Thursday, December 31, 2009

Accident on the last day of the year

We shut down early at work this morning. 2:00 - just in time to play bumper cars on the highways with all the drunks pouring out of the bars.

I stayed around for another hour to help with the annual inventory, so I figured I would miss the worst of things. I mean, who is on the highway at 3:00 in the morning?

Garbage trucks, it turns out. I had one puttering along in front of me on the highway on an uphill. I passed it, but shortly after we crested the hill the garbage truck passed me again. Soon it joined up with another truck from the same company.

Which is a good thing, because the two trucks together probably saved me from crashing into the accident debris scattered all over the road a little later.

The first sign something was wrong was the car off on the left side of the highway. It was stopped but for some reason looked like it was backing up. This might have been because the red cover was missing from its third brake light, so white light was shining from its rear window, looking like a misplaced back-up light.

I don't know if it had been involved in the accident or had simply stopped to help. But a few yards beyond it there was a smaller blue vehicle off on the left-hand shoulder, sideways. It seemed to be missing its rear bumper. And maybe its rear wheels, too. There were people standing around it. There were...things in the road. I don't know what they were.

The two garbage trucks slowed and then stopped, blocking the highway just past an exit. They are protecting the vehicles. They have radios. They are calling this in. I veered off onto the exit, realizing that I myself had slowed down enough to possibly get rear-ended by any inattentive drivers following me.

There was more debris on the highway near the exit. I got a better look at this piece. It was a folded-up baby stroller.

So. What happened? I have no idea. I didn't see any coverage on the news at 6:30 this morning when I went to sleep or at 11:00 this morning when I woke up. What were the things in the road, the other debris? Again, no idea. It could have been a bumper, a rear axle, some luggage that had been strapped on top of the vehicle. It could have been bodies.

I saw a baby stroller. Was there a baby in the car?

This was the second time in ten days I was in proximity to a violent-looking car crash. Should I have stopped to render assistance? I'm not a trained responder, so there's not a lot I can or should do in such a situation, other than advise people to stay put until help arrives, and maybe some heavy lifting.

I took the exit and took a detour the rest of the way home, most of it on a secondary highway. At one point I saw two ambulances pull onto the road in front of me. Neither had its lights or sirens on. Were they coming from the accident? Was their assistance not needed? Were they carrying patients beyond the need for lights and sirens?

Tonight there will be many car accidents, and more than a few deaths. Please drive carefully. If you drink, don't drive. And watch out for everyone else on the road who may very well be drunk.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Last day...night...whatever

Tonight is the last night of work for the year. After this I am off until next Wednesday.

Tomorrow will be quite busy. Among the things I want to do is meet with a friend who will be passing through the area. I think I will try to convince him to have lunch at a place two blocks from my house.

Time for bed. Just in case I don't see you before then - have a safe and happy New Year's Eve, and see you next year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


The wind. The wind. The WIND!

We got a heads-up before leaving work this morning that the wind was pretty fierce. But it took some effort just to get out of the building! My Tercel managed to hold onto the road the whole way home, somehow.

I took a detour on my way here this morning to my house across town, to verify that both my front gate and my Arcosanti bronze windbell were still in place. (They were.) Not that I was concerned that the wind would carry either item away. No, several people in town have been victims of scrap metal thieves who have stolen their wrought iron gates. And if someone is going to go through that sort of trouble for rusty 100-year-old iron, how much more appetizing is a heavy cast-bronze windbell? There's not much I can do to secure the gate, but as of this morning the windbell, a token of appreciation for being in a friend's wedding party seventeen years ago, is safely inside the house.

The wind has died down now, and none of the trees outside have collapsed. Neither has the house itself, nor the utility poles withe electrical wires slung between them. So now I can go to bed.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Back to work for three days

Well, I signed up for overtime for today...and I got it. So it's back to work tonight, and then Tuesday and Wednesday nights too. On Thursday a friend will be passing through the are and I'll want to meet up with him for lunch. Then it's mass sometime in the afternoon, dinner with my mom, and a New Year's Party (I think - I haven't received any recent reminders, so that might have changed.) So Thursday will be a bit of a marathon, and the challenge will be to get some sleep in there somewhere.

