Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween tally 2009

170 Trick-Or-Treaters. Only a single trio of asshole bastards among them.

I went through most of the thirty-two pounds of candy.

The little kids - infants and toddlers - genuinely appreciated the Animal Crackers, or "Hannibal Cookies" as one excited little girl shouted to her parents.

I would have had more, but some groups of kids walked by without stopping for candy. There weren't many houses on my street giving out candy. Actually, a disturbing number of the houses appear to be unoccupied. Anybody want to move to Nanticoke? Plenty of housing units ready to move...

The tally of the candy

This is everything that was in the big box o'candy, a Sterlite tote into which I've been tossing all the candy I've been buying for Halloween. It includes stuff I bought specifically for my mom to give out, but she's decided that she won't be answering the door for Halloween.

Most of this is from Sam's Club.

Wonka Mix-Ups (Nerds, Laffy Taffy, SweetTarts, Bottle Caps)
300 pieces
4.8 lbs. / 2.17 kg

Skittles / Starburst / Tropical Starburst
172 pieces
4 lbs. 8.4 oz. / 2.0525 kg

Hershey's Factory Favorites
120 pieces
3 lbs. 9.35 oz. / 1.62 kg

Two bags of Nestle Baby Ruth / 100 Grand / Crunch / Butterfinger
220 pieces total
8.74 lbs. / 3.968 kg

Variety Mix - Snickers, Twix, M&M's, Three Musketeers, Milky Way
105 pieces
56.8 oz. / 1610.3 g

Hershey's Miniatures
175 pieces
3 lbs. 8 oz. / 1.58 kg

Four bags of snack size Mr. Goodbar (from Kmart)
72 pieces
43.12 oz. / 1220 g

The following are all from Ollie's Bargain Outlet:

Winnie the Pooh Saf-T-Pops
21 pieces
8 oz.

Animal Crackers
20 bags
10 oz.

SweetTarts Shockers (sour SweetTarts)
30 packs
16 oz.

Let's see...not counting the Saf-T-Pops or the Animal Crackers, which are for any costumed infants who show up, there are 1,194 pieces of candy here. According to my records I had 137 kids last year, and 178 the year before. So even if the kids show up at 2007 rates, that's still 6-7 pieces of candy that I can give to each kid if I want to end up with nothing left over.

Now, you may notice that there is no consistency with weight reporting. English units are sometimes in pounds and ounces and sometimes in pounds and decimal fractions of pounds. Metric weights are sometimes in kilograms and sometimes in grams; may favorites are 2.0525 kg (good to the nearest half-gram!) and 1610.3 g. But roughing this out, and again counting only the non-infant candy, this is 14.675 kg total, or about 32.3 pounds.

I wonder if I'll have enough?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Off to party

Well, I wound up sleeping all day. Didn't accomplish anything. No haircut, no leaf raking, no shopping. Now I need to take a shower and head to a party.

Based on the footprints on the roof, trunk, and hood, my car has become a hangout for raccoons.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

One last night

Work tonight, then off for at least three days. And by "off" I mean a cavalcade of leaf raking, garden removing, and candy preparing on Friday, with maybe a haircut thrown in for good measure. Then Friday night I'll be providing an extra "adult" presence at a friend's pre-Halloween keep-the-kids-off-the-streets-on-Devil's-Night party. Saturday is probably more yard and garden stuff, church, and then sitting on my front porch with a tally counter and a big pile of candy. Sunday is somewhat open - maybe I'll visit some friends. Monday night I'm scheduled for overtime, but that could be cancelled.

Just clipped the front nails of Bowie, Rachel, Peaches, and Thor. Still have to get Scooter, BlueBear, and Amber. Nikki, Joey, and Babusz are all declawed.

But I think I'm done for now. Headed to bed.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Death Curve

If you happen to be coming to Nanticoke, PA by way of Interstate 81 Northbound, you want to be sure you hit the Nanticoke exit (exit 164) going as slowly as possible. That's because the exit goes directly into a semicircular curve with a diameter of about 440 feet. If you hit this exit while going at highway speeds, bad things are almost certainly going to happen. So - take it slow, bleed off a lot of your velocity before you hit the curve, and hold on tight!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ten again

Meet our latest - and, hopefully, last - acquisition: Amber, here shown alongside Rachel. Amber is one of a litter of feral kittens born several months ago, all of them apparently healthy and strong. The mortality rates in previous stray cat litters were enormous, which helped to keep down the population. And most of those who survived developed eye infections that were apparently related to upper respiratory infections.

We had been prepared to deal with ten kittens, but the death of Gretchen took us down to nine. Amber once more brought us back to ten. All of the other cats love her, and she adapted very quickly to life with unrelated animals.

Catching her was simplicity itself. She had been watching me as I mowed the lawn, on what we had decided was the last day I could safely try to catch her. I simply set out the trap, unbaited, and watched her curiosity get the better of her as she went into the trap to investigate it - and set it off.

If anyone is interested, there are still several kittens and cats available for adoption. No shots, no papers. Act now! Quantities are limited.

Bonus picture: Here's Thor and BlueBear sharing a brotherly embrace last night.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Scrabble writing assignment

1. Play a game of Scrabble with a friend. For example:

2. Write a short story using all the words on the board.

Mary shook her head. Why did she let Tim talk her into coming here? She never found any joy in going to high school football games even when she was in high school. Fifteen years later, it just felt creepy.

"Ah, 'twas a hit, a palpable hit! Son, you may not feel it now, but it's gonna ache in the morning!"

She felt her shoulders go slack. Every time he hollers like that... The Qi of this place was all wrong. The school had never felt right to her.

