Monday, October 31, 2005 2 comments

Ev’rybody’s healin’

Current music: Drone Zone
Saturday morning, whatever was in my side gave a last twinge and just... left. [Cue Hallelujah Chorus and a dance line.] By Sunday afternoon, I was producing enough fertilizer to supply all the farms in Nebraska and Iowa combined. I don’t think it was a coincidence.

Meanwhile, the cream that Mrs. Fetched is putting in her eye has helped a lot. She went into the eye doctor for a followup today; he said it’s better and “keep doing what you’re doing... oh, and by the way, you need bifocals.” I’m not gloating. It won’t be much longer before I need ’em too.

Hallowe’en at FAR Manor

I’ve considered Hallowe’en my favorite holiday for a long time. This may seem strange coming from a Christian, and a fairly conventional one at that, but it’s because we can relax on this holiday. Sure, there’s decorations to put up, and we’ll slip leftover Hallowe’en candy in Easter baskets, but there’s not the added pressure of cantatas, special church services, or shopping. Some of my bob-sisters take this holiday more seriously, and (like much of the Christian calendar) we co-opted the old Pagan holidays to make new converts a bit more comfortable. How soon my brethren forgot history...

But I digress.

Even at this time of year, there’s color to be found. Besides the fall flowers — pansies defying the frost and the more muted displays of wild flowers — the dogwood trees show deep red berries, six or seven months after the blood-tipped white of early April blooms.


Kudzu is an alien lifeform that has taken over much of Planet Georgia. At this time of year, after the first near- or actual frost, its brilliant summer green is starting to fade. In a few more weeks, the leaves will wither and drop away, leaving bare vines behind for the winter. I keep telling myself I’m going to pull down a few of the vines and try weaving again. The Boy and Mrs. Fetched made fall wreaths from kudzu vines a while back; my mother-in-law sold several at the Moonshine Festival that year.

Left unchecked, kudzu pretty much takes over. On the other hand, trying to kill it doesn’t make much difference. This is one tough plant. I’m told that the Japanese prize the roots, and think we’re crazy for trying to get rid of it. I’ve also heard of companies that get paid to plow up and remove kudzu from fields, and then they turn around and export the roots to Japan. Now that is a business model: get paid on both ends.


Daughter Dearest ready for our party, and trick-or-treating later on. Knowing that she was going to be a major babe doesn’t make it any easier now that she is.

[Quick story: Half DD’s lifetime ago, desperate for a costume, I grabbed a dress from the wife’s closet, stuffed a bra, and called it good enough. DD was extremely non-amused, and still hasn’t gotten over that.]

She helped one of our friends get ready too.


The boys all took off to watch Saw II or something similar; so much for having a bonfire. We just stayed inside and played Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix and had a great time. A couple of guests are on the floor here. That thing is fun — I’m officially interested in a video game again.


On the way back from the movie, Lobster got his very own Hallowe’en present from the local constabulary (74 in a 55, smoooooth). We made the mistake of letting The Boy take the car & pick up M.A.E., then go to the movie. On the way back, we’re told, he & Lobster were racing; The Boy was ahead as the two lanes narrowed to one, and Lobster wasn’t backing off, so he got on the brakes just in time for Lobster to go roaring by a cop. We told them it was Quota Week.... The funny thing is, it’s Lobster who has a radar detector (and had it turned off).

Saturday, October 29, 2005 5 comments

Oops

Guess who let the propane tank run out?

*sigh*

At least there’s plenty of firewood. I went and gathered up an armload of kindling a few minutes ago, just picking sticks up off the manor grounds, and didn’t even make a dent in the supply.

At this rate, Jimmy Carter and I will be swapping sweaters. That wouldn’t be a bad thing... if we’d listened to the man, the country wouldn’t be in the fix we’re in now.

Friday, October 28, 2005 7 comments

Ouch

Last week, there was the big toe acting up. My self-therapy for that in the past has been to wear the ol’ Birkenstocks with the shaped sole. Two days later, no more problem. My tennies are about a half-size too tight, which was probably my problem. I switched to my church shoes until I get around to getting a replacement pair of tennies.

With that out of the way, now I’ve been having some soreness in my (left) side for the last few days. It hasn’t gotten worse, but it hasn’t gotten better either, so I figured I’d better have it looked at.

The doc, who oversaw The Boy for the first few hours of his diabetes, didn’t have a good explanation. Worst case, I’m getting an ulcer. which would be strange — it’s not like we have four teenagers here... oh, wait a minute... we do. I could (nearly 30 years after having my spleen removed due to a car wreck) be getting “adhesions,” in which loops of the intestines start sticking together. I have no clue how that’s treated, and I’m not sure I want to know. So she suggested I take an antacid; if the pain goes away that points to an ulcer.

Then she asked, “have you have a strep pneumonia shot in the last 5 years?” With my usual style and flair, I replied, “Hunh?” Turns out that I’m at risk, as I’m missing a spleen, so she called in the nurse with a vaccination for me. She would have also given me a flu shot, if she’d had vaccine available. The Boy and I will both be getting it later, I guess.

The shot hurt worse afterwards than it did going in. It’s sore as all get-out now, 11 hours later. Oh well, I’m no stranger to pain. After all, I’m married.

Friday Night Cinema

When you don’t have time to go to the theater and watch a feature-length movie... there’s plenty of shorts just a click away. I have enough of these lined up to do one a week for quite a while.

Type: Political
Format: Flash (SWF)

What 2000 Looks Like

Thursday, October 27, 2005 3 comments

Sounds crazy

So crazy, in fact, I want to do it. But not this year.

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), the writers’ version of motorcycling’s Iron Butt Rally. It’s a simple contest: during the month of November, write a short (50,000 word) novel. But like haiku, there’s deep water beneath that simple surface.

Both NaNoWriMo and Iron Butt are endurance tests, of both operator and machine. Both require the participant to forego luxuries like sleep, regular meals, entertainment, and family. NaNoWriMo throws in another little monkey wrench, the minor detail of a major holiday (Thanksgiving, at least in the US) — toward the end of the month, when contestants will be pushing hard to wrap up, no less. Not to mention the 8.33% of us who happen to have a birthday in November.

To give you an idea of what 50,000 words is like, look through the October archive for Tales from FAR Manor. Read it all. Then multiply by 4. And I only thought I’d been writing like crazy this month. To really have a shot at completing NaNoWriMo, I would probably have to use up most of my vacation time (by taking November off, which ain’t gonna happen due to deadlines) kick the renters out of the old place in the woods, and move in there for the month.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005 2 comments

Quota week?

Going into work this morning, I saw no less than five cop cars out & about. One of them pointed the ol’ radar gun my way.

Now I ding Planet Georgia for various reasons, but one thing they do right is tightly regulate local police activity with regard to writing speeding tickets — mainly in reaction to the big black eye that crooked towns like Ludowici gave the planet. One measure limits revenue from traffic tickets; others mandate a 10MPH tolerance for local/county cops.

It’s funny, though: cops can be appreciated or reviled, depending on whether they’re directing traffic through a busy intersection or running a speed trap, and they could do both in one day.

Outrage du jour

Just another reason to avoid Wal-Mart like the plague. It isn’t enough that they tell their suppliers to move manufacturing to China... they’re trying to figure out how to squeeze employee health benefits and get away with it. The link goes to a somewhat raggedy-looking PDF; I’ll summarize the lowlights:
  • Make it harder to insure spouses. “Spouses are by far the most expensive plan members to cover...”

  • Lower life insurance coverage.

  • Use more part-time employees (because it takes longer for them to qualify for coverage).

  • Push employees into Health Savings Accounts (as if they can afford them).

  • Cut 401K matching from 4% to 3%.

  • Encourage less-healthy employees to leave, thus saving their health care costs, by “[designing] all jobs to include some physical activity (e.g. all cashiers do some cart gathering),” and “dissuade unhealthy people from coming to work at Wal-Mart.” Sheesh.
I suppose it’s better than what they do now: give people information on how to apply for Medicaid.

