Sunday, May 31, 2009
It's fun. It provides an easy (if somewhat bland) method of one-to-many communication. It lets you keep track of those parts of their lives your friends are willing to share. It even helps you get a sense of how bored people are, based on the number of surveys and quizzes they're taking each day.
But I also hate Facebook. I blame it for an overall decline in the level of conversation - quantity-wise, at least - on the blogosphere. Some of the best and longest-running bloggers I know of have abandoned their blogs in favor of Facebook. And while blogs are a one-to-all form of communication, Facebook only allows other members of Facebook, or even designated friends, to read items that an individual has posted. Instead of madmen shouting on the commons, it is a restricted-access cocktail party.
Somehow, either automatically or through some accidental combination of clicks (possibly by a kitten who likes to help me type), Facebook prompted me to check if any of my Hotmail contacts were also on Facebook. It's been a while since I last did that, so I said yes.
There were quite a few people who hadn't shown up in the last check. Two in particular - one a long-lost blogger, one of the first bloggers I ever read and one of my favorites, a formerly prolific blogger who hasn't blogged regularly in over two years, and not at all in the past six months, and another a semi-estranged friend from both online and off who is one of the finest writers I have ever read, who hasn't been writing much in the past year or so, at least not anywhere that I could see.
I sent them both friend requests. I'm hoping they both accept them.
Facebook is a little funny, privacy-wise. It is somewhat insistent that you use your real name - and if you intend to use it to reconnect with people you've fallen out of touch with, that's a pretty good idea. But it also has an e-mail search feature that allows you to search for individuals just by their e-mail addresses. I learned the names of two people on my e-mail list that way today. I would have learned a third, of a friend who put a lot of effort into protecting her privacy, except I've known her actual name for well over six years, though I never told her this until today. (Wish lists can also be a little funny, privacy-wise.)
For privacy reasons I don't have a link to my Facebook account here. But if you'd like to friend me on Facebook, just drop me an e-mail at the contact address in the "About Me" link. Be sure to let me know who you are!
Saturday, May 30, 2009
I woke up at 3:00 instead of my usual 2:00 because the plant is closed tonight. Which means that I will be out sixteen hours pay for the week - twelve straight hours, and four overtime hours for the eight hours over forty I would have worked this week.
I was also told that my number's up as far as the layoff rotation goes, and unless something changes dramatically I will be laid off for all of next rotation.
A friend who comes from a completely different socioeconomic strata asked me if being "laid off" is something like a forced vacation. It is not. The term "laid off" is actually used to mean two completely different things. It can be used to mean termination of employment for reasons other than cause, as happened to me and hundreds of others back in 2007; this is sometimes referred to as a "permanent layoff." It can also refer to a temporary reduction in force due to, for example, a reduction in workload. In both cases the laid off worker is considered "unemployed" for the duration of the layoff, or until their unemployment benefits are exhausted.
But "unemployment", at least in Pennsylvania, has very specific rules for eligibility. You must be able and available to work during your period of unemployment to be eligible for benefits. If you are sick, if you are hospitalized, you are not eligible for unemployment benefits, and it is considered an act of fraud to claim them under such circumstances. Similarly, you may not travel out of the area while claiming unemployment benefits, unless you are traveling in search of employment. You are expected to remain tethered to a phone, ready to respond immediately if a call comes through informing you of an employment opportunity.
During a "temporary layoff" the drill is more straightforward: you are still on the active duty roster with your employer, and they may recall you from unemployment at any time. At my workplace there is a number that I must call every day that I am scheduled to work to see if I am laid off or working that day. A working employee may be laid off on any scheduled work day; a temporarily laid off employee may be recalled for any day they were scheduled to work. So any temporarily laid off workers are effectively "on call." When your regular working hours go from 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM, this requires you to remain in a state of sleep-reversed readiness - you can't exactly have a normal daytime existence if you are expected to put in a full night's work with as little as nine hours' notice. (The cutoff for schedule revisions is 9:00 AM the morning of night shift, which begins at 6:00 PM.)
So that is what I have to look forward to: I am off today through Wednesday, "on call" Thursday through Sunday nights, and off again Monday through Thursday.
I'm hoping that those days are all as beautiful as today was.
Friday, May 29, 2009
I usually do not take my lunch until the night is more than half over. Typically this translates into sometime between 1:30 and 3:00, but the precise time is dictated by my schedule of jobs for the day, and whatever problems have come up to throw things off-schedule.
Even when everything runs smoothly, even when someone is watching your systems for you, it can be difficult to pick out a half-hour block where you can just walk away. Especially when one job flows into the next, and the next, and the next.
That was the sort of night tonight was. But finally I got everything just where I wanted it. All I had to do was throw in some tests and I would be home free for at least an hour. As I put in my tests I glanced at a clock on the wall. I couldn't believe what I saw, but my wristwatch confirmed it.
5:30 AM is a little too late to break for lunch when your day ends at 6:00.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Give me a brake!
I'm not quite sure how this happened. Maybe the vehicle had a blowout or some steering failure. Maybe the driver fell asleep or spilled coffee or something like that. Maybe they were run off the road, as happened in a work zone near Nanticoke last Thursday.
I never did explain what happened with the "Truck On Fire" incident last week. Apparently the driver of the truck was zipping through a construction zone at well above the posted speed limit, and failed to navigate through all of the barriers. He managed to rupture his truck's fuel tanks and set them on fire. He and his passenger - his wife - were able to get out safely before the entire vehicle was consumed by flames. The accident tied up Interstate 81 for hours and made tens of thousands of drivers late for wherever they were going. Loss of pay, time missed from school...all because someone in a truck was trying to go faster than he should have been. All because of careless and reckless driving.
