier.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
Fun with math
I am currently making, as an hourly rate, approximately 0.66x what I used to make in my old job. This was determined by taking my total annual income from my last tax filing and dividing by 52 and then by 40. This number captured both "salary" and "bonus" income. However, in my old job, a 40 hour workweek was actually closer to 45 or 50 hours at work, not counting commuting. This is not to say that I did 45 to 50 hours of work each week. No. Large stretches of my time were taken up by waiting for responses from clients, ready to spring into action whenever - and if ever - they came in.
I now work a 4x4 schedule - four 12-hour days on, four days off. So while I work on an eight-day cycle, my pay is still based on a seven-day cycle, Sunday through Saturday. The upshot of this is that my paycheck alternates between four 48-hour weeks (Sunday-Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday through Wednesday-Thursday-Friday-Saturday) and four 36-hour weeks (Thursday-Friday-Saturday, followed by Sunday-Friday-Saturday, Sunday-Monday-Saturday, and finally Sunday-Monday-Tuesday.) Any time over 40 hours in a given Sunday-Saturday week is considered "overtime" and is paid at 1.5x the standard rate. The upshot of this is that there are actually four 52-hour paychecks followed by for 36-hour paychecks.
This week should have been a 52-hour Wednesday-Thursday-Friday-Saturday payweek for me, followed by a 36-hour Thursday-Friday-Saturday payweek - my fourth workday in the next rotation is Sunday, but that counts towards the following payweek. But in reality I am working Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday. This means I have worked 60 hours in the first seven-day week, which are worth 40 hours of straight time and 20 hours of time-and-a-half - 40 plus 30 hours, for a 70 hour paycheck. Next week, assuming I make it through the week, will be a 48-hour workweek that will pay 52 hours.
So for these two seven-day periods I will have earned 122 hours of pay, as opposed to the 80 hours of pay I would have earned in my previous job. But these 122 hours are at 0.66x my old pay rate. So, calling my old pay rate "r", instead of earning $(80 x r) I will have earned $(122 x 0.66)r = $(80.52 x r).
In other words, I broke even. So, if I work one day of overtime every rotation,, putting myself on a 5x3 schedule, I will earn as much money as I used to make...with a bonus of an extra half-hour of pay thrown in.
And run myself ragged in the process.