Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Even more

So in addition to the new demands on my time that I wrote about a few posts back, I am also spending quite a bit of time with Homer, the cat who is recovering from surgery.  He needs to wear an "Elizabethan collar," one of those plastic funnel thingies, whenever he is unsupervised, but the E-collar makes it difficult for him to eat.  And his barrage of meds also tends to make him not want to eat.  So the home-from-work routine now is:  go directly from work to the house across town, spend some time there inspecting both sides for signs of break-ins, head over to my mom's house, put out food for all the cats but Homer, go into Homer's isolation room, remove Homer's collar, cuddle with him a bit (that's his favorite thing), set out food and coax him to eat and drink, give him his meds and replace collar after he is done eating and drinking, then feed the outdoor cats and do whatever else needs to be done.  Tomorrow morning is garbage pickup, so that meant hauling out all the garbage before bed today.   I haven't been getting to bed before 10:30 lately.

Tomorrow it's supposed to rain all day.  I'm hoping I don't have to deal with any basement or street flooding.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Somebody needs to dial back the Smudge tool a bit

I was out on a marathon shopping trip this afternoon.  First to a local vet to get a replacement for the medication for Homer that my mom dropped and spilled out last night when trying to juggle a glass vial, rubber stopper, and plastic syringe all in one hand.  This itself was a mini-marathon, since I was picking up the medicine at an Emergency Vet on a Sunday afternoon, and all sorts of actual emergencies kept coming in that took priority over my medication dispensing, so that things went to "ready an hour from two hours ago" to "ready in five minutes" to finally getting the medication an hour after I arrived.

From there I crossed the soon-to-be-demolished Eighth Avenue Bridge in Wyoming (PA) and traveled on to the Harbor Freight Tools in Wyoming.  Years ago I formed an antipathy towards Harbor Freight after several bad experiences at their Dickson City location.  At that time they only stayed open at that location until 7:00 PM, meaning that anyone working the 6:00 AM - 6:00 PM shift at the nearby factory that was one of the largest employers in the region had only a brief window of shopping opportunity considering that it took at least fifteen to twenty minutes to punch out, get to your car, navigate five miles or so of highway traffic, and get to the store - only to find shelves missing the things you were shopping for, and other-than-helpful staff who would actively avoid you until nearly closing time, when they would then inform you that the store would soon be closing.  (When I suggested to the manager that they might do more business if they stayed open a little longer, he chuckled and responded "Yeah, we hear that a lot.")  On top of that, the proportion of products sold there that are made in China is higher even than in Wal-Mart, and possibly in China itself.  Still, they had a few things there at the Wyoming location that I was specifically looking for, and the staff there is much friendlier and more helpful than the lazy, surly jerks I encountered years ago in Dickson City.

On the way out of the store at 4:27 PM I noticed that the clouds looked strange:  dark and wispy, like trails of smoke or even fake clouds:

One other thing, not so obvious here:  the sun is at the upper center left in this image, and an almost-solid array of crepuscular rays are raining down to the left of the middle light post.  I have seen this sort of thing before, but it makes you wonder if this is just an optical effect, or if there is some sort of weird physical layering of cloud layers going on.

My next stop was Sam's Club in Wilkes-Barre.  I put in more time there than I did at Harbor Freight, and I snapped this photo as I left at 5:31 PM:

After that I was off to my final stop of the afternoon before heading home:  Weis Market in downtown Nanticoke.  I snapped this photo on the way in at 5:52 PM:

...and this photo on the way out at 6:42 PM:

Note that these stripes run roughly east-west.  There was one more bit of show to be seen hours later, well after sunset.  The sky was dark and cloudy, but an eerie glow like a false Milky Way ran east-west across the sky.  I have surmised that this glow was actually these same clouds, now reflecting the upward-directed lights of the Wyoming Valley below.

If I didn't know better, I would have thought that these clouds were fake, and someone needed to take it easy with the "Smudge" tool in PhotoShop.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Not for nothing

I did a six-day stretch of work earlier this month, but because of the way it was spread out across two calendar weeks only eight hours out of the sixty seventy-two actually counted as overtime, and were subsequently paid as time-and-a-half.

This week was scheduled to be a four-day week, Sunday through Wednesday, which would have been fifty-two hours of pay for forty-eight hours of work.  I put in for two days of overtime but only got one - Friday night.  I could have put in for more, but didn't:  I had things I wanted to do on Saturday, and I had (I thought) a party to go to on Sunday.

I had a meeting that I wanted to get taken care of as soon as possible, so when it was clear I wouldn't be working on Thursday night I set it up for Thursday morning directly after work.  I won't say what it was about, but let me just say it left me feeling somewhat more secure.  I then decided to sleep the rest of the day, maybe do some things Thursday night, and then get ready to work on Friday night.

Something came up.