I drive Interstate 81 every day. It is a very dangerous road, and the fact that there are not more major accidents on it is a testament to the skills of the people driving. Trucks always represent a high proportion of vehicles; many times, particularly in the early morning hours, my Tercel has been the only non-tractor trailer for miles.
These trucks rarely obey the speed limit, unless their advance spotters have warned them of a police presence. They also have no regard for the concept of "safe following distance", the distance it would require them to avoid an accident should the driver in front of them come to a complete stop. I do not know what the precise formula for tractor trailers is, but I'm pretty sure under no circumstances is a distance of five feet a safe following distance. Yet this is frequently the amount of space that separates my rear bumper from the front grill of the tractor trailer behind me, as its driver tries to encourage me to go faster - often through a work zone.
It's not just the tractor trailers, though they are certainly the most dangerous safety violators on the road. Drivers of every sort of vehicle regularly ignore posted speed limits, drive recklessly, and endanger the lives of themselves and everyone else on the road.
But why? To what end? To get where you're going a little faster? How did that work out for the driver of the truck that was incinerated last week? And how did it work out for all the people who lost hours of their lives because of him? How about the woman who was run off the side of the road? Her car rolled and burned. What did the driver of the other vehicle get out of the deal?
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Yet another reason why you should not let your children hang out with me
Him: And I'm gonna get a crossbow, and then we'll do that thing like in Hamlet, where the father has to shoot the apple off his son's head.
Me: Was that before or after the father's ghost told his son that he had been murdered by his brother who stole his throne and his wife, and he wanted his son to avenge him?
Him: So that wasn't Hamlet where the father had to shoot the apple off his son's head?
Me: No! Geez, don't you kids read Shakespeare in school anymore?
Him: Yeah, but nobody pays attention!
Me: That was Macbeth.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
These first three shots are of the Royal Highness rosebush that I started at least ten years ago as a cheap little plant purchased at a now-defunct home improvement store, and planted (that is, "put in the ground" as opposed to "kept in a huge pot that I put in the shed during the winter") with my nephew back in 2001. This bush us now gigantic, with the first flush of roses appearing at the end of May. I honestly didn't expect these much before next week, but here we are. Keep in mind that there was a frost on the morning of Wednesday, May 20.
These next two shots are of an offspring rosebush - grown from a branch of the original that I clipped through partway, treated with root stimulating hormones, and planted in dirt while still attached to the main plant. This bush is only a few years old, perhaps since 2005.
And yes, that is dead grass all around it - grass clippings, as a matter of fact, which serve as a weed-suppressing, moisture-retaining mulch.
This is another offspring rosebush. Note how the offspring are as generously covered with roses as the parent.
Royal Highness isn't the only rose in bloom The Blaze bush on the south side of my mom's house already has some blossoms.
This bush and the two flanking the driveway are the last known descendants of a rosebush planted by my grandfather, ordered from Jackson & Perkins some fifty years ago. The originals died long ago, as did other daughter plants at cousins' houses. Someday I will create an offspring of one of our three Blaze bushes and reestablish it at my grandparents' old house - now my house.
Irises. Not quite done as of today, but almost.
Two of little Bowie's siblings huddle in the shade of the overturned garden cart that has served as their shelter since they were born. These kittens are about 25% larger than Bowie.
Bowie makes herself comfortable at my house across town yesterday. This is where she lounged while I mowed the lawn. I was so wiped out at the end of the day - I had mowed the lawns at both houses, and had run the string trimmer until the battery was dead - that I decided to spend the night there. I let Bowie sleep with me in my bed. She spent most of the night bouncing around the room, occasionally curling up on top of me to sleep for minutes at a time. Several times she curled up on the side of my head. At one point she leaped over me several times and then landed sprawled across my neck - and promptly fell asleep. I had to move her slightly because her heart was beating right in my ear, at what seemed like three hundred beats per minute. (Today during her checkup it was 136 beats per minute. She got a clean bill of health, and is now allowed to play with the other cats.)
It's not all Roses and Irises out in the garden. Strawberries are also in season, with the first fruits ripening and plenty more on the way.
Another palindromic milestone: My car hit 303,303 "official" miles today.
The sun looked a bit odd last Sunday, May 17. Interesting ray effect.
Finally, an illustration for Truck On Fire from last Thursday. This photo was taken from at least a mile before the actual fire. The smoke was visible from well over ten or fifteen miles away.
Back to work tomorrow...I think! Time to put little Bowie to bed and spiral in myself. Good night!
Monday, May 25, 2009
Whoops, missed one
Working on two Brilliant Ideas right now. One I've kicked around for a few years: record the stories and rants of the guy whose house I was over today and post them to YouTube. I figure we'd get several million hits, easy. I proposed an 80/20 split (in my favor) of all the advertising revenue with him. He said he was expecting something more along the lines of 90/10.
The other...well, it's an idea that's crystallizing that makes sense when I review the last quarter-century of my life. A special skill I have that is actually in demand - maybe more in demand during tough times. And it doesn't necessarily involve anything illegal, unethical, or immoral, though the last one would be available upon request. W'll see where this goes.
Well, the kitten has just emerged from her hiding spot and is trying to help me type. So I gess it's time to put her in her crib and head to bed. Maybe I'll make things up by writing another post later today!
Saturday, May 23, 2009
I tend to throw myself completely at whatever I'm doing, no matter how mundane or trivial it is. Sometimes this is an effective approach. Other times it is to my great detriment.
The work I do is tedious and exhausting. Someone I used to work with - someone who I think did not survive the last layoffs - told me that she found the work not at all challenging. But I do. Maybe it's just my low mechanical aptitude, which is somewhere around the level of a Bronze Age barbarian. Maybe it's because I get frustrated more easily than most people realize, despite my godlike patience. Maybe I'm just not very good at the job. Still, whatever else, it's good exercise - very much like dancing for twelve hours straight, with breaks for lunch and the bathroom.
