Thursday, April 30, 2009

Garden dug

Here it is, the garden that took so long and so much effort to dig. I overestimated its size; according to the tape measure I used yesterday, it's only 4' x 14'. I was a foot off in both directions! But I actually made a conscious effort yesterday to make it no wider than my digging board, which is only four feet across. (Guys always overestimate size; that's why the motto of carpenters and Rabbis alike is "Measure twice, cut once!") I still have room to expand the garden to the east, towards the house, and maybe I'll do that this Fall.

I have to confess: I got tired - or maybe just lazy - and didn't double-dig this garden, may John Jeavons forgive me. I just used my U-bar to loosen the top ten inches of soil. Next year I can do a double-dig, now that I have the sod layer removed. I should have plenty of good compost to incorporate by then.

Maybe it was too early to seed the garden. I don't know. Just for the hell of it, I planted sunflower seeds all along the northern edge yesterday (the nearer long side) and broadcast radishes and carrots onto the far side - which, it turns out, will be in the shed's shadow in the last hours of the afternoon. (Even if all of them die or get eaten, I still have plenty of seeds left.) The tomatoes will get everything else when I set them out in a few weeks. I also plan to give away my extra plants.

Some of my leggy tomato seedlings didn't survive, and many others didn't germinate yet. I transplanted six or seven of the healthiest-looking seedlings into deeper pots with only a little bit of the stem above the organic potting mix and set them on a sunny windowsill. I also added more seeds to the seed starter. I'm hoping some of these tomatoes survive!

Meanwhile, my grapevines were practically leafing out by the second. I've removed all of the Black Rot mummies from the vines and the ground. Soon I should give the vines their first dose of antifungal spray. I want grapes, lots of grapes!

Sideshow events this weekend in Pennsylvania!

Can't wait six more months for Sideshow Gathering 2009? Don't feel like taking advantage of Free Comic Book Day? Not planning to hang with the cool kids at Mark's Pub for the Kentucky Derby?

Well, that's OK. There are other events going on this weekend that are not to be missed!

Zamora the Torture King

In Philadelphia, Zamora the Torture King (seen here at the 2007 Sideshow Gathering) will be performing at the M Room, accompanied by Red Stewart, the World's Oldest Sword Swallower! From the announcement on Facebook:
Start Time: Saturday, May 2, 2009 at 9:00pm
End Time: Sunday, May 3, 2009 at 2:00am

Location: The M Room, 15 W. Girard Avenue, Philadelphia, PA
View Map - Google - MapQuest - Microsoft - Yahoo

Phone: 215-739-5577

Cost: $10.00

Zamora the Torture King, the classic modern day sideshow performer is back in Philly for ONE NIGHT ONLY! After a run at the World Famous Coney Island Sideshow, Zamora makes his only other east coast performance at the M Room (15 W. Girard Avenue, Philadelphia PA 19123)! Also performing is the legendary Red Stewart, the World’s Oldest Sword Swallower! Don't miss this rare chance to see these two sideshow legends perform together in such an intimate setting!And if that wasn't enough, we've got a sexy fire performance by Philly’s own Hellbent as well as the Girls with Strip for Pain: America’s Most Dangerous Game Show, hosted by Doug Sakmann!

The Magic of Steve Hyde and Melanie

Don't feel like going to the City of Brotherly Love? Fine! The Magic of Steve Hyde and Melanie (seen here at the 2008 Sideshow Gathering) will be performing their brand of classic stage magic, up-close magic, and escape artistry at Knoebel's Amusement Resort in Elysburg, PA (directions) this weekend at the Roaring Creek Saloon (first show at 1:00.) It's Scout Day at Knoebel's on Saturday, so I'm hoping Melanie keeps a sword from her Sword Box routine handy for dealing with any unruly Boy Scouts!

There's a misconception out there that the sideshow is dead, history, a thing of the past. It's not. Odds are that wherever you live, there are some fun and exciting sideshow acts being performed not far away! Go and give them your support!

Calling all NEPA Bloggers!

Attention all Northeatern Pennsylvania bloggers, blog readers, blog fans, groupies, stalkers, and people who just wanna hang with the cool kids: Gort has officially announced the 12th annual get together of the Saturday OT Committee and Operatic Society to watch the Kentucky Derby! Over the last few years this has evolved to include a loose and disorganized gathering of NEPA bloggers. All are welcome!

The event is scheduled for Saturday, May 2 starting at 4:00 PM (Kentucky Derby post time is 6:04) at Mark's Pub, 1287 North Washington Street in Wilkes-Barre (click here for directions).

Raisin Brahms

I just saw this for the first time yesterday and I nearly plotzed. It took me a while to realize that this wasn't a breakfast cereal commercial, by which point the ad had just gotten funnier and funnier.

Somehow it reminded me of this commercial for Minute Maid orange juice:

...though I seem to remember the line "Academy Award-nominated actor Robert Loggia."

Billy, your mother's right, and your father's a weak pantywaist who's trying to reason with a smart-mouthed bastard like you and shoulda just told you to shut the hell up and drink your damned orange juice, and if you ever talk back to your mom like that at the breakfast table again you'll be drinking all your breakfasts through a straw. Yeahhh. Enjoy your breakfast.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sunglasses, weather fronts, and apologies

A note to myself:
The Wal-Mart clip-on sunglasses I wear are amber Solar Shield size 52 rec(2), where the (2) is a superscript suggesting "squared." These are actually slightly rectangular ovals. I bought three pairs two years ago for $9.46 each, at a time when I really couldn't afford such an extravagance. I have since lost two of those pairs somewhere in the house. On a trip to Wal-Mart yesterday I found that they don't have much of a selection at this time, they don't have my size, and the price for comparable clip-ons is now $13 - a 37% price increase in two years.

