Monday, November 28, 2005 3 comments

Your stress test results...

... are normal. So the doc told Daughter Dearest this afternoon.

Happy dance Happy dance Happy dance Happy dance Happy dance Happy dance Happy dance Happy dance .....

Sunday, November 27, 2005 3 comments

Ugly Sunday around here

I woke to sirens going by the house about 3:30 last night. Everyone else slept right through it like it they’d grown up in the metropolis.

Defaced back door of churchComing to church this morning, this was what the back door looked like. Click the picture to get a bigger image if you want, but in the end it’s some kid’s nasty idea of a practical joke. I cautioned other church members to not get too worked up about it, because that’s what the prankster wanted.



Wesley Chapel... or what's left of itThen they told me Wesley Chapel, a church about a mile north of FAR Manor, had burned down last night. I thought maybe the tale had grown in the telling, but going over there this afternoon showed me different. Now I know what the sirens last night were about.

A lot of people, including myself at first, linked the two — although the fire department says a furnace problem caused the fire. It’s just an odd coincidence, how one church could get a door defaced and another burn down on the same night.

But thinking about it, I think it might be just a coincidence. The spray paint is only on the door, and should be fairly easy to clean off — we have some spray-on paint remover, and I would have given that a try today if I’d had a can of white spray paint to finish the job.

Needless to say, it was a rather somber day at church.

Friday, November 25, 2005 5 comments

Fiction: A Bloodless Coup

I’ve been planning to start putting some short stories, and perhaps a novel or two, online for a while now. What has held me up is debating on whether to post them here or on a new blog. For now, I guess I’ll put them here.

The first story is one of redemption, found by the most unlikely people, in the most unlikely place, on the eve of...


A Bloodless Coup


Voices broke the prisoner’s fitful sleep. A quiet conversation would not usually waken William, even from the uncomfortable slumber afforded by being shackled to a prison wall — but this particular voice brought him fully awake at once. So this is it, he thought. A thrill of apprehension — bah, call it what it is, fright — ran up his spine, but he resolved to show none of it to the Despot.

The sound of footsteps, echoing through the empty cells, reached him first. Time stretched to the breaking point; it seemed like years before two men finally stood before him. He recognized them both; one wore a dark travel-worn cloak, the other a guard’s uniform. The first said, “I wish to speak with the prisoner in private. Take the hidden exit and prepare two mounts for us.” It was widely rumored that Evard would at times ride through the realms in disguise, listening for dissent among the people. This explained the battered pack he carried; it would contain some plain clothes and other necessities. As for the first — William resigned himself to the inevitable. One secret he had, and he would likely carry it to his grave. With some luck, Evard, Overlord of the Three Realms, would shortly join him there.

The Overlord stood quietly for a moment, watching the prisoner, as the guard continued down the cell block. He saw a young man of medium build and dark brown hair, a somewhat younger-looking version of Evard himself. (There was much grey among the brown in Evard’s mane these days, however.) Like most of Evard’s prisoners, he looked somewhat the worse for wear but had no serious injuries. Unlike any other prisoner, he met Evard’s eyes boldly. “The Despot comes to gloat,” he said.

“Good evening, William of Oaktree,” the Overlord said. “I hope you are enjoying your stay; you won’t be here much longer.” The prisoner said nothing but watched the Overlord smile sadly. “I suppose you were wondering how I caught on to your plan to overthrow me,” he continued after a moment. “I must say, it was a very clever plan, but it had a fatal flaw that you could not have known about.

“You see, it was the exact same plan I used to topple Charles the Tyrant, twenty-seven years ago! Intriguing, eh?” William stared, then nodded reluctantly. “You’re clever — how could I say different? We’re much alike — or at least you are much like I was at your age. So it’s nothing you did that brought you here, just bad luck.”

“And some day, your luck will run out as well,” William growled defiantly.

“So true,” Evard agreed. William gave him a puzzled frown. “I’ve known that since the day you were born.”

“I?”

“Twenty-one years ago, the Prophet informed me that I would not — rather, the realm would not see old age remove me from my Seat. One must be careful when quoting prophecy, you know. You have undoubtedly heard the prophecy; Marie is a woman whose word cannot be suppressed.

“You were born on April twenty-eighth, no? That is the very day Marie stood before me and announced her prophecy against me. An amazing coincidence, don’t you think?” Evard put down his pack, then sat on the floor with his back against the bars of the empty cell opposite William’s. “There, now we speak eye to eye.

“So when I caught on to your plan, it became clear to me who you are. I summoned Marie this morning and asked her to tell me my fortune, now that you were in my hands. ‘By noon tomorrow,’ she said, ‘God will take the Three Realms from your hand and give them to another whom He has chosen.’ So you see, my luck truly has run out.”

“Then it’s over, or all but,” said William, smiling for the first time. “Whatever happens to me, at least I know it was worth it.”

“You understand, I was concerned,” Evard smiled back. “Marie once was a dear friend of mine — you find that surprising? I give you another surprise: she anointed me Lord of the Realms, the week before I overthrew Lord Charles. I suppose she has done the same for you? — no need to answer; your face tells all. In all the time I’ve known Marie, she has never prophesied wrong.

