Thursday, July 31, 2008

Come in alone, 'cause I'm frail and bedazzled

I'm tired. Semi-cooked. I wasn't quite expecting to mow my lawn when I got home today, but I did anyway. The good news is, it hasn't been raining so very often lately, so the grass grew a lot less than it has in previous weeks. The bad news is, I had to water the plants at my house: two cherry trees, three Roses of Sharon, four sunflowers, five tomatoes, six blueberry bushes...hmm, that's an odd progression. Though the replacement cherry tree and two replacement blueberry bushes don't look like they're doing so well, so the numbers may not quite line up in the future.

I had the My Bloody Valentine song "Come In Alone" from Loveless stuck in my head as I wrapped things up, and I started to wonder how much Smashing Pumpkins were influenced by them. MBV has been called "the most influential band you've never heard of", and many bands trace at least some part of their heritage to them - especially to the Loveless album. If you don't have it yet, pick up a copy.

And if you have any chance of seeing them on the current tour - their first one in over fifteen years! - please do. And then tell me what it was like.

Here's the Smashing Pumpkins song "Frail and Bedazzled" in a fan-made video.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

St. Mary's Parish Festival this weekend, August 1 & 2

The Parish Festival for Our Lady of Czestochowa, Nanticoke, a.k.a. Saint Mary's, will be held this Friday and Saturday, August 1 and 2, 2008, at the Holy Child Grove in Sheatown (directions, sort of; these are to Guardian Elder Care, a nursing home located in front of the grove.)

Saint Mary's Parish Festival, or Church Bazaar, or "Picnic" (to use the more genteel term) used to be a thing of legend. For years these were held in the parking lot behind the church and school and were three-day events, starting Friday night and wrapping up Sunday night. Sounds of polkas could be heard for blocks around, and the smell of frying food permeated the area for days. Beer flowed like water, parked cars clogged the streets in the neighborhood, and young punks rubbed elbows with the elderly. Yet somehow, I never remember any fights or other disturbances.

2005 is the last year St, Mary's had a traditional Church Bazaar. November 2005 was the first time we had a Fall Festival, an indoor mini-festival. We didn't have a Church Bazaar or Fall Festival in 2006, but we did have a "Spring Fling" in 2007. There was no Church Bazaar in 2007. I don't recall if we had a Fall Festival in 2007, and there was no Spring Fling this year. But this year we are having a Parish Festival. It may be our last.

We won't be having the Festival at our traditional location this year because the hardware for cooking and serving food is gone from our parish. Discarded, perhaps, or sold. Maybe it was redistributed to another area parish, much like our traditional antique manger scene figures disappeared from Saint Mary's and mysteriously showed up this past Christmas at Holy Trinity down the street. Whatever the case, we no longer have the capability to hold a festival on our own grounds. So we are forced to hold the bazaar several miles away. All those people who used to walk from their homes to their neighborhood parish festival - well, too bad.

Not that it may matter soon. Parish consolidation continues under shutdown manager Bishop Martino, and St. Mary's is one of the parishes shortlisted for closure. It's not set in stone yet, though Bishop Martino has displayed a George W. Bush-like tenacity when it comes to sticking to decisions he's made. So in a few months, all of the Catholic parishes in Nanticoke may be crammed into a single church with poor handicapped access, no air conditioning, and an already-overcrowded parking lot. I wonder if maximum occupancy codes apply to churches?

Whatever. Please come to the St. Mary's Parish Festival this weekend. It may be the last one, ever.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Josh Fruhlinger has a Posse

Josh Fruhlinger has a Posse

OK, I guessed at Josh's height and weight based on his appearance on Jeopardy last week, where he towered over everyone else on stage by at least a foot. The image is, of course, an homage to the Andre the Giant has a Posse images.

My inspiration for creating this was the fact that I was stuck for about twenty minutes behind a meth addict in line at the grocery store today. (All the other lines offered even more horrifying options.) That's the sort of thing that makes me want to just go home and play with the Adobe PhotoDeluxe program that came with my scanner.

When I got home and checked my e-mail I was delighted to see that the amazing Dean Booth, master of post-publication comics modification, had accepted, finalized, and uploaded my latest humble effort. You don't have to be a fan of Mary Worth, or even be familiar with the strip at all, to get the joke: Mary Worth and Dr. Jeff go to a Concert.

UPDATE, 7/30/08: Based on feedback from Josh himself, I have corrected his height and weight - he was playing against tiny, tiny people on Jeopardy, and it is a tribute to his humanity that he did not simply crush them with his bare hands and claim first place for himself. I have also adjusted the image color to more closely resemble the Andre the Giant has a Posse image, and changed the font (mostly) to Akbar, which is based on Matt Groening's lettering in the Life in Hell comics.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Solar Eclipse, August 1, 2008

Image from the NASA Eclipse Web Site

If you live in a narrow band of the Northern Hemisphere extending from Canada across Northern Europe through Russia, Mongolia, and China (as illustrated above), you have a chance of seeing a total eclipse of the Sun this coming Friday, August 1. If you live in a much larger band that covers parts of extreme northeastern North America, much of Europe (sorry, Spain, Portugal, and southern Italy and Greece!), all of mainland Asia, India, and parts of the Arabian Peninsula, you have a chance of seeing a partial solar eclipse.

There's a lot of good stuff about this eclipse online. Rather than try to rehash it, I'll just point you to some of the sites:

NASA's Eclipse Page for the Total Eclipse of August 1, 2008
An excellent site with tons of images and links. Part of the NASA Eclipse Web Site.

Wikipedia page for Solar Eclipse of August 1, 2008
Well, it's Wikipedia, so everything should be taken with a grain silo of salt. Still, it has (at this moment) some nice animations and cool links. Including...

A very cool interactive Google map that shows you what you will see - and when!