But when I'm on-shift I tell people I effectively do not exist. I spend twelve hours at work, plus another two or more commuting. In the time remaining I must sleep, eat, make my lunch, and do all my other daily functions, including my daily self-imposed obligatory blog post. But for those four days - and for much of my first "day off", which is the day following my last night of work - I am like a scrambled cable channel, flickering in and out of existence, sometimes dim, sometimes distorted, sometimes not at all. And sometimes there are brief moments of sharpness, brief snatches of coherent sound. But the flickering soon continues.
Until now. Now, I'm back. Until it's time to go to work again.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Three down, one to go
My four days off are already booked. Saturday: sleep, then mow. Sunday: church, then a cookout. Monday: finish mowing, transplant some Rose of Sharon; Tuesday...well, Tuesday is kinda open. I may be meeting a friend then, or taking my mom shopping, or (if I can get an appointment) taking this kitten to the vet for a first checkup. Possibly all three.
There is a possibility I will be laid off for the next rotation. We'll see.
More tired than I realized. Must go to bed.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Truck on fire
What the hell is that? I thought. Based on its position, I thought it might be in Scranton. Could it be the hospital, the one that borders the highway? But as I got closer I saw that the smoke was actually from a more distant source. Avoca? I thought. My God, did a plane crash?
It wasn't a plane.
Truck Fire Shuts Down Interstate - WNEP
As I drove closer I saw the smoke pouring into the air like it was coming from the smokestack of a locomotive. I came around a bend and saw the source: a tractor-trailer, with both the tractor and trailer parts in flames. The cab was completely engulfed, and flames were towering at least a dozen feet above. If the driver didn't get out...well, there would be no possibility of survival. I hope the driver got out.
I passed the person who was taking the photos in the linked article, so this was exactly what I saw when I saw it.
Oddly enough, there was no slowdown of traffic on my side of the highway, no rubbernecking - until after we were clear of the accident. Then people slowed down for a mile or so. I think maybe what we had just seen was starting to sink in at that point.
I do hope the driver got out.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
She loves the sound of the keys clicking on the keyboard, and is also fascinated by the techno/industrial music that plays whenever I open a friend's MySpace page. She also likes to climb on me. My hands, arms, and shoulders are covered with little scratches from her claws.
It looks like a beautiful day today. Too bad I have to be in bed in a little bit! After I throw my pooped-on shirt in the wash...
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Primary Election Day
The kitten is curled against me, sleeping. I don't know if it's better having her by herself right now, or whether having other kittens from the same litter would provide her with companionship, as my mom argues. (Until she gets checked out by a vet, she can't interact with our other cats, who right now respond to her with a mixture of curiosity, apprehension, and fear.)
I've also had a few other distractions putting claims on my time. Good distractions, though!
This kitten wants to use the computer, so I guess I need to get off soon.
My tomato plants are rocketing along. The second set, grown with the aid of a 23 Watt fluorescent bulb in a desk lamp, are almost as big as the first set, which were planted nearly two weeks earlier. But I hope I didn't just lose my sunflowers to frost! Well, I always have more seeds.
Monday, May 18, 2009
The Cat Who Fell to Earth
My mom and her next door neighbor have gotten into the habit of feeding the local stray cats. In the Winter, there's a real humanitarian concern there - without someone providing food and shelter, there is a good chance that some or many of the cats would not make it through. But in the Spring and the Summer...well, it seems that there are plenty of mice and voles and baby bunnies and birds of all sorts to keep the cats well-fed. And if not, they can always move on and seek other territories.
The life expectancy of a feral cat is not long. Two, maybe three years, before disease, the elements, traffic, predators, and fights with other cats bring their lives to an end. The current bloodline actually started a few years ago with a mated pair that were probably brother and sister. After they had their first litter, my mom named them: Mommy and Butterfly.
Butterfly is gone. I haven't seen Dot and SpookyBear, the two black cats from that first litter, in a few months. (SpookyBear was always my favorite. He had no fear of humans. When other cats would scatter, he would hold his ground and wait for you to get within arm's reach, and then stroll off.) Squiggles is still around. Tortoise and the look-alike tabbies from last year's litter are still around. Socks, the oddball singleton who I suspect is the lone survivor of a litter sired by SpookyBear and Sugar, a neighbor's pet cat who often wanders into our yard, is still around.
Mommy had yet another litter about six weeks ago.
This is getting to be a problem. Even with attrition, the neighborhood is starting to look like an open-air version of a crazy old cat lady's house. Somebody is bound to complain to somebody - or worse, take action on their own.
I decided I needed to do a snatch-and-grab of at least some of the kittens. I could set them up at my house across town, maybe two or three of them, and reduce the neighborhood cat population. I had set my sights on two of the kittens: a blue-eyed black cat I named BlueBear, and a brownish tabby with diamondback markings on the tail that I planned to name Willow.
I had planned to do this grab on Friday morning, so we could have all four of my days off to figure out what to do with the kittens. Unfortunately I wound up having to work on Friday into Saturday, which threw my entire schedule off. Still, I got things nearly under control enough that I should have been able to grab some kittens this morning.
Things didn't work out that way.
Last week a kitten managed to squeeze around our basement window fan through a hole in the window screen. It fell from the window and landed on some storm door screens that were being stored standing up next to an old unused stove. My mom heard the kitten crying and was able to retrieve it and return it to its mother, who growled anxiously.
