Friday, July 31, 2009

What I bought this morning

Stopped at a grocery store on the way home from work today to pick up a few necessary items. I got there seven minutes before they opened and nearly fell asleep three times while waiting.

Here's what I bought:

- Keebler Chips Deluxe cookies -2 for $6 (normally $3.99 apiece) (part of my daily lunch)
- Star Wars Insider magazine - $5.99 (it's for my nephews, I swear)
- Grapes, Red Seedless - 0.98 lbs. for $1.26
- Whiskas Cat Milk - 15 three-packs @ $2.99 per three-pack (yes, that's a lot of cat milk, but the kittens go through at least two a day)
- Whiskas Tender Bites Beef - 24 pouches @ 2 for $1.00 (actually, I was charged for 24 when I only bought 23, because that's all they had, but it's not worth my time to go back and complain for the sake of fifty cents)
- Fredrico Ferret cat toy - $1.99
- Plush Springy Mouse - 2 @ $1.79 apiece

OK, who's nuts here?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

I'm cool like Tom Cruise and Vinny Barbarino!

I've noticed a Scientology ad appearing on my sidebar. How exciting! Now I feel like I'm "in" with a bunch of Hollywood insiders!

I wonder what brought that on?

What Scientologist Actually Believe - Clips - South Park Studios

Back to work, again

Did my first night of work last night. Overtime. I have four more days this rotation, but only three of them fall in the current week. So at best I'm looking at a 52 hour pay (for 48 hours worked) for this week, which is better than the 36 hour pay for the three days I was scheduled.

Lots more overtime is available. Since I have to take three days off next week for a wedding, I might just pack overtime in the days I was scheduled to not be working in the first place.

But if I want to be in any shape for tonight, I'd better get to bed soon.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Babblings of a Whimsical-Brainpan is going

Erin, the blogger who until today has identified herself only as Whim, has decided to shut down her site, The Babblings of a Whimsical-Brainpan. If you've never read it before - well, it's too late. There's nothing left but the farewell post.

If you haven't read it, you don't know what you've missed. Whim - Erin - was nearly killed in a fire about fifteen years ago. Two bastards had stolen credit card information from one of the tenants in the building where she was living and used it to buy a $200 jacket. To cover up the evidence of their crime, they decided to burn the building down and kill everyone in it. Using an accellerant - kerosene, I think - they torched the exits, and then the building. Several people died. One girl, who was visiting her fiance (who died in the fire) lost her legs. More people would have died if the building hadn't been mostly empty since people were visiting relatives for Christmas.

Whim - Erin - awoke to find her building on fire and escape impossible except through her third-story window. She found herself hanging from the windowsill by her hands as she awaited rescue. The heat of the fire burned her hands, nearly searing them off. Finally she made the conscious decision to let go and accept whatever the consequences were. She fell three stories and landed on her back, breaking her neck. A rescuer saved her from blindness when he shielded her eyes as the final, explosive combustion of the contents of her apartment caused her window to explode, raining down shards of glass upon her paralyzed body.

She got better. Her broken neck healed. Her thoroughly cooked hands were repaired, after many surgeries and months of being sewn into her own hips, to a low level of functionality, enough to allow her to type and paint and do daily tasks with great difficulty. Her lungs eventually cleared themselves of the smoke she had inhaled. But the fire left other, lasting scars.

(The two arsonists were eventually caught, but not until after they had killed again, and set another fire. This time the fire was to cover up the rape and murder of another young woman. Her brother found her, her dead body warmed by the fire around her, and attempted to revive her, not knowing that her throat had been slashed through to her windpipe - until he pinched her nostrils, blew into her mouth, and was covered with a spray of blood from her gaping neck.)

I may not have all the facts right above. I am recalling them from memory, from the memory of the first time I encountered Erin's blog on January 27, 2007, when I sat down and read straight through all of the posts that recalled the story of the fire.

Now those posts are gone. That story is gone. But not forever, I hope.

Erin has been working on putting her story together into a book. It's been rough going, and slow going. Getting a book published always is. But hers is a compelling story, one that I could imagine garnering major media attention once it reaches wide release. Oprah. Stuff like that.

I'm hoping that this blog deletion is preliminary to that book finally coming out. I can imagine a publisher saying, "Why would anyone need to buy your book when you're giving the story away for free?" But I don't know.

Erin's story has been a major inspiration to me to shut my whiny self up at get on with doing the things that need to be done. I won't pretend to know what Erin is planning. But I wish her the best. And I look forward to seeing her book come out.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Regional customs

Today I bought a copy of the Allentown Morning Call and went through it, page by page. I was looking for something specific, and I didn't find it, or anything like it.

What I was looking for was a memorial ad for someone who died a year ago today. In my local paper, the Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice, there are several of these in each day's paper, usually a small block maybe two inches by two inches (or larger) with the words "In Loving Memory Of", the name of the deceased, the date of birth, date of death, maybe a brief poem, and the name of the person or people who have placed the ad. Often these are placed on the anniversary of the person's death, sometimes many years after they have died. Sometimes these take the form of "Happy Birthday in Heaven" and are presented on the deceased's birth anniversary.

As I said, almost any given day will feature one or more of these ads in the Citizens' Voice. But I didn't find a single one in today's Morning Call. I thought that was somewhat strange. Then I got to wondering: does the Morning Call ever have these memorial ads? Or is this something peculiar to my local area?

Allentown is located about seventy miles south of Nanticoke. Nanticoke is at the southwestern end of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton corridor, a series of major and minor cities and communities that form a long band with tapered ends that runs diagonally along Interstate 81 from Carbondale in the northeast to just beyond Nanticoke at the southwest end. I have always thought of this as the heart of Northeastern Pennsylvania, but there are those who think otherwise.

Allentown is located in the Lehigh Valley, a major agricultural and post-industrial region bordering on both New Jersey and the Greater Philadelphia region in the southeast. Ethnically, culturally, it is a world away from Northeastern Pennsylvania. A few years ago, in a now-closed bookstore, I saw a book of cartoons about the peculiar habits of Northeastern PA called "If You've Ever Gone Trick-Or-Treating in a Bar..." Next to it was another book called something like "If You've Ever Trimmed Your Grass with Scissors...", showing someone using scissors to clear the weeds between their sidewalks. This was a book of cartoons about the peculiar habits of people in, I believe, York, PA. I flipped through the first one (which may have specifically been about the Wyoming Valley) and could relate to almost everything that I saw. I flipped through the second, about a community more than 130 miles away, and I could relate to almost none of them.