Wal-Mart definitely has a self-inflicted image problem. Only 48% of eligible employees use their healthcare plan (vs. the national average of 68%). The memo further admits that “46 percent of Associates’ children are either on Medicaid or uninsured.”

Tell me again: in these days of runaway medical costs, when we spend more per capita for healthcare than any other developed nation and receive less for our trouble, when one of of five Americans can’t even afford health insurance, why a nationalized health care system is such a bad idea?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005 5 comments

M.A.E.: You Got Served

“Someone called from the lodge today,” M.A.E. told me Friday evening. “She said a cop was up there looking for me.”

I reacted swiftly and decisively: “Huuhhh?? Why would a cop be looking for you?”

“I don’t know, unless my mom is pulling something again. Everything is OK with the probation officer, and I know I haven’t done anything to get arrested.”

“Could be.” I once described M.A.E.’s mother as “a serious piece of work,” and nothing has happened since to change my mind. “But she can’t have you arrested without some evidence of a crime... you think she’s having papers served on you?”

“That’s probably it,” M.A.E. agreed. “She called me and gave me a bunch of crap about how I need to stay away from my sister, blah blah blah...”

Sometimes, you just need to bite the bullet. M.A.E. is brave, or really believes in the system: she marched into the sheriff’s office today and asked why the deputies were looking for her. About 10 minutes later, they got it together and handed her a restraining order that accuses her, among other things, of being on meth 24/7 and violent. I’m 95% sure she’s not on meth at all, let alone 24/7, and 100% sure she’s not violent. So she’s going to get a drug test, which will put the lie to SPOW (Serious Piece Of Work) and likely get her zapped for making false statements or even perjury.

I’m not impressed with M.A.E.’s past. But she’s trying to put that past behind her for good and live the life of a respectable citizen, and that does impress me. I just don’t understand why someone — especially a relative — would try to throw wrenches in that.

News briefs

All the news that you didn’t hear about (but probably should have).

One reason I avoid blogging from work: even if you have free time, you don’t want to get in the habit if there’s no set policy. That’s one good thing about Microsoft that I’ve mentioned before: not only do they allow blogging, they let developers blog about work.

You just can't make this stuff up. The in-laws just installed an incinerator at the chicken houses; maybe we need to plant flowers around it.

Viagra could cut heart stress... well, sheesh. I can tell you why: one thing you don’t feel after nookie is stressed out. Well, unless you’re committing adultery and somebody’s spouse comes up the driveway, you don’t. (I’m guessing that would be the case anyway; I have no first-hand experience in that matter. No, really.)

OpenOffice 2.0 has been released. No piracy required, just download and enjoy.

You Are Now Informed.

Rosa Parks and determination

A lot of people have posted tributes to Rosa Parks today, and deservedly so. It took a lot of guts to say I ain’t movin’ in that time and place. You can only work within the system so long, especially when the system is rigged to consider you a lesser being, and there comes a time when playing nice and following the rules just doesn’t cut it anymore.

The bus boycott that followed Ms. Parks’s arrest and fine was another display of determination. When the bus was your primary means of getting from place to place, it was a real hardship to stay off. When the black people refused to play the inferiority game, it took courage to continue in the face of bricks, bombs, and bullets. It took something beyond mere courage — it took guts — to refuse the easy road of retaliation.

Some years later, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed — shortly before he was to turn the civil rights movement to the needs of American poor, both black and white. I think it was no coincidence.

Meta-blogging

... or blogging about blogging.

Seems like Blogger got the performance probs fixed last week — a tip of the ol' beer mug to the guys who keep this thing going. I’m sure the admins get their fair share of complaints, but I hope they know how much we appreciate them making this available for all of us. Now, guys, lemme tell you about these nifty features I think everyone would love....

I converted all my blog bookmarks to RSS feeds in Safari early this week. It saves tons of time and I don’t miss anything.

Anyone reading for a while has probably noticed I’ve been throwing postings up here left & right. I thought I’d do well to make three posts a week, but it’s been closer to three a day for the last some weeks. Except for Mystery of the Haunted Vampire, I think I’ve been out-cranking everyone on my list — and Carnacki has like four people posting there. October has always been a busy month for me, just not in this particular way. I’ll probably slow down in a while; I was cranking out haiku pretty steadily a while back and then it dried up for a couple of weeks. (But I’ve put up four new verses in the last couple of days, maybe the drought is over.)

Gotta admit... it fits.

Results from the What Muppet are you? quiz. I don’t know how they did it, but it fits.

Bunson jpegYou are Dr. Bunson Honeydew.

You love to analyse things and further the cause of science, even if you do tend to blow things up more often than not.

HOBBIES: Scientific inquiry, Looking through microscopes, Recombining DNA to create decorative art.

QUOTE: “Now, Beakie, we’ll just flip this switch and 60,000 refreshing volts of electricity will surge through your body. Ready?”

FAVORITE MUSICAL ARTIST: John Cougar Melonhead

LAST BOOK READ: “Quantum Physics: 101 Easy Microwave Recipes”

NEVER LEAVES HOME WITHOUT: An atom smasher and plenty of extra atoms.

brought to you by Quizilla

Monday, October 24, 2005 1 comment

Publishing moves on

On Saturday, I wrote about publishers suing Google over the proposed Google Print service. Like the music and movie industries, book publishers also consider the new technology as a threat instead of an opportunity. Call it hidebound management or corporate culture, call it a failure of imagination by the very companies that survive on selling imagination. Either way, analog media companies are faced with wrenching change — and they can’t do anything but react, badly.

Once upon a time, the dream was to write the Great American Novel. The Hemingways and Steinbecks of a previous generation were the rock stars of their time. Video may have killed the radio star, but the novelist was wounded in a collateral damage incident and now the video star is sick in bed as well. Like any large industry in decline, book publishers (and to a lesser extent, music & video) turned first to wringing more out of the formula that worked so well in the past. When that didn’t work, instead of looking for new ways to do what they do best, they cast blame hither and yon, and fell even farther back onto formula.

it’s a truism that “nobody wants to read anymore,” and I’ve often said it myself — but blogs give the lie to that factoid. It’s not that people don’t want to read, they just don’t want to read the goop on bookstore shelves. There are exceptions, to be sure; I mentioned Neil Gaiman in an earlier posting, but without much promotion (that I’ve noticed, anyway) beyond a new Stephen King release or one of the Left Behind series from a while back, how do you find good new stuff?

Well, your host has never shied away from stating an opinion. Since Hallowe’en is just around the corner, I’ll offer up a couple of horror novels on other blogs.

First, my friend and bob-brother Carnacki’s novel, The Mystery of the Haunted Vampire. Its style is a series of diary entries, which naturally works well when published on a blog. It takes a different angle on the traditional vampire story by casting vampires — or rather, a particular vampire — as the hero. I don’t want to spoil it for you, just go read.

If your tastes run toward werewolves, What is happening to me? delivers. It’s structured as an actual blog, so you have to start with the first post (to which I pointed you) and work your way up from the bottom. Someone described it as an “epistolary novel," a story using a series of letters (or diary entries) as building blocks. There’s an immediacy, a “life as it’s happening” quality to it that the traditional novel would be hard-pressed to offer.

One thing both stories have in common: their plots twist in ways I didn’t expect. That can be dangerous, but in both cases I found it delightful. Surprises are good, as long as they don’t go off in some random direction — the plot twist has to connect the new direction to earlier elements of the story is all.

Again, go forth and read. And shiver.

Please Standby

Category: Work
Music: Groove Salad

I got included in an email chain at work late last week. To make a long story short, one of our customers was returning eMTAs (embedded MTA, a cable modem with phone lines built in) complaining that they could get dial tone but no Internet access. Our lab techs hooked them up to the test equipment, which reported No Fault Found. Upon further investigation, it turned out that somebody (whether a subscriber or an installation tech) was pressing the Standby button — which disconnects the Ethernet and USB ports from the cable network. The latest generation removed the Standby switch, since subscribers would also bump it unknowingly after installation, then complain that their service was out.