“When Marie left this morning, I went to my chambers and thought a great deal. I even prayed. That was difficult; I’ve been out of the habit for too long. I’d like to share some of my thoughts with you, but first —” Evard removed a scroll from his cloak — “can you guess what this is?”

William fought down the apprehension. “My death sentence, I suppose,” he replied dryly.

Evard laughed — not the cruel or maniacial laughter that William expected, but a hearty, even joyous laughter of a man enjoying a good joke. William thought — for a moment — that he could come to like a man who could laugh like this.

“No, not your death sentence, William,” chuckled Evard at last. “You live or die, it makes no difference to my fate. Tomorrow I am no longer the Overlord; Marie made that clear enough. What this is, you may come to think of as something worse than death.” He opened the scroll. “Judge for yourself:

“Lord Evard, Overlord of Sand Hill and the Three Realms, to all subjects of the Realms. Listen well to this proclamation.

“In accordance with prophecy, I do as of noon on August Fourth, renounce my Seat and all claim to the Lordship of the Three Realms.

“The prophet Marie has anointed as my successor William of Oaktree, whom I name Lord William. I charge all officials of the Realms to pledge your loyalty to your new Lord.

“May God bless the Three Realms and its new ruler.

“Affirmed this August Third, with God as my witness, Lord Evard.”


The silence stretched between them for several moments, until William broke it. “Is — is this some kind of twisted joke?”

“Sadly, no,” sighed Evard. Marie’s prophecy will be fulfilled, in a way that I suspect will surprise even her. God takes the realm from my hand — an open hand that now offers Him what has always been His — and you take my place.”

“And you, what becomes of you?” William asked. “Do you expect me to simply let you go free?”

“I’m rather hoping you will,” Evard replied frankly. “But to make sure, I’m leaving it for your friends to release you.” The Overlord rolled up the scroll and tossed it through the bars into William’s cell, just out of reach. “When they come to set you free, they will find you here, with your proclamation. Marie knows my handwriting; she will confirm that I wrote it.

“So, tomorrow at noon, you become Overlord. The Three Rings are in my chambers, with a copy of the proclamation — and a list of those in the government whom you should... let’s say, offer honorable retirement. I’ve left strict orders with the staff that no one is to enter my chambers before noon tomorrow. In celebration of your capture, I have given the Sand Hill garrison three days’ leave, which should allow your friends to walk right in and free you — your jailer is also on his way home for an extended holiday. Marie will catch on to what is happening soon enough, and the people certainly will not rise up against you.

“Neat and orderly: no blood is shed. The garrison will be too hung over and confused to mount effective resistance, you have the approval of the Prophet, the people will regard you as a hero.”

“But why?”

“Which ‘why’ do you mean? Why you should let me go to find my fate? Why I’m stealing away? Why you? Which is it?”

William rubbed the back of his head on the rough wall of his cell. “All of it, I suppose. You’ve said why you’re leaving the Seat — I suppose you will take the wealth of the Realms with you?”

“You disappoint me, lad. What kind of repentance would it be, that I lay down the Three Rings and become a thief? No, you may have heard it said that I live as simply as one can in a palace and I will not hereafter live in luxury. I admit, I will not leave penniless, but I will take no more than the pension due a soldier who has served the Realms for nearly thirty years. Perhaps enough to buy a small croft in a faraway land.”

William let it pass. “Marie — you called her a friend?”

“Once upon a time, I railed against the Injustice of Charles. I must have had the favor of God, and I certainly had the good advice and friendship of a Lady who speaks His Word. Can you believe, the first few years of my reign were thought of as a kind of golden age? People prospered, they spoke without fear, and they hailed me as the Deliverer. Believe it or not, but tonight I will speak no lies.”

“Then... I remember hearing... what happened?” William hated himself for stammering in front of the Despot, but God! what was happening here? How could anyone expect this?

“I don’t rightly know.” Evard sighed and buried his head between his knees for a few moments, scratching the back of his scalp. Finally, he looked up and stared at the ceiling as he continued. “I can say this: the road to Evil is travelled one step at a time. You do something you ought not, justifying it as being good for the Realms. The next time, it becomes easier, and perhaps you go a little farther. Eventually, you begin to see your position as something other than a gift of God, you begin to see it as something that was rightly yours of birth. You see your deeds as Right, whether or not they truly are... then you do not hold the Seat so much as the Seat holds you.

“This is my warning to you, Lord William,” Evard looked directly at his prisoner and spoke sternly now. “I myself hung Charles the Tyrant in the Plaza, the day I took the Seat. I told myself, and all who would listen, that I was ending the Injustice with Justice. I could have given Charles an honest trial, and the result may well have been the same. But when you drink from that cup called Power, it’s so hard to put it down. You begin to listen only to that which you want to hear, and the prophets speak to you less and less and then one day they speak against you. You silence those who criticize you, first by threats and then by blood and fire. To make a long story short, in ten years’ time I was no better than the man I’d hung.”