This morning the same sorts of cries came from the cellar. As I rushed into the room to see what was the matter, I watched a kitten lose its grip on the basement windowsill and fall straight down. I tried to reach it, but it was wedged between the screens and the stove. I ran to get the most amazingly useful pieces of equipment we have - a toy robot grabber arm purchased at either the Kennedy Space Center or Cracker Barrel. (We've bought them from both.) When I got back the cat had moved to an even more inaccessible position, but with the robot arm I was able to quickly pick it up and get it to safety.
Now that we had it, what were we going to do with it?
I got out the large Sterlite container and cat bed I had purchased with this in mind and put the cat in there. I also went straight outside to see if either of the two pre-selected kittens were available, but there was only a Tabby kitten who ran away when I tried to get to it. So it looked like one was all we would have for now. I established that this is a girl cat (I think) and she is capable of lapping kitten milk out of a bowl. She also loves the sound of keyboard keys clicking, and wants to join in.
When I took her across town to my house and put her in my kitchen for safe keeping while I mowed the lawn, I also discovered that she is very good at hiding.
She was snug in her bed when I went out to mow, with a towel for a blanket and a pie pan full of pine litter as her bathroom. She had a bowl of kitten milk if she was hungry and a crackly catnip mouse if she wanted to play. I saw my neighbor outside when I mowed, and he was delighted to hear the story of how I had gotten a new kitten. I was about two -thirds done with the lawn when I decided to go and check on her.
And she was nowhere to be found.
I couldn't see her. I have very acute hearing, despite my tinnitus, but I couldn't hear her, even her breathing. I killed all the lights and got a flashlight and looked for reflections if her eyes, but I couldn't see them anywhere. Where was she?
It was a locked room mystery. She hadn't gotten past me - I knew that. She could have been hiding. She could have crawled into the kickspace under the sink, in which case she would have to crawl out again. Anywhere else?
My flashlight shone on the stovepipe leading from the disused coal stove to the chimney. There was a corroded hole at the bottom. Could she have gotten in there? Maybe...crawled up the chimney, three stories, and headed onto the roof? Maybe tumbled down into the clean-out area, or fallen into the furnace? Even if the furnace isn't running, would the pilot light generate enough suffocating gases to kill a kitten?
I looked and looked and finally gave up to finish the lawn. But soon I was back looking for her again. I repeated this sequence at least three times. At one point I noticed that a rain gutter that directed water from a second-floor overhang onto the back porch of the "vacant" side of the house had become detached. A scenario formed of a kitten emerging from the chimney at the apex of the roof, tumbling off onto the second floor overhang, then shimmying down a rainpipe to the porch roof below, detaching it in the process - well, cats don't shimmy down raainpipes. Do they?
I looked and looked and couldn't find her.
I went to my mom's house and retrieved my Havahart trap, the one which has caught a cat, an opossum, a groundhog, and a mystery animal that might have been a wolverine. Would the weight of a kitten be enough to set it off? I baited it with the bowl of kitten milk, and carefully added the cushion from her bed, her litter pan, and the catnip mouse. I set the trap and left.
When I returned with my mom a few hours later the trap had not been sprung. I could only assume that the chimney escape was what had happened. I had my mom shine her flashlight behind the stove to see what I was talking about.
The kitten was behind the stove.
She was at first, anyway. She ran behind the refrigerator as we tried to catch her. I was in the process of moving the refrigerator when I spotted her watching me from within a stack of ancient pots and pans. I grabbed her - by the tail, first, then by one foot, and then by the whole body.
She was cold and scared. She also peed as I picked her up. I washed her off and, after chastising her briefly, attached her to my shoulder, which is one of her favorite spots.
So now she's back here. Until we've both decided to trust each other a bit more, I won't be willing to let her stay anywhere without being confined or supervised. She has spent most of this evening tucked into my shirt, sleeping. Now she has decided it is time to play, and she is clawing and chewing on all parts of my shirt. She'd also like to use the computer, but I won't let her.
She's taken quite a bit of milk, but most of it by bottle. I think we'll wait at least a week before we try to grab more kittens. Still, she could use the company. She's used to sleeping in a kitten pile, and nestling under my shirt or in the crook of my arm is a poor substitute. She will have to sleep alone in a big pet carrier tonight, but we have a fabric-covered hot water bottle in there that she can snuggle against.
As for her name - at first, based on the stripes across her shoulders* on a mostly-solid back, I was going to call her "Taz", since Tasmanian Devils have similar markings. Then I remembered that my friends named their cat Taz already! So now I'm leaning towards "Bowie", in commemoration of the manner in which she entered our lives - it's a reference to the David Bowie movie "The Man Who Fell to Earth." Plus, it's gender non-specific enough that it will apply even if she turns out to be a he!
*Note: on further reflection, I realized that these were the diamond markings I had noticed earlier on one of the kittens outside. So Bowie is, in fact, Willow.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Photo study: The Whacked Iris
Today I realized that this Iris head in a jar might make a nice subject for a painting sometime. I set out to take a series of photos that I could use as references long after the Iris has withered into cellulose dust.
Each photo I took was from a different angle or had a different setting or different lighting conditions. Each one captured some different aspect that I might incorporate into a finished painting. For example, I love the broken refractions of the stem in these first two pictures.
This Iris will probably be wilted and done with by tomorrow. But using these photos, I may be able to create an image which preserves it a little longer.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Belated Blogiversary post, and stuff
By the way, if you are looking to get a reel lawn mower, the Scotts Green Classic 2000-20 is fantastic! Assembly was a breeze, and it sliced through the grass with a pleasant whirring sound as fast as I could walk! I repurposed the bag from my broken-down Task Force lawn mower from Lowes (the lowest-rated of the reel mowers) and saved myself the cost of a new bag. (I had to adjust the things that clip onto the rear axle - one was too loose for the new lawnmower.) I was able to get 2/3 of the lawn cut in an hour and a half, before the game was called on account of rain. It will probably take me about a half hour to forty-five minutes to do the rest. Typically it took me four hours to mow this entire lawn - more when I had to keep stopping to do repairs!