In some ways, we’ve made great advances and gone backwards simultaneously as far as user interface design goes. 40 or 50 years ago — let’s pretend personal computers were as available then as they are now for the sake of argument — a Standby switch would have been a big ol’ toggle switch on the front panel, clearly marked “STANDBY” up and “NORMAL” down. It would have been very easy to tell what mode the modem was in without trying to decipher a pattern of LEDs on the front panel. Product design these days is all about contours and smooth curves — a practical, easily visible toggle switch pokes out and just doesn’t fit today’s style.

Whatever happened to “form follows function”?

The eyes have had it

Last night, Mrs. Fetched asked me to see if she had anything in her eye. I didn’t see anything, but it did look a little red. It was still hurting her this morning, so she went to an eye doctor to have it looked at. Not good news: her eye got dry, stuck to some skin in the socket, and the membrane got torn. The eye doc told her to get some goggles to wear outside; if she gets it infected she could well lose the entire eye. So she has to put cream in it and will start on eyedrops next week.

She doesn’t deserve this.

[Almost forgot:] This isn’t really related to her blurry vision. Once the cream does its work, the doc can figure out what her prescription should be.

Somebody else's tax dollars at work

...for a change. The Register always manages to find the most compelling human interest stories.

El Reg... news about IT and other weird things. It don’t get much better than that.

Sunday, October 23, 2005 5 comments

Moonshine Festival — Dawsonville, GA

If it’s October on this planet, it’s time for fall festivals. My mother-in-law makes (and sells) quilts and bonnets at two of these outings a year, so I managed to drop by and get a few pictures before my camera batteries wheezed.

As always, click a picture to get more detail.

My mother-in-law at her booth. I said she usually does two of these outings a year, but this year, she had decided to do none until the Moonshiners called her and begged her to come. She was one of a tiny handful selling honest to God crafts this year, so that explains the call.



The vendor’s-eye view of the festival.

Aside to Mom: this is about where I was standing when I called you this afternoon. That blue Mustang was making all the racket.



Outside the friendly confines of a vendor’s booth, it’s wall-to-wall people.



Dawsonville claims to be “the birthplace of NASCAR,” and it’s a strong claim. NASCAR was born out of moonshine running, which required fast, nimble cars to get to the markets in the cities (and to outrun the “revenoors”). Dawsonville was well-positioned to be the “moonshine capital” — it boasted a sparse population yet is fairly close to buyers in Atlanta — and many of NASCAR’s first generation of racing champions were from Dawsonville or nearby.

The cars here are restored racers from the 1940s and early 1950s. Every hour or so, the owners fire them up, and all conversations along the street pretty much stop until they shut down.



The engine in a vintage Chrysler 300M race car (not the new one, obviously). This car is capable of 130MPH average lap speeds — that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but this car raced in 1953 (over 50 years ago)!



The moonshiners and cops were in a technological arms race of sorts: to catch a moonshiner, you had to be able to keep up. But some of those drivers, like local legend Lloyd Seay, had both horsepower and skill on their side. One story about Seay says the cops were waiting to arrest him in the winner’s circle after his last race on September 1, 1941. Instead of stopping, he just drove through a fence and roared on home, with too much of a head start for the cops to even think of catching him. The next day, he was shot dead by a cousin in one of those violent disputes that moonshiners were reputed to have often.



Lest you get the idea it’s all NASCAR and vendor booths at Moonshine... there’s song and dance as well. Daughter Dearest helped open the festivities yesterday morning with her high school chorus (the sound equipment arrived an hour late, but they simply changed their playlist to a capella numbers and the show went on). This particular group (didn’t catch the name) was playing some hard-thumpin’ variant of country. Local bands often strut their stuff here, everything from gospel to metal (and if The Boy has his way, they’ll combine the two soon).



A separate performance area hosts clogging (and other Americana-style dance) troupes. These young cloggers were just starting their performance.



At this point, my batteries gave out and I helped mother-in-law pack up for the trip home.

Interesting thought

Heard during sets on a streaming Internet station last night: “If Jesus had a tape recorder, how different would things be today?”

Saturday, October 22, 2005 1 comment

Google Print and stupid lawsuits

From a student paper, dated October 21, 2782. Don’t ask me how I got this.

The following is one of the recovered fragments of The Book of Internet. There are gaps in the translation, due to disk errors on the ancient and rusted hard drive, recovered from the archeological digs in Silicon Valley.
... then Google was born, and indexed the Internet. And it was good.

... Google looked at the world, and asked itself, “what else can I index and make available to my mighty Search Engine?” And it came to pass that Google passed a bookstore. “Eureka!” cried Google. “I shall scan all these books, cause them to be searchable, and display small snips, that users of my mighty Search Engine may locate books and perhaps buy those that please them.” And Google obtained The Mother Of All Scanners, returned from the Public Library with an armload of books, and got to work. ...

But the Publishers were wroth, and gnashed their teeth and waved their lawyers at Google, crying “Cease and desist! For your scheme will surely allow your users to read our books online, without paying us for the privilege!” ...

Then was the wrath of the Authors stirred up against the Publishers; and they spake unto the Publishers, saying, “your lawsuit is not helping me or my book.” ....
It is plain from this and other surviving records that purveyors of “analog” technologies (printed books as well as recorded music and video) were having trouble adapting to the digital realities of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Unfortunately, the knee-jerk refusal to embrace digital technology only hastened the demise of the old gatekeepers. Not only was digital media easy to transfer, it was easy to create. It seems odd that there was ever a time that people were passive consumers rather than consumer-creators, but such was the reality as humanity entered the Third Millenium. The pace of change at the time seems almost mythical, and may explain the toxic political and pseudo-religious movements that dominated the first few years (as a coping mechanism by those unable to understand or participate in the rapidly changing world of the time). Many people of today consider the people of the early 21st century (if we think of them at all) as ignorant, benighted savages. However, it is important to remember that they are not only our direct ancestors, they gave birth to the society we enjoy today.

Herding cats

Nearly home from dropping off Daughter Dearest, I saw several pairs of eyes reflecting my headlights on both sides on the road, and got on the brakes. A few seconds later, I saw a ran-over kitten in the road, and several survivors off to the side. Dangit, I thought, some ’hole dropped ’em off. I pulled off to the side, thinking maybe I could catch all or most of them (I think there were five, some black, some tan/white), take them home, and let them live in the outbuilding until I could find homes for them. From experience, I’ve found the best way to give away kittens or puppies is to take them to a Wal-Mart. Their unwritten policy seems to be “people taking the critters will buy pet food and accessories.”

Little wild teases: they would stand their ground, let me walk right up to them, then run away as I bent over to grab them. Then I saw a bigger cat and realized it wasn’t a dump-off. The mama was a bit friendlier; she let me touch her (and was she skinny!). She was on the side of the road I’d been driving on, calling to the babies who were on the other side. So I chivvied the little buggers across the road (by pretending I was trying to catch them) and away from the pavement, then went on home. If they’re still hanging around tomorrow, I’ll take some catfood to them. That mama looked like she could use a couple of turns at the Fire Mountain buffet line.

Uh-oh

I drove Daughter Dearest to her first homecoming dance this evening. Oh wow. I knew this day was coming, but knowing & being ready are often two different things....

The Boy and M.A.E. were going to a movie with a friend, so I dropped them off at the friend’s place since it was on the way. And I have no idea where Lobster is tonight.

Just me & the wife here. We cracked a bottle of peach wine, and she (as usual) is zonked after one glass... too quickly for me to take advantage, as it were. :-P

Friday, October 21, 2005 4 comments

The General Stickiness of Stuff

Mountain Cerridwen (aka SallyCat) wrote a fine Crass Commericalism Rant today. That, and the post immediately below it on Sally’s blog, called to mind a conversation (i.e. yakking on AIM) about materialism (I’m in red here; he’s in blue)...
True. I don't know why I keep a bunch of CDs with outdated software on them, even with a dialup, but there you are....