Homer, the most recent addition to our pride of cats, has been chronically ill since before we got him.  We rescued him as he was starving to death with his sinuses completely blocked.  He recovered most of the way, but continued to have sinus problems, ranging from a recurring snort to nasal discharge from one nostril.  Antibiotics would clear the problem up temporarily, but after a brief period it would flare back up.  Finally my mom had her vet x-ray Homer's sinuses, which revealed an obstruction on one side.  He referred us to a surgical clinic in Allentown, about an hour and a half away, where they have the specialized tools for looking into a cat's nostrils.  We figured that they would take a quick peek, spot a pine needle he inhaled back when he was an "outdoor cat," extract it, and everything would be fine.

We were wrong.

My mom scheduled an appointment for October 4, a day I was scheduled to be off.  But after a little while she decided she couldn't wait that long and rescheduled the appointment for Friday.  Yesterday.  The day I was scheduled to work overtime.

Oh, no problem.  Work started at 6:00 PM, and the appointment was for 11:30 AM.  I figured we could be there until 3:00 and I could still have plenty of time to get ready for work.  Sleep would be a problem, so I tried to pre-load my sleep on Thursday:  I slept from about 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM, then again until 6:00 PM.  I was up after that until about 1:00 AM, but forced myself back to sleep until 6:00 Friday morning.  This gave me a total of thirteen hours of sleep, enough to cover me for two days.

Homer needed surgery.

We didn't find this out right away.  It took a very long time to get there, in interminable chunks of waiting.  All this while I wasn't able to squeeze in any naps.  Homer's surgery would cost a ton of money and he would have to be held overnight.

I got home at 3:30 in the afternoon, enough time to do pretty much nothing before it was time to go to work.  I went online for a while, got my lunch and snacks together, changed my clothes, and headed out for a twelve-hour continuation to a day that began at 6:00 in the morning.

Work was remarkably uneventful.  Oh, lots of stuff happened, but none of it involved me collapsing or falling asleep.  The night actually went better than most.

I got home in time to jump into my mom's car and head with her back down to Allentown to pick up Homer.  It's the first time in a while that I've ridden in a car as a passenger, and it was an unsettling experience.  But I was able to sleep for about forty-five minutes on the way down.

Homer is back, minus one ear canal and the infection that was chewing up his sinuses and skull from the inside out.  He has a long recovery period ahead of him.

I go back to work on Monday night.  I will need to grab as much overtime as I can get.  Insurance deductible, home security system, and now this.  Expenses keep mounting.

The kicker:  the party is tonight, not Sunday.  So I could have scheduled another day of overtime on Sunday and been on my way to making eighty-eight hours of pay for seventy-two hours of work in a single calendar week.  Oh, well.  Maybe next week.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Moon and Jupiter, September 23, 2010

The Moon is full tonight, or as near to full as to make no difference.  Most people assume that this is the best possible time to observe the Moon, but in fact it is the worst.  Because the light that we are seeing is coming directly at the surface of the Moon from behind our heads, the shadows of craters and mountains that make the Moon a wonder to behold through a telescope are absent.  Also, the extreme brightness of the full Moon creates terrible eyestrain if you view it through binoculars or a telescope.  As a bonus, scattered light from the Moon washes out surrounding stars and wrecks your night vision.  Observers dread when a full Moon (or the Moon at any phase) is in the sky during a meteor shower, as it drowns out all but the brightest meteors.

One thing the full Moon can't drown out is Jupiter, currently making its best and brightest appearance in some time.  Even in a sky full of moisture and haze and clouds, the King of the Planets shines through.  Jupiter is extra-bright right now not just because it is at its closest point to Earth in some decades, but also because it has lost (or at least misplaced) its South Equatorial Belt, one of the reddish bands of clouds that are semi-permanent features in the giant planet's atmosphere.  The belt isn't really gone, or at least not gone gone; it appears to be temporarily obscured by a layer of lighter-colored clouds.  But while it is at least temporarily absent from view, Jupiter will appear that much brighter.

If you go outside tonight and see the full Moon, take a look at the bright "star" to the south of it, and realize that this is no star at all, but rather the largest planet in our solar system!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Things to say, and no time to say them

I've got myself on a new schedule that involves face-time (so to speak) with my house across town every day.  When the break-in happened, I had been spending quite a bit of time over there - an hour or two each evening, to photograph the Venus-Mars-Saturn trio that had been visible throughout August and early September.  But that had been the first significant time that I had spent over there in quite a while.  Sometimes a week or more would go by without me even stippong to check the mail.  (I don't get much mail there.)  So as it happened I was there late on a Saturday night - not to observe, because the sky was completely overcast, but apparently to use the phone and watch TV.  After I left that night I didn't return until late Monday afternoon, which is when I discovered the break-in.  When police and the insurance adjuster asked when the break-in occurred, I wasn't able to narrow it down to much more than that.  Thank goodness the uncertainty was not greater, or some eyebrows might be raised.