...and so on.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Cougars Welcome

Seen while leaving Pet Supplies "PLUS" in Wilkes-Barre today: A sign that says "COUGARS" WELCOME, right under the store's sign.

Of course, the sign probably belongs to the Adult Playtime Boutique, which is in the background. The sign is actually a few feet closer to the Boutique, so it's probably on their property, and they're probably trying to let older women in search of younger men know that they're perfectly welcome to search and shop there.

Pet Supplies "PLUS", besides being a store that loves inappropriate quotation marks, is also a store that allows people to bring in their pets. I can't imagine what would happen if someone brought in a cougar...

(I'm still kicking myself for not getting a photo of the "COLLAGE NIGHT TUES" sign in front of a local bar. They took it down. And after I put all that effort into my collage!)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Six down

Strangely enough, despite all the overtime I've been working lately, I think this was the first time I've actually worked six consecutive days in a single pay period - Sunday through Saturday. This will be a nice paycheck on Wednesday.

On the downside, I haven't slept since I came off-shift. At this point I've been up for about thirty-three hours. I've been doing all sorts of stuff today, including trying to figure out the latest changes to Facebook. Also, there's been an explosion of Sideshow Gathering activity on Facebook, and I'm trying to stay in the loop. I just changed my profile picture to one that may make it easier for people to recognize me.

I think several of my friends have come down with Swine Flu, H1N1, whatever you care to call it. It isn't flu season yet, but several people have developed flu-like symptoms - sometimes severe. It's a safe bet that any out-of-season flu activity is actually The Thing That's Going Around.

OK. I think it's time for bed.

Friday, October 23, 2009

One down, one to go

OK. I survived this night of overtime. Now just one more to go...and then two days off...and then four (or five) more days of work.

Halloween is next Saturday! Whatever happens, I need to make sure I am not tapped for overtime then. I love Halloween. In my neighborhood, where most houses have big front porches, we've streamlined the process immensely: we just sit on our porches and hand out candy to kids as they come up the steps. I need to list all the candy I've bought in advance of the big day.

And the weekend after that is The Sideshow Gathering! This will be my third year there. It's a great time, especially for someone like me who has led a sideshow-deprived life!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Overtime again

When you work on a 4x4 shift, your regularly scheduled pay weeks follow a pattern: four four-day weeks followed by four three-day weeks. It's just the way the mathematics of cramming an eight-day work "week" into a traditional seven day calendar week.

Lately I've been working strings of five- and six-day work weeks. The hours are rough, but the pay makes up for it. A bit.

I did not get tapped for overtime for either of the last two weeks. These happened to be three-day pay weeks. This week was the first in a string of four four-day weeks.

And I managed to get overtime! Both tonight and tomorrow night. In comparison to the last two weeks, I will be raking in the dough.

But first, I need to get to bed, so I can get up again in a few hours.

Good night!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Coming soon: The return of The Stained Glass Project!

It's been over a year since my first preview post in what would become The Stained Glass Project. And it's been over six months since my most recent post in this series. I only have a few windows to go. I think it's about time I wrap this up!

In my defense, I've been busy for the last few months, very busy. But things may be slowing down to a more normal pace, and I am going to try to catch up with many of the things I've had to postpone.

But that's not the only reason I've been delaying the completion of this project.

See, I had a weird sense of foreboding that when I finally had this project completely in the can, something more than the project would be ending. Things in this Diocese were heading in a very bad, very wrong direction, and once I had put the finishing touches on the final post, I was thinking that maybe it would be time to bring my relationship with the Diocese to - well, if not an end, at least an indefinite hiatus. Until and unless things changed.

Things changed.

So now that burden is lifted. I no longer foresee any major changes coming with the completion of this project. I am once again looking forward to finally bringing it to an end.

Unfortunately, the beginning of the end will have to wait a bit. I have one last day of regularly scheduled work tonight, and then I'm near the top of the overtime list for Thursday and Friday nights. After that I may be back to a string of four days on / four days off for a while. Here's hoping some of those days off will provide good photography opportunities!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Yesterday afternoon, Another Monkey was visited by visitor #150,000.

Whether you are a regular reader or were referred here by a search engine, all are welcome! Remember, without you, I'd just be sitting here talking to myself!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Paranormal Activity: The short, spoilerless version

It's not "the scariest movie EVER." Heck, it's not even the scariest movie I've ever seen, and I'm not a huge fan of the genre.

"Paranormal Activity" is a movie built around a common experience, and one of the most ancient themes in all scary stories: things that go bump in the night. Now, in real life, things that go bump in the night almost always have obvious and mundane explanations. But what if something else is going on? What if something else were responsible for the little noises that you hear when you're trying to sleep?

I don't think I was in this movie's target audience. The two main characters appeared to be in their early twenties, and I think people within plus or minus five years of the characters' ages were probably best able to relate to them, and put themselves in their situation. Also, they may have shared the lack of scary-movie experience demonstrated by the characters, who clearly never saw "The Exorcist", "The Amityville Horror", or "Poltergeist" - or else they wouldn't have done some of the things they did.

Big points to this movie for its subtlety and understatement. In the era of microscopically short attention spans, this is a movie where the audience will sit there and wait for something to happen.* Half of the creepiness comes from trying to imagine what will happen next. It's a refreshing change of pace from the sadistic gorefests and special-effects extravaganzas that have come to dominate horror and thriller films. Perhaps "Paranormal Activity" will serve as a gateway to movies like "The Exorcist" and "The Omen" which, by today's standards, are tame and sedate - but which operate on the same psychological level as this film, and far more effectively.

In the end I found this movie more giggle-inducing than frightening, but some of the people in the theater around me were clearly more strongly affected. And I'm sure more than a few of them have had a hard time going to sleep on subsequent nights. (Even I wish I hadn't stayed up so late last night reading up on this movie - and then thinking about some of the more disturbing scenes.)