Yeah, totally. I probably have discs that have the cutting-edge IE and Netscape 3's. Why keep them? I don't know but I do. Nostalgia for the good old days when it was exciting to rip open the magazine plastic and see what's on the CD, read the Mac Addict letters to the edit, etc.

I don't really care anymore but can't let go of it.

Seriously, I think sometimes it's easier to just leave stuff behind than take it with you.

If I had a mind to, I could clear out of my house with all the possessions I *really* wanted to have in about an hour.

Well, you know what would be easy is to pick out the things you want, like that. It'd be easier than making a conscious decision to throw something else out. Grab your computer, some clothes, some things from a file cabinet, maybe a photo album or two, and burn the house down.
Over the top, sure, but it’s too true. It’s easy enough to identify the possessions that are really important (beyond family, of course) — but having identified those things that are important, why is it so hard to let go of the other stuff?

I suppose part of it involves ego — the “he who dies with the most toys wins” mentality, or maybe it’s “I paid good money for that crap, I need to get something back out of it.” The latter, at least, could be dealt with by throwing a yard sale. The problem with yard sales, though, is you have to drag all that stuff out there and then drag all the unsold stuff back in at the end of the day.

A friend of mine told me about how she cruised yard sales, bought designer clothes, then sold them on eBay for a tidy profit. eBay would work for what would be high-end stuff in a yard sale, but the cheapo paperbacks & workaday clothes would wind up with shipping charges 2x-4x more than the price of the stuff.

One thing I’ve managed to do on occasion is to bundle up a big ol’ pile of stuff and take it to the local thrift store. I get a receipt I can use at tax time, and some extra space; they get more stuff to sell cheap to people who can’t afford to shop anywhere else, and those people get more choices. Everybody wins.

I have an alarming number of PowerMacs in the outbuilding. Fortunately, I have a home for one; a friend of The Boy needs a computer and knows his way around MacOS. That leaves several other Macs to give away or sell. Plus a bunch of other crap.

The Eyes (Don’t) Have It

Wife is slowly getting over herself, although it’s taking a little longer than usual. I picked up The Boy from his job (very late) last night; he asked me “What was she mad about today?” Nothing really, just the hangover from the night before. M.A.E. grabbed an order of jalapeƱo bites for him on her way out of Arby’s (I ate one of them though!) so he had a little snacky before bed.

So this morning, the wife was looking at M.A.E’s schedule. They make a printout of her hours for the week & we stuck it to one of the refrigerators in the kitchen (yes, we have two fridges, and we use ’em both). The printout is pretty small — like 4-point type — and the wife couldn’t read it. She had to ask me to look at it.

So far, the most sucky part of hitting the mid-40s is the vision change (only because menopause hasn’t started, I’m sure). Over the last year or so, I’ve had to peer over my glasses to read, or just take them off. In the morning, it takes a while for my eyes to want to do their job, so I try not using the computer for the first hour of the day. A minor inconvenience. But in the last couple of months, I’ve noticed that she’s had a seriously hard time reading small print of any kind. This morning, she finally admitted what I’ve known for a while. I hope she doesn’t have to get bifocals; from everything I’ve heard, they sound like more trouble than just having two pairs of glasses.

I wonder if the R-K surgery she had done back when is a factor. I’ve always been leery of elective eye surgery myself.

Thursday, October 20, 2005 No comments

Autumn nights

...mean bonfires!


I’m slightly proud of this one: I got it going with one match. Having lots of dry pine straw in the pile helps a lot.

I spent an hour or so tending it until it died down enough to feel comfortable leaving it alone. Then I had to go back out and find the camera cable. Sheesh.

Ah, nuts...

Coming back from lunch, I suddenly realized that I wasn’t getting any sound from the left side of my headphones. So after wiggling wires and looking close, this is what I found (look where the wire almost goes into the earpiece, click to get a bigger image)...


Dangit. Those were my favorite headphones, too. I switched to the old reliable set of Koss earbuds (bright yellow wires!) and I’m now getting music out of iTunes the way Steve Jobs intended.

Those of you born after the baby boom probably don’t remember when “Made in Japan” pretty much meant the same thing as “Made in China exclusively for Wal-Mart” means now — in a word, junk. But Japan put its sense of national pride on the job, and it started to show in the early 1970s. Nowadays, “Made in Japan” usually means solid stuff. But not even the Japanese have figured out how to make wires small, flexible, and kink-proof, apparently. :-P

Wife-BOOM-ba

“It’s quiet... too quiet.”

Or it was.

The Boy has lately been reneging on his agreement to be in bed by 11 on weeknights. Naturally, this makes him harder to get out of bed in the mornings, but that’s not the issue at hand.

Last night, he was told several times to get upstairs and get to bed. Around 11:30, SWMBO ordered me to go upstairs and “find out what all that banging is about.” (His bedroom is directly above the living room, and anything that interferes with her TV watching is Not Allowed.) So I went upstairs, to find Lobster in bed and The Boy sitting on the floor next to his bed. Given the general order of the room, it looked like he’d been cleaning.

“What was that thud noise your mom heard?”

"What noise? I dropped the Xbox, is all.”

“Fine,” I told him, ”get to bed, it’s 11:30.” He got up and got in bed, I went downstairs.

“He dropped his Xbox,” I told SWMBO. “It looked like he was cleaning up his room a bit.”

“He’s supposed to be in bed now!” she barked, with a tone that implied that I was to blame for this whole thing. Like I said, next to idiots in Accounts Receivable, nothing puts her back up faster than interrupting her TV.

“I told him that,” I replied, using a similar tone. A while back, SWMBO told me I needed to stand up for myself more often. She was right. Change begins at home.

It didn’t help matters that music started coming down the stairs at that moment. Of course, she told me to go up and tell them to shut it off, then stopped me. “Just stand where you can hear,” she said. “I’m going to find the breaker and turn it off.”

So I stood at the bottom of the stairs, and she started flipping breakers. “Did that do it? Did that do it?” even after I told her that I would let her know as soon as the music stopped. I saw the bathroom lights go off and on, then Daughter Dearest came out of her room.

“What happened to the lights?” she said. I explained, while SWMBO went through the entire breaker box unsuccessfully.

“There’s got to be more breakers,” she said.

“There’s that box in the garage,” I reminded her. “Do you want to go out there, or do you want me to go?”

At this point, she got even more irrational, and repeated her assertion that there had to be more breakers. I simply repeated what I said, not that it did any good. Finally, she threw up her hands and told me to go tell them to turn off the music. (I have absolutely no clue what the problem was with going to the garage.)

So I went upstairs, and turned off the stereo since it’s right inside his door. The Boy, who was laying in bed by this point, got huffy. “I was just playing that one song for Lobster!”

“Doesn’t matter, you should have been in bed for a while now. You agreed to 11 o’clock, lights out, stereo off.”

He just shook his head. “Why is it such a big deal?”

“Because it’s bothering your mom!” I said.

She was 1) listening at the bottom of the stairs, and 2) took offense. “He can just listen to his %&#@!! music all he wants to, for all I care!!!” SLAM went the doors. I gave The Boy a dirty look.

“Why did she go off like that?” he asked.

“Doesn’t matter,” I said. “If you had done what you agreed to do, none of this would have happened, and you would be easier to get up in the morning.” I left and went back downstairs to put up the laptop.

SWMBO was in the bedroom as I came in; I just started putting things away and she huffed out. Next thing I know, I heard The Barge going out. She probably went down to her mom’s; all I know for sure is she didn’t come back. I went to bed. When caught by forces of nature, it’s best to just ride it out and move on.

After about 20 minutes, The Boy came downstairs and we talked for a while. We talked about things; he said he was going to save his money and move out by January.

“Just hang in there for a while and it’ll blow over,” I said. He claimed to take offense to SWMBO’s use of “%&#@!!” and so forth. I wanted to tell him that lying about not smoking was just as bad as foul language — SWMBO found a pack of cigs in his room last week — but it wasn’t the time. So we talked about things for another 20 minutes; after we finished I told him we needed to talk more often, but not at 1 a.m.