I'm off-balance now, sleep-wise. Went directly from work (my fifth consecutive twelve-hour night) to my house across town, watched some TV, then fell asleep in the chair. I headed up to bed and slept until 2:30. Came back here, ate some burgers and ice cream (my first food in twelve hours), screwed around on the computer, and then got to the business of assembling the new mower. Then, after a brief pit stop, I was on my way!
I think I should get something to eat now and then head to bed. Church in the morning - 8:00 AM - and then off to see the art exhibit at the school where my younger nephew takes art classes!
Friday, May 15, 2009
It's a beautiful day today, the best expected for the next four days. Perfect for mowing the lawn after a brief nap. But I won't be doing that because I've been mandated for an overtime shift tonight! Five consecutive nights of fun. At least it pays well.
I've fallen asleep at least three times while writing this. I need to go to bed, now.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
New lawnmower in the morning
We'll see tomorrow if any of those statements conform to reality.
I hope tonight goes a little better than last night. Last night I was working on the machines that have generally been my "home" since March 16. I'm comfortable with them, know their peculiarities and rhythms, and generally can handle them well. Things went OK until midnight...at which point all hell broke loose. Nothing wanted to work right. Simple, routine things became anything but. I made more trips for replacement parts last night than I think I have in the year to date.
New mower in the morning. Lawns must be mowed between Friday and Monday. My younger nephew has an art exhibit on Sunday. (He wants to wear a "French hat" - a beret, I guess. The Irish tweed cap I bought for his older brother three years ago could probably double as a beret!) Depending on weather, I may do some travelling and visiting, or may go to see Star Trek . So many options fand obligations for just four days!
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Frost and Microclimates
Either way I'm pressed for time, and can't really write a long-form post. So I need to call up something short that I want to say.
We had frost this morning.
When you're a gardener, "last frost date" is a very important thing. Many plants will die if put out before then, and most seeds specify that they be started a given number of weeks before the last frost date. But last frost date isn't something you can just look up. Every house, every yard, every garden is in its own micro-climate with its own characteristics. When I used to walk Haley (who died in May 2005) in the morning in the Spring we would note the progression of flowering plants as we went along: Forsythia, Azalea, Rhododendron, Rose of Sharon. One thing I always noticed was that some plants in some areas around town would be open two weeks before our own versions of those plants. Something about this house's microclimate sets it two weeks later than places just two blocks to the West.
I will try to keep a close watch for the last incident of frost this Spring, for both this house and my house across town.
But just for the record:
We had frost this morning.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Why DTV sucks
I knew that portable DTV sets existed ever since I saw one in a local drugstore with no price tag. But go to Best Buy, or...well, Best Buy, ask to see what they have in portable DTV sets, and they'll look at you in confusion before offering to sell you a 72" (diagonal) model. I couldn't find any other bricks-and-mortar retailers whose online counterparts claimed to have any. But I knew I wanted to get one for my mom for Mother's Day. I gave in and ordered a Haier 7" portable DTV from Amazon. After reading the reviews and recommendations, I also went out and bought a powered antenna to go with it, just in case.
My mom was happy with the gift. But I wasn't able to unbox it and set it up until yesterday. I decided to give it a shot with the included telescoping antenna.
After several frustrating attempts, I was able to pull in one whole channel. In an area served by broadcasters affiliated with ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, Fox, Ion, and several other networks. I get thirteen stations across town with my powered antenna. So I guess the powered antenna is the way to go.
So. Before: Tiny, lightweight, convenient, self-contained. Could run on easily available batteries in the event of an emergency or power outage.
Now: Big. Has a cord hanging out the left side for the AC adapter, and another attached to the cable for the antenna sticking out of the right. The antenna itself is huge, requires careful aiming, and needs to be connected to electrical power in order to operate. And even then I'm not sure how many channels she'll be able to pull in. It will not be self contained by any definition of the term, nor will it be particularly convenient. Nor, with a maximum 45 minute charge capacity on the rechargeable battery, will it be very portable. (I'll have my mom keep the cigarette-lighter adapter in her car, just in case she needs it.)
I hope she can get used to this. This transition will be bumpy - and that's with me around to help her. How many little old ladies and little old men will be staring at blank screens in a month's time, wondering where their favorite shows got to?
Monday, May 11, 2009
Final Hubble Servicing Mission launches today
Final preparations are underway for the exciting and challenging mission to Hubble. Liftoff is scheduled for May 11 at 2:01 p.m. EDT, and the countdown clock will start at 4 p.m. Friday.
You can watch the prelaunch activities and the mission live on the web from NASA TV. The coverage includes a web cast the day before the launch at 12:30 EDT, news conferences and status briefings.
+ View NASA TV schedule
Visit the official mission site here: NASA - Servicing Mission 4
This will be the last Hubble servicing mission. After this, Hubble will be as good as it's ever going to get! Hubble has been an incredible success, supplying amazing, remarkable images since the first Servicing Mission corrected the original errors in the optics. Subsequent servicing missions - sometimes wrongly called "repair" missions - have both replaced critical components and provided important upgrades that have greatly extended the capabilities of the Hubble Space Telescope. It would be great if everyone could tune out the reality shows and other assorted offal that fill our idiot boxes and briefly watch some amazing work get done this week in one of the most challenging workplaces ever - outer space!
To see an interactive overview of this mission, go here: STS-125 - The Final Shuttle Mission to the Hubble Telescope.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
What I've been up to these last four weeks
I won't tell you how I found out about her. Not yet. I won't tell you about how, within twenty-four hours of finding her under half of her pseudonym, finding her whole pseudonym, and then finding out that she was dead, I was able to work out her real identity.