The World Clock - for converting all those UTC timings to your own local time.

If you can see this, I encourage you to. Eclipses are rare and amazing things. Please share it with your friends. Just be sure to view the eclipse safely - except during those few seconds of totality, you need to protect your eyes from the sun's rays. Here are some ways of doing it.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

An Ode to China on the eve of the Beijing Olympics

My humble effort, a salute to China as it hosts the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing August 8th through the 24th. Permission is hereby granted for this poem to be republished, and I fervently hope it is distributed widely throughout China! I encourage others to express their sentiments in a similar manner!

An Ode to China on the eve of the Beijing Olympics

Finally you made it, and no one can deny
Rightfully you host the Olympics at last!
Every eye shall gaze, every heart shall thrill,
Every spirit soar as the Games begin!
Triumph of the nation that has shown the world
Indomitable spirit, unbreakable will!
Bronze and Silver and also much Gold,
Eternal glory awaits those who win!
To you, O China, let these Games bring much joy!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Yayyy, I'm in the club

I apologize for the poor quality of these photos,
but I was as close to this nest as I cared to get.

I was mowing the lawn at my mom's house when I noticed an insect on the lilac bush I planted about five years ago. It looked like a hornet, but it was black.


Oh, crap.

You know, if it weren't for Michelle I wouldn't know anything about these insects. And if it weren't for Mark I wouldn't appreciate just how dangerous these insects can be - assuming that they're the dreaded Bald-Faced Hornets. (Scroll down about 3/4 of the way on Mark's post to the part that begins with the words "It's not every day that" in pink.) I didn't scrutinize the insect closely enough to see if it had a white face, though the fact that I wasn't attacked when I mowed under their nest suggests that they may be a more relaxed sort of insect.

Whatever. Tonight, after sundown, they die.

  • Hat - check
  • Balaclava - check
  • Goggles - check
  • Long sweatpants and sweatshirt - check
  • Boots - check
  • Leather gloves - check
  • Position of cover and easy retreat - check
  • Can of spray Wasp & Hornet killer with 22 foot range - check
  • Lack of sufficient sense to leave this to a professional - check

I wonder if I should also deal with these guys, who are living just above my position of cover:

We'll see. Whatever. If I die, tell Keira Knightley I love her.

Update, 9:00 PM: I didn't die. I don't know if they did, either - the balaclava made my goggles fog up, and it was all I could do to be sure I was hitting the damned nest. I soaked it - I don't know if that does any good - and I made sure I doused the entrance. As it was after sunset, around 8:45, it was a little hard to be sure but I thought I saw a hornet come out of the opening and freeze there. The poison I used is an insect neurotoxin, I think, so hopefully I applied enough to poison the nest. I think I only used 3/4 of the can - I saved the rest to cover my retreat, just in case.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The beginning of the end

Throughout my childhood today marked an important turnover point. This is my grandmother's birthday. Every year on this day as much of the extended family as could manage would head over to her house for a party. She would make a cake for everyone, a two-layer version of her Marigold Glory cake with vanilla-coconut icing, and we would all sing "Happy Birthday to You" and "Sto lat" and then sit in the kitchen - around the kitchen table, in chairs scattered along the walls, on the piano bench pressed into service as seating for a group of kids, my grandfather enthroned in his rocker with his pipe - and have cake and ice cream and coffee. Then someone would start playing the piano, or my uncle would break out his accordion, and all the older folks would drink coffee and beer and sing Polish songs while the kids gathered around the TV in the next room to watch reruns of Star Trek or the John Pertwee-era Doctor Who.

A week later our Parish would have its annual Church Bazaar in the church parking lot just up the hill, but by then Summer would be well along its downward slide to the beginning of school. My grandmother's birthday was that turnover point where Summer began to end. It always snuck up on us unexpectedly; the days had been getting shorter for over a month, but at the same time they had been getting hotter. Suddenly we noticed the ripening grapes, the later sunrises and earlier sunsets, and the profusion of Back-to-School sales. September was on its way.

My grandmother died ten years ago this December. She fell a dozen years short of the hundred wished for in "Sto lat", but the parties had become more subdued events well before that. My grandfather, with his deep but raspy laugh, had passed on decades before her, and I'm not sure what happened to his original rocker. The piano has not been played as part of a gathering in many long years. I last heard my uncle play the accordion at his 25th wedding anniversary in 1997, eight years before he died. My aunt, his wife, now has the old kitchen table and chairs.

I have the house. And the piano, and the piano bench. And my grandfather's rocker, if it's still in the house. I put one of my own in the vacant spot it had once occupied several years ago, and I replaced the kitchen table and chairs and even the "extra" chairs.

The grapes are having a bad year. Partly that's my fault - I wasn't aggressive enough about pruning them, or weeding below them, or spraying them with fungicide early enough in the season. Partly it's due to the hot, wet summer we've had, which has produced ideal conditions for black rot on grapes. Still, a few may make it through to Labor Day this year, just like they did last.

Purple grapes, rear arbor, August 31, 2007

Our Parish will have its Church Bazaar next weekend, though not in the usual location. Someone sold off all of our heavy-duty cooking gear some years ago, or relocated it to some location where it is shared with other Parishes in the city. The 2008 St. Mary's Church Bazaar will be held on the grounds of the Holy Family center August 1-3. This may be the last year for this Church Bazaar, as this may be the last year that St. Mary's exists as a Parish.

The days will continue to get shorter, and the nights will get cooler, and school will begin before Summer has a chance to truly end. And we will be able to look back on this day and say, "There. That was where it all started to go wrong. That is where Summer began to end!"

Happy Birthday, Babki.

Sto lat, sto lat,
Niech żyje, żyje nam.
Sto lat, sto lat,
Niech żyje, żyje nam,
Jeszcze raz, jeszcze raz, niech żyje, żyje nam,
Niech żyje nam!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

...or is McCain just delusional?