So I’m working at home today. SWMBO came in long enough to get a change of clothes, then off to the chicken houses. Neither of us said anything. What... ever. Like the computer said in War Games, “the only way to win is not to play.” If she doesn’t come back, I’ll put FAR Manor on the market and move closer to work. She knows that, so I expect she’ll be in by lunch and pretend nothing ever happened.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005 No comments

RTF: the “other” interchange format

Category: technology
MacDevCenter’s Giles Turnbull has an article up on using RTF (Rich Text Format) as an interchange format. For non-technical users, this is probably the best way to move documents around without having to worry about whether someone can read them. Nearly all word processors that aspire to be “full-featured” provide some support for RTF these days, so it’s a good starting place.

This morning at work, I was asked to provide some information from a quick-start guide for a hand-off to a customer (who wants to write some custom stuff). We’re using FrameMaker for documentation, not Word, and Word users just seem to assume everyone else uses Word. Imagine that. (For those who wonder why I don’t use Word, this profanity-laden rant pretty well sums it up.) FrameMaker’s RTF exporter is less than wonderful, producing sloppy text formatting and losing the graphics, but the customer just wanted the tables so it’s all good.

Way back when, I brought RTF home once and used a text editor on an Amiga to make updates to a manual. We had a deadline and a snowstorm, so I wanted to make sure I could hold up my end of things even if I couldn’t get to the office. It worked, except for one minor detail: those spaces at the end of lines of RTF are significant, and my text editor insisted on removing them... so when I got back to work & opened it in the word processor, there were spacesmissing here and there. Running the spell checker fixed all but one or two of them.

So with all these wonderful real-world examples, what’s lacking in RTF compared to ODF, the virtues of which I’ve been extolling lately?

First, RTF has been one of those formats that is supposed to be well-known, but Microsoft has always had a penchant for omitting things. The newer specifications are better.

Second, there are RTF parsers and conversion tools out there, but they are far less well-known than equivalent XML tools.

Third, even Microsoft is moving to XML for document interchange.

RTF, given its Word-driven ubiquity, will be around for a long time to come and will continue to be a useful interchange format for people interested primarily in exchanging and using documents. Many people will continue to use older versions of Word and Office for a long time to come, and XML interchange won’t be feasible for them. But for those of us who want our computers to extract (and perhaps transform) the important pieces of the documents we get, XML is really the way forward.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005 3 comments

Stinkular and their smell-phone “service”

Wife got the Stinkular bill today, and almost ended up like that guy on the T-Mobile commercial. $380.

M.A.E. didn’t realize that just downloading ringtones runs up charges... she thought you only had to pay for the ones you keep. OOOOOPS

Daughter Dearest called... Turkey?!!??? three times because a number from there showed up on the phone. Fortunately, it was “only” $2+change for each call. She also downloaded a ringtone, but only one.

The Boy’s phone showed like 4000 minutes of usage, thanks to M.A.E. being on it almost constantly, talking to family in Florida. He tends to be the heaviest user in the family without her help.... That’s going to change, she has her own pre-paid phone now. I wonder how long it will be until she talks it to death.

OK, none of that is Stinkular’s fault. Their problem (besides the signal dropping out in inopportune places, like my office... “raising the bar,” my fartpipe) is that they have a bad habit of trying to double-bill add-ons like MediaNet service. I have it on my phone, primarily so I can email pictures off the camera and do occasional forays online. But they try to bill my phone and The Boy’s.

It’s not like it’s the first time they’ve tried to pull this crap. We wind up going into the st00p1d store each time we get the bill because they’ve messed something up. They take it off, but it comes back just about every time. Seems like they fix one thing, they screw up another. I guess the retarded howler monkeys from the hospital’s billing department moonlight at Stinkular. Or the other way around.

If it’s Cingular to you, what’s your secret? One phone, barebones service?

Short-item roundup

I didn’t feel like doing separate posts for these little things...

Daughter Dearest scored a 17 on her all-state chorus audition. It’s a decent score; whether it will make the cut remains to be seen. I’ll follow up when she finds out (and tells me)....

M.A.E. started her new job at Arby’s today (yup, it came through). With colder weather coming, I’ll be eating at Arby’s more often. The reason: the ones in this area have an atrium-like area with a live tree under the skylights. I can eat lunch there on sunny days and pretend it’s not January or whatever....

Lobster was thinking about moving home, but didn’t follow through on it. I think he was just miffed because we made him get out of bed Sunday for church, after being up later than he should have been. He (and The Boy) need to get a little more responsible about getting up in the mornings; they have both gotten several tardy notices and will probably end up with detention or something....

DD also announced today at dinner that she set up a Myspace... page? site? I said, “I have a blog.” She grunted, wife looked at me like she wanted to say, “what’s a blog?” but didn’t want to {pick one: look uninformed || hear a lengthy technical explanation, which I do have a history of doing}. Further exchange between DD & I made it clear, saving us the trouble. I have no idea whether she cares or not; she has a poker face that would be right at home on ESPN’s games....

Our minivan’s transmission continues to deteriorate. Wife keeps talking new car; I keep bringing up minor details like no spare change for payments. The mechanic says he’s afraid pulling the motor will kill it. huh??? We keep pouring transmission fluid through it for now, about a bottle a week. Cashing in stock won’t help much; the price cratered here in the last week (on good news, no less)....

Hurricane Wilma (I keep thinking of the Flintstones every time I hear that name) looks to miss us completely now. My mom, on the other hand, has something to worry about (besides her broken wrist, healing slowly). So does Cuba — but Castro will, once again, school Bush-league and his crony (formerly) at FEMA on how to evacuate a major city....

Be sure to read the next entry down. Possibly wonderful news.

Fingers crossed tightly!

The Boy had a trip to the endocrinologist yesterday. Being diabetic, he gets stuck for blood every few months to see how well he’s controlling his glucose levels1. His A1C is a little higher this time, not horribly so given what he did between tests. The nurse-practitioner2 was going through his records, and said he was Type II diabetic. We said no, he’s Type I.

This prompted the NP to look a little more closely. “Oh,” she said finally. “The doctor did decide he’s Type I. But some of these tests say one thing, and the others say something else.” So we got to talking about his Summer of Discontent, during which he admitted he took very little insulin (but said he didn’t eat much either). “In that case,” she said, “you could be Type II. The C-Peptide [I think that’s what she called it —FF] test went that way, and you’re still taking a relatively low amount of insulin. You could still be in the honeymoon period, but we can run the test again and maybe you could replace the Novolog with pills.”

Needless to say, we’re overjoyed. I’m really trying not to get my hopes up, but this would definitely be a plus for The Boy — instead of four needles a day, he would only have to use one (for his Lantus overnight) unless his glucose started getting high. He didn’t show much emotion, but maybe he’s trying to manage his expectations as well. He did agree to use his meter more often (that’s one of the things we’ve been nagging him about) so he & the medics can get a better picture of what’s going on.

If you’re the praying type, please pray for him. This could be a huge boost.



1Be careful what you ask for... if you want more control over your life, you could end up doing what your pancreas does for you. :-P

2NPs, it seems, get all the responsibility of a doctor in general, just without the recognition or prestige.

Monday, October 17, 2005 1 comment

Happy #21, M.A.E.!!!

Yup, The Boy’s lady fair is 21 today. They celebrated at a steak&sushi place.
Happy Birthday! Happy Birthday!
People dying everywhere,
Misery is in the air,
Happy Birthday! Happy Birthday!

That’s the last birthday this month at FAR Manor.

Saturday, October 15, 2005 4 comments

To any Virginia readers...

You might want to know a bit more about Jerry Kilgore as he tries to slime his way into the governor’s mansion.

UPDATE: Austin Post has some more thoughtful commentary on the race.

Happy Birthday, Daughter Dearest!

OMG, number 16. She’ll be taking her driver’s test pretty soon, although she’s in no hurry (either to take the test, or behind the wheel in general).