A note on the weather:
Temperatures have dropped at least twenty-five degrees since this time yesterday. This drop came all at once, early yesterday evening. Apparently temperatures were higher than I thought when I was working outside on Monday - up to the mid-nineties (Fahrenheit; 33-35 Celsius.) Today I plan to finish the garden and mow at least one lawn.

A note to someone special who I think left a note to me on her blog:
Message received. I have sent you an e-mail response, but I have no way of knowing if you got it. I am hoping you will see this:

Thank you. You are one of the few people who has been in such a situation and given me such an acknowledgement. Most of the others have simply moved on and, presumably, forgotten about me. I was assuming you had done the same. I am only sorry that I have caused you to feel guilt or anxiety.

So do me a favor? Stay alive. I don't know what paths life will lead me down, nor do I know yours. But I still hope that someday our paths WILL cross. Stay alive, and that will continue to be a possibility. Do that for me, OK? We'll see how the rest goes.

Feel free to get in touch with me any time you want. Please.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Free Comic Book Day is Saturday, May 2 2009

From the Free Comic Book Day website:

What is Free Comic Book Day?

Free Comic Book Day is a single day - the first Saturday in May - when participating comic book shops across North America and around the world give away comic books absolutely FREE* to anyone who comes into their stores.

*Check with your local shop for their participation and rules.

Click here to locate a participating comic book store near you if you live in the United States or Canada.

Or click here for everywhere else!

Need more convincing? Well, here a famous Broadway star and host of the Academy Awards explains it all to you...followed by a trailer for a movie about some guy named Wolverine!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Garden status: 80% dug

Well, actually a bit more than that. My primary goal for today was to dig a garden over at my house across town. By hand. This would have been a difficult activity at any time, but temperatures in the high 80's (Fahrenheit; 30-32 degrees Celsius) made it even more so, and also slightly dangerous. I had to take frequent breaks for water and cooling off.

Unfortunately, I found that my sod lifter was not very effective for what I was trying to do. I wound up using a square spade to cut a perimeter for the garden, about five feet by fifteen feet, and then cut the garden int0 foot-wide strips. I then started peeling off the sod using the spade, and continued by hand - the soil is good, fluffy stuff, and let the sod go relatively easily. Unfortunately the sod came off in chunks, not neat, easily-rolled strips. I tossed these aside into a pile as I went, shaking the soil from the roots and squashing any Japanese Beetle grubs I came across in the process.

I only made it four-fifths of the way across when my designated quitting time of 3:00 arrived. So I finished the row I was on, dumped the wettest bag of partially-decomposed leaves I could find onto the newly-exposed soil, and then topped this off with the chunks of sod, turned upside-down. For now the garden looks like a chaotic mess, but it should look nicer when I'm done with it. The sod with have the rest of its soil shaken out, the leaves will be dug into the garden bed, and the worms will churn up the soil as they eat the leaves. The leftover grass will go into the composter. Assuming I can salvage my tomato seedlings - which suddenly went all leggy since the last time I saw them - I will have a garden full of tomatoes (well, tomato plants) in a few weeks!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Moon, the Pleiades, and Mercury, April 26,2009

I started taking pictures almost as soon as I got outside tonight. My first few shots were out of focus, as the camera seemed to be having trouble focusing at infinity with the sky so bright. But after twenty minutes or so, I was able to get the image from which the detail above is taken at 8:33 PM. The essential elements are visible: the slim crescent Moon, with its dark regions lit by reflected Earthshine and faintly visible; the Pleiades - some of the brighter ones, anyway - directly below and to the right of the Moon; and Mercury, lower and farther to the right.

Eleven minutes later, at 8:44, a very good balance between sky brightness, crescent brightness, and faint detail visibility was struck.

A close-up of the central portion of the image above. Now the details on the dark part of the Moon are more clearly visible, as are the Pleiades and bright Mercury, just disappearing behind a tree. I needed to change my vantage point shortly after I took this photo.

An even closer close-up of just the Moon and the Pleiades. Surprisingly, the Pleiades photographed better with bright skies than with dark.

A detail from another image showing the same general scene, but from ten minutes later, at 8:54 PM. At this point Mercury is about to disappear behind the rooftops across the street. I was able to extend my viewing session a bit by moving uphill and then shifting from side to side until Mercury appeared between the rooftops. But by a few minutes after 9:00, Mercury had passed from view entirely.

Some, but not all, of my photos seem to show Mercury as a disk. But is this legitimate? At last we have a basis for comparison: the Moon and the "disk" of Mercury in the same image, as in the one above.

I was disheartened by the fact that Mercury appeared to be in much better focus than the larger Moon. This alone suggested that this disk was not the result of exceptional optics, but rather represented an out-of-focus blur. Still, I was able to select both the image of the Moon and the image of Mercury to compare sizes. These two images - resized for presentation here, but retaining the same relative proportions - are shown below.

The original image of the Moon fit within a 200 x 200 pixel box, while the original image of Mercury fit into a 27 x 27 pixel box - a size difference of only about 7.5 times. Did the Moon really appear only 7.5 times as wide as Mercury on April 26,2009, around 8:50 PM? That's something I need to look up.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, no. The Moon has an apparent angular diameter that varies from 29.3 to 34.1 arcminutes, according to Wikipedia. From the same source, the apparent angular diameter of Mercury is from 4.5 to 13 arcseconds. As there are 60 arcseconds in an arcminute, the Moon's apparent diameter is from 1758 arcseconds to 2046 arcseconds. So the size ratio of the Moon to Mercury goes from a minimum of 1758/13 = 135.2/1 to a maximum of 2046/4.5 = 454.67/1. A bit more than 7.5/1. So it looks like I'm not really resolving the disk of Mercury with my Nikon Coolpix L4 after all!

Am I imaging Mercury as a disk?

Last night I did a little experiment to try to determine if the circular appearance of Mercury in my images is actually due to the extended nature of Mercury as a planet, or if this was some sort of glitch with my Nikon Coolpix L4. I worked on the assumption that any such glitch would not be consistent at different zoom levels. So I decided to take a sequence of images at a series of progressively higher magnifications, using the tripod to maintain the same image and the self-timer (which has a ten-second delay) to eliminate any vibration caused by clicking the shutter button.