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday I may try to do some of the holiday visiting I haven't been doing. But when you have a car with 313,000 miles on it, you do have to be careful about long trips.

I actually don't go back to work after that until Wednesday the 6th, on a new experimental schedule where we'll be working fewer hours spread out over more days - instead of 48 hours every eight days we will work 40 hours every seven days, and instead of a 4-day-on 4-day-off schedule it will be 5 days on, 3 days off, with the first and last days of the 5 day rotation being partial days. It's confusing as hell, but there are very good reasons for trying it. Unfortunately, the practical upshot of commuting 5 days out of every 8 instead of 4 days out of every 8 is that the cost of commuting (as well as associated wear-and-tear) has gone up 25%. It's as if the price of gas went up from $3 a gallon to $3.75 a gallon. And before you suggest that everyone should start car pooling - there are practical considerations that make scheduling carpools impossible on these first and last days. Which means a major disruption for those who already carpool.

I wonder if any new employment opportunities will be coming to this region in the coming year.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

As 2009 grinds to a close

Christmas Day is over, though as our priest keeps reminding us, Catholics* observe Christmas all the way through to January 10, which is when we observe the Feast of the Epiphany. I have no problem with leaving my Christmas decorations up until then, and beyond.

It's been a busy past few days, and this is the first time in a while I've really had a chance to sit down and compose at the keyboard. Which is a damned shame, because unless something happens (and it might), I am at the top of the overtime list for tomorrow, so I will most likely be going in to work tomorrow night. I won't know for sure until Monday morning.

I've been laying pretty low this Christmas, shopping-wise. I know that if I leave the house now I will spend some money. Actually I want to spend some money on an Astronomy calendar (or, should I say, the Astronomy calendar.) And maybe a few other things.

2009 hit the rest of the country pretty hard economically. Here in NEPA, not so much - because we've already been in severe economic and employment straits for several years now. (I lost my decently-paying white-collar job back in February 2007, back when folks were still laughing at suggestions of a coming recession.) A friend in the D.C. Metro area tells me that some of her fellow government employees were having a conversation prefaced with the statement "Now that the recession is over..." When she pointed out that the recession is far from over for people in a lot of places outside of their insular little bubble community, they pretty much responded with a sneering "sucks to be them." (For more on this, see this post from Robert Reich.)

I think I'll be doing some blog housekeeping for the new year. There are a few blogs and associated sites that have gone away and are almost certainly not coming back. Pruning these dead sites away is personally painful because at least one of them represents a friend - now a former friend, or maybe a never-really-was-a-friend - who has also gone away and is almost certainly not coming back, at least not anywhere that I will be able to - or welcome to - interact with her.

A new year represents a blank slate on which all our hopes and fears exist only as potentialities that have yet to be actualized. Starting from where we are, I guess it's easy to hope that things will get better, and maybe they will.

*In the most recent local episode of "The Culture Wars", there was a bit of a brouhaha about a manger scene set up on the Luzerne County Courthouse lawn, with a token menorah tossed in for balance. You can read more details about this here. The punch line is, more than a few Catholics were among those talking about how Christianity is a part of our nation's founding tradition and culture. I think if they studied history more closely, they would find that damned dirty Papists were regarded by the Americans of the days of our Founding Fathers about as highly as gay Muslim pedophiles would be in today's culture.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Happy Boxing Day!

One of these days someone will think to program a Rocky marathon on this day.

Been busy...too busy to blog. In a good way, I guess. But in the blogosphere I did help someone solve a mystery these past two days. That's always fun!

...Plus I'm getting reinforcement on why I will never, ever become a landlord. Ever.

Onward to New Year's Eve!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas Eve!