Evard looked into the eyes of his prisoner, silent for a few moments. “It is said a death sentence focuses the mind,” he said at last. “Today, I realized I had a choice: put down the Three Rings and perhaps live, or let you or another worthy soul take them from my dead hand. Remember this, Lord William: God always gives you a choice, even at the very end. Perhaps especially at the very end. Tomorrow, Marie puts the Three Rings on your right hand, places the Staff of Office in your left, and leads you to your Seat. Perhaps it is in your mind to make hunting me down your first act of office. The people would likely applaud you for it. But unless I am dragged back by force, the sun will never shine upon Evard in the Three Realms again.”

A noise from the far end of the cell block told of the guard climbing the stairs: he no doubt had the horses ready. Evard stood and retrieved his pack. “Think on what I have said tonight, Lord William. Ask Marie, and she will speak truly. You may not like what you hear, but what she says you always need to know.”

“Milord?” the guard spoke through a door slightly ajar, giving the Overlord his privacy. “The horses are ready.”

“Good,” Evard called. “Go down and I will join you in a moment.” To William he said, “And now I bid you good-bye and good luck. Listen to your people, listen to your prophet, and above all listen to God. I can guarantee that we would not be having this conversation if I’d taken that advice myself.” And without another word, Evard bowed to the prisoner, grinned, shouldered his pack, and walked briskly toward the end of the cell block. To William, it was the stride of a much younger man — perhaps a young man who had found the mate of his dreams.

Near dawn, a lone figure watched from the shadows of a tavern stoop, as two men on horseback reached the Tri Via near the eastern border of the Three Realms. They spoke for a few minutes, then one of the men saluted, mounted up and rode back the way he came. The other stood and watched until he was out of sight, then turned back and tacked a paper to the trivia post. He looked around him, staring intently toward where the watcher hid unmoving, then mounted up and rode south toward Fenn Vale. Once the second rider had gone, the watcher walked hesitantly to the trivia post to see what had been left. If yet another had been there to watch the watcher, he would have seen the prophet Marie raise her hands heavenward and laugh, as if God had told her a very funny joke.


Friday Night Cinema - double feature!

Hey, I know. You’re exhausted from Christmas shopping on Black Friday. You blew all your money... and besides, you’re too exhausted to pay attention to a two-hour movie. Never fear, Friday Night Cinema is here! We bring you short flicks that won't strain your attention span or your wallet.

Just in case you have enough energy to sit through two shorts tonight, here they are. Both are comedy of a sort. One is the kind of weird thing that you have to laugh at because you don’t know how else to react. The other is a laugh with a bit of satirical edge.

OK, enough preview. Time to watch some flicks.

Meg Reichart with Kurt Hoffman: Il m’a vu nue

Buzzflash: Deekbold Voting Machines (QuickTime) Large | Small

Thursday, November 24, 2005 1 comment

Thanksgiving, and giving thanks

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving where such is celebrated. We did pretty well today; lots of chow and laughter. My contributions to the spread at the in-laws were challah bread (using this recipe, and a sardine spread which I threw together. If anyone else wants to try it, here’s a recipe:



Sardine spread
1 tin sardines, drained
3 oz. cream cheese (approx)
1 large basil leaf (I used two, which made it kind of strong)
3 oregano leaves
1 sprig of parsley
pinch of thyme & rosemary
(substitute herbs as needed for availability and taste)

Remove the stems from the herb leaves. Chop finely (food processor works great for this). Add the cream cheese. Remove backbones from sardines and add the sardines (not the backbones... but you knew that). Blend/process until completely mixed. Serve with crackers.



What am I thankful for this year?

As with every year (day) this millennium so far, I’m thankful for having a job. These last two years I’ve been thankful that the job, as crazy as it drives me sometimes, provides good medical insurance and meets at least our basic needs.

I’m thankful for having a family and friends, both local and online, who care.

I’m thankful for having an imagination and a place to let it run.

I’m thankful for living in America. Bush-league has damaged it, but hasn’t broken it. Better times are coming.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005 1 comment

Update

Current music: DI.fm Deep House
I had the stress test today. The doc said there was a wiggle in the EKG that shouldn’t have been there, but she didn’t think it was serious. They emailed that and the CT scans to a cardiologist and told me I’d hear from them today if there was a problem — “no news is good news.”

No phone call, so things are looking better. I’m holding out some hope that I can lose weight, exercise, put the hydrogarble up for good, and remind myself why I can’t sit on me arse and blog all the time. Or work. The happy dances should give me some good exercise, anyway!

Everyone else took off to see the Harry Potter movie. I’ve been kind of tired all day, so I stayed home. I have a couple of things I want to finish up on this manual (from work), and I got the challah bread started for tomorrow. I’ll probably stay up until about 10 or so, then sack it.

Monday, November 21, 2005 1 comment

Holy Moly

I’ve heard that smoking can kill you, but I don’t think this was what they meant.

No argument with the closer: “the hapless Madame had no memory whatsoever of the incident. We’re pretty sure a couple of hundred other passengers are wishing they could erase the incident from their memories too.”

Lobster Stew(ed)

The ding-a-ling came home with another ticket — this one for 72 in a 45 zone. Baaaaaad news.

Seeing that it’s his second ticket within 30 days (he got another one Hallowe’en night), he’s probably going to get his license suspended. I assume they’ll give him a special ticket to drive to work and school... but that second ticket was while he was going to work.