But now I'm trying to make sure that answer in the future to the question "When were you last here?" will be "yesterday" or "earlier today."

Unfortunately this means I now have even less time than I used to.  So my blog reading/writing schedule is completely off.  I'll get back to writing as soon as I can.

Remind me to tell you about The Mysterious Cat.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Overtime and estimates and insurance adjusters and security contracts and security installations and waiting for my water bill from last month so I can complete my loss summary and then get it notarized and submit it to the insurance company.  What fun.

Meanwhile, we heard another pipe theft on the scanner today, in a part of town pretty far from where I live.  This time they needed to call in the gas company to shut off the gas.

Don't think that this is part of the economic downturn.  People aren't stealing pipes because they need money to buy food for their kids.  They're stealing pipes so they can buy their next dose of heroin or crack or meth or whatever their drug of choice is.  And they'll keep doing it until they overdose or get killed.  The sooner, the better.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Moon, Jupiter, Uranus, and Nanticoke

Tonight is the first annual International Observe the Moon Night.  If you missed it, you could always go out tomorrow night and apply error bars to the date.  Observing it means pretty much whatever you want it to:  look at it with your naked eyes, use a telescope or binoculars, or do what I did - take photos.

Here's an image I took at 6:37 PM, as I was helping to break down and put away the tables and chairs at a political fundraiser I attended as part of my duties as an elected party committeeman:

This is at what I call the "China Moon" stage, where the bright areas of the Moon match the brightness of the clouds, and the darker areas are close to the same color as the blue sky.  Compare the colors to this photo taken just eighteen minutes later:

By now the Sun had started to sink closer to the horizon, and the Moon started to stand out more brightly in the looming twilight.

Venus is getting brighter, thinner, and larger throughout the month of September.  I am hoping to be able to image it as a thin crescent sometime before it vanishes into the sunset glare.  But last night there was no sign of Venus before or after sunset.  Maybe it's hiding behind some of the houses and trees on my Western horizon.  So I tried something new tonight:  I went up to my second floor bathroom window, lifted up the screen, and tried to see if I could see anything more from up there.  No luck.  Maybe the attic...  Still, while I was up there, I checked out the possibilities for setting up a back yard surveillance camera there, and also decided to snap some photos of the Nanticoke skyline looking West from this position.  Here's a cropped panorama of these shots:

Notice all the windows facing my back yard, many of them from higher ground.  And still somebody felt confident about breaking into my house through a window, cutting out all the copper pipes from one side, and hauling them out through the back yard.

Later on I spotted Jupiter rising in the Eastern sky and decided to take some photos.  I forgot that Jupiter and Uranus are very close together in the sky right now, and are both directly opposite the Sun right now.  All I thought was, "Gee, I wonder how Jupiter will look in my photos."

And the answer is:  it looks round.

Now, the fact that it looks round is actually pretty interesting.  You may recall that in the past I have lamented the fact that I have never been able to see Venus at a partial phase.  But in the photos I took of it last month, it looks distinctly football-shaped:

I was afraid that this was some distortion being introduced by my camera with small, bright, extended bodies.  But Jupiter doesn't look squashed at all - it looks round.  So maybe even if I can't see Venus as being in a partial phase, I am capturing this partial phase in my images.

Now, remember that Uranus is very close to Jupiter in the sky right now.  You should be able to see them both with binoculars.  And the fact is, there's at least one other thing in those photos of Jupiter.  Look closely at about the 2:00 position relative to each of the Jupiter images.  Here's a slightly higher resolution closeup to help:

See those three evenly-spaced dots? That's the telltale sign of something really being there - it's moving just as much as Jupiter from one image to the next.  But what is it?  I don't know if Uranus would appear that close to Jupiter.  And take a look at this closeup from the second of these three photos:

Notice the two dots on the upper right, and the hint of a dot directly across on the lower left?   That's exactly how Jupiter's brightest moons would appear, if my tiny, cheap Nikon Coolpix L4 camera were in fact capable of imaging them.  But - and this is a big but - aside from the rightmost dot, the other dots are not clearly present in the other two images.  They may be there, but if they are they are swallowed up by the glare of Jupiter.

(NOTE, 9/19/2010:  Compare to the inset picture here - yes, it looks like these are definitely moons!  And now I know where to look on my own pictures to find elusive Uranus.  Yes, sometimes it's very hard to find Uranus.)

The show isn't over.  The Moon will be back in the sky tomorrow night.  Venus will be slightly brighter, and slightly bigger, and slightly slimmer.  Jupiter and Uranus will be in pretty much the same positions relative to each other.  You haven't missed your chance to see any of these spectacles!  Go on out and see for yourself!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

BlogFest: Fall 2010 edition

So the question of what to call last night's get-together - Happy Hour? The Blogger-Politician Mixer? - was resolved fairly neatly by a sign outside of the bar:

The crowd was marginally smaller than at the Spring 2010 edition, which came just before the Primaries.  But it was still quite decently large:

There were bloggers, and politicians, and various other people, and plenty of conversations and photo ops...