She was a creature of the Internet age. Aside from her obituary, I could find no other public record of her - no graduation notices, honor roll listings, team affiliations, arrest notices. But I was able to find tons of online ephemera - Flickr photo sets, MySpace mentions, even a beautifully-edited home video collage of her that was posted more than a year before she died. I have seen pictures of her father, who appears exactly as she described him. I have read her sister's blog, which is where I found the video collage. I have seen the tattoo that her brother had placed over his heart days after her death in remembrance of her. All this stuff is freely available online, for all the world to see.
I have dug into her fiance, "with whom she resided", as the obituary states. It wasn't our fault, she was out of our control, she was with him. He is a child, a skaterat. Two years older than her. Both of them were technically adults. Ask anyone over forty when "adulthood" begins. (I'm still waiting to exit adolescence, myself. )
He has a MySpace page - or several, I can't tell - with a tribute to her. Touching, beautiful, posted nearly a month after she died. Using words that were not his own. Using words that he copied from another MySpace tribute to her by another person, written the day after she died.
In the wee hours of the morning today, Mother's Day, I found out something else.
Her fiance has another MySpace page with almost no content. I wasn't sure it was him until I found a picture - one of the only two pictures on that site - of the two of them kissing. It was her. It was him.
Very little information on that site. But one thing that may be key.
And this comment:
She was pregnant.
Twenty days later, she was dead.
Why did she die? This question has haunted me these four weeks. I think maybe it's because I think that if I could find that out, I could turn that information around into something that could prevent future deaths. Or maybe it's something else.
I have heard, third-hand, that the manner of her death was an overdose. Was she just a girl who partied too hard one day and never woke up? Or was it a suicide, brought on by guilt over the things she had said and done, or regret over the choices she had made, or despair over the damage the things she had done at age nineteen had done to her future?
Or is there a third possibility?
Why Pregnant Women Are Targeted - ABC News
Murder: The Leading Cause of Death for Pregnant Women
I am not accusing anyone of anything at this point. I doubt enough material evidence exists, or ever existed, to make a case for my suspicions. And maybe I am just projecting who I want this girl to be onto the manner in which she died. I don't want her to be someone who died of suicide. I don't want her to be someone who died of stupidity. If an explanation exists that makes her death not be her fault, I'm going to grasp at that.
I don't know where I'm going with this. What I've described here is just a sketch, a skeletal outline of what I've done, what I've learned. I have given other people other pieces. Someday I may collate and synthesize everything - or almost everything - together into one big post and leave it at that, for some other random person on the Internet to follow-up on. No statute of limitations exists on murder.
The first anniversary of her death is two and a half months from now. We'll see if there are any anniversary notices in her hometown newspaper - and if so, who places them.
I pray that some good can come of all this.
Saturday, May 09, 2009
Watching the grass grow
I meant to get up early, check the weather, and then plan my mowing schedule around the storms. I figured four hours here, two hours across town, and I would be all done.
I didn't wake up until after 10:00. The forecast called for a 30% chance of showers. I liked those odds. Unfortunately, I didn't exactly spring into action. I had a light breakfast, went online, and had a light lunch. It was after 1:00 that I finally got started.
I have discovered that this mower has some critical parts made of soft plastic which have been breaking and wearing down since pretty much the first use. Two mowings ago the blades simply stopped turning, because the plastic clutch-like thingamajig that apparently lets the blade slip and catch under certain conditions had worn smooth on both sides, which meant the blades were constantly slipping and never catching. The first time around I tried fixing this with progressively more preposterous materials until I finally settled on using duct tape to build up the "catch" area. This worked...for a while. But by the next mowing the problem was back, and I saw that the duct tape had simply been scraped clean. I tried another series of ridiculous fixes (including duct tape over snipped pieces of plastic wire for a string trimmer) until I finally had the bright idea of introducing foreign objects into the mechanism - in this case, split-ring washers. That worked, and worked well.
Things started off OK today, and last week's fixes seemed to be holding. My lawn has several distinct regions of grass. The northwest front section is sparsely populated with thin blades, and the entire section usually only gives one or two bags of trimmings. The southwest front section is densely packed with thin blades that have been the death of both of our old electric lawnmowers. I can usually count on six to eight bags of clippings from here. The south side lawn has a broader blade of grass, and even though it has about twice the area of either of the previous two regions only provides about three bags of grass. The rear southeast and northeast lawns also have broader blades, and together they provide four to six bags.
The dreaded southwest front section proved to be the death of this fix - as it has so many others. With less than a quarter of the lawn mowed, I took the mower apart for the first time.
One side of the mower looked fine. But on the other side, my fix had eroded down the plastic catch area the rest of the way, leaving only a smooth bump to grab the parallelogram-shaped bar that runs through the axle of the reel and converts the wheel motion into reel motion. I pondered this for a while, and then decided to try two washers duct-taped together to create a bigger obstruction.
That also worked, for a little while.
So the rest of the day was an ordeal of struggling to push the lawn through the too-tall grass, emptying the bag at about twice the rate mentioned above, and stopping for repairs and breaks. Time ticked away: It was 3:00 when I took my first lemonade-and-Internet break, and 3:30 when I got back to work; 5:00 when I was doing my umpteenth fix; and about 9:00 when the reel started freewheeling for the last time and I said screw this, I can't even see anymore and went inside, leaving about a 10'x10' section only partially mowed. (At least the rain held off for the whole day!)
Tomorrow I'll try another fix, sometime after church, something that will get me through the last patch of lawn. I may call the number I was given when I called the "warranty service" number on the manual to see if I can order replacement parts, preferably by the dozen.