I took a series of nine images, one of which I displayed in the previous post. This is the original, unzoomed image, taken at 8:47 PM. Mercury is barely visible in the larger version you'll get when you click through.

I zoomed in a step, pressed the button again for the delayed shutter release, and took the next image. I repeated this process with each step. As the process went along, the sky grew darker and Mercury sank lower and farther to the right. This is the fifth image, taken at 8:48 PM:

The ninth step was the maximum zoom I would get without kicking in the "digital zoom." I'm not quite clear on how the zoom feature works - while my camera claims a "3x optical / 4x digital" zoom, and through this sequence I believe I only used the optical zoom, this final image is about 10x the size of the first image. That is, while the unresized version of this image covers 31.556" x 23.667", a crop of the first image covering approximately the same area (using the branches and wires as a guide) is only 2.986" x 2.181". This last image was taken at 8:50 PM:

Here is the whole sequence, cropped and resized to only include enough of the branches to give a reference for comparison. It is easy to see the darkening of the sky and the downward / rightward motion of Mercury from the first image to the last.

It is also apparent - to me, anyway - that the disk of Mercury remains roughly consistent throughout this sequence, despite the differing zoom levels throughout.

Which still proves nothing. Only one test will really be valid. Mercury subtends a known amount of sky at any given time - 8.7" on April 30, according to Astronomy magazine. The Moon also covers a known span of sky, though I don't have that figure at my fingertips. Tonight, if conditions permit, I will get a series of pictures of the Moon and Mercury together. Will I be able to use these images to directly compare the angular sizes of Mercury and the Moon? If I can, then this will tell me if I'm actually imaging the disk of Mercury - or if I'm just seeing a glitch in my camera. Stay tuned!

Mercury from Dover, PA, Saturday, April 25, 2009

Mercury is just outside of the branches of the tree, at about the 9:30 - 10:00 position. You may need to open the larger image to see it. This is just one of twenty-eight images I took last night, including a sequence of identical images at different magnifications, and some comparison images of (I think) Rigel - which should have appeared point-like at any magnification, but also appears as a disk. So I'm going to sit down with my images and try to decide what is real and what isn't. I just thought this one was pretty. Maybe I'll post some of the others later.

Full disclosure: I retouched this image slightly, to remove what must be a dead pixel that was hanging out under the wires and appeared as a white cruciform surrounded by green. Maybe it's time to start pricing new cameras!

PLEASE TRY TO SEE TONIGHT'S MOON-MERCURY-PLEIADES CONJUNCTION, AROUND 8:30 - 9:00 LOCAL TIME, LOW IN THE WEST AFTER SUNSET! If you've never seen Mercury before, this may be your best chance to see it!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Off to play

Let the vacation officially begin. I'm off to play games with some friends.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Items checked off (and added to) the list, Friday, April 24

Things accomplished:

- With my brother (and my brother's truck), hauled eight (or was it ten?) bags of partially-rotted leaves to my house to use in gardens.
- Hauled U-bar digger and mattock over to house across town. (Good Lord, I've spent a lot of money on gardening tools.)
- Mowed lawn at my mom's house. Included two stops to disassemble and repair lawnmower. At least now I know what is wrong with the mower, why the reel kept slipping and why the right wheel wasn't driving the reel at all. (It involves stripped plastic gears.) My fix using duct tape held longer than my fix using aluminum foil, but I should see about getting replacement parts.
- Washed three loads of laundry (two bedding, one towels) and hung on line to dry.
- Moved a load of concrete pavers and cinder blocks.
- Made first contact with the litter of feral kittens sheltering under my wheelbarrow. The black one with blue eyes seems particularly fierce.
- Mulched the hell out of the largest and most productive blueberry bush, using one bag of leaves and all of today's grass clippings. The bush now looks like a tree growing out of a volcano.
- Got a sunburn.

Things added to list:

- Put bird netting on cherry trees well before Mother's Day.

I also need to buy more clothesline, but that can wait.

Mercury, April 24, 2009

I went outside tonight to try to get images of Mercury again. I tried to work out its location based on that star chart that I posted yesterday, and realized after a while of searching in vain for the Pleiades that I was looking way too high - and was staring at Capella in Auriga. I decided to think things through logically: if the young crescent Moon would be appearing near Mercury in two nights, where would it be? I started scanning low on the Western horizon - and bingo, the Pleiades popped right out. So now it was just a question of finding Mercury...and there it was, right over my neighbors' rooftops.

The photo above is unretouched, but has been reduced from its original size of 31.556" x 23.667" to a more manageable 10" x 7.5", so one critical detail is lost: in that photo, like in ten out of twelve of the images I took of Mercury, the planet itself appears as an extended disk.

I don't know if this is an artifact, or something real. I know I have artifacts in my images, but I have reasons to believe this is legit. Here's one of them: the picture below was one of several I took with the "digital zoom" kicked in.

And the image below is a cropped, resized portion of another image, with the foreground houses to approximately the same scale. This image was taken three minutes after the previous one, and from a different angle. (I cranked up the height on my tripod as far as it would go.)

...all of which probably proves nothing, as the digital zoom is essentially the same as a manual crop and resize. I suppose what I should have done is backed off the zoom a little and gotten an image, and then compared the relative sizes of Mercury to the relative sizes of the houses.

If I did really and truly image Mercury as an extended body, I would be truly amazed. I don't think I've ever tried photographing Jupiter. If these images are true, then Jupiter should look enormous!

I need a reality check here: Is this circular image actually the size that Mercury appears in the sky, or is it some artifact generated by my Nikon Coolpix L4 trying to process the light of Mercury?

Mercury Setting: Conjunction of Mercury, the Pleiades, and the Moon April 26, 2009

NOTE: Aaaargh. I typoed "Pleiades" in the title. I fixed it, since it doesn't change the URL.