Regional customs exist almost everywhere. Part of the trick of fitting in in a new place is to recognize, adopt, and master these customs so that you do not unconsciously announce your other-ness to the locals. On the other hand, it is the height of provincialism to assume that your own regional customs are universal and the norm everywhere, even if the region from which you come is a major metropolitan area.

So what is the case with memorial ads? Are they something peculiar to Northeastern Pennsylvania? Are they unheard of in the Lehigh Valley? Are they something that the rest of the world might look upon as morbid and mawkish, and perhaps a touch ghoulish? Or are they perhaps an ancient custom that other parts of the world have simply forgotten?

Does anybody know?

To the girl with the Oscar Wilde tattoo

I love you, though I never met you
And I will remember you, though I never knew you.

Rest in peace, child.

"We have chains, though no eye beholds them; and are slaves, though men call us free." - Oscar Wilde, The Young King

Monday, July 27, 2009

Moon, Clouds, and Church over Nanticoke, July 27, 2009

I mowed my mom's yard today during the midday hours. When I finished I grabbed some pruners and a fifteen-year-old rusty pruning saw and cut down a seven foot tall tree-thing that has been growing in-between a Butterfly Bush and a Burning Bush in a small corner garden for the last few years. I have no idea what it is - well, was - but it never flowered or fruited, and it was growing at a pace that suggested it would take over the yard in a few years. It's gone now, just cut-up pieces in two recycling containers out at the curb.

A young evergreen about ten feet tall got the same treatment. This one had the bad grace to root itself just a few feet from the foundation walls of my mom's house. Can't have thirsty roots take the house apart in their quest for water. It will take a few more sessions to get the whole thing down, but it's currently about half the height it was earlier today.

After all that I grabbed some dinner and spent some time online. I realized that it was too late in the day for me to shower and go out to on the retail adventures I had planned. So as I was already tired and dirty, I decided to go across town and mow my lawn.

I was two-thirds of the way through when I noticed the Moon hanging in the evening twilight over St. Mary's church, while the clouds in the West reflected the colors of the recently-set sun. I didn't have my camera with me, but I did have the camera on my phone. Here are the images I took:

The first three images were taken at 8:19 PM . The last was taken at 8:25 PM. I took my pictures and hurried to finish the lawn while I still had light.

Just another beautiful evening here in Nanticoke!
(Attention Facebook readers: please click through to the original post to see the photos.)

Yesterday, today, tomorrow

Left work, went to Cracker Barrel for breakfast. Bought two Elegant Rooster coffee mugs at 40% off. Went to church. Went home. Unloaded car (newspaper, lunchbag, cooler box containing one remaining can of diet cola), grabbed weedwhacker, whacked weeds until charge ran out. (Yes, at 9:00 on a Sunday morning.)

Played with cats and kittens. Puttered around for a few hours. Ate pork chops. Crashed while watching The State on DVD and talking on the phone with a friend and slept for a few more hours. Got up. Used hedge trimmer on hedges that have undergone explosive growth in past two weeks. Puttered around for a few more hours. Paid a major bill, one of the reasons for all this overtime. Went to sleep watching Director's Cut of Watchmen on DVD. Was disappointed by added scenes so far: they deviated from the book and broke the pacing of the movie, which in that particular sequence closely matched the pacing of the book.

Took care of cats and kittens. Plan to mow my mom's lawn, possibly my lawn. May meet a friend for lunch or dinner today or tomorrow. May also go shopping at Sam's Club.

Finish up lawns. Take mom grocery shopping.

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the death of a girl whose life I accidentally became aware of a few months ago. I plan to pick up a copy of the Allentown Morning Call tomorrow to see if anyone has posted any memorials.

A post that I wrote about this girl months ago will appear tomorrow. It's still true, it's still valid. The inexplicably powerful feelings I experienced months ago have dimmed by several orders of magniture, but there's still something there. And she's still dead.

I believe my cats have just disconnected the DSL line. I need to fix that before I can post this.

(No...maybe not. Connection just reconnected by itself. Could it be as Michelle said, the heat causing phone lines to expand and interfering with signals?)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Let's not do that again

As I rolled into Cracker Barrel this morning for my "I survived another rotation" breakfast I thought to myself: I just worked ten out of the last twelve days. I juggled this in my head for a few moments, then I realized that most people with full-time jobs also work ten out of twelve days, counting from one Monday to the next week's Friday. But for the rest of the world, those ten days add up to eighty hours. For me, they add up to one hundred and twenty hours, a 50% difference. With overtime payment for time over 40 hours in a given week, that works out to one hundred and forty hours of pay.

Other people do this all the time, essentially working two out of every four days off. This isn't just to maximize the size of the weekly paycheck, which can be considerable, but also to maximize the quarterly earnings for calculation of future unemployment compensation. Unemployment, temporary or permanent, is a certainty in this industry.

But for me it's a bit much, working two sixty-hour stretches with only two days off in between - and one of them a recovery day when I should have been sleeping. I'm more tired now than I should be. I signed up for overtime again, but this time just for the first night before our rotation, Wednesday. That will turn next week's thirty-six hour paycheck (for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday) into a fifty-two hour pay. Not too shabby!

Still, I hope I can survive.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Melissa Auf der Maur vs. the Swine Flu

Around these parts, it seems like the Swine Flu, or H1N1, or whatever its current name is, was a flash in the pan, a case of much ado about nothing, or very little.

But that isn't the case. It is still officially a pandemic. It is still spreading rapidly throughout the world. And it is still causing deaths.

Even if no one you know has had the Swine Flu, people you know of have had it. Rupert Grint, who plays Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films, reportedly had a mild case of it a few weeks ago. And Melissa Auf der Maur, musician, blogger, photographer, artist, and Goddess of the Bass who has lent her talents to bands such as Hole and Smashing Pumpkins, had a somewhat more frightening run-in with the disease recently. A true blogger, she recounts her experience with the disease in her Swine Flu Diary in The Mark, "Canada's daily online forum for news, commentary, and debate." Her story is frightening and detailed, and I am very glad that she recovered to tell the tale.