He’s going to learn a whole new meaning of the word, “fine.”

Stormy

Current music: CMradio - Celtic
The wind is pretty strong tonight — the NWS says 15 to 25mph, gusting to 30. Well, that should pull down the rest of the leaves.

Meanwhile, I’m trying not to obsess about my blood pressure; that’s sure to drive it up. I’ve been having something like anxiety attacks, though, which doesn’t help (although the one on the way home felt more like excitement, like I was about to do something I’d been looking forward to doing). I just have to keep remembering, “Fear Not,” and I go in for tests tomorrow. I had one heck of a leg cramp Saturday morning, which has left the calf muscle a bit sore — as I’ll be on the treadmill, I hope it won’t act up on me.

Feh. Good news? The drains aren’t backed up anymore. There was some kind of brickwork in the drain system that was catching toilet paper. The plumbers removed both the clog and the brickwork (since none of them could figure out what it was for).

Saturday, November 19, 2005 2 comments

Happy Dance Time

Two (much larger) competitors of the company I work at find it too much of a struggle to compete, so they’re joining forces. Our stock got hammered on the news, but those things are temporary. We’ll continue doing what we do best while they’re sorting things out.

The real winners, though, are Scientific-Atlanta employees. I was a contractor there for 3½ years before moving to where I am now, and have stayed for eight years. Cisco’s modus operandi with new companies is to provide a thorough corporate culture enema, and no company I’ve been at — or heard of — needs one more than S-A.

S-A’s corporate culture still somehow reflects its roots as a McCarthy-era defense contractor. Employees are simply cogs in the machine, to be paid as little as possible and discarded at whim. I’m hunting for an email address for Cisco’s CEO (or at least HR department) and suggest they simply can everyone at S-A above the supervisor level, and a third to a half of the sup’s.

So on behalf of people I used to work with and still think of as friends, I do the happy dance. If it were a bit warmer, I’d dance naked around FAR Manor to celebrate.

Friday, November 18, 2005 5 comments

BP update

And I don’t mean British Petroleum.

The stuff I’m taking now is hydrochlorothiozid (gesundheit!), 25mg, once a day.

It occurred to me that I’m having to treat this similarly to how The Boy should treat his diabetes — monitor the vital sign in question, take medication, eat better & exercise. I just get a squeeze rather than a poke.

My mother-in-law happened to have a BP meter in her closet, so I didn’t have to go buy one. My brother-in-law and his family left an exercise bike in our garage with a bunch of other equipment, so I think that’s going to come into the house. It’s fairly quiet; I think everyone will be able to watch TV while I’m going nowhere fast.

Turns out that lots of other folks at work are also on BP medication. What does that tell you?

Friday Night Cinema

...when you don’t have time or money to run to the theater or rental store.

Tonight’s feature suddenly got a little dated — but never fear, it will be back in vogue all too soon.

Dominic Tocci: I Can’t Afford My Gasoline (Flash)

BlueHippo rip-off

M.A.E. was looking to get The Boy a laptop for Christmas. She got suckered by this outfit calling itself BlueHippo. To make a long story short, they told her she could get a laptop for $600, then sold her a $300 desktop system for $2000. She called and cancelled the order, and they started taking money out of her account anyway.

Mrs. Fetched went with her to the bank, and they’re going to formally dispute the charges to get her money back. I’ll have to see if Apple has any refurb iBooks....

Thursday, November 17, 2005 No comments

Sony in the dog house

After two weeks of public-relations hell, several class-action lawsuits, and the introduction of a virus that takes advantage of its DRM cloaking, Sony/BMG has decided to take its lumps. They have pulled the DRM-infested CDs from store shelves, apologized to their suckers customers, and started a recall. The BBC (includes a partial list of infested titles) and Wired cover the story.

As it turns out, Mac users were not immune to the wiles of Sony DRM. But to load it on a Mac, you would have to open the data image that the CD provides, run the installer, and type an administrator password. Not exactly stealthy.

The last straw may not have been the virus, nor a computer security expert announcing that over 500,000 networks have Sony’s malware installed — but then Microsoft declared it malware and announced that their “Defender” product would find and remove it. When the Evil Empire can score PR points off of you, you know you’re in it ankle-deep-head-first. Some people have opined that Sony broke several computer tampering laws, but huge corporations don’t get prosecuted in Bushworld so that line is not worth pursuing.

But in all the mea culpa and sackcloth, there’s a crucial piece missing — as Arlo Guthrie put it: “Kid, have you rehabilitated yourself?” Sony/BMG admitted the crime and now they’re paying the fine, but confession is not repentance. Indeed, their first attempt to blunt the negative publicity involved announcing they were temporarily suspending use of that particular DRM malware. Sony might even promise to never use the “XCP” copy-protection again, but they have not — and probably will not — swear off all future attempts at DRM.

However, the piracy that Sony (and other RIAA companies) whines about has been around long before the Internet or even the personal computer. I remember swapping cassette tapes with friends back in the early 1970s, basically mixes of our favorite 45s. Technology has simply made swapping music more efficient is all. As I said earlier this month, we fought this copy-protection battle with software companies about 20 years ago. Copy-protection only inconveniences those who want to be honest — indeed, there were pirates back in the 1980s who only traded (formerly) protected titles. Look at it this way: if you knew all new cars were booby-trapped, would you buy one?