...or Christmas Day, depending on your time zone and when and where you're reading this!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Most Nativity stories omitted the part about the giant cow

An old favorite from 2005. This display is back up again this year, located just off route 309 in Wilkes-Barre, PA.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Accident (the short version)

Two cars collided just a few feet to my left on the commute in to work last night. It kinda scared the crap out of me. I called it in to 911, and was possibly the only person to call it in, as they called me back for more specific information to determine jurisdiction.

I don't know if anyone was hurt, but I can't imagine that everyone came out OK. At the very least, two cars were wrecked just days before Christmas.

Drive safely, everyone.

UPDATE: The slightly longer version, as related on Facebook:

This was a stretch of I-81 that was unusually congested. I assumed it was from construction down the road, but there was none to be seen. So maybe this is due to traffic from a shopping center filtering down onto the highway via the exit we had just passed.

In any event, traffic was crawling along, and continued to crawl along as far as could be seen. Probably a quarter mile of traffic was visible ahead.

BUT there was a mysterious opening in the left lane that no one seemed to be using. I was considering hopping over from my spot in the right lane to the left lane, and then continuing from there. It was just as I was thinking about this when I heard the screeching roar of locked brakes and skidding tires. I couldn't see where it was coming from, but I could tell it was somewhere behind me. Then I saw out of my peripheral vision a car on my left get rear-ended by a car behind it.

It was a pretty violent collision, and one of the cars - I believe it was the one that was struck - wound up spinning around entirely and facing me. I actually thought it was coming right at me at one point, and maybe it was. I managed to move over towards a merging lane, mainly to avoid debris, but secondarily to avoid getting hit by the cars involved.

My guess: two other people had the same thought about getting into the left lane that I did. One of them moved over and stayed around the pace of the rest of the traffic; the other driver decided to accelerate and speed past all the other cars in the right lane. He (or she) obviously didn't consider that someone else might move into the lane in front of him (or her.)

A few seconds later and it might have been me getting rear-ended in nearly-stopped traffic. If it had happened, it would have been on the eighth anniversary of the time a friend and I were rear-ended at a red light by a hit-and-run driver.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Solstice!

Take comfort, my friends. The night won't last forever. The sun shall return.

'Round these parts the worst of Winter tends to come in January and February. So far I believe temperatures have been above average, with a few brief cold snaps. This weekend's snowstorm made some of the roads an icy mess, but what landed on sidewalks was easily brushed away.

There are differences in different countries as to when Winter begins. Some cultures refer to today as "Midwinter's Day", which implies that Winter is half over; but I will argue that weather in mid-February will be much harsher and more wintry than weather in early November, so Winter is not symmetrically balanced on this day. Others declare December 1 to be the start of Winter, which seems more reasonable. Of course, half the world reckons today to be the start (or middle) of Summer! For them this is the longest day of the year.

But wherever you are, have a Happy Solstice!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Shopping is done

Yep, all my Christmas shopping is done now. Which is good, because from this point on, any shopping would have to be done at 6:30 in the morning on my way home from work.

If anyone out there wishes you a Merry Christmas, remind them that Christmas isn't until next Friday! "Happy Holidays" is appropriate any time of the year. lists holidays around the world for every day of the year. Don't forget - tomorrow is the Winter Solstice! Sacrifice a virgin if you can find one. And warmly reassure everyone that the nights will now begin getting shorter, and the sun will one day return!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Final cookie push

Sugar Cookie dough is made and chilling.

Bird's Nests are about to be made.

Coffee filters are being repurposed after having sat on a shelf for more than ten years since the introduction of "permanent" filters.

Got a taste of the future today and...maybe things won't be so bad. Maybe.

Disappointment is feeling quite proud of yourself for having discovered something that would make an absolutely perfect surprise gift for your nephews - and then finding out it's the top item on their Christmas list. Well, that's not a bad thing. And it means that I'm well-attuned to the things that they might want. I just feel less clever.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Shopping: Done. Mostly. Fun fact: Mega Bloks are compatible with Legos.

Baking: Double batch of oatmeal chocolate chips done. Double batch of Rocks underway. Still to go: Bird's Nests and Sugar Cookies.