If you're looking for a good, fun scare, go to your local haunted house, forest, or hayride, especially if they support local charitable organizations. But if you're looking for a creepy shared experience, you could do worse than this movie.

*An argument has been made recently that Twitter and Facebook have had a positive effect on attention spans, since people are now getting the stories of their friends' lives in bite-sized increments, and must connect everything together over a long stretch of time into a coherent whole.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lost Luggage

I have never personally had a problem with my luggage getting lost by an airline. Once, when I flew out to Los Angeles on business in 1994 or so, it nearly did. My traveling companion and I waited at the baggage conveyor and retrieved our luggage as it went around, and around, and around. In the end we had everything - except my main piece of luggage. We decided to look for help, and walked through baggage claim past several other stopped conveyors for other flights. About five conveyors down there was a single bag sitting unattended. Mine. We retrieved it and got out of there.

It used to happen all the time. One of my father's bags was lost when he was coming back from visiting his mother in California about thirty years ago. It was the bag containing, among other things, our ancient Brownie camera which he had used to take photos on his visit. All gone.

The past few times I have travelled I have made my own ID tags for my luggage, including my carry-on, with my face, name, address, and phone number. At Shannon airport in Ireland one of the staff asked me if I was a member of a crew - they have similar tags for their luggage. At Logan airport a security guard looked at my carry-on after it went though the scanner and asked who it belonged to. I guess the huge freaking tag wasn't explicit enough. (They needed to examine it because the scanner picked up "a large glass object" inside. I informed him that it wasn't glass, it was Waterford Crystal. Duty-free Waterford Crystal.)

On trips the past ten years or so I have been astonished by the complexity of luggage identification added to all checked bags, with numerous letter codes and barcodes. I don't know much about baggage handling systems, but I have heard that the mad mass of conveyor belts seen at the end of Toy Story 2 is a pretty accurate representation.

With the complexity and redundancy of these systems and the now-ubiquitous use of optical systems and computers to scan and track all bags, it seems absurd - even impossible - that a piece of luggage can get lost. Misdirected, yes. Stolen, yes. Had the tag fall off and dropped out of the system, yes.* But lost? Lost? Just follow the trail of scans and see where the last scan took place. Then work from there.

But a friend's son's luggage has gotten lost on an international flight.

Read This Because I Probably Won't Call: Continental Airlines will Steal Your Luggage and Ruin Your Career

This is Day 3 of Dean stuck in Amsterdam with no luggage, no bike (for which he paid a surprise $150 fee when bikes are supposed to ship free on international flights unless they don't like the way you look), and no way to compete in the 6-day racing event in which he was contracted to appear.

Continental doesn't even know where his luggage is. "Luggage" meaning a custom-built track bike, uniforms, bike shoes, and peripherals valued at - I don't know - lots.
If Continental is not providing tracking information on this, then it's probably safe to assume it's been stolen while in their possession. Which means it's a security matter. Which means it's also a matter for HOMELAND Security - if some employee of the carrier is tampering with cargo, then it wouldn't take a Libyan "businessman" to get something onto one of their flights.

Has anyone else had an experience in the past fifteen or so years with luggage that was lost, stolen, or misdirected and never recovered? Did the airline ever explain how and where the scan trail went cold?

UPDATE, 2:28 PM 10/18/09: The missing bag has been recovered. But the mystery remains: Where has it been? I doubt Continental will ever provide a straight answer to that.

Read This Because I Probably Won't Call: Continental Sucks, but Dean Survives

*I had this happen with a FedEx package at work a few years ago. After realizing that a missing asset had actually been shipped more than a week before, I used FedEx's tracking system to follow the package to, I think, a FedEx facility in Tennessee. We contacted that facility, and they were able to locate a package whose shipping label had fallen off - the missing package.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Behind the scenes of The Churches of Nanticoke

Fifty-two weeks ago today it was a bright, clear, and cold Saturday morning, and I was all dressed up with nowhere to go.

I had had somewhere to go, but a last-minute schedule change suddenly pushed that appointment off by a week. I had gotten up extra-early, showered, dressed, eaten, and was literally on my way out the door when the call came through not to bother coming.

I was annoyed. What to do? I was up. I was primed. I didn't feel much like getting undressed and going back to bed. The sun was rising on what promised to be a beautiful Autumn day, and I didn't want to waste it.

Fine. Photographs. I would go out to take photos.

Two problems presented themselves. As I approached my car I saw the sunlight burning the frost off of the Obama '08 sign on our side yard. I pulled out my camera to take a picture, and watched the batteries die as the last of their charge gave out. Like an idiot, I didn't have spares with me, so I had to go back in the house to get them. Well, at least it didn't happen while I was in the field.

I came back out and got a picture, sort of, but by then much of the cool stuff going on in the image had gone away. I walked the rest of the way to my car and noticed that the right front tire was flat.

Well, not flat exactly, more sort of flat-ish. Still, it needed air. So I pulled the compressor out of my trunk (doesn't everybody have one?) and filled it to its recommended pressure. I checked the other tires and topped them off, too.

By then I had lost the first light of sunrise, and had to content myself with the glow of early morning light. Fine. I would still follow through on my plan: to go to the highest point in Nanticoke and photograph St. Mary's church. And then, if the light held, I would start to make my way through the rest of the churches of Nanticoke.

I didn't expect to hit them all in a single day. But that's just what I did.