Mercury is in the final act of a month-long show that I have completely failed to mention until now. While it is several weeks past its brightest appearance, it will be giving a special performance this Sunday, April 26th, as it is joined low in the Western sky by a slim crescent Moon and the Pleiades, in an event best visible around 9:00 PM your local time.

Jack Horkheimer, Star Gazer: "Mercury At Its Best For 2009 Joined By The Moon And The Seven Sisters - Plus Celebrate National Astronomy Day On Saturday May 2nd!" - See Mercury, the Moon, and the Pleiades together in the night sky

Here is an illustration (stolen from the article) of the event as it will appear on April 26, 2009:

I decided to try my luck Thursday night at imaging Mercury without the Moon to serve as a convenient guide. I had a general idea of where it would be in the sky, but wasn't sure which of the tiny little lights that I was seeing in the twilit sky was actually Mercury. After a while of receiving odd looks from passers-by, I went back inside to wait for the sky to darken a bit.

Even at 9:00 the sky was not dark enough for me to clearly distinguish what I was seeing. So I did the same thing I did when searching for Comet Lulin a while back: pointed the camera in a general direction, opened the shutter, and hoped for the best.

Here is the image that resulted. I have increased the contrast to bring out the stars more clearly. Two features are fairly easy to see here, at least in the larger image you can get by right-clicking on the picture and opening it in a new window or tab. The first is the partially-obscured constellation Orion dominating the left half of the sky.

Orion the Hunter. Note bright Betelgeuse at the top, the triangular
grouping of stars forming Orion's head at the upper right, the three stars of
Orion's belt in the middle, and the three stars - well, star, nebula, and star -
that form the sword in the lower left.

The other is the V-shaped asterism called the Hyades, which forms the head of Taurus the Bull*, on the lower right just above the closest rooftop.

The Hyades, the face of Taurus. Aldebaran glows red at the top left
of the V, marking the position of the bull's eye. Mars's path through the
sky occasionally places it in the Hyades near Aldebaran, giving the appearance of
Taurus having two red eyes. This is considered an astrologically
auspicious time to start wars. The first Gulf War was launched while Mars
was in the Hyades. Perhaps Ronald Reagan left a few of his Court
Astrologers around the White House to advise his former Vice President.

Unfortunately, overlaying a star chart (from revealed that I was somewhat off the mark here. Mercury, indicated by the blue circle on the far left of the chart, was lurking somewhere behind the house, as were the Pleiades. At least I have a better idea of where to look next time!

If you can, and if you have clear skies on the night of Sunday, April 26th, please try to see this beautiful conjunction. Let me know if you do!

*Fun fact: Taurus is actually only the front end of a bull, apparently charging out of the dome of the sky!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Items checked off (and added to) the list, Thursday, April 23

Things accomplished:

- Mowed my lawn across town.
- Assembled and positioned a composter.
- Transferred a sod lifter from here to there.

- FAILED to make a lunch date with my old professor, because he and the other professor I was hoping to meet with, who I first spoke to at a professor's retirement party last year, are leaving for Europe tomorrow. Maybe for a conference, maybe to hitchhike from brothel to brothel, I'm not sure. Today they were at a Solar Scholars event, which is exactly the sort of thing I'd like to talk with them about.

New items added to the vacation checklist:

- Buy insecticide for killing Carpenter Bees that are eating my garage.
- Kill Carpenter Bees that are eating my garage.
- Plug up entrance holes for Carpenter Bees yadda yadda.

Unfortunately, the bees are already active. Well, maybe what I saw today were just Bumblebees and not Carpenter Bees. Either way, I was kinda hoping to catch them while they were still in a state of cold-induced inactivity. I'd rather not be up on a ladder when I discover that I've been misinformed about the lack of stingers on Carpenter Bees.

The State: The Complete Series

JULY 14, 2009

This was a brilliant sketch comedy series which ran from 1993 to 1995 on MTV. For much of the time since, fans have clamored for it to be available in a home video format. Rumors have emerged again and again that an announcement was just over the horizon. And now, finally, we have it.

Until then, enjoy these official videos from the website:

THE STATE: Amish Gang Fight

THE STATE: $7000 Pyramid
Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen on a game show. Best. Spit-take. Ever.

THE STATE: $240 Worth of Pudding
Barry and LeVon get busy with two hundred and forty dollars worth of pudding.

The State's Official Website

The State Full Episode Videos, Show Synopsis and Recaps, Cast Bios, Photos, Trailers, and Message Boards MTV

The State (TV series) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Almost missed this one

I'm coming in just under the wire for technically getting in a post today - which means starting the post, not necessarily finishing it.

It's not like I don't have anything to post about. I have a lot. I just don't know what to say or do first.

And it's not like I haven't already written a post today. But that one won't appear for another three months and six days - well, five days from the moment I'm writing this. I'll see if it's still appropriate then. Or if I've forgotten by then. In which case it will be a lie.

Ticked a few things off my list today. Took my mom for a medical procedure. Got a haircut. Ordered her Mother's Day gift.

I did a few other things, too. Took some detective work as far as I plan to take it. Basically crossed a boundary today. I don't plan to go any further.

I didn't put much thought into Earth Day. I've always thought of it as being like National Brotherhood Week: set aside a designated time to care about something so you don't have to care about it the rest of the year. That doesn't actually get the job done. Ask Kayak Dude.

I happened to be in the parking lot of the Wilkes-Barre Township Wal-Mart this afternoon, and it was full of damned dirty hippies and their tie-dyed forms of transportation. The Dead - the remaining members of The Grateful Dad, plus a few new members - were in town today. And I watched a new phenomenon, as my cousin and his friends essentially live-blogged the set list to his Facebook account as the concert was in progress. The world is sure a different place from the first time I went to a major concert, a mere fifteen years ago.