Cards: New design chosen. Mostly printed. Not mailed.

Unemployment: Filed.

Stopped in the Barnes & Noble in downtown Wilkes-Barre that also serves as the college bookstore for King's College and Wilkes University. Paul Krugman's Economics textbook is $180. A Physics textbook is $225. WTF?

SO what is it with all the crappy driving at this time of the year? Do these people lack any driving skills at all because they do not drive the rest of the year, kinda like long-term Sunday Drivers? I pulled into the parking lot of one store today and was immediately stuck because there were cars, including two police cars, parked at random all over half the lot. Not sure what was going on. I didn't see any damage to any of the cars, but there were a lot of citations being written. One of the vehicles was a minivan with about six shady-looking characters in it, all of whom seemed pretty amused that I was trying to maneuver around their stopped vehicle to try to park in the open spots they were blocking.

Big storm coming. Allegedly.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas list

Things I have to do in the next three days:

- Christmas shopping. Technically I've picked up a few things here and there. This will be a very light year, with the exception of gifts for my nephews.

- Christmas cards. My chosen design seems too dark and cynical, even more so than last year. I may go with more than one design. Whichever, I need to send these by, like, tomorrow to make sure they get where they're going by Christmas.

- Bake cookies. I can do this. I already did some, but those are all gone. I'll do at least another gross (gross and a half? two gross?) of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies tonight. Then the rest tomorrow and Saturday. Some of the things I need to shop for are cookie essentials, like a big bottle of whiskey and some good-sized tins.

- Pay bills. Or at least make a dent in them. Remember, kids, willingness to go into debt is an expression of faith in the future.

- File for unemployment for last week.

Oh, and a fun rumor going around work: We may be working Christmas Eve. So, no Vigil Supper with my family, no Midnight Mass, none of those silly old traditions. And, possibly, no bonus rate for working on a scheduled holiday. We'll see.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Party tonight

Yay! It's our department Christmas party. I have ten two-liter bottles of soda. I hope that's enough! It's going to be quite amusing walking into the plant with that much soda dangling from my arms.

Out of respect for no one in particular, I am refraining from doing my twenty-three year old joke about Oral Roberts' surviving brothers and cousin.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Race to the bottom

I've worked in the manufacturing sector in one capacity of another for most of the last twenty years. I've seen fads in management come and go, along with their proponents. I've seen consultants wade in and get paid big bucks to make huge changes that leave everyone other than the consultants in a worse position as a result.

I've seen stuff. Scary stuff.

But I've also seen manufacturers surviving. I've seen companies make cuts to the bone and beyond. I've seen employees accept a whittling-away of their wages and benefits because in this economy they realistically have nowhere else to go, and because they have a shred of hope that maybe someday things will get better, or at least back to somewhere closer to where they were before everything went to hell.

There's a lot of stuff driving this. My industry is fairly unique in that it manufactures a range of products that many consumers would rather steal than buy, and that they steal without the slightest trace of remorse - indeed, with a sense of self-righteously sticking it to the man.

But another thing that drives the downward death spiral across many industries is the unhealthy lose-lose relationship between retailers and manufacturers. Listen to this article from NPR's All Things Considered to get a sense of the scope of the problem:

Costco-Coke Spat Highlights Retailers' Strength - All Things Considered, December 14, 2009

Pay special attention to what is said between 1:10 and 1:40 - and realize that this does not only apply to "Chinese and Asian manufacturers."

This is not just a situation in which retailers and manufacturers are locked in a deadly embrace. Consumers are demanding lower prices, and have fewer dollars to spend in the first place. In some cases manufacturers are pinched between retailers and the clients for whom they are manufacturing the product. And like consumers, clients demand ever-lower prices for the same product, even as raw materials and other associated manufacturing costs actually increase, to the point that some manufacturers are looking at the possibility of manufacturing at a loss just to hold onto market share.

And what is the end result?