You can relive those thrilling days of yesteryear through these posts:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

For all parts of this tour, go here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Things I did today

1. Drove out to my brother's, with my mom, to see my nephews off to school. Left the house at 6:15. Hit hypnosnow - that stuff that looks like what you see when the Enterprise is moving above sublight speeds - while driving up a mountain. Then drove through more hypnosnow while driving over narrow, winding roads covered with wet leaves. Fun! (More snow is predicted for tomorrow. Three consecutive days of snow in mid-October?)

2. On the way back, stopped at a supermarket and bought ingredients for pumpkin pie.

3. Came home and made apple fritters for breakfast.

4. After a pause to reload, made pumpkin pie filling (using the recipe on the label of the can of pumpkin puree) while watching Ratatouille.

5. Ladled filling into pie crusts I had purchased earlier.

6. Realized I had enough pie filling to fill at least four such crusts.

7. Learned how to make a butter pie crust from scratch.

8. Made one. (I used butter instead of shortening, and did the egg-wash trick as recommended for pumpkin pies. NOTE: Sea salt is a poor substitute for "kosher or coarse salt." Looks like I need to add another ingredient to the arsenal.)

9. Made a third pie, larger than the first two, along with a small bit of pudding with the leftover filling.

10. Ate them.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Just for the record: Snow on October 15, 2009

Yeah. I like to note the dates of the first and last traces of snow each year. Turns out the first snow is today.

Good thing we went out on our little trip yesterday. Today many of those roads in the higher elevations have more than a little snow on them, and I don't feel much like dealing with it, or with other drivers who have forgotten how to drive in snow.

Traditionally, before any snowstorm the residents of Northeastern Pennsylvania hit the supermarkets and buy up all the milk, eggs, and bread. To honor that tradition, I had French Toast for breakfast this morning.

Looks like I won't be cutting the grass on these days off!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tannersville and the leaves: check

I ticked one thing off my current to-do list today. I took my mom for a ride to The Crossings outlets in Tannersville to do some shopping and some leaf-seeing.

I was supposed to work overtime tonight, which is to say I was on the list of people tentatively scheduled for overtime. However, our overtime needs turned out to be less than originally anticipated four days ago, so I was among the people cancelled.

I had been planning to take my mom to Tannersville sometime during these days off, partly so we could do some shopping - her for shoes, me for discounted books, and both of us for whatever else there was to see - and partly so we could see the Autumn leaves, which we figured should be at or near peak along Route 80. On the way home from work I heard the weather forecast for the next few days: cloudy today, but rainy and even possibly snowy the next two days. So it seemed like today was the day to go.

When I got home my mom told me that she needed to deliver some documents to someone in Scranton today. Scranton is about twenty-five miles northeast of Nanticoke.* I decided that after a nap and a shower I would drive her there, and then we would continue northeast to Route 380 and drive southeast to the point where 380 meets 80 - which I believe is the "crossing" to which the outlet mall's name refers.

We started out around 2:00 in the afternoon. The diffuse sunlight shining through the clouds illuminated the trees of the Wyoming Valley visible from Interstate 81 beautifully. While there are still many trees displaying green, the trees that are showing reds and yellows are vivid and bright. The same was true as we passed out of Luzerne County and entered the Lackawanna Valley region within its namesake county. Just south of Scranton, barely a mile before the left-hand Central Scranton Expressway exit, there is a fantastic panoramic view of nearby mountains rising up out of a gorge; the trees here are the ones that so impressed me on the first day of this rotation. Today, four days after that post, they are even more stunning.

The visit to Scranton was uneventful. I dropped my mom off at the office building where she needed to deliver the documents and waited for her in the car, doing some people-watching while I waited. (Hey, youse dames in da skirsts wit' da high heels and great gams: dem stockings wit' seams running up da back o' da calf would not be entirely inappropriate.) When she was done we hopped back on I-81 and continued northeast to Route 380. Veering south-by-southeast, we then headed through the heart of the Poconos, past places like Moscow and Gouldsboro and (snicker) Scotrun.**

380 climbs almost imperceptibly through these regions, but the effect of the change in elevation was evident in the trees: many of them were well past peak, and some were denuded of leaves entirely. The sight was a little disappointing, even as we descended again towards the intersection with Route 940 (site of a great sushi restaurant and many fond memories of good times with good friends) and beyond.

Soon 380 merged with 80 and we only had a few minutes to observe the leaves here before it was time to take the exit for Tannersville. The mall itself was a disappointment; my mom was not able to find shoes in her size, and the only books that I found that were worth buying were some discounted graphic novels at 50% - 66% off. We reconnected and hit a food court for some cinnamon sticks, and then determined that there was really nothing else of interest there for us. So after less than an hour, we were on our way back home.

We took the exit for I-80 west, which is a terrible interchange and not for the faint of heart. I had to do some fancy driving to avoid being crushed by the fast-moving tractor-trailers behind us or slamming into the slow-moving ones ahead of us. We passed the intersection with 380 (which was the way we had arrived from Scranton) and continued west on 80 to the Blakeslee exit to get onto Route 115 north towards Wilkes-Barre.

This was old familiar territory. I once had many friends who lived in Blakeslee and the surrounding areas. For most of the 1990's I spent many weekends drinking and carousing with these friends. But you know what they say about all good things. One by one my friends got married, started families, and moved away - or just moved away. Now there is no one left, not in that immediate area at least.

The landscape there has changed with the post-9/11 influx of residents from New York City to that area. Route 940 has perhaps changed most of all, but I didn't travel along that former two-lane road this time. Instead we tooled along route 115 as the sun was gradually sinking lower into the west. The trees there were beautiful, as they always have been, even though perhaps there were fewer of them than there once were.