Tomorrow is yard work, weather permitting: mow my lawn across town, and maybe this one too. Make arrangements to meet one of my Physics professors for lunch to talk about questions of the past, present, and future. See about getting a load of topsoil delivered here next week. Maybe make some other plans. Pay some bills.

So that's it. Now, I'm going to check some mail and my friends' Facebook updates.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

YouTube Weekend (sort of): Black Betty

Well, it's probably not a weekend for you, but it is for me. My four day shift is over, and I'm starting a stretch of twelve days off. I'm also heading into my twenty-seventh hour of wakefulness. If I stay up a little bit longer maybe I'll reset.

I've been meaning to post this song for a while, and now seems as good a time as any. "Black Betty" has a long and murky history, involving Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter, 20th century American folk music, and possibly an even earlier origin. (I would include a link to the Lead Belly version here, but the video I found online has had the audio stripped out as part of the WMG/YouTube pissing match.)

I've heard two versions on the radio. The older one is by the band Ram Jam, who turned the song into a sort of hillbilly rock / hard rock fusion in 1977. As far as rock versions of this song go, this is the original.

The more recent version is by the Australian band Spiderbait. Released in 2004, it uses vocal distortion and a more hard-edged beat, but still retains the rockabilly influence. This was the version I first heard in late December 2004 while driving to Ohio to visit a friend. I heard it again on May 21, 2005 on a jukebox at the Lift Inn in Lenoxville, Pennsylvania while Blue Sundaze was taking a break between sets. Derrick the drummer briefed me on the history of the song there. This is a non-embeddable video, so right-click to open in a new window or tab.


Monday, April 20, 2009


One last day - well, night - of work to go, and then I'm off for a stretch of twelve days. I have plans for these days: some fixed, some modular and flexible. We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday I will come home sore and tired in the morning. Tuesday is the day I usually take my mom grocery shopping. It's senior citizen's day, and there's a 5% discount. But I may be too sore and tired to take her, in which case she'll probably go by herself. UPDATE, 4/21/09: Done. One checkmark down!

Wednesday my mom has an appointment scheduled that I have to take her to. It's around noon, though, so I should be up before then. (4/22/09: Check.)

Saturday I'm going on a roadtrip with a friend to see some other friends. I think. (Yayyyy, 4/25/09)

Sunday I plan on going to church at one of the local churches that will be closing soon. (Check, 4/26/09)

Sometime else in this stretch of days I plan to do these things:

- Have lunch with one of my old professors. (POSTPONED, 4/23/09)
- Get together with a friend who is in town for a few weeks. (Yayyyy, 4/27/09)
- Get a load of topsoil delivered and use it to create slopes around our foundation to make sure rainwater drains away from the house, not towards it.
- Mow the lawns at both my house (Check, 4/23/09) and my mom's house (Check, 4/24/09), at least once.
- Dig one or more gardens at my house. (80% done, 4/27/09) (Completed, 4/29/09)
- Assemble composter (a big plastic box with a removable lid) and install on yard. (Check, 4/23/09)
- Check condition of tomato seeds. If they have sprouted, move to sunny location. (Sprouted and leggy, 4/27/09)
- Coordinate with my brother to move several bags of oak leaf mold over to house, as well as several gardening tools. (Check, 4/24/09)
- Start additional seeds: cucumbers, sunflowers, lettuce.

ADDED, 2:40 PM (because I just remembered when I woke up):
- Get a haircut (4/22/09: Check.)
- Get a Mother's Day gift (a portable television that receives DTV signals - anyone have any recommendations?) (4/22/09: Check.) (Arrived, 4/24/09)
- Go to Free Comic Book Day on May 2, possibly with a friend whose son has just gotten into Wolverine.

I'll keep you posted on how much of this actually happens!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Diocese of Scranton, on a budget

I'm going to bed soon. There's something I want to post about, but I'm too tired to do it justice. Here's the short version:

Yesterday the Diocese of Scranton announced how far behind it is in its annual fund-raiser - formerly Peter's Pence, then the Bishop's Annual Appeal, now "Our Grateful Faith." Non-Catholic drivers along interstate 81 in Northeastern Pennsylvania may be aware of this fund-raiser, since the Diocese bought long-running ads on the video billboards along the highway. I'm not sure at whom these billboards were aimed, since any church-going Catholics were already aware of the appeal through announcements at church, and non-church-going Catholics (or non-Catholics overall) were probably not going to dig very deep for money to hand to the Bishop.

Bishop Martino admitted that the economic downturn, which is hitting Northeastern Pennsylvania particularly hard, is most likely the cause of the reduced donations. And in the next breath, he calls upon individual parishes to lean more heavily on parishioners to get them to cough up more donations.

But the Diocese has already closed most of the local Catholic schools, sold off most of the Catholic hospitals, and is in the process of shutting down a considerable number of Catholic parishes. Surely operating expenses must be down? At a time when most individuals are being forced to do more with less, can't the Diocese even manage to do less with less?

If the Diocese of Scranton needs to learn to live within its income, then perhaps the Bishop needs to seek advice from those who have long known how to do this: the people of the Diocese of Scranton. And I am sure that there are more than a few financially-skilled individuals in the Diocese who would gladly go over the Diocese's books, line by line, to review revenues and outlays and make recommendations for making adjustments to stay within budget. It's the sort of advice that the Diocese in recent years would have gladly shelled out large sums of parishioners' donations to pay for - much like the very expensive studies that determined both school closings and parish consolidations.

Times are tough. Revenues are down for everyone, and everyone must learn to live within a budget. If the Diocese of Scranton, with its expenses greatly reduced through closures and consolidations, cannot figure out how to do this, then it must seek the advice of those who already know how.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

YouTube weekend: Heavy and Cortez

Half of Blue Sundaze was also two-fifths of 3 Brix Shy. Both bands are primarily cover bands, though 3 Brix Shy did have one original song that they would play from time to time. I know a recording exists of that song, somewhere.