From the Associated Press:*

McCain credits Bush for drop in oil price

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (AP) — Republican John McCain on Wednesday credited the recent $10-a-barrel drop in the price of oil to President Bush's lifting of a presidential ban on offshore drilling, an action he has been advocating in his presidential campaign.

The cost of oil and gasoline is "on everybody's mind in this room," McCain told a town-hall meeting.

He criticized Democratic rival Barack Obama for opposing drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf.

Bush recently lifted the executive order banning offshore drilling that his father put in place in 1990. He also asked Congress to lift its own moratorium on oil exploration on the outer continental shelf which includes coastal waters as close as three miles from shore.

"The price of oil dropped $10 a barrel," said McCain, who argued that the psychology of lifting the ban has affected world markets.

Barron's derided McCain - and all politicians - for expressing the belief that they are somehow responsible for the ups and downs of the oil market. (Note that sections of the Barron's report look like expanded and rewritten sections of the AP report. )

Unfortunately, I can't find a complete version of McCain's quote. I thought I heard it on a news insert on NPR's Morning Edition today, but I can't find it now. Local NBC affiliate WBRE had an exclusive** interview with McCain that contains the first half of the quote (from 1:04 to 1:09). I'm wondering if that's the source of the quoted statement in the AP article.

UPDATE: Not that I'm advocating violence against a Presidential candidate, but John McCain says the incredibly brickable phrase "It is what it is" three times in less than 20 seconds, at 1:47, 1:53, and 2:04.

UPDATE, 7/26/08: That George Bush is a genius! Gas prices dropped to $3.92/gallon at Sam's Club in Wilkes-Barre on Thursday, and were $3.88/gallon yesterday!

...or was it McCain's speech that drove down prices?

...or maybe Obama's European tour?

...or perhaps the solar eclipse coming up on August 1, visible in a very limited area in far northern Europe?


*Note: MSNBC, CBS, and countless newspaper outlets have simply parroted the AP story. Another story referred to the "junior varsity press corps" being sent out to Wilkes-Barre. So much for the hard-working folks in the mainstream media. "Oh, it's in Wilkes-Barre? We'll just run the wire report. Send Willy if he's done inventorying the stockroom."

**As Jennifer pointed out in the comments, local ABC affiliate WNEP also had an interview with McCain while he was in the area, though I didn't find that one while hunting on YouTube. I guess what set me off was the claim by CBS that Katie Couric had an "exclusive" interview with McCain - the juxtaposition of the headline with the AP article on McCain's visit made me think they meant "exclusive while he was in Wilkes-Barre", but I see now that the line says "spoke exclusively Tuesday to..." What the heck makes something "exclusive", anyway?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

John McCain thinks you are very, very stupid

Why else would he approve this ad?

Narrator: "Who can you thank for rising prices at the pump?"
Chanting voices fading up: "OBAMA! OBAMA! OBAMA! OBAMA!"

Fade up picture of Emmanuel Goldstein - oops, sorry, Barack Obama.

From the Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice:

With Arizona Sen. John McCain scheduled to campaign today in Wilkes-Barre, Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign on Tuesday attacked a new McCain television commercial airing in Pennsylvania that blames the Democratic presidential candidate for high gasoline prices.

To rebut the commercial, the Obama campaign called on U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, who called it “particularly pathetic.”

...Casey said the ad is “misleading” and has “some gross misstatements of fact” that no one will believe, considering Obama has served fewer than four years in Washington.

“I think John McCain should demand his money back from his media consultant,” Casey said. “For John McCain, who’s been in Washington for 26 years, to blame rising prices at the pump on Barack Obama is really ridiculous. And it shows the kind of desperation usually you don’t see in a campaign until late October when things aren’t going real well.”

The McCain campaign declined to say how much it is spending on the commercial or where it is airing.

“What’s particularly pathetic is Barack Obama’s continued opposition to exploring for more domestic energy sources and providing a temporary gas tax holiday for hardworking families,” said Paul Lindsay, a McCain spokesman, in an e-mailed statement...

"No, we're not pathetic, you're pathetic!"

The really pathetic thing is, some people will actually fall for this crap.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Jonathan Alter: Autotroll

I don't know if the word officially has some other definition, though with any luck (and the grace of the editors, who I trust will correct an egregious typo), this definition will soon appear on my list of defined terms on Urban Dictionary:

1. Someone who makes deliberately inflammatory or outrageous statements on his own website or other forum in order to attract attention and/or traffic.
2. The act of making such a statement.

Johnathan Alter autotrolls by attacking bloggers in "All Umbrage All the Time" just to get bloggers to talk about his article and link to it.

Alter's article appears on page 29 of the July 28, 2008 edition of Newsweek. It also appears online on Newsweek's website, though I won't drag Alter down to the level of us mere Netizens by providing a link.

Not only will I not drag Alter down into the digital mud with the rest of us, I also won't burden his employer's servers with what little traffic I might send their way by way of a link. I still get the occasional hit for my link to Newsweek essayist Anna Quindlen's "Write for Your Life", in which she wistfully calls for...well, I'll let you read that post in case you're interested. Let's just say that the answer to what she's calling for is a four-letter word that starts with "b" and ends with "log", even though she herself never uses the term, or shows any awareness of such a thing. Still, here's an excerpt from what Alter wrote, the thing that set me off:
Bloggers rarely pick up the phone or go interview the middle-level bureaucrats who know the good stuff. It's a lot easier to chew over breaking stories and bash old media. Where do they get the information with which to bash? Often from, ahem, newspapers.
Alter weasels out of being held to this statement with the qualifiers "rarely" and "often." Oh, folks like Gort and Mark Cour and David Yonki go out and do their own research, conduct their own interviews, establish their own networks of contacts? Blog entries that they write are regularly pirated, plagiarized, and republished as "exclusives" and "scoops" by the local mainstream media? Well, pshaw, they're the rare exceptions! Them, and hundreds of thousands of other hard-working bloggers like them.