...and Larry the Cable Guy on TV...

...and, of course,


A great time was had by all!

BlogFest preview

I'm having some trouble editing photos right now.  I can do it, but it takes a lot more effort than it should.

The Blogger/Politician mixer (or "BlogFest", as it was dubbed on the sign outside) was a great success, once again.  It featured bloggers, politicians, and something else that I believe was absent last time:


More to follow...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Things that make you go hmmmm....

Two things seen about the neighborhood today, both mentioned in a previous post:

This is a truck belonging to (well, used by - I have no evidence that they own it) the neighborhood skanks who are the leading "persons of interest" in the theft of the copper water and heating pipes from my house, among other local crimes.  The "I LOVE SCRAP" bumper sticker is from a local scrapyard belonging to a prominent local family.  The scion of that family, long troubled and drug-addicted, went berserk a few years ago and was the subject of a days-long manhunt.  I wonder if he's still in prison?  If not, I wonder where he's living now?

White unmarked contractor's van parked across the street from my house.  I watched two individuals - fifty-ish and twenty-ish white males - stand on the front porch and knock on the door for a while.  Later I saw the front door was open.  (I think it's open in this picture.)  I never saw them leave, and never noticed if they left with a vanload of copper pipes.  I should have checked the license plate number, but didn't.

Bonus third thing:

I took this picture a while ago but just downloaded it from my phone today.  Used to be that truckers just wanted girls to flash them their breasts as they drove by.  Now they want to know Age, Sex, and Location.

TITLE REFERENCE:  Catchphrase from 1980's late-night host Arsenio Hall, later turned into a song.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


There's lots of overtime at work right now, which is either ironic or entirely predictable in the face of our mass layoff of just over a month ago.  I'm working as much as I can manage.  I have to.  In the aftermath of my house robbery, which probably netted the thieves about $60 in scrap metal recycling (assuming they did not have to pay a cut to someone else to fence the metal for them), I am looking at repairs in excess of my $500 insurance deductible, plus a $900 fee for installation of a security system, plus a $30/month monitoring fee, plus insomnia and total paranoia and an inevitable increase in my already-steep insurance premium.  That's a lot of overtime I need to work on behalf of these bastards, just to cover losses and incidental expenses.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Blogger-Candidate Meetup September 17th

There is another Blogger-Candidate Meetup scheduled for this Friday, September 17, at Rooney's Irish Pub in Pittston, PA.  Rather than try to rephrase everything, I'm just going to shamelessly steal the post from Gort, the organizer of this event:

Blogger/Candidate Meetup September 17th

It was so much fun last time we are going to do it again.

Candidates meet the faces behind the screen names

The next blogger meetup will be Friday September 17th at Rooney's Irish Pub 67 S. Main St. Pittston, PA 18704 starting at 5PM. There is big bar area with tables off to the side and plenty of free parking across the street where the Tomato Festival is held. It's easy to find just drive north on River Street from W-B and it's on the left. Or south from Scranton and it's on the right.

It looks like we will have a good turnout. So far I have received confirmation from about 25 campaigns for Congress, State Senate and State House that the candidate and/or supporters will be attending. That includes Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and Pastafarians. The statewide candidates have been invited along with office holders not up for election this year and people interested in running for local offices in 2011. Some national figures have been invited and you never know who just might make it. Last time over 150 people showed up.

Our political bloggers from Luzerne and Lackawanna counties will be there along with our readers, commenters and people who are just interested in local politics.

This is an informal mixer with no speeches scheduled. There is no charge for admission.

This event is sanctioned by the Northeast Blogging Council and the Saturday OT Committee and Operatic Society.

The last such event was a remarkable success.  Somehow I got listed as a "political blogger," even though my only quote from the night that appeared in the paper the next day was - well, it wasn't even a quote, but a statement that I try not to get too involved in local politics - I leave that to Gort's blog.  Since that time I have actually been elected to public office, Luzerne County Democratic Committee representing Nanticoke's Ward 4.  Coincidentally, the Luzerne County Fourth District Democratic Committee is holding a "Family Picnic" the next day at the Plymouth Township Recreational Park.  I will have tickets available for that event at the Mixer, if anyone is interested!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A day to stand against religious fanaticism

It's ironic that a day that commemorates the day when terrorists motivated in part by a twisted and fanatical understanding of their religion struck a blow against Western civilization using the tools of Western civilization has been, to a vastly media-inflated extent, hijacked by another religious fanatic bent on maximizing publicity for himself and his beliefs.

Some atheists have said that moderate religious thought is even more perniciously dangerous than radical and fanatical religious expression, because it makes religion seem almost palatable and reasonable.  I don't believe this.  But I don't know what the cure is for religious fanaticism.  It's easy to talk about tolerance, but there are some things that simply should not be tolerated.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The midday prowlers

More than ten years ago someone tried to break down the door of my friend's apartment while she was inside.  They were scared off, and she took steps to secure the place.  (She eventually moved out.)