One of my favorite covers of theirs was one that they only played two or three times. It was Collective Soul's "Heavy", a guitar-intense, techno-flavored song. Here is a live performance by Collective Soul:

Blue Sundaze has taken to ending their shows with Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer." Their performance completely blows away any version I have heard by Neil Young. Maybe that's just the power of live music! Here is audio of Neil Young playing this song (which clocks in at 8:30), accompanied by a fan-made slideshow. Better to just catch Blue Sundaze whenever they play live again and hear it for yourself!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Blue Sundaze at King's College Chapel, 4/16/09

Blue Sundaze played at King's College again last night. This was the first time I had seen them play since their performance there last year. In fact, it was the first time I had seen any of them since their performance there last year.

That kinda shocked us a bit. I've been in touch with Rose through Facebook for the last few months. I exchanged e-mails with Derrick (the drummer) last December after learning of the death of our friend and fellow Physics major Sheena. It just didn't seem like a year had passed. In past years I wouldn't go more than a few months without seeing them perform.

There was a good crowd in the little room in the King's College chapel. This was a good thing, but also meant that there was little room for me to move around in to get photos. So my images were from a less favorable angle than last year. Still, I was able to get some good shots of three-quarters of the band. Above: Rose, Derrick, and Ray.

John the bass player was on the far side of the stage and only dimly lit, so it was not possible to capture him as well as the other three - especially with my camera set to Sports mode, which is the only way I know to capture images in low-light situations without a flash without getting the blur that results from the shutter staying open for a long time. (Rose would argue that this was not a "low-light situation," since she had a bright light shining directly on her, but my camera insisted on treating it as such.) Here I have pushed the brightness and contrast to bring John out of the shadows.

The crowd, lit by candlelight and the light coming from the stage. This shot was taken in the conventional ISO mode, again without a flash. People continued to show up throughout the night, until the only seats not being occupied were the ones holding equipment bags in the front corner.
I was also able to videotape the event, thanks to a friend's VHS camcorder that I borrowed years ago and never returned. (Hey, I had to make sure it still works before I give it back to him...eventually.) The videotape will now be converted to DVD, and perhaps clips will find their way online! Maybe?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

More accomplishments

Well, I finished mowing the lawn, which I started yesterday. Pruned the butterfly bushes - that was yesterday, too. I also removed the rose hips from the branches of my Royal Highness rosebush and its two babies. This is something I should have done over the Winter, but I only got to it now. I also did it with an electric hedge trimmer, one of those things that looks like a sawfish's nose. This was probably an unforgivable act that would get me thrown out of any rosarian society, if I were actually a member. But when you're dealing with a rosebush that bears roses by the hundreds (here's what it looked like three years ago - it's grown a bit since then!), cutting off each hip individually by hand becomes tedious to the point of impossibility.

I also did some weeding. Not quite finished - the daffodils are still blooming, and that makes it hard to get to the weeds. I'll have to touch things up during my stretch of days off at the end of the month.

I also tried to undo some damage I might have inadvertently done to the memory of a girl who died nearly nine months before I ever knew she was alive. Rest in peace, child.

This has been a strange stretch of days off. If I can use my skills to find out about the life and death of someone almost completely random, why do I have such a frustrating time when I try to apply these skills to finding information on a friend's long-lost father? I know what some of the answers to that question might be. Still, I'll keep trying, in my spare time.

Tonight is the hairdresser's wake - I thought it was yesterday. Tonight I am also going to see a friend's band play at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, a repeat of a performance from last year. We'll see how things go. I need to remember to set my camera to Sports mode right off the bat!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Other Churches, Other Windows: St. Stanislaus

For the past two Sundays I have attended Mass at St. Stanislaus Church in Nanticoke instead of my home parish of St. Mary's. This has been partly for the sake of expediency: St. Stan's offered the earliest Masses each Sunday at 8:00 in the morning, meaning a down-time of only an hour or so between my arrival in Nanticoke after work and the start of Mass. As I would be sore and tired from having just put in a twelve-hour shift of running around trying to convince multiple DVD manufacturing systems to continue working through the night, I would be looking for a parking place near the front entrance of the church. My early arrival would help ensure that that happened.

I have some history with this church. As a child, my grade school education was split between St. Mary's and St. Stan's, with kindergarten and the odd-numbered grades in St. Mary's and the even-numbered grades in St. Stan's. This arrangement was terminated sometime before my sixth grade as all classes were consolidated into St. Mary's. But during second and fourth grade St. Stan's was the church I attended for school-day Masses.

I remember it as a dark and imposing church, sulfurous-smelling and not very pleasant. About fifteen years ago there was a major renovation done to the church which included the replacement of all of the stained-glass windows with ones of a more modern design from local stained-glass window maker Baut Studios. (A friend who was working at the church at the time of the renovation does not know what became of the old windows.)

Unfortunately, St. Stan's is one of the Roman Catholic Churches in Nanticoke scheduled for closure after consolidation, and all this work will have been for nothing.

It was not the windows that caught my attention as I sat in the pew last week, exhausted and sore, waiting for Palm Sunday services to begin. Frankly, I don't like the modern windows very much, though I will allow you to judge for yourself. The thing that caught my eye was much more mundane, but had tied up with it a cultural and historical element of Nanticoke.

It was, as faithful readers ...tom... and Hedera noted in the comments for an earlier post, a hat hook - a spring-loaded clip mounted to the back of the pew in front of you that allowed gentlemen to hang their hats by their brims back in the days before John F. Kennedy's example set made going hatless stylish and standard. These hooks are ornate and appear to be lacquered brass; the ones at St. Mary's resemble eyeless, earless, tuskless elephant heads and are made of metal with a dark, glossy finish. In the decades since hats went out of fashion, these hooks have been used to hold missalettes (back when these books were issued monthly and were relatively thin), bulletins, announcements, or special collection envelopes.

The interesting thing about these hooks was the sponsor tag, a little plaque about one inch across affixed to each hook with what appear to be grommets.