Alter's whole tone is one of Old Media good, Blogging bad, and who can blame him? With the blogosphere thick with writers that put him and Anna Quindlen and George Will to shame, it is entirely possible that one day Newsweek will look at its balance sheet and ask, "Why are we paying these people the money we're paying them?"

Magazines are destined for the recycling bin. Newspapers are pressed into service as fish-wrappers and puppy-trainers. Radio and television broadcasts escape into the aether and are gone, unless someone deliberately records them. But words on the Internet have an enormous staying power, as many an impetuous writer has learned to his regret.

Ironically, Alter's words on the printed page are destined to grace the bathrooms of many a subscriber for the next few weeks until they are unceremoniously gathered up and put out for recycling - except for those few copies that will grace the waiting rooms of doctors and dentists and car-repair shops for decades to come. But the online version of his article, the version preserved on the Internet that he despises so much, has the potential to float around in some form for much, much longer.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Comics Curmudgeon is in Jeopardy!

...or should I say on Jeopardy. And by "The Comics Curmudgeon" I am not referring to the site itself, but rather to the blogger and founder of the feast, Josh Fruhlinger.

From this post:

...Tuesday, July 22, your humble blogger will be appearing on the game show Jeopardy! Will it be the first installment in an epic Ken Jennings-style saga of money-winning, or will I flame out ignominiously on the first try? Does Alex Trebek secretly share my love of Rex Morgan, M.D.? Do I at least wear a nice tie? Tune in to find out! The show is syndicated, so check your local listings for time and channel. And, if you happen to live in Baltimore or not too terribly far from it, feel free to join me and my friends as we watch the show. We’ll be at P.J.’s Pub at 3333 N. Charles St. in Charles Village — right across the street from Hopkins Homewood campus and next door to Barnes and Noble. In Baltimore the show starts at 7 p.m., but we’ll be gathering starting at 6 p.m. for pizza and booze!

Josh is personally responsible, by way of his site, for rekindling interest in the funny pages in a lot of his readers, including me. He's also very funny and very smart. Here's hoping he was given categories like "Mark Trail's World of Nature", "Advice-Spouting Biddies", and "Afflictions Visited by Tom Batiuk Upon His Creations."

As Baltimore is approximately 3.5 hours from where I work and I don't get out of work until 4:30, I'll have to catch Josh on TV here...or, if the weather holds up, I'll catch him on videotape after I mow the lawn. Here's retroactively wishing you good luck, Josh!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The sky was gold

Gold sky at sunset
July 20, 2008
Nanticoke, PA

Title reference: Third Eye Blind's "Semi-Charmed Life"

Apollo 11 lands on the Moon: July 20, 1969

Image from NASA's JSC Digital Image Collection

Thirty-nine years ago today, humans first set foot on another world.

I'd love to post a video, but YouTube appears to be down at the moment (9:37 AM, July 20, 2008). And the NASA folder of Apollo 11 movies is currently empty. What's up with that? I'd make a joke about NASA faking the moon landings, but some people take that "Moon Hoax" crap seriously. Oh, well, you can go here to see everything NASA has online about Apollo 11.

UPDATE: You can go here and select images and video from many NASA missions, including Apollo 11.

UPDATE 2, 4:40 PM: YouTube is up again. Maybe it was never down for anyone except me. Michelle has reminded me of the site, which I'll have to check next time. Here's one of the many relevant videos.

If I didn't make it perfectly clear in my post about Tasmin Archer's song "Sleeping Satellite", the "eagle" to which she refers in the third line is the Eagle, the Apollo 11 lander. I suppose I could have saved that post until today, except I didn't even realize that today was the anniversary until I saw it on one of my many calendars. Also, with YouTube down, there wouldn't be much to post.

I have created a new label called "The Moon" for all of my posts about the Moon. I've only re-tagged about half of the relevant posts as of this writing, but I'll keep working on it.

Phil Plait has a post commemorating this event over at Bad Astronomy.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Another Monkey Consumer Price Index, 7/19/08

Here's the second edition of my personal Consumer Price Index, the list of how much I paid for common things. See how your prices compare!

Today's currency conversions, according to

$1 =
  • 0.50033 GBP (British Pounds)
  • 0.63080 Euros
  • 1.00568 Canadian Dollars
  • 1.02805 Australian Dollars
  • 5.07950 NOK (Norway Kroners)
  • 106.965 Japanese Yen
  • 1,154.35 Iraq Dinars
  • 5,200.05 Turkmenistan Manats
  • 18,681,527,512.36 Zimbabwe Dollars
7/14/08, 87 octane, Sam's Club, Wilkes-Barre PA: $3.999/gallon
7/18/08, 87 octane, Sam's Club, Wilkes-Barre PA: $3.979/gallon

From Weis Market, Nanticoke, PA, 7/15/08:

Milk, 2% milkfat, half-gallon: $1.94
Dozen Eggs, size "Large": $1.50 / dozen (sale price, normally $1.77 / dozen)
Bread, Maier's Italian Seeded, loaf (1 lb. 4 oz., or 567g): $3.19

Orange Juice, house brand, half-gallon: $2.50

California Celery, 1 stalk: $2.69
Cherries: $3.99 / lb. (sale price, normally $4.99 / lb)

Whiskas Cat Milk: $1.15 / container

From Gerrity's Market, Hanover Township, PA, 7/19/08:

Apples, Macintosh: $3.49 / 3 lb. bag
Cherries: $3.99 / lb. (sale price, normally $4.99 / lb.)