Security was naturally on her mind after this incident.  She spoke to a friend of hers who lived in a more suburban neighborhood, and her friend told her how, once when she had taken a sick day from work, she had had an opportunity to observe the neighborhood in the daytime.  While most of the residents were off to work, the place came alive with other people.  People ringing doorbells.  People knocking on doors.  People peering in windows.  People checking out back yards.

My schedule allows me to do observations like this myself.  I noticed once, years ago, that it seemed like no one in town was actually working - the streets were full of traffic in the middle of the day.  Now it seems like there are lots of people - people in their teens, and twenties, and thirties -  who are just hanging out, or strolling around, checking out neighborhoods and houses.

I noticed something else a few years ago.  Just before Halloween my phone line died.  I needed to have someone stop by to fix it, and they weren't able to give me a very specific time.  So I wound up sitting on my front porch, waiting.  As I waited I watched utility van after utility van drive by.  Why so many?  Where are they going?  Do so many utilities have problems that need fixing?

The police think that the people who broke into my house are local, maybe from the immediate neighborhood.  Who better to know the comings and goings of neighbors, and when there would be people around who might hear or see something?  After all, if you're going to smash through a window, cut out all the copper pipes from someplace, and then haul them out to a waiting vehicle, you actually have quite a few opportunities to be heard or seen.

I have my eyes on some neighbors who may be responsible.  They - most of them, for there appear to be many people living in their apartment - do not appear to have jobs.  They hang out much of the day,  smoking cigarettes and talking on cell phones or entertaining (or, more likely, engaging in business transactions with) the many, many visitors who come to their front door.

The other night I was leaving my house to do something at my mom's when I noticed one of these people hanging out on the sidewalk and talking to someone in a utility van.  It was from a heating and air conditioning company.  It had a ladder strapped to the roof.

If you're going to be brazen enough to smash into a house through a side window, I thought the other day, you'd be brazen enough to do a second-story entry through a window.  After all, most people will only alarm the first floor of their house, since that's where an entry is most likely to take place.  How paranoid is it to imagine someone making a second floor entry?

Well, not very.  There was a case in town a year or so ago that involved someone hopping up on the roof of a porch and breaking into a residence through the second floor.  And earlier this week someone broke into a nearby business through a second floor window - accessed by climbing a tree.

But this would be so much easier if you had a ladder handy.  One of my neighbors actually has (or had, I'm not sure if it's still there) a huge ladder hanging from a fence between our properties.  But if you have to bring your own ladder, why not use a utility van as your base of operations?  Most people might assume that any operation a contractor is engaged in - propping a ladder up against a second-story window, hauling old pipes out to the back of a waiting van - is actually legitimate.  If you hide your activities in plain sight, will anyone notice?

UPDATE, 9/11/2010:  Oh, it gets better.  As I pulled up to the house this morning, a strange truck was parked in front of the neighbors' house, sporting an "I LOVE SCRAP" bumper sticker provided by a local scrap yard / recycler.  Now, there's a law locally that any recyclings of certain metals over certain limits must be reported to the authorities - unless, of course, these are transactions by a legitimate business, like the HVAC company that had a van parked by the neighbors' house for two nights last week.  So do thieves fence their takings to legitimate businesses, who then turn in the metal to a recycler, no questions asked?  Are all these businesses in on the deal?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Has the Susquehanna River been broken?

If you haven't been following this story, you should be.  Even if it doesn't directly apply to you right now, in time it will.

Some background:  Much of Pennsylvania, and New York, and other parts of the northeast, sits on top of what is called the "Marcellus Shale Play", a large reservoir of natural gas located in a layer of shale deep underground.  Until recently there was no way to access this natural gas in a way that made economic sense - that is, that didn't cost more than the value of the gas extracted.  Then everyone's favorite engineering firm and recipient of government wartime largesse, Halliburton, developed a way of extracting this gas that involved "hydraulic fracturing", or "fracking" for short:  water mixed with a toxic brew of chemicals is forced deep underground into the layers where the natural gas (and associated ancient seawater) is trapped, shattering the entombing layer and liberating the gas.  This practice removes billions of gallons of water from the surface of the planet and entombs them, theoretically, for all eternity deep underground.  In addition to the natural gas it also results in the liberation of the associated ancient seawater (much as in oil drilling) and the by-production of lots of contaminated water and mud.  Oh, and it also fractures those previously impermeable geological layers that once held this gas, deep below the level of the water table and other everyday stuff.

Every once in a while amazing coincidences happen.  Every once in a while the well water of someone living near one of these fracking sites begins to cloud up, or become bubbly, or fill with sediment.  Every once in a while the lid blows off a water well near one of these places.  Every once in a while the drinking water suddenly shows levels of arsenic, or shower water begins to irritate skin to the point where showers are no longer an option.