Route 115 makes a steady, somewhat steep climb from Blakeslee to a point a few miles south of Wilkes-Barre, where it then begins a steep descent - and a dangerous one for trucks, as evinced by the mandatory stop point for trucks over 21,000 lbs. (so that, in theory, they would be starting out at a speed of zero) and the two runaway truck ramps, steep off-road paths with periodic hills of gravel designed to slow down and stop a truck that has lost its brakes.

Along this descent it is possible to get breathtaking views of the Wyoming Valley. Often these views were my favorite parts of visits to my friends in the area of Blakeslee; after a long weekend of partying I would leave early Monday morning and make my way back to Nanticoke just as the sun was rising and illuminating the clouds along the Susquehanna River and the mountains that form the north wall of the valley, all from a vantage point along the mountains that form the south wall.

And this evening the Wyoming Valley was stunningly gorgeous, a carpet of reds and yellows and oranges spread out as far as the eye could see. Soon we descended into that valley and made our way to a Perkins restaurant in Wilkes-Barre for dinner.

"You know," my mom said, "I think, after going all that way, the trees are prettiest right here at home."

I had to agree. Still, I'm glad we made the trip.

Our travels today. Nanticoke is points A (not seen) and F. Scranton is point B. Tannersville is C, Blakeslee is D, and Wilkes-Barre is E. Total travelling distance somewhat more than 111 miles. Image from Google Maps.

*I am still trying to disabuse some friends of the notion that I live "in Scranton." Considering that these people are from satellite areas of New York and Philadelphia, where even people living fifty or a hundred miles outside of the city limits aspirationally consider themselves "just outside of" their adopted metropolises, this may be a tough task.
**That's "Scotrun." Not "Scrotum."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dreaming of Rapture Riders

A post on Dr. Isis's blog put me in mind of the music of Blondie. Debbie Harry was one of my childhood crushes. Still is, actually.

I heard this song for the first - and, until now, perhaps the only time - while I was in the McDonald's in Gatwick airport just outside of London, waiting to fly back to Ireland. It's a brilliant mash-up of "Rapture" by Blondie with "Riders on the Storm" by The Doors. I think much of the music in it is new, not taken from either song. It's called "Rapture Riders."

Watching this made me also want to watch one of my all-time favorite Blondie videos. Everything you need to know about the early eighties you can learn from this video. (This song is actually from 1979, and the video may predate the eighties as well.) It's also just a great song. "Dreaming" by Blondie.

Blondie is currently touring - I heard promos for a concert stop in New Jersey while I was at a friend's wedding a few months ago. You can check out the band's website here.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Blah. I want to catch up with everybody's posts, but I want to get to sleep soon. I want to eat eggs. I think I can manage that one.

I signed up for one day of overtime this week, on Wednesday, and I didn't get mandated for a second day. I kinda hope I don't get called off - I could use the extra money.

So now it looks like my days off will be Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I'll take my mom out one of those days, probably to the outlet mall in Tannersville. The leaves should be very nice down thataway.

I'd like to go to a haunted house this year. I haven't been to one since college. One of the guides there was a friend who died last year - I can still hear her shouting "Step lively!" in a fake British accent. Another friend was one of the exhibits - she was strung up in a harness that allowed her to be executed by hanging for each tour group.

I should get to bed soon. But first I need to cook some eggs.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

What a difference four days make!

When I commuted to work last Monday afternoon the trees really had only just begun to turn. Shades of orange and gold were starting to creep into the edges of some leaves, although the occasional rogue tree had changed colors entirely. Yesterday afternoon was my first daylight commute since then, and I was surprised at how much the trees had changed in less than a week.

This is something I missed when I was on day shift. Driving in to work starting at 5:00 (or earlier) in the morning, driving home from work after 6:00 in the evening, I didn't see daylight on a work day for several months. Now I drive in in the late afternoon and drive home in the morning, and I get to see plenty of sunlight during those hours that I am not asleep.

If you'd like to see peak color in Northeastern Pennsylvania, you'd better plan on coming this way soon. Each of the next few weeks will present a different mix of colors, color intensities, and leaf coverage, and I don't know how long it will last!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Alternatives to the Nobel Prizes?

Rush Limbaugh, predictably, had a meltdown at the news that U.S. President Barack Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, by the same committee that had ignored such great peacemakers and liberators as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Now, I will admit that - like the recipient himself - I was initially somewhat bewildered by the Nobel Committee's decision. Here is the full text of the official press release regarding the award:

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2009

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population.

For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world's leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama's appeal that "Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges."

Oslo, October 9, 2009
Anyone asking "What did Obama do to deserve this award?" is directed to this announcement. Anyone seeking further information should direct those inquiries to the Norwegian Nobel Committee itself.

Ever since Alfred Nobel established his awards as a way to atone for having developed a better and more efficient means for people to blow each other up, these awards have been granted at the discretion of the Nobel Committee. More than a few of the decisions to honor or omit honoring have been controversial. To my knowledge, no honoree has chosen to refuse the honor.*

The reaction to the decision to honor Obama is as predictable and as political as the reaction to Obama's address to the students of the United States. Many members of the far-"Right" take this even further, saying that the Nobel Peace Prize has become meaningless after being awarded to "liberal sellouts" (to use Limbaugh's term) Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, and now Barack Obama.

OK. Fine.

Rush Limbaugh is one of the wealthiest members of the media elite. It seems to me that he and a few other stratospherically wealthy fellow travellers could pool their resources and endow an alternate set of prizes to recognize and reward those whose actions and positions deem them worthy of such an award. I realize hookers and oxycontin are expensive, and there's only so much money left over after you've hidden the bulk of your earnings in secret offshore accounts, but why don't these people put their money where their mouths are?

One already has. In 2004 the owner and publisher of the right-wing Washington Times actually did present a peace award - to himself. I suppose Limbaugh and company could follow suit, presenting themselves with awards and then, as award laureates, deciding who might be worthy to join such august company.