So on this wonderful Saturday morning, she had auditions for all-state chorus. Long drive, she snoozed a little but that’s fine since I was driving (she needs more practice with a manual transmission too). I plotzed around with the iBook in the cafeteria, putting some edits on a short story I may post here later, and banged around Yahoo on my cellphone when I get done with that.

She thinks she messed up on sight-reading, and she was supposed to bring a blank cassette tape (or be auto-DQ'ed) but her instructor saved the day with a couple extra tapes. So now we get to settle in & wait to hear if she made the cut.

From experience (she was in all-state three years ago, last time she was in public school), there’s a second audition... primarily to make sure the kids have practiced the music. So here’s hoping.

We finished out the day by getting her some Magic:the Gathering cards (three decks!) and eating (very late) lunch at one of her favorite restaurants.

Friday, October 14, 2005 5 comments

Laziness and Open Document Format

Categories: technology, work
Current music: Groove Salad

Just before I took off for lunch today, the contractor who picked up the projects I was working on before the reorg motioned me over and asked me, “how did you do it? You put together the whole shell of this project, and I’m just hanging stuff on it. Especially the command-line stuff... how did you get so much of it done with nothing to work with?” Pulling miracles out of my, er, back pocket has been a lot of what I’ve done at the office for the last few years. I got deadlines, limited access (at best) to equipment, a little help from my boss when he’s not swamped with other stuff, very little in the way of specifications, and somehow I managed to maintain documentation for three entire product lines.

My secret is: I’m lazy.

Look, I sit in front of a computer all day. If I can get the computer to do something for me, especially if it’s something that needs to be done more than once, I’ll do it. For example, our original (now “legacy”) product line came with about 4000 pages of documentation scattered over about 20 different manuals. We provided a master index, a 110-page book of its own, as a way to let customers zero in on which manual(s) covered a particular topic. The first time I did the master index, it took two solid weeks of nothing else. This is one of those prime examples for automation: I had to build a book in FrameMaker of all the other books, tag each chapter in each manual, run the index, convert the tags to document references (for example, change “EG” to Engineering Guidelines), remove all but the first reference to any chapter, blah blah blah. To make a long story shorter, I wrote a handful of AppleScripts that eliminated literally 80% of the grunt work: instead of two weeks, I could build the master index in two days. Yesterday, I wrote a script that created index entries from headings (which is OK for a first pass at indexing commands) that saved me a day’s worth of work.

I told you all that to tell you this.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Massachusetts adopting Open Document Format (ODF) for state government documents. Between than and now, OpenOffice 2.0 went into beta test; yesterday, OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) submitted ODF to the International Standards Organization (ISO) for consideration as an international standard for office document interchange.

The neat thing about all this is that the ODF format is easy to pick apart and fiddle with. Internally, content, graphics, and style information are separated and the whole thing is rolled up in a ZIP file. Content and style files use an XML format, which is important for two reasons: XML is plain text, and there are lots of utilities to work with it. So what does that mean? There are several Free programs that support ODF already (OpenOffice and AbiWord run on most computers, while Koffice also runs on Linux systems). But the really fun part is, given a document format both open and relatively easy to parse, you don’t need an office application to do things with ODF files.

In the computing world, when a group like OASIS sets out to nail down a standard, they form a Technical Committee (TC) of interested parties. In the case of the ODF TC, some of the interested parties include companies that make content management systems (or CMS... the alphabet soup is sloshing around quite a bit tonight!) — suffice it to say that a CMS allows you to store, retrieve, and process documents to make something new (kind of like putting basil leaves in a food processor and making pesto). Given the job of a CMS, it usually doesn’t just store a document as-is. In the case of an ODF file, the CMS would probably unzip it and extract just the content and metadata (data about the data) components. The graphics are already stored in the CMS. Let’s say I send a document to the CMS and come back for it a couple of months later. During that time, some of the artwork has been changed. The CMS grabs the original content and metadata, rolls in the updated graphics, and hands me an ODF file. Oh cool, I didn’t have to update the graphics myself!

Another handy utility might be nightly publishing runs. Sometimes, I’m working on a manual that’s getting change requests and bug reports coming in fast & furious. Some of the manuals I deal with have a lot of bitmap graphics, and can take nearly an hour to generate a PDF. Remember, I’m lazy... I don’t want to sit at work an hour overtime just to watch the computer make a PDF. In my theoretical ODF-based system, I simply send in the stuff I worked on during the day, and the CMS builds a new document and emails it (with a summary of what changed) to all the reviewers. The reviewers get fresh hot documentation every morning; I get to go home, sit on the porch, and write haiku before it gets dark.

With the manual finished, I have to send it to the translators. Currently, this involves gathering all the various files together and archiving them (and sending missing pieces or assuring them that the extraneous files aren’t important). In my dream system, I tell the CMS to give me an ODF document of the book. Boom, all the pieces get wrapped together, nothing gets dropped, nothing extra gets added, and I send one file to the translators.

I’m willing to put some effort into making this a reality. After all, I want the computer to do the work for me.

Death by Number 33

We went to one of the local Mexican restaurants last night (there are two in town, and two more in the retail district — people here like their tacos, I guess). Since I was on the way, they ordered #33 (chili relleno, tostada, quesadilla) for me. The barking started soon after leaving the restaurant; Daughter Dearest made the mistake of riding with me and I got to “share.”

It gets worse: the wife tells me the snoring (from both ends) went on most of the night and she ended up sleeping in the living room. I was even more oblivious than usual.

It continues to get worse: they haven’t completely gone away yet, over 24 hours later.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005 4 comments

Not so fuelish

I find myself returning to this topic a lot, perhaps because it’s something that affects both the cast of characters (and I do mean characters) at FAR Manor and everyone else around us. I don’t intend for it to become an energy blog though.

Fuel supplies on Planet Georgia are still hovering close to barely adequate or maybe slightly less. Gas stations still run out on occasion (especially a certain BP station close to my office), and it’s not uncommon to see other stations having only one grade of gas available. Prices are a tick below $3/gallon, which is eating Lobster alive. [I told him to look for something smaller than the truck, but he wasn’t listening. He was in love with that Ranger.] Rumors of a climb to $4/gallon this month haven’t materialized... yet. Thank God.

On the other hand, I’m seeing some hopeful signs that people are getting fed up and actually doing something about it. My in-laws started driving less after prices got above $2/gallon. The president of Shell Oil thinks demand will decline (which is why they don’t plan to build more refineries) — current vehicle sales trends seem to confirm that. Demand for big new SUVs has dropped to the point where Ford stopped making Excursions at the end of September. SUV owners are trading in their gas guzzlers in droves, getting smaller cars.

No less than four motorcycle dealers have set up shop between FAR Manor and the office — certainly, some of them are “power-sport” or “lifestyle” oriented, but one Suzuki and United Motors (a Chinese make) dealer had a sign out front recently: “We get 70MPG. Do you?” With fall settling in and winter on the way, some of those new bikes will end up in the garage for a few months; but when it starts warming up again, I’m looking forward to not being the only rider on the road in the morning. (That’s not totally true even now; I’m seeing more bikes on the road but I’m not sure if it’s gas prices or fall weather bringing them out... probably both.) Come spring, there could be a lot of bikes on the road, especially if predictions of honest-to-God shortages over the winter come true.

In the long run, or even the medium run, moving to more fuel-efficient vehicles won’t be enough. If we’d continued to bite the bullet we bit back in the 70s, it might have — but Reagan pretty much p!$$3d away that opportunity, and his successors made (at best) token efforts. Some of the changes coming will be positive — manufacturing and markets will become local again, at the expense of national or international chains — but we will end up being a much less mobile society, and that will be a wrenching change for many people.

Forewarned is... half an octopus.

Monday, October 10, 2005 No comments

Voices from the Borg

As much as I dislike Microsoft — mostly their business practices, although I’ve lost too much work to Word over the years to trust it — I have to admit it’s pretty cool that they let employees blog about what they're doing at work. For example, Brian Jones discusses the development of the XML-based file formats in Office 12; Cyndy Wessling covers the PDF output capabilities of upcoming versions. (If Visio ends up creating decent PDF, there will be a lot of happy FrameMaker users out there.)