Wired suggested a while back that there could well be a way out for a media company with the guts to try it. I expect to see flying pigs first, though.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005 5 comments

Contents Under Pressure

Starting the drive home yesterday, I started feeling really strange — pressure in my chest, tingling all over, a bit dizzy. I didn’t have any of the shooting pains talked about by heart attack victims, and the pressure was only pressure rather than pain. But there was a hospital right along the way, and I didn’t want to wait until tomorrow (i.e. today) to figure out what was going on, so I popped into the ER and tried to describe my symptoms as best as I could.

Blood pressure was a bit high in triage, but the (male) nurse thought that might be anxiety more than anything. We hiked down the hall and he put me in one of the rooms. In rapid succession, people came in to hook me up to the blood pressure monitor, take my statistics, tape an oxygen sensor to a finger and stick about nine EKG sensors on my chest (the hairy parts and not), put an IV in my hand, and take a chest X-ray. Even after relaxing, my BP stayed up (about 150/90 at one point) so they started pumping some kind of medication into the IV and it started coming down. Eventually, they let me have my laptop and I played a few rounds of solitaire (kind of hard to type with an oxygen sensor taped to your left birdie finger).

In short, the doc figures I’m getting hypertension as a result of the stress (stress? what stress?) lately. The EKG and X-ray didn’t show up any cardiac issues. He wrote me a prescription for clonidine and told me to see a cardiologist just to make sure. He wrote up a referral to a guy a ways away; I’m going to visit my own doc tomorrow for a second opinion & (I hope) a closer cardiologist. So I spent about 2-½ hours in the ER, and I was hungry when I left. I grabbed a sandwich and my prescription and came home.

All in all, I’m probably going to cost the insurance company a couple of grand to find out what I’m pretty sure of already: I need more exercise, less food, more sex, and less strife. The clonidine gave me a serious case of the nods for a couple of hours this afternoon, about four hours after I took it. I need to take another, but the wife wants me to help her drop off our minivan with some friends — their van lunched out yesterday (sounded like it was throwing a rod Monday) and he’s in a wheelchair — so I’ll take it when I get home & crash good tonight.

Saturday, November 12, 2005 1 comment

Exhausting Saturday

Sheesh, half an hour after doing the church bulletin, I was thinking it’s Sunday.

The day started waayyyyy too early, what with getting some stuff to where the church was having a yard sale before driving down to meet the counselor. The first meeting was pretty low-key; we talked with her alone for a while, then The Boy did. She thinks we can get someone closer to home through our insurance (I was using the Employee Assistance Program thingie we also have at work).

Got home, tried to nap (wife riled me before leaving to help at the yard sale), so I went out and split wood until my chest started hurting. I think it’s heartburn, but I’ve felt lousy most of the afternoon & I’m going to the doc Monday, just to make sure. We don’t have a history of heart trouble in the family, except for one grandmother who had cancer to deal with. What I need more than anything, no doubt, is rest and exercise. In that order.

After taking The Boy to work, I swung by the yard sale since it was on the way to pick up M.A.E. from her job; I loaded a table in Moby Dodge (the great white minivan) then went to get her. We got back, finished packing up, and left. Daughter Dearest bought herself a set of golf clubs for $30 (with a pink bag no less!), so now I get to teach her how to use them. I won’t have to slug the first boy who says, “She can swing my club, heh heh” — she’ll do the honors and I’ll just have to scrape him off the ground with a spatula.

Friday, November 11, 2005 1 comment

Friday Night Cinema - the late show

Leave the popcorn on the shelf and keep the drinks out of reach. Tonight’s feature goes for a combination of cheap laughs and the “can’t tear yourself away/train wreck” kind of thing.

Format: Flash/SWF (as usual)
BSB - Two Chinese Students

Wednesday, November 09, 2005 3 comments

Wow. Just Plain Wow.

A high school student in Hillsdale, Michigan decided to run for mayor as a write-in candidate yesterday, partly because the incumbent didn’t have a challenger. He won.

The funniest part was when the incumbent quipped, “How much credibility does an 18-year-old have?” BWAAAA HAAA HA HA HA ha haaaaaa... wheeze gasp Whoo. That’s got to be some kind of record for podphagy (i.e. sticking both feet in your mouth, chewing, and swallowing).

Mayor-elect Sessions, I wish you all the best. You earned the seat, and it will be interesting to see how it works out.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005 2 comments

Fall at the Falls

I rag on Planet Georgia a lot, but I’ve been indoors too much lately. I had occasion to get out Sunday afternoon, and got a reminder of why I moved here in the first place. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, doubly so for November, and the leaves were finally starting to show their true colors.

As always, click for the big picture...


Amicalola Falls State Park has plenty of hiking trails: if you just want to tramp around for an afternoon, or spend the next five months walking to Maine, you’re in the right place. I took the easy trail, from the lodge parking lot to the top of the falls.


Big payback for a little effort, no? A little foot-bridge crosses the creek at the top of the falls.


It was a bit crowded this beautiful Sunday afternoon, and I had to wait my turn to get to the rail. I’ve been here often, so I took a few quick shots and let someone else in.