Read Melissa Auf der Maur's Swine Flu Diary for a detailed account of one person's experience with Swine Flu!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Goodbye, Manny, and thanks

Manny Gordon, former District Forester and popular local personality, has died. He was 97.

Here is a beautiful retrospective of his life from WNEP.

Manny Gordon was part of my childhood - his on-air bumps on WNEP in the mornings helped make "Enjoy, Enjoy!" a part of my consciousness, and helped me to become more aware of and more deeply appreciate the beauty of the world around me.

‘Enjoy!’ life like Manny Wilkes-Barre News The Times Leader

Manny Gordon dead at 97 - News - Citizens Voice

Here are some audio clips and photos from Manny Gordon's later years:
Manny Gordon Flash Gallery

Goodbye, Manny. Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm with us, and for opening our eyes to the beauty of this area.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

New sort of tired

Yeah. Today was pretty exhausting. First regularly scheduled day after a day of overtime. And I have three more just like it coming up. Five days working, two off, five more working, and then - if I'm lucky - three days off followed by five more days of work.

Off to bed now. But before I can go to bed, I have to round up five kittens and corral them in a bathroom. Then a minimum of five hours of restful slumber.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Missions accomplished

I achieved my goals yesterday. I left for work extra-early, got gas, and went to Best Buy. At Best Buy I was slightly frustrated by a) the huge fellow in the dressy clothes who was talking on a cell phone and shifting his weight back and forth from one foot to the other while he stood in front of the entire Watchmen display, making it impossible for anyone else to pick through the different versions of the movie (theatrical full-screen, theatrical wide-screen, two-disc director's cut, two-disc director's cut in a package shaped like Rorschach's head, two-disc director's cut in a package shaped like Dr. Manhattan's head, Blu-Ray, etc.) to find the one they wanted. Fortunately, the movies were also filed in the new release section and in the "W" section of the other DVDs. Unfortunately, I could not find Tales of the Black Freighter - offered for only $5 more with the purchase of the two-disc director's cut - anywhere, and the vaguely attractive store clerk I approached with the words "Can you help me?" (shouldn't that be the other way around, Retail America?) had not the faintest idea where to look. (Retail America: shouldn't your clerks be prepared to sell the biggest release of the week each week, and fully prepared to deal with anything offered in the weekly ad?) Eventually I found it on my own, in the bottom row of the Watchmen display out front, only about eighteen inches off the ground. I missed it the first time around because looking for it would have involved placing my face next to the huge guy's ass as he rocked back and forth, back and forth, talking on his cell phone.

I also found Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode II, but that was pretty straightforward.

Made it to work with plenty of time to spare. I worked alongside several other people who were there on overtime. I don't know which is worse: working a fifth day after your regular four, when you are exhausted and everyone else is fresh (as I did on Saturday), or working a day ahead of your scheduled four on everybody else's last day (as I did yesterday.) Either way, you run into a bunch of people who just don't feel like working, which is somewhat frustrating.

I put some of that overtime money to good use this morning. I purchased a few pieces of art from Whimsical Brain Artwork, which closes today. You should definitely check it out while you still have the chance!

Meanwhile, the days are ticking away to a sad anniversary next Tuesday. I have not forgotten. But I will need to remember to pick up a copy of the Allentown Morning Call that day.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Overtime and traffic

I'm working overtime again today.

I've come to terms with this. I've got fresh batteries in my flashlight, all my work clothes are almost ready, I have a vague notion of what I'm going to take for lunch, and I'm planning on allowing myself two hours to make the thirty-three mile trip.

The two hours won't just be for commuting. One of my major conflicts with today's overtime is that today is the day that both Watchmen and Robot Chicken: Star Wars Volume 2 come out on DVD. DVDs are always least expensive during their first week of release, until they get remaindered at some point in the future. But the DVD new release sales cycle runs from Tuesday, when new releases come out, through Saturday, with new prices taking effect on Sunday with the new ads. This was actually my primary point of conflict with today's overtime: I really, really want to get these DVDs, but without the overtime I can't really justify spending the money on these extravagances, and with the overtime I am working every night that the prices are in effect, and sleeping every day, and therefore unable to get out to the store to buy them. The only way to make this happen would be to buy them today, since I always wake up extra-early on my first day back to work.

So I will be stopping at Best Buy on my way to work. I will also be stopping to fill up my nearly-empty gas tank. And I will be allowing plenty of extra time to navigate the mine field of construction that is Interstate 81.

I was late for overtime on Saturday because of a new construction zone that was thrown up, unannounced (as far as I know), that morning. Oh, there were announcements posted on the highway that day; I saw them about a mile into the five-mile-per-hour crawl that I and a gazillion other people - many of them weekend drivers unfamiliar with I-81 and its vicissitudes of construction - were doing. After a good half-hour of this we finally came upon the source of the delay: a pinch point where two lanes became one for about a hundred yards. And that was it. It was a phantom work zone: no construction was going on, no construction workers were present, just concrete barricades and thousands upon thousands of orange traffic things-that-aren't-cones. Once I was free I engaged in regrettable actions that resulted in me only being seven minutes late.

It wasn't just me. Many other people were late that day, for the same reason.

Someone at work told me about PennDOT's traffic camera website, where you can see road conditions at any given moment. My commute from Nanticoke to Olyphant takes me through much of the region designated District 4. There are quite a few cameras located along this stretch. I will start making a point of viewing these cameras before I leave for work, though road conditions can change from minute to minute, and it is possible that new construction zones may pop up between the time that I check the cameras and I reach that point on my commute!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get ready to go out and spend money, and then earn some of that money back.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Humans set foot on the Moon for the first time forty years ago today

...and I am wrapped up in the mundane details of everyday life. So I will direct you instead to past posts and posts by other people.