These were most likely mass-produced items, relatively inexpensive to manufacture. The creation and addition of the sponsor plaque probably doubled (at least) the cost of each hook.

These hooks have outlived their sponsors. Gem Furniture, the sponsor of the first hook shown, was one of at least three furniture stores in Nanticoke, the others being Bartuska's and Noble Furniture. Gem Furniture closed about fifteen years ago. The Adam Olszewski Bakery was located across the street from what is now Nanticoke's Municipal Building, which would place it less than half a block from Sanitary Bakery. The Gem Furniture building now houses a Credit Union, a WIC office, and the offices of Representative John Yudichak. The Olszewski Bakery now houses a beauty salon.

Upon inspecting the second photo I could almost make out a line of text directly below the top mounting screw. But what did it say?

Some manipulation and enhancement later, and I was able to tease out two of the words - and surmise the rest:

The first word appears to be "OTHER", and the last, "PENDING." Now, what sort of things usually come in a group, and are often pending? I could only think of one obvious candidate: patents. So the middle word, I believe, it the abbreviation for "patents": "PAT'S" - with an exaggerated space between the "T" and the "S" to make room for the mounting screw.

Other items of historical interest populate this church. This rostrum, or lectern, or whatever it is, features ornately carved wooden images on all sides.

It was once nearly twice as tall and featured a set of steps the lector would ascend, where they would tower over the congregation while reading the Word of God. The recent renovation cut the lectern down to ground level, eliminating the possibility of seeing someone solemnly tumble down the steps - as I am sure has happened more than once in the church's history. As with the old windows, I have no idea what became of the base of the rostrum.

One other item of note is this image of the Last Supper, which I believe is a bas-relief - it certainly appears to be three-dimensional. It is located under the back altar and would be obscured from view by the front altar from all but the front few pews. (It is visible in the second photo in this post as a white rectangular patch in the lower center portion of the image, below the painting of St. Stanislaus and the small, flag-bearing statue of Jesus.)

As I have noted above, the new windows are of a modern style, featuring a much clearer glass where each pane is a single, uniform color. The windows also have an abundance of clear panes, providing plenty of light into the church.

The windows face East and West, meaning that except for the hours after sunrise and before sunset the sun is generally not going to be shining directly through them. The alignment of the windows is such that at 8:00 in the morning this past Easter Sunday, a sunbeam was aimed directly at the main altar - specifically, directly at the head and face and eyes of Father Nash, who was conducting the service. Above we see sunlight falling on the statue of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who stands between statues of Jesus and St. Anthony of Padua.

In this photo, exposure time has been adjusted to capture the sharp and distinct colors being transmitted by the windows. Modern stained-glass windows have some virtues, I suppose.

A view of the Eastern windows as Easter services let out. Despite its relatively small size, St. Stanislaus looks quite imposingly large in this view. Note the ornate hanging light at the top right center.

A close-up view of the center window in the previous image. The window contains the opening lines of the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth".

This image dominates the central portion of the church ceiling. It is fairly enormous - how large, I cannot say, but I will guess at least twenty feet from the top of the image to the bottom. To get this photo, I stood directly under the center of the painting and opened my lens up as wide as possible. I suppose I might have been able to get the whole image if I had, say, laid down on the floor.

That's not the whole story of St. Stan's, to be sure. But I am not as familiar with the history and traditions of this church as I am with St. Mary's. There are doubtless parishioners at St. Stan's who could do a much better job of documenting this church before its doors are closed for good in a year or two. I can only hope that some of them choose to take on this task.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Death of a hairdresser...and someone else

My mom always says that the favorite part of the paper is the Obituaries page, because she can always see people she knows there.

OK, at age 75 this is actually a reasonable statement. But she has said this all my life, since she was younger than me, since before she met thousands of people as a bank teller.

Me, my favorite part of the paper is the Comics section. Thing is, I'm never quite sure where the funny pages are in my paper, which is a tabloid-style (single-fold) paper. I know they are beyond the middle, usually, after the Editorial/Opinion pages and before the Sports pages, mostly. Most days I just flip to somewhere in the second half of the paper and move forward and back as necessary until I find the funnies.

Today I was moving through the paper this way and landed in the Obituaries. There was a smiling face that looked somehow familiar. Good-looking photo, I thought. You should always have a good current photo of yourself handy for the Obituary pages, or for showing on television if you are murdered or disappear. Robert Curley had a good photo of himself in a tux, smiling broadly, which was shown repeatedly during the investigation into his death - that is, into his murder by thallium poisoning, a slow, horrible way to die, by his wife Joanne. The photo was probably from their wedding. Most people just have photos of themselves wearing beer hats and LEGION OF DOOM t-shirts.

I looked at the name attached to the photo and it rang a bell. Leo? Not too many people in this area go by that name...and have a work history that includes being a hairdresser.

Leo. The guy who used to cut my hair at the Bon-Ton, after the girl who cut my hair there left. Snide, funny Leo. At least, I assumed he was snide - his Bell's Palsy caused him to talk out of one side of his mouth, in a very nasal tone. But, no - he was also snide. And funny.

After the Bon-Ton shut down its hair salon I found someone else to cut my hair. By then my hair was less complex - the mega-mullet was gone; no longer did I have long, wavy, curling tresses reaching halfway down my back, close-cropped hair on the sides, and normal-length hair on top, a combination which caused Leo to quip upon first meeting me, some twelve or so years ago, "You have several hairstyles going on here." After I cut that off in early 1998 a barber would do, could be trusted to deal with my far more conventional haircut.