Whiskas Cat Milk: $2.99 / 3-pack

Haircut, $10 plus $2 tip
(This is from the last barber in Nanticoke. He runs an old-fashioned barber shop, but only keeps it open for a few hours each week. He's older than he looks but younger than he seems.)

First Class Stamps, 42 cents each

Shaving Soap, Williams brand, 1.75 ounces: $1.49
Shaving Soap, Van Der Hagen brand, 2.5 ounces: $1.99
(I bought two of the Williams and one of the VDH. I had a little scare when I walked into the drugstore and didn't see any shaving soap, or brushes either. But then I saw that they had actually been relocated to a higher, more visible, more accessible shelf. Still, I bought two cakes of the Williams - all that they had - and one of the VDH. This should last me at least a year. How many cans of shaving cream would I go through in that time?)

How do your prices compare?

Roll out the Barrels...of Bloggers

There are three major blogging conventions going on this weekend. I am at none of them.

Tiffany from If I Were Queen of the World is at the BlogHer convention, the annual meetup for bloggers of the female persuasion, which is being held in San Francisco. She is traveling in the company of Missy from Australia, who blogs at Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch. You can follow along on their adventures on their blogs, or get more frequent updates from Tiffany's Twitter thing.

From BlogHer's mission statement:

Founded in February 2005 as a labor of love by three bloggers, BlogHer's mission is to create opportunities for women who blog to pursue exposure, education, community and economic empowerment. Today BlogHer provides the number-one community for and guide to blogs by women, via annual conferences, a Web network (, and an advertising network of more than 2,200 qualified, contextually targeted blog affiliates ( BlogHer Inc. is owned by three co-founders and has backing from Venrock (

(Tiffany's site is using an emergency backup template, since someone hacked her original site at around the time she was leaving for BlogHer and took it down. She's been able to get it up and running again, but a lot of the customizations are gone.)

Austin, Texas is playing host to two diametrically opposed blogger conventions this weekend, as I first learned from this report on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday. On the Left, Liberal (or Progressive) bloggers are gathered at Netroots Nation (formerly YearlyKos.) From their website:
Netroots Nation amplifies progressive voices by providing an online and in-person campus for exchanging ideas and learning how to be more effective in using technology to influence the public debate. Within that campus, we strengthen community, inspire action and serve as an incubator for progressive ideas that challenge the status quo and ultimately affect change in the public sphere.
Across town, Conservative bloggers are meeting at the euphemistically-named Defending the American Dream Summit, sponsored by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which appears to be primarily an anti-environmentalism group . From their "About" page:

Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFP Foundation) is committed to educating citizens about economic policy and a return of the federal government to its constitutional limits. AFP Foundation’s educational programs and analyses help policymakers, the media, and individual citizens understand why policies that promote the American enterprise system are the best method to ensuring prosperity for all Americans. To that end, AFP Foundation supports:

● Cutting taxes and government spending in order to halt the encroachment of government in the economic lives of citizens and pointing out evidence of waste, fraud, and abuse.
● Removing unnecessary barriers to entrepreneurship and opportunity
● Restoring fairness to our judicial system by stemming the tide toward “over-criminalization” of economic activity spurred by over-active attorneys general.

I wonder how effective these summits are at increasing the connectivity of the blogospere and improving the overall quality of the global conversation? Or do they just degenerate into a bunch of drunken bloggers and their friends singing "Bohemian Rhapsody" in a variety of keys? Not that there's anything wrong with that...

Title Reference: Mark from Wilkes-Barre Online answered the question "What do you call a group of bloggers?" in the title to this post. Because every blogger, boy or girl, Liberal or Conservative, is just another monkey with a typewriter.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Tangerine Moon

Tonight is the Full Moon. And more than that: because of the geometry of the Moon's orbit, tonight is the lowest Full Moon - the lowest possible, I believe.

This means that tonight's Moon will never rise high above the Southern horizon. With mid-summer moisture in the air and lots of smoke particles from the wildfires out West suspended in the atmosphere, this means that the Moon is robed in an orange haze tonight as its light tries to pierce the thick layers of the atmosphere and get to my eyes - or in this case, the lens of my Nikon Coolpix L4.
The Moon, July 18, 2008, 10:28 PM

Dull as it was, the light was still overwhelming to the imager in ISO-speed format, when the lens remains open long enough to let what the camera judges to be an adequate amount of light fall on the charge-coupled device that records the image. So I had to do my usual trick of putting the camera in Sports mode. This results in a lower-resolution image taken at a faster shutter speed.

To get the image I needed to rest the camera on a stable platform. But the Moon was just so ridiculously low, my usual platforms - car roofs and the arms of Adirondack chairs - would not work. So I had to resort to extreme measures, and rest the miniature tabletop tripod on the ground. Good thing the grass isn't high enough to block the lens.

Hazy Moon and unidentified star

If you missed it, it's not too late. The Moon will be very low in the South for the next few nights, though you'll have to stay up later and later to see it!

Lolly, lick a lolly!

I'm sure there's something else I should be writing about, but I just too tired to think right now.

This damned song has been caught in my head for over a week. I'm glad I looked it up, because it turns out I'm not the only one. Plus, the video is far more bizarre than I remember.

"Lolly, Lick a Lolly" from The Electric Company

If you imagine this music playing at half-speed, it seems almost majestic.

Keep in mind, this show was from the early to mid 1970's, and was targeted towards kids who had outgrown Sesame Street but were still open to educational television programs. The people who made it weren't stupid or naive. American society was just starting to recover from all the things that were the 1960's, and these people had been through them. Of course they knew how strange and suggestive this video was, but they did it anyway.

For some reason this song reminds me of the sections I think of as "The Processional" from the instrumental "The Brazilian" from the 1986 Genesis album Invisible Touch - starting, for example, at the 1:12 mark.