Here is my post from this day last year, which also didn't have much to say:
Another Monkey: Apollo 11 lands on the Moon: July 20, 1969

That post points to a previous post about the meaning behind Tasmin Archer's song "Sleeping Satellite":
Another Monkey: Songs about surprising things: Tasmin Archer, "Sleeping Satellite"

Here is the link to NASA's digitally restored footage of the landing:
NASA - NASA High Definition Video: Partially Restored Apollo 11 Video

Here are some posts from my blogfriends. I'll add more as they appear:

webster107: 40 Years Ago Today
Where's The Bubbler?: July 20, 1969
What Apollo means to me Bad Astronomy Discover Magazine
Apollo astronauts speak! Bad Astronomy Discover Magazine
The Lu Lac Political Letter: The LuLac Edition #882, July 20th, 2009
Nite Sky Girl: Exploring the Moon, Discovering Earth
Lunar Landing Anniversary Deanna Hoak

Francesco Marciuliano's online comic Medium Large is brilliant as always, and SFW at least this once:
Monday. July 20, 2009 « Medium Large takes on the "Moon Hoax" wackos, including those who mistake a spoof of a "faked" lunar landing for actual proof that the whole thing was a hoax: Apollo 11 Moon Landing Footage Out-Take

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Saturday, July 18, 2009

For Michael

OK, this is a late hit, but the thought has only gradually formed itself over the last week or so.

Who would have imagined that the end of Michael Jackson's life would most resemble a Pink Floyd song?

O.K., just a little pinprick
there'll be no more
but you may feel a little sick

Can you stand up?
I do believe it's working, good.
That'll keep you going for the show.
Come on, it's time to go...

- Pink Floyd, Comfortably Numb

Friday, July 17, 2009

Offline for a bit, maybe

Just a heads-up: My nearly-perfect streak of daily posts may be broken this weekend, as I may have only limited access to the computer for the next few days. I'll post when I can. I'm hoping I'll have something interesting to blog about. (Apologies in advance to the people with whom I'm in the middle of games of Scrabble on Facebook.)

Overtime is not a certainty right now. I'm second on the list for Saturday, and fourth on the list for Tuesday. So if they need fewer than two people on Saturday or four people on Tuesday, I won't be earning delicious, delicious money those days.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Twenty years ago twenty years ago

I remember what I was doing twenty years ago. The year was 1989, and I was getting ready to visit the University of Delaware for the first time.

Delaware wasn't my first choice for grad school. That was Bryn Mawr, a small Liberal Arts university with a small Physics program focused specifically on Non-Linear Dynamics, the field of study I wanted to specialize in. But Bryn Mawr's graduate program collapsed that year, as I found out just days before I was to visit that campus. So I had to go with my second choice.

The plan of the visit was pretty simple: go down, get the lay of the land, meet some of my professors, arrange to rent an apartment. Not too much preparation involved, but I remember being nervous before I went down. And I remember what was on television then: special programming commemorating the first landing on the Moon, twenty years earlier.

Twenty years! It seemed like forever. I was only twenty-one at the time, so twenty years was most of my life. How shameful, that after all that effort, all those risks, all those sacrifices, so many years had passed since humanity last set foot on the Moon. How many more years would pass before we went back?

The answer is: a lot.

Twenty more years have passed since then, and now we are looking back on events that took place forty years ago. I can tell you that the last twenty years have passed like a shot, despite being packed with events that would take nearly that long to recount. But forty years - I mean, I've only been alive for forty-one years, so that's practically my entire life. Forty years is, like, forever!

So how many more years will pass before we go back?

Website recommendation:, replaying the events of forty years ago in real time!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I can practically taste the overtime

Overtime list went up today, and I immediately put in for Saturday (the first night after our shift) and Tuesday (the first night before we come back.) I think I'm pretty certain to get it, at least one of the days, possibly both. The only question is, will I be mandated for more?

I need to start working overtime, as much as I can. These kittens came with hefty price tags. Right now I'm looking at the possibility of running Gretchen to the vet's during what should be a sleep period for me, because she has a snotty nose that I don't want to see turn into pneumonia.Probably not today, but definitely tomorrow if she hasn't perked up.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My time-share existence

Work. Kittens. Yard work. Those seem to be the things that have occupied my life for the past month or two, but I actually do manage to squeeze in another thing or two here and there.

I have several non-intersecting groups of friends located within a two hundred mile radius of Nanticoke. Because these groups do not overlap, and because each group is separated from the others by many miles, spending time with any group of friends is usually an exclusive event: when I am with them, I am not with anyone else.

A few years ago, when I was well-employed and working a Monday-through-Friday schedule and driving a much younger car, this was not a problem. I might spend one weekend a month in the Poconos, two or three weekends a year in New Jersey, an occasional visit to Virginia or Maryland and another to upstate New York, dinner once in a while with friends from work or old friends from college, and then road trips every week or two with the friends who live locally. Even visits with friends living overseas once in a great while.

But things changed. We all got older. Friends got married, got divorced, had kids, joined bands, moved away. I lost some friends, made some new friends, and occasionally travelled far with them to visit some of their friends. I bought a house and took on all the responsibilities that entails. I lost my job, and then got a new job at a considerably lower pay rate and working hours that don't coincide well with anyone else's - just as the job market and the economy collapsed. My car got old, and then older still, to the point that I have to consider the possibility that it will break down on any given trip.

Still, I try to keep up, but I feel like I'm ignoring my friends. With so many of my designated days off devoted to yard work and visits to the veterinarian for the kittens, and with overtime always looming as a blessing and a curse, it is almost impossible to schedule the occasional day to visit friends. And then the question is, which group of friends will it be?

On top of all that, after a long hiatus I'm trying to date again. But this is also nearly impossible due to scheduling conflicts and the ever-present spectre of exhaustion. And time keeps ticking by. Days turn into weeks and months very quickly on my schedule. It only just recently occurred to me that this is Summer, and a friend of mine had told me she would be relocating to Pennsylvania for the Summer. Can we arrange a meeting? Probably not this week. I am scheduled to work tonight through Friday night, and will try to get overtime for Saturday and/or Tuesday night; I have a vet appointment with Thor and BlueBear on Monday, am planning on having a friend over to replace a fallen downspout on Sunday, and need to mow both lawns somewhere along the way. And she has her own schedule to contend with.