The mower I'm using here is a Task Force 20" reel mower from Lowes. The Lawn Mowers report at consumersearch.com had this to say about this mower:
Task Force mowers (sold at Lowes) are made in Taiwan and get unusually low ratings from owners reviewing them at Lowes. The Task Force 20-inch Reel Mower 26153 (*Est. $140) includes a grass catcher and can cut as high as 2.75 inches, but users rate it especially low for quality. The 16-inch Task Force 26143 (*Est. $100) gets even lower ratings.That sounds about right.
I think next week I'll do my bit to stimulate the economy by buying a Scott's 20-inch Reel Mower, which gets much higher ratings. I'll see if I can rig my current grass catcher to work with this mower.
Friday, May 08, 2009
Whoops, almost forgot
I actually wrote something that would have been one of my longest posts ever last night. It was a condensed version of what I've been going through online for the past four weeks. But it was written as an e-mail, specifically for one person. Maybe someday I'll edit out some of the details and post it. I don't know if I'll ever write the full version. Maybe just for me, so there's a record of the details. So that I don't forget. Ever.
So I went to the Cracker Barrel in York, PA with my mom today to meet my sister. My sister had originally planned to come up for Mother's Day, but her work schedule and not feeling very well have forced her to curtail her travel plans. (She's flying out to Houston next week in support of the final Hubble Servicing Mission - I should do a post on that soon, actually.) The Cracker Barrel in York is roughly a halfway point between her house and my mom's, and it's long been used as a meeting spot when a full-fledged trip isn't possible.
This was my second trip down thataway in two weeks. The Saturday before last I traveled down to Dover, PA with a friend to visit some of her friends for a day of games. The company, food, drink, and games almost took my mind off things for a while. Almost.
Perhaps I had a bit too much to drink that day, as I rudely fell asleep for about half of the trip back. (I wasn't driving.) I woke up when we were about thirty miles from Nanticoke. As we got closer to Nanticoke, it was clear that something was wrong. The sky was red, and full of smoke.
One of the mountains was on fire.
When I got home I followed the goings-on on our scanner. The fire apparently had started near the top of Penobscot Mountain, but quickly worked its way down to Route 309, endangering the large number of vehicles that use that highway. While the fire was fully extinguished in two days, from what we saw today it was not contained before it (or another fire during the same period) had spread south along Interstate 81 to Hazleton and beyond, not tapering off until somewhere past Frackville. Foliage that had just been starting to unfurl two weeks ago was now singed off; trunks of young trees that had been covered with blossoms then were now charred black.
As we drove on it was possible to imagine that the damage was not as great as it appeared, that many of these trees had simply not yet broken dormancy. But as we drove farther south and encountered unscorched trees, this was clearly not the case.
I don't know if these trees are now dead, or if they will be able to bounce back in a matter of weeks or months. And if they are dead, how long until new ones grow in their places? It has been a long time since we last had a landscape-altering fire season. Maybe we are overdue. Or maybe this is another aspect of the New Normal that we all have to learn to live with.
Thursday, May 07, 2009
No, we don't
I had plans for today. Nothing big, nothing dramatic. I did complete some of them: Got gas on the way home. Stopped at my house across town and checked on the condition of the seedlings. (I may have lost two of the seven transplants from last week, but the new seed starts are coming up and seem to be reacting well to the 23 Watt fluorescent light I have shining on them fourteen hours a day.) Almost took a nap in the Lay-Z-Boy while watching my super-fancy DTV rig, but then decided to call it quits and head on back here.
I won't be going to an appointment with my mom this afternoon. My brother will be going with her, which is just as well. I may still have an appointment for next Friday afternoon, depending on the outcome of today's meeting. I think I'm learning now that I will definitely need to get some sleep beforehand.
I planned to go out to the comic book shop to pick up a copy of Adam Felber's Skrull Kill Krew. Maybe I still will.
I may also mow the lawn later today. Maybe.
Did some more digging into my current obsession. Didn't really find anything new, but I'm trying to draw up a web of connections. It's all very, very sad. I've seen home movies of this person (from a year or so before she died) as a young, dynamic, vibrant girl, full of life and promise. I've seen...other, later videos. That was my jumping-on point. What happened in between? How did she get from one point to another? And is it a coincidence that just ten days after a certain site started to index her online appearances, she was dead?
I read today that her hometown newspaper may be getting ready to fold. That is bad. I need it to stay open until July 28, at least. Preferably until September 3. I will pick up copies on both days - she lived close enough that it's a local paper, available at any newsstand.
I can't imagine how her family and friends have dealt with the pain of her loss. I have found a way, in my own many, many experiences with death. But none of them involved someone like this: so young, so alive, so much potential now forever unactualized.
Personal YouTube weekend, to observe the start of my off-rotation: My Bloody Valentine's cover of "We Have All The Time In The World," first recorded by Louis Armstrong. It was written by John Barry and Hal David for the James Bond movie "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" - the one in which Bond falls in love and gets married, only to have his wife die in his arms after being shot. As he cradles her body, he utters the line that is also the title to the song.
We don't have all the time in the world. None of us. Live, laugh, love. Seize the day. Tomorrow is never guaranteed.
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Welcome to the neighborhood, Mark!
Just a few days on the site, and he's already personalized it far beyond what I have done with Another Monkey in the nearly five years since I wrote my first post.
Go on over and visit Mark's new site!
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
The saddest song I know
It's because, always and forever, I will associate this song - which I first heard the day before yesterday - with a beautiful young girl who died far, far too soon.
Modest Mouse, "Bankrupt on Selling", from the album The Lonesome Crowded West.