Imported Chinese drywall that poisons people and corrodes metal. Imported toys that are soft and pliable and bright and shiny thanks to the addition of toxic lead. Imported ingredients for pet food that have had their apparent protein content inflated by the addition of melamine, which has the side effect of sickening and killing the pets who eat it. Stores filled with goods that are pale, cheap imitations of items sold in decades past.* Items that have been manufactured in a half-assed, low-quality way because that's all the effort the manufacturer can afford to put into them.

Manufacturers know that if they can't keep up, the clients will try to find someone who can do the job at their price point. Consumers drive the system by valuing price over quality. Everybody plays a part, and everybody shares in the blame.

Is there a way out? I have no idea. I fear that we are heading for a future filled with cheap, useless dollar-store trinkets in place of the useful and functional things we want and need, a future where America's last remaining manufacturers have been driven from these shores, resulting in an economy where no one actually makes anything.

And all we'll be able to do then is look around and ask: How the hell did we get here?

*Do you have any old box fans around, maybe twenty or so years old? Go buy a new one and compare the quality and workmanship. Even just the size and heft and the tip resistance.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Three-day seven-day week

I was laid off yesterday, so this will be (at best) another three-day, 36-hour week. Fortunately I can pad this out with unused vacation days and turn it into a seven-day week. Which means I will be able to pay the bills that are due in the next few weeks, or at least put a dent in them.

This is going to be the least materialistic Christmas ever.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Teach the Controversy

From the Wikipedia entry, as of 11:29 PM 12/13/09:

Teach the Controversy is the name of a Discovery Institute campaign to promote intelligent design, a variant of traditional creationism, while discrediting evolution in United States public high school science courses.[1][2][3][4][5][6] A federal court, along with the majority of scientific organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, say the Institute has manufactured the controversy they want to teach by promoting a false perception that evolution is "a theory in crisis" due to it being the subject of purported wide controversy and debate within the scientific community. [7][8][9][10] McGill University Professor Brian Alters, an expert in the creation-evolution controversy, is quoted in an article published by the NIH as stating that "99.9 percent of scientists accept evolution"[11] whereas intelligent design has been rejected by the overwhelming majority of the scientific community. [12][13]
Teach the Controversy is also the name of a line of T-shirts that parodies this manufactured "controversy" of science vs. pseudoscience and mythology. There are two designs that I haven't seen yet - so I've sketched out my own versions. Quite literally "sketched" on a piece of scrap cardstock I happened to have floating around. The first one is actually my first and favorite version* of my sketch of the explanation of solar eclipses through the action of a dragon that eats the sun. I've seen an old image of this in a book, but I can't locate it online. I thought this was in Cosmos, but I've flipped through my well-worn copy several times and haven't been able to find it.

The second is a much rougher thumbnail version of my standard rebuttal to anyone who suggests that Creationism should get equal time with the teaching of evolution because "there are two sides to every story": "Should weather reports give equal time to the 'Weather God' theory of low pressure systems?" In this image is a partial scribble of Thor, the Norse God of Thunder, complete with Mjöllnir and a cartoon/opera horned Viking helmet. Would Thor hang with Zeus / Jupiter, who could throw lightning bolts to accompany Thor's thunder?
Silly stuff, I know. But the pseudoscientific phony "controversies" we see and hear every day are silly - and dangerous. Best to inoculate yourself to the stupidity. Unless you're convinced that inoculations are a government plot, or will give you autism...

* Here are the other two versions:

Saturday, December 12, 2009

I am exhausted

Haven't been sleeping right these past four days off - which just extended into five days. I need to get to bed soon. There's so much left to do, and I'm not getting most of it done this way. At least I took care of one promise today. But that means there's lots more baking ahead in the few free days I have before Christmas.

I think it's the weather. I think my Seasonal Affective Disorder hit me like a train with last Tuesday night's snow, and my body just wants to hibernate. That, and the fact that I appear to be stuck on night shift even on my days off. I'm trying to work through things with St. John's Wort. It's helped in the past. Maybe I should try taking some fish oil, too.