I have recently envisioned my life as a sort of time-share, in which competing interests reserve slots of time to do whatever it is they choose to do. Want to meet a friend for dinner? OK, we can give you one hour a month from next Tuesday. No good? OK, let's check the next available slot...

I'm sure there's been a science fiction story written about that. I thought that was the theme of John Brunner's Players at the Game of People, which I've never read, but the synopsis I just read doesn't sound too much like that. Maybe someone can offer some suggestions.

Anyway, my friends should rest assured that I am desperately trying to pencil them in someplace. Just not this Saturday, in case I work overtime, or Tuesday, for the same reason, or Monday, because of the kitten appointment, or Sunday, because of the home repairs, or...

Monday, July 13, 2009

And then there were six

Bowie, Thor, and BlueBear had a sleepover at my house last night. They all did very well. They used the litterbox I provided for them, which I stocked with the same type of pine pellets used at my mom's house. They played extensively throughout the bedroom where we all spent the night, but did not manage to break anything. They seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves. Which is good - because at some point in the future, that's where they'll be living, along with Gretchen and Rachel.

One cat who will not be moving there is our latest addition, Peaches. Peaches is the sole survivor of a litter born at the end of May to Tortoise the Tortoiseshell, who was herself born just last September or so, and is the last free-roaming kitten out there. (I no longer count Bowie, Thor, and BlueBear's two siblings as kittens - they are both larger than their domesticated brothers and sister, and have become juveniles / young adults at less than four months.) Not that she will necessarily be the last cat we capture - we would like to trap the remaining adults and have them spayed or neutered. No more kittens.

Peaches is sickly. Her tests for FIV (the feline version of HIV) and Feline Leukemia came back negative, and she has had her first round of shots. But she has an eye infection in both eyes, as well as an upper respiratory infection. We have drops and pills and a liquid medicine we have to give her twice a day.

But this sixth feral kitten is not for me. My mom will keep her, the fifth cat in her group, so we will have five and five. All spayed, all neutered. And as for the outdoor cats...I don't mind a few to keep down the mouse and vole and rabbit populations, but having them breed without constraint is unacceptable, even if the kittens have an incredibly high mortality rate. We will take steps to avoid any future litters.

Who dealt this mess?

I'm playing several Scrabble games with several friends on Facebook right now, and these are the letters I wound up with in one of them yesterday. It's nice to have all those U's, but I'd also like the occasional consonant!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Gray Lady Down

Nanticoke was once a city of banks. Great, hulking banks. Gray Ladies. Enormous money bins, giant becolumned edifices made of granite and glass and metal on the outside and polished marble and empty space on the inside, featuring enormous chandeliers and massive, impressive vaults and little pens chained to desks.

Those days are gone. Most banks no longer see the need for a vulgar display of their wealth with an imposing and impressive physical presence into which customers might enter and be reduced to motedom. Most do it these days by having the executive board rob the customers blind and bleed them dry and abscond with their money.

The buildings that were those great banks are also gone, mostly, torn down and replaced with much smaller and simpler structures, with drive-up tellers and ATMs on the outside. Customers no longer need to set foot within the premises for most transactions.

I think in all of Nanticoke there are perhaps three such structures remaining, out of perhaps three times that number that once existed. And I believe only one is still used as a bank.

First National Bank still exists as a building. But it has not been a bank for many years.*

The granite outer structure still exists. I haven't set foot in the building in decades, since it became a pawn shop of some sort. For the longest time a sign proclaimed "WE BUY GOLD AND SILVER", enticing the people of Nanticoke to cash in their heirlooms, or whatever heirlooms may have come into their possession, for quick cash. I don't know when the lower windows were smashed out and replaced with plywood. I never noticed the "FURNITURE MART / GIFT SHOPPE" sign until I took these pictures. Based on the archaic spelling, I'm sure the Gift Shoppe offered only the finest in merchandise.

Nanticoke, like much of Northeastern Pennsylvania, has long been ahead of the curve when it comes to the economic downturn. A ruin like this - like the other ruins in this city - does not do much to attract additional investment in the city of Nanticoke. Could there be any way to revive this fallen Gray Lady, to turn this liability into an asset?

*While this is true of this building, which has the words "FIRST NATIONAL BANK" engraved across the top, a quick check of the Nanticoke phone directory will reveal that there is in fact a "First Bational Bank" operating just a block away. But that's a subject for another post.

Title reference: The 1978 submarine disaster film Gray Lady Down.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Sah Palin's PAC and other inappropriate ads

Shortly after I began blogging five years ago I noticed that Google had begun inserting context-sensitive ads onto Blogger/Blogspot blogs:

I just noticed a few days ago that there's an ad banner at the top of my blog page. These ads are provided by Google, and I have no control over them. This seems only fair, since Blogger is a part of Google, and Google is providing this service and space for free.

But I noticed that the ads themselves seemed a little peculiar in their subject matter. One was for the Conservative Book Club. Another was for the Republican Book Club. At the bottom of the ad is a little tag that says "Related searches". While these particular ads were showing, the "Related searches" included "Condoleezza Rice", "Dick Cheney", and "national security advisor" - all mentioned in my
June 27 post.

Google eventually did away with these ads and replaced them with the Blogger toolbar at the top of the blog. But sometime after that they rolled out the AdSense program, which gives bloggers and others the option of placing context-sensitive ads on their sites. I resisted signing up for this for a while, but after I lost my job in 2007 I realized it was stupid of me to turn away any legitimate income source on the basis of half-thought-out principles. Still, the reward for abandoning these principles has been minuscule, at best.

AdSense ads are context-sensitive: they somehow comb through the text of a blog entry and insert ads based on criteria specified by the advertiser. I don't know exactly how this works, and I don't know how the criteria are set. And I don't know if it is by accident or design that ads completely antithetical to the posted content sometimes get though.

I've received several comments on the SarahPAC ad that's been appearing consistently on my blog recently. I first saw this ad a few days ago, on the page that appears to confirm that your post has uploaded successfully. I thought it was an odd place to put such an ad, but didn't give it a second thought.