I didn't see Leo again until a few years ago. He was working as a cashier at the Target in Wilkes-Barre. He recognized me, and I recognized him, despite my prosopagnosia. (Bell's Palsy is a godsend in that respect, something like having a huge facial scar or pink spiked hair.) I asked him if he was out of the hairdressing game, and he told me how cut-rate places operating out of the front of Wal-Mart and the like had killed business for salons, and how their low wages had meant that he and many other experienced professionals couldn't afford to work there. He also couldn't afford to leave the area and get work elsewhere: even if he sold all of his possessions, he would barely have enough to pay for the first few months of an apartment in Philadelphia. So he was stuck, and took the best job he could get - as a cashier at Target.

I saw him there a few more times. I haven't seen him in the last year or two. I always wondered what had happened to him. And now he's dead. I may go to the wake tomorrow.


Leo wasn't the only death I learned about today. But the other one is...difficult to talk about without telling you things about myself I really don't want to divulge. This other person was someone whose existence I just found out about yesterday, during one of my frenetic bursts of online activity. She was young, beautiful, shockingly tough. She had a tattoo on her arm, in script. A quote from Oscar Wilde, from "The Young King":

We have chains, though no eye beholds
them; and are slaves, though
men call us free.

It took some of my usual Batman-level detective work to squeeze out this much information, and a name - probably not a real name, quite possibly a name taken from a recently-deceased author of historical sagas and historical romances.

This morning I decided to do a little more detective work, and discovered that she was dead.

Had been dead, it turns out, for some time - six months or so as of sometime in February. An overdose. Possibly a suicide, I don't know. Overdoses usually are.

I don't know what the future held for her. Possibly misery, or at best obscurity. Several pathways had been closed off to her, to be sure. And maybe her doom had already been sealed. I don't know.

Some of the information I found today suggested she had come from Pennsylvania. Where in Pennsylvania, I wonder?

Regardless. She's dead now, a death little noted online, and perhaps little noted in the bricks-and-mortar world as well.

UPDATE, 4/15/09: Now I know who she is. I know where she lived - not far from me, actually. I know when and where she died. I know she was loved, by family and friends. I know her death touched a lot of people.


As I drove my mom through our Tuesday ritual of grocery shopping and appointments, I frantically punched buttons on the radio, switching from station to station listening to half-second clips of songs and commercials and DJ banter. She probably thought I was just looking for music that wasn't complete crap. In reality I was looking for a specific song, a song that something in my soul wanted to hear. It's actually a song I heard on the radio last week for the first time in years. Statistically speaking, it would seem unreasonable to expect to hear the song again. Then again, given the nature of playlists and programming, it might not be an unrealistic hope. But as much as I tried to will the song into existence, it never came on.

It has nothing to do with anything, other than my usual defensive reaction whenever I feel Death's touch anywhere near me. Even for people I barely knew. Or never knew.

Maybe. Whatever. This is the song.

Blink-182, "I Miss You":

Monday, April 13, 2009

Things accomplished

My body doesn't want to get off of night shift. So I'm trying to work with it.

Yesterday I came home from work, the third and last day of a shortened rotation. The morning was clear, and the Gibbous Moon hung in the Western sky in front of me, nearly approximating the setting Full Moon I had witnessed Friday morning. This time I had a camera with me, and I decided to take a picture so as not to disappoint certain persons. Several pictures, actually, taken with the camera stabilized on the top of the steering wheel and (after the first two shots) in Sports mode, which takes three pictures in rapid succession. (I had to switch to this setting while driving, of course.) All told, I took twenty-three pictures. He is one of the few that isn't motion-blurred:

Note the chrome yellow sign in the middle distance. This sign announces "SAFETY CORRIDOR - FINES DOUBLED." I only took six more photos after this one. Safety First!

The reason I had a camera in my car was because I was going to church yesterday morning. It was the same Mass at the same time in the same church as I went to last week for Palm Sunday, which was when I noticed something unusual at the church. I was able to get a few pictures of two of these objects, but wound up taking lots of other photos, too. For now, here is one of the objects. I'm pretty sure I know what function it served, but if anyone would like to offer their input, here is the image:

I got a lot of other photos, but those are for another post.

I got home after church yesterday and ate. I had actually stopped home once already, to wash my face and brush my teeth and change my sweatshirt for a sweater and pick up the chocolate covered peanut butter Easter Eggs I had set aside to give to the priest, who had once again given up such things for Lent. But I didn't actually eat until after church, just like last week. And just like last week, I was useless for several hours after that.

Much of the first half of the day is a blur of online activity. I'm pretty sure I didn't give anybody my credit card information or intentionally download any viruses and/or illegal material, but I can't be sure.

Eventually family came over for Easter dinner. While we waited for dinner, my nephews and I watched TV, where their channel surfing eventually led us to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Ever the Star Wars fans, my younger nephew speculated that Oompa Loompas are actually clones, something like failed Clone Troopers. We all laughed.

I didn't eat. I fell asleep shortly after everyone left, maybe around 5:00 or so, and slept until midnight. Then I got up, took a shower, and set to work making the cherry Easter Eggs I promised my sister, as well as the additional peanut butter and coconut cream eggs (which, when topped with toasted almonds, became Almond Joys.) All were made without the use of electric beaters, out of respect for all the night-sleepers in the house. While I was waiting for the coating chocolate to melt, I also washed the sink full of dishes left over from dinner. When everything was done and cleaned up, it was 5:30 in the morning. I went back to sleep.

I woke up at 10:00 this morning when a friend called. We spoke for nearly an hour.

Again I spent much of the day in a state of night-shifted torpor. But as afternoon rolled into evening I rallied myself and set out on the day's final push: stops at my aunt's and my cousin's houses to deliver Easter Eggs. Visit to my house across town to haul out the recyclables - mainly to free up the container for hauling away the Black Rot-infected trimmings from my grapevine next week. Install the powered antenna to improve DTV reception. (Success! I now receive thirteen channels - two of which [an exclusively children's channel and an exclusively religious channel] I have blocked.)

I also started my Chadwick's Cherry tomatoes. Some to keep, some to share, and some to die - as they inevitably will.

It is now just after midnight on Tuesday morning, and I am falling asleep. Have I reset at last? We'll soon see!