Now that I've written this, maybe this song will GET THE HELL OUT OF MY HEAD!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Songs about surprising things: Tasmin Archer, "Sleeping Satellite"

Tasmin Archer, "Sleeping Satellite":

I blame you for the moonlit sky
and the dream that died
with the
's flight

I blame you for the moonlit nights
when I wonder why
are the Seas still dry?

The lyrics to this song aren't exactly subtle. But most people hear it as a song of a romance gone wrong - not as a criticism of the abandonment of the manned lunar exploration program. Which is what it is.

Did we fly to the Moon too soon?
Did we squander the chance?
In the rush of the race
the reason we chase is lost in romance?
And still we try
to justify the waste for a taste of man's
greatest adventure...

I mean, really. But it was not until years after this song had been off the charts that my sister pointed out to me what was being said here.

Have we lost what it takes to advance?
Have we peaked too soon?
If the world is so green
then why does it scream under a blue Moon?
We wonder why
if the Earth's sacrificed for the price of its
greatest treasure?

So what possessed Tasmin Archer to put these thoughts to music? Most people don't realize that the point of the space race wasn't about space, or putting dogs or monkeys or people in space, or even landing on the Moon. It was about us showing them damned Russkies that we could launch a missile and put a payload any damn place we pleased - even on the goddamn Moon! Take that, Ivan! Maybe the next one will be right in the middle of yer commie Red Square!

And when we shoot for the stars
- what a giant step! -
have we got what it takes
to carry the weight of this concept?
Or pass it by?
Like a shot in the dark miss the mark with a
sense of adventure?

And once we showed 'em it could be done, it was pretty much all over. Oh, sure, we did it again and again, but in the end the final Apollo missions generated about as much interest as a rerun of a third-rate movie of the week. Been there, done that, got the moon rocks and the jar of Tang.

I blame you for the moonlit sky
and the dream that died
with the
's flight

I blame you for the moonlit nights
when I wonder why
are the Seas still dry?

So what happens next? We hear a lot of talk about new missions to the Moon, and Mars, and beyond. But what's driving that? Who is the current officeholder trying to impress with all that? And will there be any follow-through in the years to come?

Who knows? We'll see.

Don't blame this sleeping satellite...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Milkshakes, and the drinking thereof

Me: I drink your milkshake!
My friends' four-year-old-daughter: I drink your milkshake!
Me: I drink YOUR milkshake!
Her: I EAT your milkshake!
Me: If you have a milkshake, and I have a milkshake, and I have a straw that reaches acrosssssssss the room...
Her: That's not a straw, that's your finger!

...which would have been an excellent retort in There Will Be Blood.

As America is entering the early stages of the coming Resource Wars, increasing attention is being paid to the availability of alternative energy supplies. Many parts of Northeastern Pennsylvania contain a geological formation called the Marcellus Shale which has generated a lot of interest since it may contain deposits of natural gas. Companies are seeking to enter into lease agreements with landowners for the right to extract any natural gas found on their property. I think anyone thinking of entering into one of these agreements would be well-advised to watch There Will Be Blood first.

Heck, maybe someday I'll even watch it.

There Will Be Milkshakes

There Will Be Pokémon

Saturday Night Live: I Drink Your Milkshake (with special guest star Anton Chigurh from No Country For Old Men, another movie I haven't seen):

(In case I manage to make that disappear again, the site where I hound this video is here.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

All a-Twitter

I went to visit some friends in the Poconos this weekend, for the first time in several months. I had a great time there. When I got back I went online to do my obligatory daily blog post, and then did my obligatory blog checks. (These are obligations only to myself, but obligations nonetheless.)

While on Charon Henning's Odd Angel Studios something in the fine print on her sidebar caught my attention. It was her Twitter display:

On the road at a truck stop outside Wilkes-Barre. If I had known I would have contacted you Databoy! Perhaps on our way back? - 05:49 PM July 09, 2008 from web

Arrgh! Charon and Alexander had blown through the area, on the way to a Renaissance Fair or some such event, and I had missed them! But now, thanks to her Twitter updates, I knew I had missed them!

Twitter is a cool idea for those people for whom it is somewhat applicable. It is a way of giving a moment-by-moment instantaneous account of your life - which is nice if you're, say, Tiffany, travelling to BlogHer, meeting Aussie superblogger* Missy at the airport. So the last few entries on Tiffany's Twitter go something like this:

supertiff I have secured a very pricey margarita to accompany me while a wait 4 missy to get through customs.

supertiff Has missy been flagged as a terrorist? Still waiting at the airport.

supertiff Man, i wish i could blog right now. Why has no one bought me a laptop?

supertiff And still waiting. I think they're taking her to gitmo.

supertiff Missy finally made it. We're back @fcm's, drinking wine. Can see ggbridge from the window!

But for others of us, or for those same people in other circumstances, it would be an agonizingly dull exercise.

Driving to work. 14 hours ago

Working. 13 hours ago

Driving home. 5 hours ago

Eating dinner. 3 hours ago

Updating my Twitter while posting a blog entry. 2 minutes ago

...which is pretty much what my blog sounds like most days! Good thing I don't send text messages on my cell phone, or things could be a lot worse.

*What makes her a superblogger? I dunno, I just like the sound of "Aussie superblogger."

Monday, July 14, 2008

How do you say it?

Phil Plait posted a tongue-in-cheek entry on Bad Astronomy about the proper pronunciation of the word "kilometer."* This put me in mind of an article I read in the September 1999 issue of Astronomy magazine - apparently "The Art of Skyspeak" by Bob Berman. Or maybe not. Bob Berman is something of a populist when it comes to astronomy, the very opposite of a snob, and this article was very snobbish when it came to the proper pronunciations of stars like Vega and Betelgeuse. As I said on Phil Plait's site and on this entry on, I don't really care how people pronounce these things, as long as they're talking about 'em! Besides, I doubt anybody gets all the details on pronouncing ancient Arabic words exactly right.