Driving up and down the mountain can be scary, what with a 25% grade. Just make sure you have good brakes going down.


Plenty of color down at the bottom as well as the top.

I was steering with my knees and taking pictures out the window. Don’t try this at home, kids.


This is the highest waterfall in the eastern US: 729 feet (a bit over 220m for the metric-using population). It was probably a real sight to see in July or early August, with all the rain we had.


The DNR stocks the reflection pool down at the bottom of the falls with trout and other fish. Even if they didn’t stock it, it would be fun to just sit along the edge, pretend to fish, and take in the sights.

A hiking trail winds around the left side (from this angle) of the reflection pool, and winds straight up the mountainside, about a third of the way up to an observation deck. I got a phone call from an annoyed-sounding Mrs. Fetched at this point, so I can’t show it to you here. Maybe some other time.


If you’re into mountain biking, Nimblewill is about ten miles east of the falls. And like the New Yorkers who have never gone to the Statue of Liberty, I mostly sit at home and blog when I’m not having to deal with other stuff....

Monday, November 07, 2005 2 comments

Life in Brief

Current music: DubLab
A long post of short events....

I had a different dispatch in mind for tonight, but Blogger Photo is being cranky about uploading. They really need to give us some way to manage photos, if for no other reason than to recover from nights like this (so we can delete duplicates).

I ripped up the other half of the living room carpet yesterday, with some help from The Boy. But then he had to go to work, and I was left to pull up the staples and nail beds (or whatever those things are called that get tacked along the edges). I almost got finished; I decided to take a break and go take some pictures, then finished up tonight. I’m going to put the carpet in the outbuilding. Eventually.

The Boy is looking for people who want an exciting career as dishwashers. He says they have a bunch of openings in the kitchen. (Remember, this gig comes with Blue Cross!) If they can get two new dishwashers, he says, he’ll get promoted to assistant cook & get a raise amounting to $100 per paycheck. M.A.E. is hoping they’ll give her a second chance; she seems to have considered the reasons for losing her old job and matured a bit since then. Can’t hurt to try, anyway.

Speaking of M.A.E., her mom withdrew the injunction today. Mrs. Fetched isn’t ready to let bygones be bygones, though: “SPOW is going to stop doing this kind of stuff to people,” was what she told me. You don’t tangle with Mrs. Fetched, or anyone under her wing (reluctantly or not).

The Boy is now the proud owner of a Chevy Lumina. There are minor details like getting insurance and license plates, but he’s willing to do what it takes. The car has a big enough trunk to carry all his guitars, amps, and who knows what else. Not that it matters at this time of year, but it’s the only car in our lot with working A/C. He could clean it up and easily flip it for lots more than the $100 he paid for it.

Daughter Dearest didn’t make the cut for All-State Chorus this year. She wasn’t upset about it; none of the other girls in her chorus, she said, made it either. It’s the trip to the national competition in Orlando that she’s really looking forward to. Wife suggested we pretend she made it and go to Savannah anyway.

Lobster’s leg, which he wrenched playing football some months back, was bothering him again this morning... or he was looking for an excuse to lay out of school. I got the hot pad out & had him sit on it. Too bad he isn’t a real lobster; we could just break the leg off and let a new one grow in. Given his attitude of late, wrenching his leg off would have some therapeutic value as well. :-P

And speaking of therapy, we meet our counselor Saturday.

Saturday, November 05, 2005 4 comments

I ♥ The Register

You just can’t do better if you tried.

The only thing they missed is how one would adjust the volume....

Friday, November 04, 2005 6 comments

This just in!

Wife showed me the test results from The Boy’s C-Peptide test: “Looks like Type II. Negative for antibodies, positive for insulin. May improve with diet and exercise.”

Pardon me for a moment while I...

WAHHHHH – HOOOOOO!!!!

...and do the happy dance.

Dang. It sure is nice to get a little good news for a change. Thanks to everyone for your prayers and good vibes. ’Course, this is just another beginning... he now has to get motivated to do the things that will make a difference.

Caught: the aftermath

The Boy’s herbal toy is causing some strain in relationships, not just between him and us, but between him and M.A.E. We had a long multi-party discussion last night (until like 1 a.m.), in which he said he’d quit (like I believe that). The only thing that either of us said that seemed to sink in was my assertion that just having that crap in the house was compromising M.A.E.’s attempt to get and stay straight, and that he was endangering her just by having it, let alone using it.

I met the wife & Daughter Dearest at one of the Mexican joints for supper, then went to pick up M.A.E. after. I had a few minutes, so pulled into the office park behind the Sonic to see if the open wireless point was still open (it is). After reading my comics, I rolled down to Arby’s.

We had a good conversation about recent events. One possibility is that she’ll have to leave here and go who knows where. I’m not sure she should leave just yet1; we have provided her the only stable home life she’s had since her grandparents, and I’ve seen some positive changes over the last few months. M.A.E. has been on him to quit the weed since he started, as he has demanded she change some of her behaviors. It’s interesting to watch the changing dynamics.

On our end, we have counseling/mental health service coverage through my insurance (and The Boy’s). I’ve started that process; I hope The Boy will at least give it an honest try.