For a view of the corporate culture, Mini-Microsoft recently hit the “blogs of note” list and provides an unvarnished look at the ossification of a large corporation as it happens. I’m sure there are other blogs about Microsoft by Microsofties... if you run across any, leave a link in the comments.

Something you don't see everyday

I was getting my 3 p.m. joe to see me through the rest of the afternoon, and managed to get a whole cup for a change. As I was starting the next pot, the president of our division came in, said hello, then stooped down & picked up a couple of pieces of trash & dumped them in the wastebasket.

I guess that represents why I’ve stayed there for 7 years.

Dangit

I managed to forget my cellphone and my badge/passkey this morning.

The Boy took M.A.E. to a county fair last night. They went with a mutual friend (the guy that introduced them, may a camel give birth in his bed :-). The friend and The Boy have an interesting fit: friend has a car and no driver’s license, Boy has a driver’s license and no car. Soooooo... he trundles in last night, only 7 minutes late (about as well as his mom does), with his friend’s car and no friend.

“He didn’t want to drive it home without a license,” he explained. “I’ll drop it by his house in the morning and Lobster can take me to school.” Fine, whatever. The deed is done, nobody got hurt, wife didn’t go ballistic, so if the friend’s parents are OK with it so are we.

Except that, of course, Lobster is nearly impossible to get out of bed in the morning: he’s gotten worse than The Boy, actually. When I started harassing him, he started whining about gas money (he’s getting eaten alive by gas prices). The Boy was just laying in bed, fully dressed, waiting for Lobster to get moving. Time was running out to get him to school on time, so I told him, “I’ll pick you up. Let’s go.” I had to turn off the coffee pot, big deal. He got a 3-minute head start while I bagged my iBook and told the wife good-bye. To make a long story short, he got to school just in time. I hope he was able to get some breakfast.

Sunday, October 09, 2005 3 comments

On responsibility

Being wrapped up in my minor agony yesterday, I forgot to mention something fairly important: M.A.E. (Ms. Almost Einstein, The Boy’s girlfriend) finally managed to lose her “housekeeping” job at the mountaintop lodge yesterday morning. She called in sick a couple of days with back problems and so on, and that was apparently the last straw.

The Boy is displeased. “That was a good job! She needs to be more responsible!” he told his mom yesterday. “I don’t like my job all that much, but I go and do it.” Judging from the reports I’m getting, he does pretty well at it too (at the same lodge, he’s a dishwasher, like the dad in “Robots” who dreamed of being a musician... spooooky). His 90-day review is coming up soon, and he’s probably going to get a fairly substantial raise. I don’t know if he remembers he was pretty much the same way about a year ago. He would give it everything he had, at least when he didn’t have something else going on that he wanted to do (like band practice). He blew off one job that way, without having another one lined up, and wound up not working for several months. Maybe he did learn some lessons during his summer of discontent.

So M.A.E. put in apps at several restaurants in the retail district. An IHOP opened recently, which the wife is itching to go to. She wasn’t with us yesterday when M.A.E. did an app there; we joked about eating there & telling her about it afterwards. That would have Not Pleased Her At All. One of the non-manager (unfortunately) people at Arby’s was ready to hire her on the spot.

I wonder if she has a mild form of clinical depression: she certainly sleeps enough for it. She wants to become independent, but doesn’t push herself hard enough. The housekeeping job was better than most in a lot of ways; she had a decent benefits package (the lodge is in a state park so they get state bennies) and reasonable pay for unskilled labor. She was talking about landing a “hostess” job at a fancier restaurant, but she’ll probably have to work her way up to that.

(Nearly) cured

The cramp is still there this morning, but at a much lower intensity. It still pings when I take a deep breath, but it’s where I can mostly ignore it.

Too bad Blogger doesn’t polls. I'd have a “which did the most good” poll: the ibroprofen horse pill the wife gave me last night after supper, the heat pad, the chiro-cracker, or all of the above. I’m leaning toward the heating pad myself.

Saturday, October 08, 2005 No comments

Warm buzzy feeling

The electric heating pad we have also has a "massage" switch. I just shut off the buzzer after letting it run for about 10 or 20 minutes.

I sort of weiner'ed out of attending a party with Daughter Dearest. A friend’s dad “hired” the school chorus for his b-day party, so I took her over there. My back started twinging so I handed DD my cell phone & begged off. I didn’t tell her what was going on because I didn’t want her worrying (and potentially hosing her part).

I don’t know if this heating pad is going to do any good. I suppose it will take a couple of hours.

Back spasms?

It’s closer to the side than the spine, around the back, but this pain keeps cramping up & it won’t let me sleep. I think it started Thursday night, although it wasn’t bad then. It’s in the muscle, not appendicitis.

I wonder if this is a back spasm. I have a friend at church who gets them from time to time & they incapacitate him (or maybe it’s the pain medication he takes for it). I’m able to function now, but if I don’t get any more sleep I might have to revise that.

Well, at the least the wrong-number phone call that just came in (wrong area code) didn't wake me up...

UPDATE: Chiro-cracker thinks it's a cramped muscle. He said there’s an outside chance it’s a kidney stone, but it’s not in the right location for typical stones. Wife-o-licious had a huge one a few years back (as in, bigger than the kidney it destroyed). She said the pain is too high & she should know. So I guess it’s time to find the hot pads.

Friday, October 07, 2005 2 comments

Bloggin' at the KFC

I didn’t feel like going home right away (see below). Lobster is working at KFC today, and I got a free drink. And a much-needed bathroom break.

The spammers are thick today; I got two of them within a minute of posting.

Are they trying to drum up business?

Daughter Dearest broke her ankle about a year ago, badly enough that it required surgery to put back together (two pins & a plate, won’t she have fun at the airports). We made the mistake of taking her to the nearest hospital to get the deed done. It’s not that they do a bad job on the medical end, except that there have been times in its history where you about had to be spurting blood on the ceiling to get quick help, but their billing department seems to be staffed by retarded howler monkeys (and that’s defaming retarded howler monkeys everywhere).
  • We’ve caught them trying to double-bill us on a couple of occasions for this and other work (The Boy spent was diagnosed with Type I diabetes there last April, and DD got appendicitis about two weeks after that — last year would have been bankruptcy time if we didn’t have decent insurance).

  • On another occasion, they sent a paid bill to a collection agency. Like I said, retarded howler monkeys.

But today tops even those. Wife calls me at work, wanting to know the number of someone at the insurance company. Turns out that the hospital can’t figure out their own code for the pins they put in DD’s foot, and the insurance company rejected the claim. So they’re threatening to screw over our credit record because they can’t figure out how to write their own bills! So she’s totally overreacting, which stresses me out...

Makes me wonder if they’re trying to make people sick to stay in business or something.

Let me say it one more time: retarded howler monkeys.

Something I forgot to mention last night

I've found that when hitting “Next Blog,” one of about every four blogs that comes up are worth further exploration (exception: you can hit a string of blogs written in a language you don’t read). The interesting thing is that Blogger’s list of notables has about the same quality ratio.

Thursday, October 06, 2005 3 comments

Rainy funk kind of night

Current music: Beat Blender
Tammy’s wet sloppy kiss has left me not much motivated to write much more than a haiku, and that was this morning in the car. I’ve just been hitting “Next Blog” and bouncing from place to place this evening. One I stumbled across that might prove interesting is Militant Leftist — it’s a new blog, only four entries when I found it (all recent), so it could grow or die. Time will tell.

What was that statistic? 55% of all bloggers continue to maintain their blog(s) after several months? — that means 45% of new bloggers just let it wither. ’Course, I did a head-fake along those lines; if you look at the Archive list you will see no posts for June after starting Tales from FAR Manor in May. I’ve come to enjoy blogging though; I think somewhere around 20 people read me at least occasionally, and knowing that is gratifying.