And anyone questioning the reasoning behind such awards would at least know who to ask.

*"To my knowledge" means "off the top of my head without bothering to look this up." My cousin did bother to look this up, and supplied this information via Facebook:

I remember hearing that the award has be refused in the past, so I looked it up. I won't make any politcal commetary - nor will I make any statements, just answering your query on refusal of Nobel awards

Q. Has anyone ever refused a Nobel Prize?

People who refused the prize:...Read More

Le Duc Tho was awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize with Henry Kissinger for their roles in brokering a Vietnam cease fire at the Paris Peace Accords. Citing the absence of actual peace in Vietnam, Tho declined to accept.

Jean Paul Sartre waved off the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature. His explanation: "It is not the same thing if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre or if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prize winner. A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if it takes place in the most honorable form."

Boris Pasternak declined to accept the 1958 Prize in Literature, which he'd earned for Doctor Zhivago. The Academy refused his refusal. "This refusal, of course, in no way alters the validity of the award. There remains only for the Academy, however, to announce with regret that the presentation of the Prize cannot take place."

When the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the German pacifist journalist Carl von Ossietzky in 1936, who was at that point imprisoned in a concentration camp, Hitler ordered that no German could receive a Nobel Prize. Consequently, the German prize-winners Richard Kuhn (Chemistry, 1938); Adolf Butenandt (Chemistry 1939) and Gerhard Domagk (Medicine, 1939) were all prevented from accepting the Nobel Prize.

Adolf Hitler himself was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by a member of the Swedish parliament in 1939. The nomination was withdrawn shortly after.

Friday, October 09, 2009

End of a four-day breather

I didn't do anything much today. I didn't spend any money, which is in itself an accomplishment. I've been spending money with a firehose these past few days, buying mostly semi-necessary things: Halloween candy, batteries, garbage bags, anniversary gifts for my brother and sister-in-law, stamps, those sorts of things. Today I didn't even leave the house, except to replace a burned-out floodlight.

This was my first string of four days off in - well, it seemed like forever, but I actually just had four days off at the beginning of September (I was supposed to work overtime two of those days, which would have been my sixth and seventh consecutive workdays, but my overtime was cancelled both days - just as it was this past Tuesday and today) and a workweek in early August interrupted by a friend's wedding. Prior to that I think I hadn't had a stretch of four days off since mid-July, though my recollection could be fuzzy.

It was good to have the time off, to be able to do things and not be rushed, to even waste some time. But now it's time to go back to work for the next four (or more) days.

The big news of the day was the surprise decision by the Nobel Committee to award Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Price. A lot of people behaved very predictably as a result of this announcement. It was really, as Oscar Wilde would put it, quite tedious.

(I just saw Rush Drugbaugh's reaction, where he lamented the fact that liberators and peacemakers like George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan were ignored by the Nobel Committee and then said that Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize "is a bigger embarrassment than losing the Olympics." What an asshole. Maybe he can fund his own prizes, and award them to those he deems worthy?)

The Sideshow Gathering is coming up at the beginning of next month, and I'm really looking forward to it. I'll post more on that later.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Google Moon

You probably already know about Google Earth. (If not, you need to stop whatever you're doing, download it, and then see what your house looks like from the air.) You may even know about Google Mars, which I wrote about extensively here. But what I didn't know was that since July 20, 2009 - the 40th anniversary of the first human walking on the Moon - Google Earth 5 has also had a Google Moon feature.

I don't remember if I was specifically speculating that this feature might exist, or if I was looking for something else when I clicked on the Google Earth toolbar button with the cartoon icon of a ringed planet on it. But there, under "Earth," "Sky," and "Mars," was "Moon." I clicked on it, and this is what I saw:

The Moon! Earth's moon, in zoomable, spinnable, tourable mode!

One of the things that most people find surprising on seeing the whole of the Moon for the first time is this: it's not homogeneous. At all. It doesn't look the same from every angle.

We are so used to seeing the 59% of the Moon that is presented to us (that extra 9% comes from the phenomenon known as libration) that we tend to assume that the Moon must look the same all over, a roughly even mix of bright cratered regions and dark regions called maria, as we see in the image above, centered on the lunar latitude and longitude coordinates 0, 0. But that ain't so. Giving the Moon a half-spin to the coordinates 0, 180 - the "Far Side" of the Moon, also erroneously thought of as the "dark side of the Moon" - we notice a remarkable difference:

Aside from the Mare Moscoviense in the upper left, the only dark spots are some flooded craters near the bottom! Otherwise the most striking feature is Jackson Crater and its associated ray pattern covering much of the upper right, looking almost-but-not-quite like a mirror image of the familiar crater Tycho and its ray pattern near the bottom of the Near Side view.

The north pole of the Moon looks even more different, but part of this is a photographic illusion. All of these Moon images are actually mosaics of thousands of images taken under optimal lighting conditions. But at the poles, lighting conditions are never really optimal: the Sun is always low in the sky, casting deep, long shadows. The north and south polar views actually present an impossible version of the Moon, since half of this image (more or less, depending on orbital geometry) would be in darkness at any given time.

The south polar region of the Moon. Some of those dark, shadowed craters never see sunlight. The speculation is that any comets that have collided with this region of the Moon will have deposited some their water - in the form of ice - in these permanently shadowed craters, and it will still be there. Such ice deposits could provide a usable source of water for future manned missions. Crater Cabeus, located in the dark region at about ten o'clock in the image above (shaped something like a closed fist with a hooked thumb), is a target for a mission that will crash a rocket into the surface in an attempt to detect any resulting tell-tale signs of water.