Let's have some holiday music, shall we? I saw this on a friend's site and reposted it to Facebook. It will probably go viral, like the Muppets' version of Bohemian Rhapsody. Here they are with "Ringing of the Bells" (a.k.a. "Carol of the Bells"):

UPDATE: Two hours later, I am wide awake and heading for bed.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Canadian Science Fiction writer Peter Watts assaulted and detained by U.S. border agents

When I met Chelsea Clinton in Scranton last year I had a few seconds to talk to her. Nothing much. Not that I was being rushed at all, and in fact I could have hung out with Chelsea at a nearby bar/restaurant afterwards, but I didn't want to delay the nice lady who took my picture and her daughter from getting to talk to Chelsea. So I think all I said to her after the picture was taken was something like, "I have a lot of friends who are afraid to travel to America. I hope your mom helps change that." I wasn't just thinking about our culture of violence. I was also thinking of the ever-more-draconian steps that are being taken to discourage any visitors from coming to this country, all in the name of National Security.

When Barack Obama became the Democratic nominee I threw my support behind him. I figured that either Democratic candidate would be more likely to reverse the Bush Administration's many miserably bad decisions than the McCain/Palin team.

On a lot of these, I'm still waiting.

Here's just another example.

On Tuesday, Dec. 8th, Canadian science fiction author Dr. Peter Watts was arrested and beaten while returning to Canada after reportedly helping a friend move in Nebraska.

According to Cory Doctorow (a personal friend of Dr. Watts), as border guards were inspecting his car, Dr. Watts got out and questioned what they were doing. He was subsequently punched, pepper-sprayed, beaten, handcuffed, and jailed. The witnesses in the car reported that Dr. Watts did nothing to provoke the guards into this response.
Dear President Obama: WTF? We hired you to fix these problems. This is the sort of crap I would expect under your predecessor. But I expect better from you.

See also:

Legal fundraiser for Dr. Peter Watts, SF writer Deanna Hoak (this is how I became aware of this story)

Dr Peter Watts, Canadian science fiction writer, beaten and arrested at US border - Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing

Not the Best of Possible Worlds. - Peter Watts' account of the situation. Contains some harsh language, understandably.

Science fiction writer charged after bridge struggle The Times Herald - A report in a Michigan paper from Port Huron, where this incident took place. Contains several inaccuracies and errors, which Watts addresses in the post linked below. Some of these inaccuracies and errors may actually be present in the official police report, though this was only verbally delivered to the reporter by Port Huron police Captain Jim Jones.

Squidgate. Update. - more from Peter Watts, including corrections to some of the reports floating around out there.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Here I go

Commencing preparations for Christmas in 3...2...1...

...hey, I wonder if anyone has updated their blogs or Facebook statuses in the last thirty seconds? Let me check...

UPDATE, 12/11/09, 2:40 AM: Twelve dozen oatmeal chocolate chip cookies made. Not a bad start. CHRISTMAS PREPARATIONS HAVE BEGUN.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Glowing spiral over Norway

I am in serious danger of becoming the sort of blogger who just links to other people's blogs or online articles. Not that that's a bad thing - there's a lot of good, cool, and interesting stuff I'm reading out there that I'd like to share. (Actually, Blogger has a "Blog This" function that I suppose I could be using. Hmmm...)

Anyway, here's something from Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy website about a mysterious glowing spiral that appeared over northern Norway early on the morning of December 9, 2009. Clicking on the image above takes you to the original Norwegian article (in Norwegian) with a larger version of the picture, and Phil's article has more images and links. The most likely explanation for this is that it is from a failed rocket launch, possibly from Russia, spiraling and venting exhaust.

A few - OK, more than twenty years ago, my father told me about a strange glowing, swirling cloud he saw in the night sky. Later that week I was talking with a girl with whom I was having a long-distance relationship and she mentioned to me that she had also seen something very much like this at about the same time. As she lived about 100 miles to the West, I realized that whatever they both had seen had to be pretty high up in the atmosphere. A few days later a small article in the newspaper noted that people all over the Eastern seaboard had reported seeing this, and it was just part of a Russian (well, Soviet Union) rocket launch that had gone up at an unusual time on an unusual trajectory, which is why such things hadn't been noticed during previous launches.