Why did she die? I don't know. I know so much from my almost-obsessive detective work, but I don't know that. I suspect I know who does. I imagine myself meeting them someday, and grabbing them by the shoulders, and shouting WHY DID SHE DIE? WHY DID YOU LET HER DIE???
And I have no right. None. Not even to know the things I already know.
So I sit with my speculations. I'd like to do something constructive with them - turn them into a warning to others who may be following along the same path, based entirely on what I speculate happened. I am almost certainly wrong, in the specifics and even in the broad outline. But if what I write can help keep someone else alive who might otherwise become dead, dead like her, then it will have been worth it.
Monday, May 04, 2009
Back to work
One big advantage: if you take a single four-day rotation off, you get twelve days off in a row. Which is what I just had - with a bonus thirteenth day off due to layoff.
But today I go back. And my body has finally reverted to being awake during the day and asleep at night. I went to bed just after midnight last night, but couldn't force myself to stay in bed past 10:00. (Nor would my cat allow me to stay in bed past then.) Realistically I should have slept until at least 1:00 or 2:00 this afternoon, but it's quarter after twelve and I'm wide awake. Maybe I'll grab a nap before I get ready for work.
Tomorrow I shouldn't have any trouble sleeping, I think!
Sunday, May 03, 2009
Say it ain't so, Mark!
It sounds like Mark is looking to move to a different neighborhood - virtually speaking, at least:
In addition, when I get around to it, I’m going to pull the electronic plug on Wilkes-Barre Online and find an internet vehicle that will require far less of my time for the purposes of posting any of my usual madness. I’ll probably end up at blogging for dummies just like practically everyone else. Whatever. Whatever works, whatever works quickly and whatever is free of charge.Oh, boy! I'm thinking that means Blogger! (Hell, if I use it, it had better be easy and free of charge!)
Then I got to the end, and saw this:
And with that, my last ever post on the formerly expansive electronic pages of Wilkes-Barre Online…Is this the end of Wilkes-Barre Online? And if it is, how soon until Mark sets up another blog, maybe even one over here in my neck of the woods?
Weekend wrap-up, and a slight change in plans
I went to Free Comic Book Day in the early afternoon with a friend and her son. I managed to save her a few bucks by showing her that the bagged individual collector's item comics she was about to buy were actually available in a single softcover collection. Even though the store was sold out of Adam Felber's Skrull Kill Krew #1 (I'll be going back on Thursday to see if they have it) I did manage to buy four or five other comics. I also picked up four or five free comics. I'm hoping the shop, and comic book shops across the nation and around the world, did good business.
After that I went to church, and then went directly to Mark's Pub in Wilkes-Barre for the bloggers' gathering. I couldn't find any available parking near the bar, so I wound up parking down the block and around the corner. When I went into the bar I was overwhelmed: it was jam-packed with people - adults, kids (kids?), a band, a gift table that I managed to overlook... How was I ever going to find the people I was looking for here? But there they were at the far end of the bar, where we have gathered before. Just a small gathering - I fear that more might have entered the bar and, unable to locate specific unfamiliar faces in a crowd of unfamiliar faces, turned and left.
We drank, we ate, we watched baseball, and some twenty minutes after we thought it was to begin, we watched the Kentucky Derby. The bar erupted into shouts of "Come on, Alpo!" "Take the lead, Gluepot!" and "It's Girdle in the stretch!", until a horse from far back in the pack began to surge forward, prompting cries of "What the hell is this?"And, unbelievably, Mine That Bird kept on going, leaving the frontrunners behind by several lengths to win the race.
Afterwards, several of us took in a late dinner, where topics of conversation ranged from "Why are these salt and pepper shakers so small?" (each was a cube less than an inch on each side) to "What the hell are Pine Nuts?" (a question I first asked in 1990 or so.) Nothing escapes the scrutiny of bloggers!
I got home to check the layoff recording and discovered that, yes, I would be having a thirteenth day off. Unfortunately, by this point I had already thrown the metabolic "commit" switch, which meant I would soon be falling asleep, and sleeping late. This is unfortunate - I have been glorying in the fact that my regular paychecks have been allowing me to pay my bills, gradually dig my way out of debt, and even boost the economy by making some purchases which are not, strictly speaking, necessities. But it sounds like I will be working tomorrow night. Fingers crossed - baby needs a new pair of everything!
Saturday, May 02, 2009
Come to the get-together!
Actually, this is from one of my favorite films: Tod Browning's Freaks. Those are all real people, not special effects creations, and most of them lived longer, happier, and more fulfilling lives as traveling performers than they would have locked up in some institution, out of sight and out of mind.
If some of these people don't seem familiar - well, shame on you! Johnny Eck, the legless wonder who jumps on the table at the 30 second mark, has a fascinating biography - and with the aid of his (full-sized) identical twin brother and a dwarf, performed one of the greatest "sawed in half" stunts ever! And the fellow who proposes the toast, and carries around the goblet? That's Angelo Rossitto - though you may know him as the smarter (and shorter) half of Master Blaster from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.
If you've never seen this movie, you're missing out on an amazing classic!
Friday, May 01, 2009
Today was a pretty laid-back day. Stayed in bed late, screwed around on the computer a bit (well, more than a bit), paid a bunch of bills, and then draped nets over the pollinated blossoms on my two cherry trees. Last year I waited too long, and the birds stripped the pea-sized developing cherries from the trees by May 10. I think I got three-and a half cherries from the two trees in the whole season.
Now I'm off for a shower, and then I'm going to the wake for my grandmother's neighbor - now my neighbor. She had been in bad shape since before I bought the house in 2006, but we got to talk a few times while she sat on her back porch and I worked in my back yard. She was very sweet and very nice, and I have known her all my life. She will be missed. And another living connection to the past has gone away.