This also got me thinking about some other stuff. When I was at Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Sciences back in 1984, our Organic Chemistry professor (I forget his name) would always stress to us the importance of "woRshing" our glassware at the end of the lab. It was the first time I had ever heard the word pronounced "woRsh" (emphasis on the hard yet nonexistent "R"), but not the last. I assumed this was a regional pronunciation, possibly from Pittsburgh, but I have a local friend who says the same thing, even in the context of "WoRshington". I also have friends in New Jersey who speak of buying cabinets with "draws" in them (what we know as "drawers"), and local friends who laugh at me when I speak of washing "clothes" instead of "cloes".

Today I caught a bit of an NPR report about a tiny community somewhere in the Appalachian South that was entirely dependent on Federal subsidies for growing tobacco. When these subsidies went away, the community was faced with an economic crisis: no one had any work skills that didn't involve tobacco agriculture. The bottom line is, the community got itself online and learned all about computers and the Internet.

My problem with this report comes at the end, when the woman doing most of the talking to the NPR reporter refers to "BRAW-bah" (second "a" pronounced like "pants") connections. Sorry, hon; you haven't even owned this word for five years. That's hardly long enough for you to slur your pronunciation. It's "broadband".

So are there any pronunciations that drive you up the wall? Others that you're willing to live with? And where do you draw the line?

*If it seems like I'm citing Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy a lot lately, maybe it's because it's one of the few blogs I link to that's getting updated regularly. There are others. Gort is automatically putting up a daily post even while he's on vacation (which makes me suddenly wish he had a post scheduled that said "OMG, can you believe the stupidity that came out of Dubya's mouth today?! ROFL!" - which would probably apply whatever day it appeared.) The Comics Curmudgeon continues at full speed, though I am now several billion comments behind and could never possibly catch up.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Winners and losers

There's something about life that favors the daring, the risk-takers. It's something that's been built into humanity and other species by selective breeding down through the ages. It's certainly not the only mating strategy driver out there, but it is something that comes into play in both individual relationships and society as a whole. Timidity has its place, and sometimes even its own rewards, but a willingness to take a risk is much more often celebrated and admired.

I've written before about a personal theory of the role luck plays in evolution, and the way evolution selects for luck: there are certain apparently vestigial organs that seem to serve no other purpose in humans than to kill us if they become diseased (like the appendix) or damaged (like the spleen). In both cases there appears to be some evolutionary value involved: if susceptibility to diseases that affect organs like the appendix is the sort of thing that is likely to be passed on to offspring, deaths from conditions like appendicitis will tend to reduce the passage of these genes on to future offspring. Similarly, if an organ like the spleen can be damaged by dangerous and excessive risk-taking, then deaths due to damaged spleens eliminate those individuals likely to engage in patterns of behavior that result in damaged spleens, reducing the likelihood that they will pass on any such genetic or behavioral proclivities to their offspring.

I believe these theories fall into the category known by respectable scientists as "crackpot." But maybe not.

Someone removed himself from the gene pool this weekend. A 19-year-old was skateboarding in a parking lot at a school about 500 feet from where I'm sitting, a parking lot with "NO TRESPASSING" and "NO SKATEBOARDING" signs. There were not, however, any "NO HOLDING ONTO THE BACK OF A CAR WHILE RIDING ON A SKATEBOARD WITHOUT ANY SAFETY EQUIPMENT" signs, but if there were he would have ignored those, too, since that is what he was doing when he sustained a traumatic head injury last Friday afternoon. Heroic efforts were made on his behalf. A LifeFlight helicopter made the all-too-frequent hop from the airport in Avoca to the Nanticoke baseball field. But he died anyway.

I want to be snarky. I want to say "Well, he'll never do that again." But people knew this guy, and cared about him. And he's dead now. I guess that's always the case. Well, almost always.

Life rewards risk-takers. Women swoon over daring, adventurous males. TV shows earn huge revenue showing people doing stupid, dangerous things.

And every once in a while, somebody rolls snake eyes and comes up a loser.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

YouTube Weekend: U2, "Night and Day"

I spent too much time in the sun today. This whole week, really. Wednesday afternoon mowing my lawn across town, Thursday and Friday afternoons mowing my mom's lawn and weedwhacking, this morning pulling weeds and transplanting tomatoes at my mom's, this afternoon planting tomatoes and sunflowers at my house, spreading mulch on everything, using up the water from the rain barrels, and finally filling and putting out the hummingbird feeder. So now I'm cooked, literally. Red enough in parts. Good thing my Farmer's Tan (and baseball cap) kept me from getting too burned.

I managed to not get a haircut today, so I'll carry around this shaggy mane for a while yet. I don't think the heat is going away anytime soon. If I had more confidence in the longevity of the electric clippers we have here, I might shave it all off again myself, for the first time since August 1998. Hmmm...once a decade isn't so bad...

YouTube Weekend time: I'm an old U2 fan from the early days, back when Bono was Bono Vox and only diehard fans knew his secret identity as Paul Hewson. This song feature's all of Mr. Hewson's vocal acrobatics. It's from the Cole Porter tribute/AIDS benefit album Red, Hot + Blue. When I first saw this video on the TV special connected with the benefit, it was introduced by Kyle MacLachlan, who started out doing something bizarre involving bird calls somehow related to a Cole Porter song.

I love the way everyone else in the band looks bored and disgusted. I'm wondering if any of them actually played the music in the song: the music all sounds synthesized, and the drums sound looped. (Until 2:33, then we actually see them playing their instruments instead of just holding them, and then it actually sounds like The Edge's guitar work.) There's also a great part (from 1:37 to 2:20) where Bono, standing next to Adam Clayton, steps forward to sing a verse, then steps back, then steps forward again to sing the next, almost as if to say "Oh, there's more? I forgot." Still, none of the attitude seems ad-libbed. I'm not sure what they - or director Wim Wenders - were getting at. In any case, I really like this song, and this version of it.