The soap-opera that is life at FAR Manor continues, mostly calm with a few minor issues. I’ve recently revised my opinion of The Boy’s girlfriend, though: she’s not as dumb as she thinks she is. I’ve worked with people no smarter than she, and they were called “managers.” IMO, what she lacks is a belief in herself, and a spark that would motivate her to push beyond her current boundaries. I can relate; on evenings like this the mental & emotional sloth reminds me I have no reason to think myself superior. I didn’t study very hard in high school because I could get As and Bs without making much effort. But I digress. She’s no Ms. Einstein to be sure, but she could become more successful than she thinks. Lobster is kind of in the same state... he’s content. He has his truck, his job at KFC, and he’s on track to finish high school this year. He doesn’t have a clue about afterwards, and I fear that he’ll put his money where his politics are and join the Army.

The Boy is a major question mark. He has talent and drive, but no interest in playing by any rules other than his own. That usually doesn’t work out unless you were born into the elites (Kennedy, Bush, Morgan, Windsor, the Illuminati), but can also lead to greatness — boom or bust, not much in between. I really believe in him & his potential, although the road he’s on is like rolling percentile dice and hoping for a double-ought. I keep prodding him to hatch a Plan B and keep it in his back pocket, just in case, but I don’t see him doing it yet. Well, at least he’s honest with himself: he’s not the type to “play the game” just to make it. Stardom or bust, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, that’s The Boy.

Daughter Dearest is the only one I see taking a conventional road, and she’s not all that conventional once you scratch the veneer. I’ll talk about her another time, though. Right now, it’s past my bedtime.

Sheesh. I came to write a paragraph, and ended up rambling.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005 3 comments

Now that’s weird...

Daughter Dearest demonstrated an ability to do the Vulcan Salute with her foot....

Yeesh.

My ad hoc home office

I thought I’d start the day by describing my work-at-home setup before I get to work.

Last week, I said I work out on the screened-in porch/Florida room with the cats. I set at the windows, looking out over a very rough back yard that needs some serious log removal and weed-eating. The woods takes over about thirty feet away, so it’s a fairly narrow strip of yard I’m talking about.

I sit at an 80s-vintage typing desk, a steel frame with a pretty good composite veneer over who-knows-what for a working surface. I use two phone books to raise the iBook screen up to (almost) eye level... I suppose I ought to get one or two more to get it really right. The Boy’s old iMac “donated” its Apple Pro Keyboard & my MacAlly wheelie mouse (he likes it better than the Pro Mouse and I don’t use it that often) for the day.

The Force is strong with the litter box this morning. Daughter Dearest is supposed to scoop it at least every other day, and we’re lucky if she gets to it twice a week.

Time to start working, after I grab a cup of coffee... and a couple more phone books....

Monday, October 03, 2005 No comments

Pandemic Flu Awareness Week

October 3–9 is Pandemic Flu Awareness Week.

News coming out of southern Asia, particularly Indonesia and Vietnam, suggests that the H5N1 strain of flu (often called “avian flu” or “bird flu”) is slowly but surely figuring out how to effectively transmit itself from person to person. Statistics alone point to a worldwide pandemic coming soon (we get one every 30 or 40 years, on average, and it’s been 37 years since the last one in 1968). Like a hurricane, we simply can’t predict where and when the next one will hit, so keeping an eye open and having a plan is an increasingly good idea.

Check out the Flu Wiki (link above), there’s plenty of good information out there.

It must be fall...

Because the wife has once again caught Pointless Furniture Moving Disease. Which means that everyone who can move gets drafted to move furniture from here to there.

Actually, there are three changes of season that trigger it. I get a break on the spring-to-summer transition most years, but that summer-to-fall one is a killer. Fall-to-winter usually is limited to rearranging the bedroom.

This year, though, there’s actually a meaning behind the movement (for a change). I mentioned the living room carpet that needs to be pulled up; some of the furniture is getting shifted out of that area this time around. My feet hurt, but at least we’re done (for now).

Sunday, October 02, 2005 3 comments

Gnarly-Top Wheat Bread


I really need to start adding a little more water to the dough when I put the bread machine on dough cycle. Quite often, the dough is good & tight, and I have to prod and pull and stretch to get it to fill the pan. Tonight’s wheat bread needed some extra water — not only was it on the dry side, it was bogging the machine down to the point where the motor wouldn’t turn without some help, and that was after I added more water.

Naturally, those finger-pokes and so on don’t flow or rise out of the dough after it goes in the pan, so the result looks like the above. It’s still good though. I’ll cut it up first thing in the morning. Right now, it’s bed time!

A pleasant thought

Catching up on reading Motorcycle Consumer News, I found a comforting piece in the “M/C Bulletins” section about bikes that are most and least likely to be stolen or crashed. At the top of the “least likely to be crashed” list was my current ride, the Virago.

It probably says more about the riders than the bikes, but still.

Outdoor blogging

I’m sitting in a folding camp chair on the sidewalk outside my front door. Behind my right shoulder is the guest bedroom where the wireless hub lives, so I have a pretty strong signal. It's cloudy enough that the screen is a bit dim but still readable.

I should do this more often. Fresh air & blogging, yes you can have them both!

MUCH better

Sharpening that chipper-shredder blade made the difference between useless & useful. It will now happily chew up 2-inch (5cm) limbs where it couldn’t handle bits 1/4 that thick before.

I need to find a deflector or bag for it now... it didn’t come with one. I really don’t want to buy one at the moment, because its ownership is somewhat ambiguous. My brother-in-law doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to get it back, but once he finds it actually does something worthwhile now, he might change his tune. As it is, I had to rake up all the mulch; it was scattered up to six feet away from the machine and several inches deep in places. I filled two 5-gallon buckets with chips & still have a pretty good pile.

Saturday, October 01, 2005 No comments

Sharpen the saw chipper-shredder

As I’ve mentioned before, I had the ever-so-brilliant idea to use a chipper-shredder to turn all the brush and downed limbs into mulch. My brother-in-law the landscaper loaned me a Troy-Bilt that he was given to pay off a bill.

In two words: it sucks. It’s still here, I think because he really doesn’t want it back.

So today, I had another brilliant idea: sharpen the blade, and maybe it would suck a bit less.

Troy-Bilt, I’ve learned, didn’t design their toy to be easily serviced. I took off a cover (forcing the big plastic knobs to turn all the way off to get the cover off, tried to get the flywheel off but it’s on there to stay, then pulled off the chute assembly. With all that off, I was able to put an Allen wrench on one side and a 1/2-inch socket on the other (oh yeah, this thing is a lovely mishmash of English and metric fasteners) and loosen the three nuts & bolts holding the (single) blade on.

Now I have to take it down to the in-laws’ and introduce it to the grinder.

Busy Saturday

I got my car back yesterday, with an admonishment from the mechanic about making it sure wasn’t still leaking. Huh? I’d better not have spent $350 on a water pump I didn’t freeking need. As Planetary Governor Bok-Bok's gas tax moratorium expires very shortly, I went ahead & topped up my tank — and I got the last gallon of regular, and they were already out of mid-grade, so I had to finish up with premium. So much for saving money. :-P But Wife & I went out this morning and got chiro-crunched, got her bangs trimmed, got some groceries, and paid the cellphone bill.

I’m still smelling anti-freeze, but the mechanic forgot to tighten the overflow cap so there might be some slop sitting in little areas under the hood. If it’s not good & gone by tomorrow, back it goes Monday.

Somehow or another, we didn't get around to eating breakfast. We heated up leftovers for lunch.

The Boy’s girlfriend dyed her hair jet black (from dirty blonde) today. It’s as black as mine used to be. Maybe I ought to try that, just to see if anyone notices.

Wife got a short for pay (yay!) video project yesterday — seems a WWII vet earned a Purple Heart during the war, but the fire that injured him also took out his records so the military has just gotten around to issuing this guy the medal he deserved like 60 years ago. He’s 92 now. Wife taped the ceremony, having to dodge a rude newspaper photog who kept bumping her video camera & finally asking her “what are you doing here?” The only reason I’m here blogging instead of delivering video is that they called & asked for two more VHS tapes (which tacked an hour on). I guess I can stick the bread in the oven when I get back.

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