Then I started seeing the ad appear on my sidebar or in the adspace at the top of my posts. I still didn't think much of it. Anyone who is familiar with me or my blog knows that I am no fan of Sarah Palin or of the political thinking that saw her slipped into the co-pilot's seat during the election. I do not dislike the person Sarah Palin should have been - would have been if I were writing her character: a tough, smart, determined individual who worked and fought her way to the top position in her state and was willing to do whatever it took to go even further. Instead what we had was an empty parody of all that. With every tick of the election clock Sarah Palin just seemed to be a worse and worse deal for America - and for the party that rallied behind her as their chosen candidate's chosen running mate.

Still, SarahPAC has seen fit to place its ads on my site. I don't know why. Maybe their ad placement algorithm is dumb, or at least simplistic: If the site mentions Sarah Palin, or mentions her this many times in this time period, place the ad. Or maybe this is a strategic choice: Any site that mentions Sarah Palin is likely to attract searches for Sarah Palin, and while some of the people conducting those searches will be opposed to donating money to a Sarah Palin Political Action Committee, others will in fact be so inclined. Or maybe the strategy is more sinister: If a blogger is expressing an anti-Sarah Palin sentiment, place the ad to undermine the credibility of the blogger, perhaps even turn the blog's regular readers against the blog. That would be...clever.

Like so much else involving Sarah Palin, this ad placement (to paraphrase Mr. Furious from Mystery Men) is either very smart, or very dumb.* Still, I don't find it particularly offensive, so I'm not going to take steps to have it removed. If you're interested in donating to Sarah Palin's PAC, go ahead. If you'd like to learn more about SarahPAC, feel free. If you feel that the space would be better served by some other ads - we'll, I'll be posting on lots of other topics, and if Sarah Palin keeps true to what she said in her resignation speech, I probably won't have too much more to say about her in the future. I think ad placement depends in part on reinforcement: ads that generate clicks from genuinely interested people tend to result in additional ads for similar products or services.

This whole situation is somewhat amusing, and mostly harmless. But sometimes, context-sensitive ads have a darker side.

During the month of June Dr. Isis of On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess was among the bloggers engaging in an effort to raise awareness of the sexual exploitation of women and children throughout the world. It was a big effort, and she , like many of the other bloggers involved, had pledged all of her blog-derived income for the month of June to the cause.

A few weeks ago ads from Russian mail-order bride services began to appear on her blog. Basically, ads for companies that engage in legalized human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of women.

Naughty Ads and Why I'm on Hiatus : On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess

Fortunately, after several days the group under whose umbrella she blogs finally responded to her takedown requests and confirmed that these ads had been removed.

Isis Ends Her Hiatus... : On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess

Was this a case of extremely inappropriate context-sensitive ad placement? I don't know. It seems likely at first glance, but I have also seen these ads and similar ads elsewhere, particularly on Facebook. So is this perhaps a well-capitalized business or (ahem) organization that is just throwing lots of money around, buying ads wherever they can? We'll see. I haven't seen any such ads on my site yet, but such ads may be prohibited under Google's AdSense rules. Maybe not. If anyone sees such an ad on my site, please let me know.

That, I will make a stink about.

*This was apparently originally said in Jaws.

Thunder coming

Huge storms broke north and south around Nanticoke a few hours ago. I don't know if we'll be so lucky this time. So the post about the ironic Sarah Palin PAC ad that's been appearing on my sidebar may have to wait a little while!

(Image from Weather Underground.)

Update, 11:07 PM: Yeah, we got thwacked, but not too badly. Looks like we're done for a while.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Drat, blast, and damn

(Corrected and images added, 7/12/09.)

Today has gone according to plan so far...mostly. Left work just after 6:00 AM, having confirmed that I am scheduled for overtime Saturday night. Reached the Wilkes-Barre Township Cracker Barrel just after 6:30. Confirmed that they opened at 6:00. Had a good breakfast and lots of coffee. Came home. Showered. Brushed and flossed, really well. Got dressed. Went to the dentist's for my 8:45 appointment. Checkup was fine, as usual.

On the short ride home I decided to stop at McDonald's Newsstand on Main Street, about two blocks from the dentist's office. This is a little hole in the wall, a narrow, one-room newspaper, magazine, and cigar shop with a storage room in the back that for years has contained a Joker Poker machine. It has been around all my life. I remember stopping in there countless times with my father in his orange 1973 Volkswagen Super Beetle after I served the sparsely-attended 7:00 AM daily Mass. I would look around for new comic books and he would pick up the latest copies of the New York Daily News and the New York Post. I remember seeing a copy of Roger Zelazny's My Name Is Legion there. The cover image by the Brothers Hildebrandt stuck with me so much that I instantly recognized it when I finally read Home Is The Hangman some ten years later. I bought most of my Star Wars comics and Heavy Metal Magazines there. I stopped in a few weeks ago to conirm that they carry the Allentown Morning Call. I'll be needing a copy July 28, and maybe September 3 as well.

As I pulled up I was surprised to see the number of cars parked in front of the place. Usually there is a spot open directly in front, but today I had to park down the street a bit.

I approached the store and noticed that one of the windows, instead of being covered with the usual notices of upcoming school plays and bus trips to Atlantic City, was covered with a single sign with words in foot-high letters: THANK YOU FOR SHOPPING HERE.

That's odd, I thought. I thought much the same when I noticed that the door was closed and it was dark inside the store. A single piece of paper was taped to the door. It said, simply, "Closed."

I focused through the glass into the darkness beyond. The daylight was casting some illumination within. I saw an empty counter. Empty racks. Empty store.


Oh, I can find the newspaper somewhere else, I'm sure. But another piece of Nanticoke, another piece of America, another piece of my life is gone.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

So much for the wwekend

(UPDATE, 3:05 PM: I now see that I typoed the post title. It should say "So much for the weekend". But I was tired, and spell check doesn't work on the title.)

Friday morning I have a dental appointment scheduled for 8:45 and a vet's visit for Gretchen and Rachel scheduled for 3:00. Saturday I was planning to go to a birthday pool party to play responsible adult. (Hah! Neither.) Sunday and Monday were a bit nebulous, but I have lawns that need mowing, weeds that need whacking, and even a few more tomato plants that need planting.