Region containing Crater Cabeus

In this image, the part of the Moon that faces us is to the right. The image is dominated by the Mare Orientale in the lower center, an enormous crater with a flooded basin. Though the name means "Eastern Sea". it is located in what is now called the "western" side of the Moon. Things can get very confusing when you're dealing with places initially explored through telescopes that flip and invert images.

Finally, on the right (eastern) side of the Moon we again see relatively few features: the rayed crater Giordano Bruno near the top, and the occasionally-glimpsed Mares Marginis, Smythii, and Australe. On the lower right we see the flooded Tsiolkovskiy Crater, and above it a grouping of overlapping rayed craters.

Tsiolkovskiy Crater

That's just an overview, a sampling of what can be seen from a distance. Go and open the Moon view on Google Earth and explore our nearest neighbor in space yourself!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Have Twitter and Facebook killed blogging?

I have been blogging for nearly five and a half years. I was reading other people's blogs for several years before that. Many of the bloggers that I read before I started blogging myself have left the world of blogging for one reason or another.

Blogs and blogging serve many different purposes. As a soapbox, a personal magazine, a public diary, an art gallery, an outlet for creative writing, a place to post neat things that you've found online - sometimes all of these at once, and many more. And unless they are specifically restricted in their readership, most blogs serve as a one-to-many (and potentially one-to-all) form of communication.

Years ago blogging took a lot of work. You had to go through the trouble of securing yourself a place to post, and then most likely do the coding and layout yourself. The effort required was daunting to many, and kept the number of bloggers down to a manageable few.

But then something happened. Hosting sites like Blogger got into the game and made blogs so easy to create and manage that any idiot could have one. Not coincidentally, it was shortly after this that I decided to dive in and create the blog that I had been thinking about for many months.

I had a lot of company then. The established bloggers who I had been reading for years, established bloggers who I just discovered, sometimes through comments left on my site, newbie bloggers like myself, even newer bloggers who were just taking their tentative first steps into the blogosphere in the months and years that followed.

For a while it felt like a big, global conversation. People from all over interacting, commenting, linking. Letting each other know big ideas and mundane details, things that might have been kept in private once upon a time laid out for all the world to see, scrutinize, dissect, and criticize.

For a while.

Then other options became available. Twitter. Facebook. What these are, you already know, or can easily find out about. But the important point is: in most cases these are one-to-some forms of communication.* Unless you have signed up for Twitter and Facebook, and unless you are specifically allowed to see updates from the individual person posting them, you're cut off from the conversation.

I've written about this before. But in a conversation with a friend last night, I had something of an epiphany.

DataBoy Echo (8:15:51 PM): Facebook and Twitter have killed blogging. Sort of.
DataBoy Echo (8:17:18 PM): It's kinda like if all the writers of the 19th century stopped writing and just did private correspondence. In some cases this actually happened, more or less, and the collected letters have given insights into the personal thoughts of the writes.**
DataBoy Echo (8:18:29 PM): But it's not like anyone's really archiving Twitter or Facebook, as far as I know, except maybe the FBI and Secret Service. And eventually Twitter and Facebook will be gone, and all those records will be gone too.
So do Twitter and Facebook correspond to the personal letters written by the writers of yore? The stuff that they were saying to their personal friends when they weren't writing tracts and stories for general consumption? And is anyone archiving them? Honestly, I don't know.

What I do know is that some of the best bloggers I have ever read, some of whom were in the game long before I had even heard the term, have left the blogosphere. And many of those who remain post only sporadically.

But they're not gone. Not entirely. Many of them still have a presence on Facebook or Twitter. Instead of writing deep, thought-out posts, or even quick from-the-hip posts, they are expressing themselves one status update or one tweet at a time. And the global conversation is poorer for the loss of their voices.

Some days I feel like the blogosphere was a big party, but gradually many of the people in attendance have left to go Somewhere Else. I feel sometimes like I'm the last one left at the party, though I know I'm not.

But even if I were, I think I would stick around. Keep the ice machine running. Keep the bowls of chips filled. Keep the music playing.

Because someday, I think the fads will pass. The people who want to express themselves and their creativity to the world will remember how they used to do it. And I'll be waiting there, to welcome everyone else back.

*MySpace is like that, too. But I think MySpace is already dwindling towards irrelevancy. I could be wrong about that.
**sic. I so want to correct this to say "writers."

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

On seeing the Moon one Monday morning

Monday morning I needed to stop for some supplies at the local supermarket. Grapes, oatmeal, diet cola, cat food. Nothing special, but all necessary.

My shopping only took a few minutes, but I was tired from having been on my feet and constantly moving for twelve of the last thirteen hours. As I pushed my cart back to my car I noticed a white circular object nestled among the white clouds low in the west. It was the Moon, just past full.

It looked huge. This is a psychological effect; we always overestimate the apparent size of the Moon in the sky, which can be easily blocked by an eraser on the end of a pencil held at arm's length. But this is especially pronounced when the Moon is low in the sky and is easily visible alongside houses and trees and mountains. To me, the Moon looked huge.

The Moon is a body of matter so massive that it has pulled itself into a spherical shape, I thought. It was formed in a collision billions of years ago between the Earth and a Mars-sized impactor. It hit, was demolished, stripped off a large portion of the Earth's surface, and formed a cloud of debris which eventually coalesced into the Moon. (Those are the broad details. Somewhere along the line there was a second impact, either with the initial body or the proto-Moon.) It hangs in the sky, but is actually in orbit around our planet, held there by mutual gravitational attraction. It is massive, so massive that if you were to stand on its surface you would feel a pull of gravity 1/6 as strong as that on the surface of the Earth.