It's very unusual, very beautiful, rare but not unheard-of. If anyone reading this happens to be from Norway or thereabouts, please let me know if you witnessed this personally.

See also:
Strange 'Norway spiral' likely an out-of-control missile - space - 10 December 2009 - New Scientist

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Ice storm in the morning?

Yessir, sounds like there's some interesting weather coming tonight. While I'm at work. Will the various local and state agencies tasked with keeping the highways open and safe spring into action for the early-morning commuters? Another big advantage of working night shift: I won't be driving in at god-knows-when in the morning through this stuff, hoping to get to work on time. I can take my time getting home, especially since this is the last day of the rotation.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Two day week

Back to work today for the last two days of my rotation. This would have been a 36-hour week, but now is a 24-hour week since we were laid off yesterday. I could use my remaining vacation days to make up the difference, but I think I'll file for unemployment for this week as long as I'm eligible. (My unemployment compensation will be based in part on all the extra time I put in this summer.) I would have to be laid off two days next week - which is scheduled as a 48 hour week - to be eligible for unemployment then, and I'm hoping that won't happen. But I will probably take my remaining vacation days for my unscheduled days next week, to maximize that paycheck. There are a lot of bills coming up in the next few months, city taxes and school taxes and garbage fees and house insurance and other stuff. Plus, electrical rates are expected to jump by 30% after rate caps come off on the first of the year.

Sigh. This is what my life has come to.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Unexpected day off

I have tonight off. This would have been my second night of work for this rotation. Four days off, one day on, one day off, two days on, four days gets confusing.

I tried to be semi-productive today, sort of. Grocery day is usually Tuesday, but when the shift starts on Saturday the apples and grapes I bought several days before tend to be less-than-fresh, or by Saturday have already been consumed beyond what will carry me through the next four days. This morning I only had to shop for two days, so I didn't really have to worry about the grapes lasting too long. Which is good, because the bag of grapes that I bought - the last one of the type that I like - looks well past its peak.

I took my mom to church this morning. 11:00 mass. By then I had already been up something like twenty-one hours. I nearly passed out several times, which would have been amusing, as I probably would have wrenched one or more of the pews off its moorings if I had fallen. I experienced a near-passing-out thing that I've never had before: everything went momentarily brown, with a shotgun-blast pattern of bright red in the center of my vision, a Gaussian distribution of red dots. This happened twice. I caught myself both times. After church I went home and slept for five hours.

This is almost, but not quite, what it looked like. If I spent a few more hours on this image, I could probably get it just right. Or I could have just grabbed an image of a globular cluster and colored all the stars red!

I did do something massively useful today: I figured out hot to get Hotmail to filter all of my Facebook e-mails into a separate Facebook folder. That way these e-mails don't crowd out everything else, and I can go to a single folder to catch up on what I haven't read from Facebook.

I also started reviewing some emails from an old friend who is no longer a friend anymore. Probably nothing will come of it, but I'd like to see where things went wrong.

For anyone who's interested, here's my work/off schedule for the rest of the year:

Work: Dec. 7, 8
Off: Dec. 9, 10, 11, 12
Work: Dec. 13, 14, 15, 16
Off: Dec. 17, 18, 19, 20
Work: Dec. 21, 22, 23
Off: Dec. 24, 25, 26, 27, 28
Work: Dec. 29, 30
Off: Dec. 31, Jan. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Please keep in mind that "Work" indicates a 12-hour work night, and I will be unavailable all of that day and part of the next (if I am not scheduled to work the next night.) All dates are subject to change due to layoff and overtime.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Snow, glorious snow

The first measurable snow of the season. (We had some back in October, but that doesn't count.)

And in an hour or so, I have to drive to work through it!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Wiped out

Wow, am I tired. I've been staying up late, later than I should, because my body still thinks it's on night shift. But now it's just after 8:00 at night and I'm falling asleep...and I start back on four days of night shift tomorrow night.