U2, "Night And Day":

Friday, July 11, 2008


Of all of us who made up the 80 of '84, Nkechi was the one I found the most interesting.

Others smoldered with obvious scientific talent; a few had been tapped by the D.o.D. to work on special projects in the coming year. Everybody in the group was well above average intelligence, near the upper percentiles of any such measurement. Our games of Trivial Pursuit were something to see. Many of us were exhilarated to be in the company of 79 other people we could relate to completely, to be able to express ourselves without the constant self-censoring we needed to do to get along in our High Schools. Some people were more socially awkward than others, but there was not a dullard in the bunch.

But Nkechi stood out. She carried with her more than just the superior intelligence which was common to our group, more than just all the beauty that could be stuffed into the body of a sixteen-year-old girl. She had a grace, a charm, an elegance, an exuberance. She was more wildly alive than most of us, and more expressive by far; she clearly embraced both the artistic and the scientific, the creative and the analytical. I made sure I got her phone number before we split up in August of 1984.

I spoke to her once afterwards, later that Summer or maybe in the following school year. I don't think she was at our reunion in the Summer of 1985, the only reunion we have had as far as I know. I thought about her from time to time but never put my people-finding skills to work finding her, not until a few years ago when I chanced upon her name about three layers down on a multiply-forwarded e-mail that had been sent to me by a major new client, finalizing their specifications. Her name was there as a name only, no e-mail address attached. I mentioned her in one of our getting-to-know-you conference calls, but the lead person at the other end thought it was very unlikely that she would have been at Carnegie-Mellon University in 1984 - the person she knew of by that name would have only been about seventeen. "Sixteen, actually," I replied, but let it go. The climate was not conducive to pursuing it further.

I tried looking her up online, the first time I had ever thought to do this. This was three or four years ago. I didn't find many definite hits, though it did look like she had provided a voice for a video game. Not much to go on. Was she perhaps a video game designer?

The other day, inspired by the events described here, I decided to look her up again. I found her Facebook site. I looked further.


Yes, it's her. I've verified her identity several different ways. She has a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, but it looks like after that she pursued studies in more artistic fields. It looks like she's based out of San Francisco now, which is a hell of a lot farther away than her old hometown of Philadelphia.

I still haven't gotten in touch with her. She has a bunch of ways of getting in touch with her, but I haven't done any of them yet. What would I say? I suppose I could start with "Hello."

Here are some links to her site. I'll leave you with some videos of Nkechi performing.


Nkechi's blog

Videos from her site:

"In Its Entirety"

Jam: "We Beauty"

So I wonder what the rest of the Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Sciences Class of 1984 is up to?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Little Tin Gods

OK, I just mowed half the lawn, with a conference call thrown in halfway through, and I think I breathed in a lot of pollen, so I'm not operating at full power here. Detailed information about the friend I rediscovered after so many years will have to wait a bit.

So in the meantime, I'm just gonna repurpose an email exchange I had with Michelle from

Gort and I have been updating NEPA Blogs lately after several months of relative inactivity. Michelle has been suggesting blogs and whatnot. As election season rolls around, a few politically-minded folks may decide to try to put a positive spin on their candidate online. Well, there's one place they shouldn't try that...

Subject: I thought this was a pretty interesting article...

Not necessarily a NEPA related article, but it still could apply here if anything thinks about doing it.

Whack-ipedia: No campaigning allowed at site, candidate finds,0,316108.story?track=rss


My response:

Yeah, I love Wikipedia's "bias" rule. I suppose entries on September 11 have to give equal space to the "controlled explosion from within" theory. Articles on terrorism must say something nice about terrorists for every bad thing they say about them. Wikipedia is a silly little site patrolled by dozens of little tin gods.*

I have no great love for Wikipedia. Sure, I reference it all the time because it's there, and more importantly because it often provides a useful jumping-off point for serious investigations into topics. But I find its pseudo-scholarly, faux-authoritative tone exasperating. Its "bias" rule is applied, like many of its rules, in an almost completely arbitrary fashion. It's funny to find an entry about a topic you're familiar with and then watch it evolve over time from something generally informative and correct to something almost completely detached from reality, presented in a tone that suggests it was written by a deranged ivory-tower academician rather than, as is more likely the case, a 13-year-old kid with a lot of computing firepower but no real knowledge of the subject.

This reminded me of something else:

Speaking of little tin gods...

I was following links to sources of information about the js3250.dll bug on Firefox - still my #1 traffic generator! - and I came across this forum thread.


Person A says "To fix this, do X." (X = "set a fresh copy of js3250.dll to 'read-only.'"

Person B responds with "How do I do X?"

The moderator comes on and says, "Person B, you must start a new thread if you want to ask how to do X."

Person C comes along and says, "Oh, person B, it's easy to do X. Just do this and this and you're done."

Moderator comes on and chews out Person C for being defiant and violating the rules of the forum by challenging a moderator's decree.

Pathetic. "Yes, I could answer your question, but you're standing in the wrong line. You need to be in that line over there to ask that question."

What fun.

*Where does this phrase come from? I know it from an episode of Star Trek, where Dr. McCoy accuses Captain Kirk of behaving like a "little tin god." Wikipedia is, unsurprisingly, of little help; at the moment, it lists three entries on a disambiguation page for "little tin god" : an African dance band, a Don Henley Song, and an episode of Highlander. At this time there's nothing in the discussion section for this phrase, but that may be because someone decided that the discussions weren't following the Wikipedia rules for discussions, and removed them. I've seen that done.

...hmmm. I've found a use of that phrase from 1959, several years before Star Trek came on the air.