I moved my foot. I am standing on a parking lot, on solid matter. (The reflectivity of the Moon is about the same as that of an asphalt parking lot, yet it appears bright in our sky. Whenever I hear this fact, I always think about the parking lot that I happened to be standing in in that moment.) The solid matter of the parking lot is made up of atoms and empty space. Mostly empty space. I stamped one foot. Yet it is solid. I do not fall through. The atoms and empty space that make up me do not slip through the atoms and empty space that make up the ground.

I breathed in, breathed out. The air is also atoms and empty space. Nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide. I breathe in, and the air fills the alveoli in my lungs. Blood flows through my lungs and exchanges carbon dioxide for oxygen. I breathe out again, and the air is slightly richer in carbon dioxide, slightly poorer in oxygen. I go on.

I looked down. I had a cart full of groceries to load into my car. The clerk who had checked me out ran into the parking lot to give me the club card I had left at the register. I had to pack the car, head home, unload, pick a rose to put on Gretchen's grave, feed the cats, feed myself, and get to bed so I could get up for work again in a few hours.

I turned my back on the Moon and got started.

Monday, October 05, 2009

One last day, maybe

Tonight is my last regularly scheduled night for this rotation. Tuesday night and Friday night I'm on the overtime list, but there's a chance that one or both days might be cancelled. If they are, I'm sure I'll find a way to pass the time. If they aren't...well, I appreciate the extra money. I know the opportunity for working overtime won't be around forever, so I need to take advantage of them now - and build up my average weekly pay for calculation of unemployment benefits. Unemployment, temporary at least, is just around the corner - unless something has changed dramatically.

I've fallen asleep at least half a dozen times while writing this. Time for bed!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Sunday mornings on the radio

Most mornings after work I drive home listening to Morning Edition on WVIA-FM, the local NPR affiliate. It's a good way of getting a dose of the news, and one of the big advantages over working day shift. On night shift I can listen to All Things Considered on the way in and Morning Edition on the way home. When I was working days my morning commute took place before Morning Edition was on the air, and I didn't get out of work until All Things Considered was over.

On Sunday mornings, like on Saturdays, there is no Morning Edition to be heard, and Weekend Edition doesn't begin until after my commute is over. A few months ago I found myself scanning through my presets on a Sunday morning, looking for something other than the religious programs and local interview shows that dot the radio spectrum at this time of the day on this day of the week. And I found...something.

The website for Euranet, the European Radio Network, describes their mission in this way: "The European radio network, Euranet, keeps you informed about what is happening on the continent from a pan-European perspective. Radio programmes in eight languages link major European broadcasters to create a unique listener community. " Listening to this show, even for just a few minutes, gives you an interesting perspective on what is considered the best of radio news from throughout Europe.

If you're interested, give the show a listen. This week's program is posted on their web site,

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Firewall issues

I haven't been able to access AOL for the past two days. The site itself, or my AOL mail, or (most importantly) my AOL Instant Messenger.

I think it's a Firewall thing. It may also be related to this change made by Verizon, though I don't think so.

Today when I opened a new tab in IE8 I was greeted by a Google page. But that wasn't the page I was expecting. A few minutes of checking reveled that my Google toolbar now had a feature turned on that I had never turned on.

I need to look into these issues, especially the AIM one. But this is a work day. I'm scheduled to work through Monday night, and will probably have overtime on Tuesday night. After that I'll try to sit down and figure out what's going on.

UPDATE: Never mind. Choosing "Auto configure" on the AIM error screen for the umpteenth time finally fixed it.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Caught up, almost

Did my first night of this rotation. One down, five to go.

Now I've tried to catch up on all of the posts my friends have made to their blogs and Facebook pages. Only I just realized it's my turn in at least two Scrabble games. So I'd better take care of that before I head to bed.

UPDATE, five minutes later: Nope. Can't stay awake long enough to formulate coherent words. I'll try again after I get up at 2:30. Goodnight!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Helping the economy recover

It's been a good two days off. Yesterday I pulled an all-dayer: after coming home in the morning I ate breakfast, I lingered a bit, then popped up and mowed the lawn at my mom's house. After a shower I took my mom to an appointment, and then went on an odyssey of pumping my hard-earned cash back into the local economy: the Kung Fu Panda DVD for $7.99 from Kmart, a stack of comic books from a local comic book shop for which I plan to design a blog in a few months, cat food, cat litter, a scratching post, a CD of the greatest hits from local DJ's Daniels & Webster's first 5000 shows called "Sgt. Lumpy's Auto Parts Club Band", a non-stick tin for making oversized muffins, and several other items - including a large pizza with onions, black olives, and anchovies, and a six-pack of Dream Weaver Wheat beer on the side. Upon arriving home, realized that I hadn't eaten anything all day aside from some apple pie and coffee first thing in the morning, and promptly ate six slices of pizza and two beers. Read comic books until I fell asleep at 10:00 at night, some thirty-two hours after I first woke up the previous afternoon.

Got up this morning around 9:00. Made Shoo-Fly Cake, half the batch in the oversized muffin tin, the other half in a loaf pan. Read some blogs and began working on the day's blog post while eating one of the muffins. Ran across town to mow the lawn there. Set out some Fall decorations. Came back here for lunch, consisting of the last two slices of pizza and another Shoo-Fly muffin. Showered. Gave blood, which is why I made the iron-rich Shoo-Fly Cake. Bought some remaindered books at Barnes & Noble - Schulz and Peanuts by David Michaelis, Pontoon by Garrison Keillor, and The Onion's Our Dumb World. Bought the new Pearl Jam CD and a copy of Heavy Metal magazine at the Kingston branch of Joe Nardone's Gallery of Sound. Also bought some Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations at a nearby dollar store.

So. I've done my part to hep the economy recover. Have you done yours?