I've been doing a lot of yard work these last three days. All the leaves from the yard here are either serving as mulch or are bagged and stacked in wire compost bins to start the process of decaying into leaf mold.

Across town I pulled out my garden, put away the tomato stakes, began pruning the grapevines, and mowed the lawn one last time. I then put away the lawnmower and all the garden tools for the winter.

I also decorated the house over there for Christmas. Noting fancy.

Took Bowie to the vet today to get her spaying sutures removed. No problems there, but I nearly vomited when I heard the insipid glurge of "The Christmas Shoes."

Still haven't started on the cookies. Dammit. I'm gonna be doing a lot of baking next week.

Some fun stuff courtesy of Gwyd the Unusual , who I saw perform at the Sideshow Gathering and am now friends with on Facebook: "Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods", a guidebook to strange and mostly unknown creatures said to haunt the woodlands of America. Published in 1910!
I still have to finish my Sideshow Gathering posts...and my Stained Glass Window Project posts...and my Christmas Shopping...and my bills...

Thursday, December 03, 2009

They'll Do It Every Time...for Christmas

It's still five days before the second anniversary of the death of longtime They'll Do It Every Time artist and writer Al Scaduto. (Whaaaa...? Only two years? It feels, like, forever!) But every year at this time I think of him, and the submission I wish I had made:

Every year Barfo puts away the Christmas decorations all nice and neat and orderly...
(Picture of Barfo in obligatory black sweater-vest looking proud of himself as he puts decorations away in neat little boxes marked "lights", "wreaths", etc...)

...but every year when he goes to pull them out again...
(Picture of Barfo saying "Wha-a-a???", projectile-sweating and google-eyed as he looks at chaotic tangle of strings of lights, cords, ornaments, candy canes, etc., all of which have managed to escape their orderly boxes and create the same mess Barfo had encountered the year before!)


Miss you, Al.

The Comics Curmudgeon archive of They'll Do It Every Time comics
The Comic Strip Archives: TDIET from the Houston Chronicle, Jan. 1 2004 - Feb. 3 2008

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

NEPA Blogs: Uncornered Market

I started NEPA Blogs nearly four years ago with a simple idea: to create a network of interlinked blogs that would increase each other's traffic, Google rank and advertising revenue.

It didn't quite work out that way. Maybe if I had informed each blogger as I linked to them, and asked them to provide a link back to the central site... But I didn't. Oh well.

What emerged instead was a NEPA Blogs that has lived up to its stated goal: "A clearinghouse providing links to blogs and other sites about Northeastern Pennsylvania or by people from Northeastern Pennsylvania." Thanks in large part to the efforts of fellow blog administrators Gort and Michelle, we are up to over 150 blogs linked on the NEPA Blogs sidebar and continue to add new ones all the time.

One of the more fascinating blogs that I have seen anywhere is one that was added a few weeks ago as a result of this e-mail:

Hi D.B.,

Would be grateful if would add Uncornered Market to the blogroll/mentions on NEPAblogs:

I grew up in Scranton before going to school at Cornell, moving to DC, San Francisco and Prague. My wife and I have been traveling the world and living out of backpacks for almost 3 years. We were profiled in the Scranton Times lifestyles section back in early 2008. Would give you a link, but the Times is apparently not keen on keeping online archives more than 18 months these days.

My ode to Scranton based on our last visit there:

You can find us on Twitter: @umarket

Cheers and thanks,

Daniel Noll
measuring the Earth with our feet...

To get a taste of why I find this blog so fascinating, I recommend this post:

From Ecuador to Turkmenistan: Ten Memorable Border Crossings We Have Known

It's blogs like this that might disabuse me of the notion that the blogosphere is dying.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

So much for Jury Duty

Jury Duty lasted all of two hours. They told us there's a light schedule for the rest of the month/year, and that amounted to two whole cases for the week - neither of which required juries. My check for $9 is in the mail.

I am tired. I am going to bed now.