Every once in a while the water coming out of a well turns flammable because of all the natural gas that has suddenly gotten into it.

Now, the oil and gas companies will tell you that this has nothing to do with them.  They'll tell you that the water in these places has always been flammable, or full of arsenic, or has always caused skin irritations.  People just haven't noticed it before.  Mass hysteria, maybe, or people seeking to cash in on poor innocent oil and gas companies with deep pockets.

(Or maybe, as is their latest push, these are all lies being touted by environmental extremists.  Terrorists.  People the FBI should be keeping a close eye on.)

The Susquehanna River itself has begin to bubble with methane gas near one fracking area.

Gas Bubbling from the Susquehanna River
Methane Madness: Paradise Lost
Chesapeake's Ocmulgee
Susquehanna Methane Bubbling

Now, we shouldn't jump to conclusions about this.  Maybe this is just another remarkable coincidence.  Maybe this has nothing to do with fracking operations, or the contention that there are vast stores of natural gas beneath the Susquehanna itself.

Or maybe hydraulic fracturing operations have opened up fractures beneath the Susquehanna itself, resulting in a liberation of natural gas - and anything else that gets injected into the "impermeable" layers where this gas is trapped - directly into the river.  Maybe this has been going on throughout the areas where fracking operations have been taking place, but unless it contaminates a well or a river, we're less likely to notice natural gas seeping out of places where it's never seeped before.

Has the Susquehanna River been broken?  Are fracking operations permanently contaminating it, and any other places where they are taking place? 

We think of fossil fuels as our most vital natural resource.  They are not.  Breathable air and drinkable, usable water are.  Is it too late to salvage these resources?  Are they being contaminated forever?


Twenty years ago my neighbor in Newark, Delaware had a block party. Our adjoining fenced-in back yards were connected by a gate, and it came to pass that the adults of the neighborhood settled into his yard, drinking and smoking and chatting, while the children came into my yard, playing in and around my garden. My carrots were just ready to be picked, so we carefully pulled a few and washed them off with a garden hose. A few adventurous younger children tried them and learned that fresh-picked, tender carrots are sweeter than candy and taste nothing like the wooden replicas sold in supermarkets.

The next January was a cold and snowy one. I didn't have a car, so I was taking my bicycle down to the post office to mail a large and bulky package. Several of the neighborhood children were out in the street, playing in the snow. One of them, a little four-year-old boy, approached me and said something. Bundled up as he was, I couldn't make out what he said. He repeated himself more clearly.

"Can I have a cawwot?"

Obviously, John (the husband of JEN) from Cake Wrecks was not that boy.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Whose face is this?

A while ago I was on Facebook and saw this on my sidebar:

I stared at the image for a while.  Was this some sort of new Facebook game?  The face was vaguely familiar.  Was it a celebrity of some sort?  But what was with the distortion?  After a while it came to me:

It was the face of Saint Michael, from the stained glass windows of St. Mary's Church.

Well, that was pretty weird.  Was Facebook going through the pictures I've posted to my account, running through them with a face-finding algorithm to try to get me to tag the faces of non-users and then invite them to join Facebook?  Probably.  Good luck with the century-old stained glass images, though.

A few days later I saw this:

Ummm.  OK.  That's not a face.  That's part of a face.  What is the face-recognition algorithm seeing here?  One eye, and then what?  Is the fur under my dog Haley's ear being read as a second eye?  Is the ruff of white hair at her neck being seen as a mouth?  Oh, and she's been dead for five years.  Once again, good luck with using her to generate any advertising revenue.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Return of The Disappeared

Back at the end of June, as I was recovering from a totally understandable attack by a feral cat, I noticed that one of the bloggers I had been reading on a regular basis for a while had disappeared.   I imagined a few reasons why she might have chosen to remove some (but not all) of her online presence, but I didn't know the real reason.  I realized I had a surprisingly large number of ways of getting in touch with her, including a MySpace page that I had stumbled across sometime earlier.  But most of the email addresses I tried bounced off, and a message sent on MySpace garnered no response.  I figured I had hit a dead and.

Geez, does anyone use MySpace anymore?  I keep my page up out of inertia, but I rarely look at the email inbox anymore.  Besides, I think all of those messages are supposed to be relayed to my regular email account, and all I ever get there from MySpace are fake friend requests.

Today I checked my MySpace account.  I looked at the inbox and it was filled with crap, as usual.  But five messages down there was a month-old message from a familiar name.  It began:
Thanks for being concerned!!

Im doing well.

Here is the story for why I left.
She went on to give a perfectly reasonable and perfectly ludicrous reason for shutting down her blog which involved a request from her new husband which, it turns out, was made when he was completely asleep.  But she has not vanished from the web!  She has started a new blog, and I have some catching up to do.