Monday I was thinking of trying to set up the one month follow-up visits for Thor and BlueBear. But I decided that Monday would be the best day to work overtime. I put in for it, but there's none available. Just for Friday and Saturday.

I got mandated for overtime for Saturday.

It's not guaranteed, though lately more and more people are finding themselves working overtime on days they thought would be cancelled. I'll know for sure by 8:00 Saturday morning. But for now, it looks like the pool party is off. If it happens, it will also screw up the rest of my Saturday and most of my Sunday. Tuesday night it's back to work for me.

Time to head to bed. Too bad someone just started working on the road in front of our house with a jackhammer. We'll see if I get any sleep.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Other people have also died

Following the recent orgy of celebrity deaths, particularly the death of Michael Jackson, other deaths of less-well-known individuals have not gotten as much coverage as they might have otherwise.

Robert McNamara died on Monday, July 6. He is a significant figure in recent American history for, among other things, the role he played in the Vietnam War. He was the subject - or, at least, the sole interviewee - of the 2003 documentary The Fog of War. More information can be heard here:

NPR: Robert McNamara, Vietnam War Architect, Is Dead
Robert McNamara On Doubts, And Vietnam : NPR

John Keel died on Friday, July 3. He was an author and researcher of Fortean phenomena, most notably the Mothman sightings in West Virginia in 1966 and 1967. I remember him from appearances on the talk show circuit (and at least one game show - either "What's My Line?" or "To Tell the Truth") in the early 1970's promoting his book, The Mothman Prophecies. This was made into a movie in 2002, and a fictionalized character based on John Keel was played by Richard Gere!

Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman has extensive information about John Keel's death on his blog, Cryptomundo:

Cryptomundo » John A. Keel Has Died
Cryptomundo » C2C: Keel Tribute
Cryptomundo » Vallée & Keel
Cryptomundo » Keel Ends Life Rather Alone
Cryptomundo » “John Keel was our Michael Jackson.” (with links to the mainstream media articles that are finally starting to appear)

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

What the Sarah Palin resignation tells us about the 2008 Presidential campaign

It's funny: When Sarah Palin announced her planned resignation last week, I immediately thought of two probable explanations: either she was just really and truly sick of it all and was walking away from her elected position, or she was setting in motion a years-long strategy aimed at a Presidential run in 2012. The third explanation, the one that is getting a lot of traction in the blogosphere and beyond - that this was a strategic resignation intended to sidestep the full impact of a scandal that's just about to break - honestly never occurred to me.

If Sarah Palin actually did what she did for the reasons she seemed to be stating in her announcement on Friday - essentially, that she could not take the heat, and was getting out of the kitchen - what does this tell us about her viability as Vice-President? Does she really think she was exposed to more pressure, criticism, ridicule, and abuse as Governor of Alaska than she would have been as Vice-President of the United States? If she could not handle that sort of treatment, hell, she wouldn't even be cut out for the job as First Lady - just ask Hillary Clinton. Heck, ask Chelsea Clinton - as a teen going through her awkward years, she was referred to as the "First Dog" by Repugs. Even the kids aren't off limits. If the pressure Sarah Palin felt as Governor of Alaska was so great, she wouldn't have lasted three months as Vice-President of the United States.

If Palin's resignation was intended to clear the path to her run for the Presidency in 2012 - well, OK, I can understand that. Especially if the situation resembles the one described by John Webster on his blog. Yet her explanation for her decision does not really allow for this possibility, and seems to specifically reject it. And her stated reasons seem to essentially disqualify her in terms of temperament - see the previous paragraph. If she can't hack the pressure as Governor of Alaska, then she really, really wouldn't be able to handle it as President.

And then there's the scandal theory. The rumors I'm hearing point to an event or events while she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska - well before she became John McCain's Vice-Presidential pick. If this is true - if even the shadow of the truth dwells here - then it tells volumes about the effectiveness of the process McCain used for vetting Vice-Presidential candidates. Because if a scandal lurks that is big enough for the highest elected official in the state of Alaska to suddenly resign from her position, it damned well should have been big enough for the McCain camp to spot when they went over her record and personal history with a fine-toothed comb. If they ever did.

Either John McCain's selected running mate was a huge wimp who could never have lasted as Vice-President, or John McCain's team failed to do the research required to ferret out some scandal in his chosen running mate's recent past. Either way, we can see how we dodged a bullet both in terms of Sarah Palin's suitability for office and John McCain's ability to exercise discretion and discernment.

So, for those of you who voted for McCain-Palin last November: You're welcome. Please vote more wisely next time.

Monday, July 06, 2009

International Space Station making multiple passes over the United States

As the International Space Station gets bigger by having more and more pieces added to it, it is also getting brighter as more sunlight is reflected from it. Over the next few weeks the ISS will also pass repeatedly over the United States, giving lots of opportunities for people there to see it!
From NASA Science News:

NASA Science News for July 3, 2009

The International Space Station (ISS) is about to make a remarkable series of flybys over the United States. Beginning this 4th of July weekend, the station will appear once, twice, and sometimes three times a day for many days in a row.

Check your local times and see if you can spot the International Space Station. And remember, there's lots of stuff in orbit that's visible in the night sky. Check out Heavens-Above for a listing of everything you can see!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Kittens and cashflow

Well, it's been a good four days off. I got a lot done, even on my first day, when I should have been asleep.

I have a serious cashflow issue thanks to the kittens. Initial visits cost $114 each. Multiply that by five. Bowie's one month checkup, with eye drops, cost $96 - without the eye drops I think it would have been $70. Gretchen and Rachel get their initial checkups this Friday, and then I need to schedule Thor and BlueBear's follow-ups for next week or the week after. A few weeks after that it will be time for Gretchen and Rachel's follow-ups. In about five months or so, the spay / neuter parade begins.

And then, of course, there's the kitten food, and kitten milk, and the kitty litter. So very much kitty litter.

I need to start working overtime to pay for all this. It will come out of my hide, but I cannot stand to be in debt. I need the money. AdSense ads aren't cutting it as a supplement - the revenue generated there amounts to pennies a day, if I'm lucky. It used to be more, but somewhere along the line things changed. I'd like to figure out what that change was, exactly.