1And if you’d told me back in July I would ever say that, I’d have fallen down laughing.

Creator-consumers: guess who’s leading the way?

Auntie Beeb is a couple of days behind Tales from FAR Manor, but gets it right: the creative engine is shifting from Hollywood to the Internet.

But here’s the surprise: “Girls were more likely to [share their work] than boys - 38% compared with 29%.”

Yeah, that shouldn’t be a surprise, but it’s the first indication I’ve seen that the whole “girls aren’t interested in technology” meme is beginning to fade. If you want to see the future of creative media, let your daughters lead the way.

Friday Night Cinema

...because you don’t always have time or $$$ to go watch a feature flick.

Grab a comfy chair and get some snacks. Comfy? Good.

If there were an Academy Award for Internet shorts, JibJab would be a perennial contender. Last year, they became net heroes for fighting copyright suit over “This Land” and winning.

They’re back this year, with a hilarious look at a not-so-funny situation.

Go to JibJab and select “Big Box Mart” (SWF/Flash)

Ewww, they’ve stuck a commercial up front since I saw it last. Just like at the theater. :-P

Thursday, November 03, 2005 2 comments

Caught!

Last night, the wife asked me to see if the boys were in bed. So I slipped quietly up the stairs, and opened the door.

FAR Manor is a Cape Cod-style house, with two upstairs bedrooms. Each bedroom has a single gabled window. The Boy and Lobster were standing in the gable, with the window open. I smelled smoke, but it wasn’t cigarette smoke... and said so.

The Boy was in immediate denial mode: it was just cigarette smoke, he insisted, after swearing up and down that he hadn’t smoked in weeks. Whoops... he just torpedoed his last scrap of trust.

So this afternoon, the wife told M.A.E. what happened last night. “I told them they were going to get caught,” she said. She also let us know that she and The Boy had an arrangement where she was supposed to call him when one of us started up the stairs. Last night, she decided not to do it. (See? I told ya she’s not that dumb.) She said that Lobster had brought it home, but if she said from where, I missed it.

Wife repeated her assertion that she would have no problem having the sheriff bring a drug dog out here. M.A.E. got that deer in the headlights look and blurted, “I know where he keeps it!” But Lobster either got rid of it, used the last of it up, or moved it: it wasn’t where she thought it was. Makes me wonder what M.A.E. has to worry about — she claims that she doesn’t want to get mixed up in that stuff again, she has to take a drug test to show the court that the restraining order from SPOW is bogus, and she didn’t have any trouble marching into the cop shop to see why they were looking for her.

Meanwhile, The Boy called me as I was getting ready to leave for home, trying to convince me that what I smelled was a Camel. Riiiiiiight. Like I’m believing anything he says at the moment.

Third party politics

Austin Post wrote a thoughtful article on the Libertarian Party’s declining fortunes today.

Like Austin, I would like to see third (and fourth, and fifth) parties thriving. We would certainly have a better Congress if a couple of smaller national parties, and even one or two regionals, had as few as 20 seats combined — enough to deny a majority to any one party. Caucuses have their drawbacks, but the consensus they require is something we need a lot more right now.

Having said that, I think the Libertarians have at least partially been the authors of their own demise. We already have the kind of government their policies lead to — government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich — and it ain’t pretty. There just isn’t enough to separate them from the Republicans (who, having pointed the airplane of state at the ground, have now lit the afterburners). But where the Libertarians have really lost it is where Ross Perot’s Reform Party lost it.

In 1992, Ross Perot’s candidacy sparked the closest thing we’ve had in this country to a third-party win. He may well have won, given the things I was hearing from regular people back then, had he not flaked out by quitting in the summer then returning late in the campaign. Even then, he had a chance to build a true party and threw it away. Had the Reform Party immediately started to find candidates for Congress and state races for the 1994 season, they could have become a force to be reckoned with, a true third party, and who knows what 1996 would have brought? Unfortunately, the “Reform Party” turned out to be Perot’s personal hobby horse and by 1996 nobody cared anymore.

That, I believe, is where would-be third parties are falling down. They focus on the big-ticket races — President, Senators, governors — and ignore the local and state elections where they could actually pick up wins. While there’s often an attraction to a political unknown, especially in these days of Tweedledee and Tweedledum, people (with notable exceptions) tend to want their politicians to know what they’re doing. You build a base from the bottom-up, not the top-down. Howard Dean recognizes that; he has set a lofty goal of contesting every single seat in the House of Reprehensibles in 2006. I hope it happens; I sure would love to have a choice other than Nathan “Raw” Deal for a change.

But better yet, I’d like even more choices. I’d like to see three or four people running for each seat in local, state, and Congressional races, with all of them having a real chance at winning. After a few election cycles like that, the third parties could start mounting serious challenges to the Big Two at the state and national levels. But it won’t happen until people get comfortable with third parties, and they won’t get comfortable with third parties until they see people they know holding local offices.