Bullshit Aces

From her introductory post:

Ace is the nickname my husband gave me when we first started dating because of a tattoo I have. When most people see this tattoo they think Im a poker snob when in reality Gambit from Xmen has been the star of my dirty dreams since I was a little girl.
Thus explains the name of this blog...

My husband calls me Ace.

On our first date I could tell he was trying to impress me so I asked him what the Hebrew word for 'bullshit' was.

Bullshit Aces is easier to read than שטויות

And the moral of the story is:  MySpace is good for something, once in a great while.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

The wind bell

I am embarrassed to say I don't know if this item has been stolen or not. This is an Arcosanti cast bronze wind bell, given to me by a friend as a thank-you gift for being a part of his wedding in 1992.  It spent most of the next fifteen years sitting in its gift box until it finally occurred to me sometime in late 2006 or early 2007 that I had a house, and that this bell would look great hanging on my front porch.  It did, but I became increasingly paranoid about it being stolen by scrap-metal thieves.  It was still hanging on my porch on Halloween of last year, which is when I took the picture in which the wind bell appeared in the background.  Sometime after that my paranoia got the better of me, and I took down the wind bell and stored it securely in the house.  Or so I thought.

I can't find it now.  I would have sworn that I had it stored on the "living" side of the house, but I can't find it anywhere there.  If I put it on the "storage" side - the side that was robbed - I can't find it there, either.  If I did put it there, I cannot say exactly where over there I put it.  No spot jogs my memory when I look around.  But the insert explaining the making of Arcosanti bells was on a bookshelf there.  How did it get there, unless I took it from the box and placed it on a nearby bookshelf?

If the thief (or, more likely, thieves) took it, how did they find it?  It would have been back in the paisley-patterned gift box, which I also cannot find.  It would not have been obvious.  They would most likely have had to literally trip over it - the house did not show signs of being ransacked (despite how it might have looked to others), but some things were knocked over as they blundered across various footlockers and boxes of books and magazines.  Was the gift box sitting on top of one of these?  Did it make the characteristic sound of a heavy bronze bell when it fell over?  Did the thief or thieves see this as a bonus item, something to take along with their haul of copper pipes and brass pipe fittings?

And what happens then?  Would they keep it for themselves?  I doubt there are many (or any) other Arcosanti wind bells in town.  If I spot one on someone's front porch, can I safely assume it is mine?  Will they try to pawn it, or sell it on eBay?  Or will they only look at it for its scrap metal value?

I will try to make the rounds on local scrap yards and pawn shops with the picture above.  Each Arcosanti wind bell is unique in its design and patina, so this image may serve for identification, if not proof of ownership.  And then what?  Buy back my own property?  Demand to know how it came into their possession?  Threaten a subpoena?  Start bribing someone to give me the information I want?

I could be wrong.  I have also spent much of the past few days thinking that the bag of styrofoam skulls I put over in that house last year (total cost to me: $4 - one of the five skulls is on display next to my gargoyles on the other side of the house)  was also missing.  This morning I found it while searching for the bell.  So there's still a chance that the box and the bell may be hiding somewhere in the house, waiting to pop out and say "Here we are!"

And if I find it, then what?  I will never put it on display again - the threat of metal thieves is real, not just a hypothetical anymore.  So most likely the box and the bell would then go into an even more secure storage location, never to see the light of day again.

UPDATE, 9/6/10: Never mind. After locating the box yesterday, I found the bell itself this morning, cleverly hidden under a pile of seasonal decorations near my door. It's now back in the box and going into secure storage.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Some thoughts after getting robbed

A while back there was a situation involving a news reporter somewhere who did a story on home security in the wake of a wave of robberies in his area.  To inform his viewers on the latest steps they could take to avoid becoming victims of a robbery, he took his viewers on a tour of the most secure place he know - his own house.  He proudly showed off his security system, his window alarms, his motion detectors, and everything else that made his house robbery-proof.  His viewers really appreciated the information.  Some more than others - particularly the robbers who soon hit his house, since he had effectively cased the joint for them.

So I'm not going to do that.

A friend asked me to share with her my thoughts on what you can do to improve security and avoid being robbed.  I put together a list the other night, and I realized that this would be something worth sharing here.  If anyone has anything else to add, please leave a comment and I'll add it to the main body of the post.

1. Assume someone will break into your house or apartment.

2. The most likely way in is to force a door - but a good old-fashioned smashed window is not out of the question. That's how they broke into my house.

3. Getting in without being noticed is 90% of the work. If you can smash a window without anyone hearing or reporting, odds are you can take your time robbing the place and casually getting away. So make it as difficult to get into your place as possible. If you rent, there are probably limitations as to what you can add to doors and windows, or mount to walls. But motion detectors can always be mounted to bookcases or other furniture.

One of my mistakes: the window that was smashed had a storm window, but it was not in position. If it had been, they would have had to smash TWO windows. Which might not have made much difference.