As I write this I can hear a cat yowling outside my window. A cat in pain, or a cat in heat. Either way is a problem.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Fireworks in Nanticoke, July 4, 2009

It's the Fourth of July, and the City of Nanticoke put on a fireworks display. (Actually, it was the Nanticoke Housing Authority that sponsored it.) I can't recall if Nanticoke has done a show of its own in recent years, but this one was quite nice. I watched from the street alongside my mom's house, along with my mom, her neighbor, my brother, my sister-in-law, and my nephews. I set up my tripod and tried to remember how the "Fireworks" setting for my Nikon Coolpix L4 worked. I soon figured it out.

The display got started just after 9:00, while dusk had not yet fully darkened into night.

The wiggle in this image is due to the motion of the incendiaries, not to any camera shake on my part. I think.

A passing car leaves a trail on the CCD.

Not the finale. Not even close! This is just eight minutes in.

Palm trees! Still not the finale.

The beginning of the end.

Twenty-six minutes and one hundred and twenty-five photos later, it was all over.

Happy Fourth of July! I hope you had a good one, and came through with all your fingers intact!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Kittens, yard work, comic books, and Palin resigning?

This morning I took Bowie for her one-month visit to the vet. She's fine, though she has a mild infection in one eye, and I have to give her drops 2-3 times a day.

I planned to mow the lawn today, but just as soon as I got changed into clothes that I didn't mind getting covered with grass it began to rain. Hard. One of the pop-up storms we'd been expecting. Fine, switch to plan B: head out to comic book store to pick up whatever had arrived for me. (Yes, I've become a regular.) On the way there I drove through two or three more mini-storms, and ditto on the way back. In between storms the sun came out and dried everything off.

I confirmed it was raining at home and meandered a bit on my way back. I stopped at Taco Bell for the first time in about twelve years and ordered two chicken burritos and a Piña Colada slushie. Then I stopped at Kmart to try to get a replacement for my telephone headset, which has come apart in the past week. (Couldn't find a good one.)

After a few more stops I came home and began mowing the lawn. I got the whole front done before another pop-up storm rolled through. These tend to be brief but intense - even now I'm hearing police scanner reports of wires down and storm sewer covers blown off. (There's a lot of that going around.) As the first drops began to fall I dumped my last load of grass clippings around the base of a blueberry bush and hustled the lawnmower back into the garage.

Coming up the steps I could hear the TV chattering away about some woman in politics who felt she had been treated unfairly by the media. Who? Nancy Pelosi? Hillary Clinton? The cuckolded wife of the governor of South Carolina? How would this be considered newsworthy?

As I looked at the TV I saw a familiar face, and the words PALIN STEPPING DOWN AS ALASKA GOV. across the bottom of the screen.

What? I had just been reading some analysis that reiterated that the smartest things Sarah Palin could have done, post election, would be to hunker down, drop out of sight, focus on being governor of Alaska, and bone up on foreign and domestic policy for the next few years, preparing herself for another run in 2012. Instead she has managed to stay in the media spotlight, most recently by either developing a very thin skin (especially for a politician, especially especially for a politician as ruthless and cutthroat as Palin is said to be) or strategically picking fights in the media by taking very public umbrage at selected offenses. A strategy for portraying herself as the persecuted populist hero, perhaps.

Resigning as governor of Alaska is certainly a WTF?* moment.

What made it worse is the fact that the sound was on, and I was assailed by the nonsensical, rambling word salad of her resignation announcement. I will try to get my hands on an unredacted copy. It will be interesting to try to diagram some of her sentences.

So. Now we get to wonder what the hell Sarah Palin has planned next. Meanwhile, I suppose I should have gotten a board and sleeve for the Barack the Barbarian comic I picked up. It was the one with the alternate cover. I think it may have just increased in value!

*"What the frig?" See here for more information.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Gretchen and Rachel (not in that order)

I decided to get photos of Gretchen and Rachel this evening. Unfortunately, Gretchen ran and hid in an inaccessible corner of the back porch. So I took some pictures of Rachel on her own, then put her in the oversized pet taxi that is their temporary home until we could retrieve Gretchen. (Galaxy Grabber to the rescue again!)

(And before you ask: "Gretchen" and "Rachel" are both words that sound like "Gray." Gretchen is more gray, while Rachel appears to be kissed by a "ray" of light. See, these names came with built-in mnemonics!)

Rachel. She has a more predominant cream color to her grayness.

And then we have Gretchen. She is overall a bit grayer. Also somewhat more feisty than her sister.

My mom holding Gretchen.

Unfortunately, these two will need to be isolated from the other cats at least until next Friday. After their checkup, I may relocate all five kittens to my house across town. This will mean I will need to start paying daily visits to the house!

No overtime

No overtime tonight. Going to sleep soon.

I have an appointment for Gretchen and Rachel scheduled for 10:00 AM next Friday. That will be the morning of my first day off. I need to come up with a strategy that will allow me to be wide awake to safely get these two to and from the vet. I think Cracker Barrel may be involved.

UPDATE: Blaaah. I realized after I wrote that that I also had a dental checkup scheduled for 8:45 AM next Friday. I seriously doubt I would be in and out by 9:30, which is when I would need to leave the house to be sure of making my way through traffic to my 10:00 appointment at the vet's. (It takes me forty minutes to get to work, 33.3 miles away, but it can take thirty minutes to travel half that distance.) So I just rescheduled Gretchen and Rachel's appontment for 3:00 Friday afternoon.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Thirdday blues, again

Well, I'm tired. The third day always starts to get to me. Plus, I'm steeling myself for the possibility - the hope - that I will be working a fifth day. If that fifth day is like these first three, I don't know that I will survive it.

I have two sets of kittens I need to play with before I go to bed. I need to play with them in a specific order - Bowie, Thor, and BlueBear first, and then the two new gray kittens (who I have tentatively named Rachel and Gretchen.) This is in case the new kittens, who are isolated in an oversized cat carrier on the back porch, are carrying something contagious. I'm planning on taking the two new kittens to the vet on Friday at the same time as Bowie. Two cat carriers and three kittens - this should be fun.

Tonight is garbage night. I should haul some out before I go to bed.