What do you think? Can third parties ever be viable?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005 1 comment

The Latest Outrage: Sony music CDs install malware

Current Music: HBR1

If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. — A bumper sticker

Wheeling


Mark Russinovich obviously knows his way around a Dozebox. So when his rootkit detector turned up something nasty on his computer, he went hunting (extremely technical article alert). He eventually tracked the culprit down to a Van Zant CD that added a few sour notes to the music. The upshot is:
  1. If you have autorun turned on, insert this CD into a Dozebox and it automatically installs something calling itself “digital rights management (DRM) software,” along with a special media player, somehow forgetting to tell you it’s happening or to give you a chance to say no.

  2. The DRM software — bah, let’s call it what it is, malware — wedges something called a “lower filter” between the normal CD driver softare and whatever applications access the CD drive. Its purpose in life is to prevent you from ripping the music into iTunes, or WMP, or whatever, and limiting the number of copies you can make.

  3. Because of the “lower filter,” if you try to remove the malware using standard spyware cleanup tools, you end up with a disabled CD drive.
Mark describes the malware, supplied by a British company calling itself First 4 Internet, as “poorly written.” One of the people commenting on his article did a little digging and found that one of the principals of First 4 Internet is a former Sony director — no surprise there. Having a crony on board beats having a quality product any day, especially when you’re pulling something shady like this.

Dealing


Fortunately, there are ways around these problems. The easiest way is to simply not purchase music CDs that have copy-protection or “digital rights management” software (i.e. they want to “manage” your rights). Second easiest is to not use Microsoft operating systems (malware tends not to be a problem on MacOSX or Linux right now), although I certainly have no intention of supporting Sony’s behavior anyway.

If you have to use that particular operating system, there’s a way to disable autorun if you’re not using XP Service Pack 2 (which turns it off by default). This is a kind of scary way to do things, though: if you mistype something in regedit you can really hose a PC. An easier way to do it is to hold down the Shift key when inserting a CD, which turns off autorun until next time, although you have to remember to do it each time.

Sheesh. I thought we’d fought (and won) this battle back in the 1980s with software companies and copy-protection. Deja vu all over again. Oh well. In the next couple of years, we’ll have to replace our TV. You can bet the new one won’t be a Sony. Eventually, I want to upgrade to a nicer camcorder... but not a Sony. I was thinking about getting one of those minidisc thingies; now I’ll do something else. New headphones to replace the broken ones? I can’t trust Sony, so I won’t deal with them.

Fighting


I've written about the ongoing shift from the old consumer paradigm to the new creator-consumer paradigm before. Telling it like it is: Sony (and the other record companies) are scared to death of the wrong thing — while they go after kids swapping music, technology is letting people make their own music and share it at will. Not just music, but movies and books as well; ironically, Sony actually makes some halfway-decent music and video software for the PC crowd. But as long as the Sonys of the world insist on using courts and bought-and-paid-for congresslime to force us to give up control of our hardware to them, instead of trying to cope with reality, all they’re going to do is hasten their own demise.

So why fight? Why not let them cut their wrists and bleed to death quietly? It’s not like their DRM malware runs on my computer, after all. That’s an easy one: it’s not going to stop with a half-baked installer. I remember reading, but can’t find the reference off-hand, that the eventual goal of the record companies (and perhaps the movie studios) is to collect royalties every time you listen to a song — just like they do with radio stations now. To get that intrusive, they need to be able to take over at least some of the hardware so they can control what you can and can’t play. Indeed, about two years ago they attempted to ram a law through Congress mandating DRM controls on hardware. It failed, not because Republicans care a scrap about consumer rights, but because the hardware manufacturers objected to the added expense and potential public-relations fallout.

Now if record companies could control your computer, what would stop them from blocking free music from the growing number of artists placing their work online? That’s what it would come to: eventually, they would wake up to the real threat to their revenue and find the solution already at hand.

We can object all we want to, but the only thing that will put an end to this creeping corporate encroachment is one thing: crates of copy-protected music CDs coming back to their warehouses from stores, because nobody’s buying. That’s the only thing that killed software copy-protection, and it’s the only thing that will kill music copy-protection.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005 3 comments

Eating Season

Current music: St. Elmo’s Fire – John Parr
It occurred to me this morning that the two months starting with Hallowe’en and ending with New Year’s Day could be called “Eating Season,” at least in the US, Canada, and maybe Europe. Why do we have so many holidays at this time of year that involve candy, big meals, or both?

It actually makes sense if you look at it on an instinctual level. This is the time of year when non-tropical creatures are working on storing up fuel for the winter. Winter fat has a couple of survival advantages: one, you have a reserve when regular food gets hard to come by; two, fat insulates, so you don’t burn as many calories to stay warm. Calories, after all, are a measure of heat... although a dietetic calorie is 1000 “chemical” calories (or a “kilocalorie”). I don’t know why. So it makes sense that we, on a sub-conscious level, would look for excuses to load up on the chow this time of year.

Nowadays, we have other ways to survive the winter. Grocery stores are well-stocked with fresh produce from South America, we have nice warm houses (if we don’t forget to order fuel for the furnace, of course), and most of us have warm jackets if and when we do have to go outside. But racial habits, built on over thousands of years, are the hardest of all to break. So this year, I'm not going to worry about how much I eat during Eating Season. If I feel led to try a little of everything, I will. A little of everything. I’ll try to get outside more over the winter, letting Mother Nature burn those calories for me.

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