I'm also thinking of bricking over my basement windows with glass blocks. Those are tricky entry points, but once you're in, you're in.  You may want to check with local building or fire codes before you do something like this.

4. Two things are the enemy to a sneaky burglar: time and noise. If you can slow down the intruder and force them to take more time doing things, do it. Sturdy locks on inside doors, things hidden away, obstacles wherever you can get them. (Obstacles in my house didn't pose a huge problem to these people.) Inexpensive ($25) motion detector alarms from Wal-Mart or Home Depot may help, too - I have several of them covering key areas now, and will keep them even after I get a professional system installed. I have also screwed 1/4" wire mesh ("hardware cloth") onto all of the windows in the room where the entry occurred, including the window in the door. It may not stop someone from getting in that way, but it will slow them down.

Interior doors are generally designed more for privacy than security.  Consider installing exterior doors in critical interior points where you want to restrict passage.  Pay attention to the location of hinges - a good lock won't mean much if you can just pop some hinge pins.  But remember:  security measures may turn deadly in the case of a fire.  Will that double-locked door block an emergency exit point?  Do those window bars swing out if you need to exit through a window?

5. Keep an inventory of EVERYTHING, even if it's just a photographic record. You can't report something to insurance if you don't know it's been stolen. A while back I had a beautiful Arcosanti bronze windchime hanging on my front porch, but then I became very paranoid about it being stolen by scrap metal thieves and took it down and put it in the house. Now, where did I put it? I don't THINK it was on the side that was robbed - but, oddly, I found the explanatory insert card on a bookshelf there. So has the windchime (in its gift box) been stolen? Or have I just forgotten where I put it?

6.  Don't make things easier for a burglar.  I installed a lock on one door, and then mused that it would take a burglar about thirty seconds with a clawhammer or crowbar to get it open.  Then I realized that I had both a clawhammer and a crowbar in that very room.  They are now both on the other side of the lock.

This isn't a complete list.  I anyone has anything to add, please let me know.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Sky photos, 9/2/2010

Tonight was not the best night for taking sky photos.  It was hazy, humid, and cloudy; any planets or stars that managed to not be blocked by clouds were likely dimmed considerably by the haze or simply the humidity in the air.  Still, I got a few.

Upon reviewing my pictures I did not think I had gotten any images of Spica.  My rule is that I have to have at least two images to be certain that I am not just seeing some artifact, and the image object has to have covered the correct distance between the two images.  My Spica shots just fit this requirement.  Spica showed up on the third and fourth of twelve images I took tonight.

Spica appears to the left of center in these images, two faint dots showing the same separation as the two Venus images.  Mars is visible in only one of these images, just over the peak of the rightmost rooftop.  However, it shows up in several of the other images I used for my composite time lapse.

The way I assembled these images brightened the hazy sky to the point that Spica is not visible.  Mars is faintly visible as four or five faint dots - including one that, for some reason, appears to be superimposed on the base of the chimney of the house on the right.  (There must have been a minuscule shift in the position of the camera.)  I had to throw out the first image because there was a major shift in the camera between the first and second shots, but for all subsequent shots everything stayed locked in. So the above is a composite of only eleven images, taken between 8:27 PM and 8:31 PM.

Bonus:  After Venus had set I decided to try to get some wider shots of the sky, including bright Arcturus, which made a guest appearance in one image yesterday.  I turned the camera sideways to try to capture more of the darker upper reaches of the sky.  In the image below, a composite of five images taken between 8:34 and 8:36 PM, there are actually several stars visible.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Sky photos, 9/1/2010

Venus, Spica, and Mars have moved relative to each other once again.  So goes the clockwork of the heavens.

I started out the evening at 8:22 PM with a wide shot, hoping to perhaps capture Saturn far to the right of Venus.  But even if Saturn were visible under these lighting conditions, I believe it is somewhere behind the rooftops on the right.

While probably not visible at this resolution, a careful scan of the original full-sized version of this image revealed a bright star in the upper right.  After consulting a chart in Guy Ottewell's Astronomical Calendar 2010, I believe that this is actually Arcturus.

Acturus (circled)

See?  I'm not messing with you.  I did the composite-image trick, and this dot appears on all the images, and moves just like Venus, so it's really there and not some image artifact.

I zoomed in to image the celestial trio of Venus, Spica, and Mars.  Here is an image taken at 8:25 PM:

(Note the difference in sky brightness between these two images.  I think this is an artifact of the "Night Landscape" setting that I use for all these photos.)  Two days ago Venus, Spica, and Mars made an almost perfect Right Triangle; now the triangle has flattened out to something approaching a straight line.  Once again, Venus is the bright thing on the left, Spica is in the middle, and Mars is on the right.  Compare this to the previous image to see how tight this zoom is.

And here is tonight's composite time lapse.  Note that in the final two images, Venus is actually partially obscured by one of the distant trees!