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Wednesday, August 31, 2005 3 comments

70s flashback

45 cents my foot... more like 55 cents. My cellphone camera is somewhat not so very good at distance shots; that's $3.12 for regular on the sign. People are lining up to buy it, too: the Shell station across the highway had $3.49 up. The BP stations were $2.79 everywhere on my run home — I don't know how they're doing it. But a 70 cent/gallon spread isn't tenable; things will level out.

The long lines and frayed nerves remind me of the 70s shortages, not long before I was old enough to drive. There's already rumors of shortages, gas stations closing down. It will be a good two weeks, minimum, before the refineries and pipelines get sorted out. If stations are closing now, we're in trouble. Thank God I can work at home.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005 1 comment


Current music: Kate Ryan - Scream for More (Club Dub)
We all gathered 'round and ate supper last night, everyone but Lobster — something that doesn't happen much what with various people working and so forth. The Boy's girlfriend is still with us; we're trying to find her a place to stay and coming up short (but we'll get there!!!). We were talking, and the girlfriend was saying something, and it struck me: this could actually be my future daughter-in-law. The Boy is telling me they want to get married after he graduates from school “this year” (I don't think the graduation part will happen, but that's my pessimistic side).

Quite frankly, I'm not ready to have those kind of thoughts yet, but I probably don't have a lot of choice in the matter. Fatherhood itself was something thrust on me before I felt ready, the gift of a birth control failure. It's not the girl* herself; I doubt I would feel much different if she was a genius, or rich (she's very very much neither). I'm just not ready to process this kind of input. I'm also not ready to be thinking about grandchildren... sure, I'll be 50 in a few years, maybe I can think about it then.

*She's 20, but the important part (mental) is closer to 16. So I use the term “girl” here in its strict sense, to indicate an immature female human.

When drains rebel

The perfect storm: plenty of rain, running the dishwasher & clothes washer, and a toilet with a stuck-open flapper. The bathroom with the stuck toilet started taking on water last night after my last post; fortunately, there were plenty of dirty clothes and used towels (and an area rug) to soak up most of it before I realized what was happening. Walking in the bathroom & getting my feet wet was how I figured it out.

A night of rest and not so much rain seems to have settled things down for now. But I guess we need to check the drain field and maybe pump the septic tank.

Monday, August 29, 2005 3 comments

Rain coming down, gas going up

FAR Manor is far enough from Katrina that we're only getting a little taste of it. Having had to drive home through nearly blinding rain this evening, without wind to complicate matters further, I don't envy anyone closer in. I drove through a tornado warning area, and I saw everything but rotation at one point. The intersection where I usually get off the four-lane was getting lots of lightning down the way, so I went up and around.

During a lull in the action, I poured the water out of the bottom of my potted basil and dragged all the herbs in pots (and flowers in hanging baskets) into the garage. I think one of the sage plants (in the ground) is soggy toast, looking at it, but maybe it'll perk up. I think we already got the two inches of rain predicted for the area, and we have another day to go. Yuck! Then we went into town and filled gas tanks and containers... one of the attendants told the wife that they're going to jump the price from $2.63 to $3.08 tonight! Katrina has hosed up a bunch of production down along the Gulf, so we may actually see some genuine shortages before too long. I took The Barge today and gassed it up where it was $2.47, and we got a 10 cent discount, which made a pretty big difference compared to around here (especially tomorrow). Turns out The Barge gets close to 25mpg with fresh oil and careful highway driving, maybe even a little better than the minivan (big shock). But I tell ya, Dominic Tocci nails it.

Plan B is in action. I'm working at home tomorrow, maybe Wednesday if things don't go haywire, and I have the motorcycle if I need to go anywhere. Maybe things will recover before we have to buy much gas again. (Yeah right.)

Saturday, August 27, 2005 2 comments

Familyyyyyyyy Feuuuuuuuuud

So Big V asks to come over today and talk to The Boy and his girlfriend. Fine, we say, just no raised voices. So she comes by with itemized invoices for each of them, listing how much they owe her: which came to about twice what she said they owed her on Thursday (anything Big V says is usually forgotten, at least by her, within 24 hours). I sit quietly, mostly, and listen to her harangue them for a while, raising her voice bit by bit, until her tone got this “I'm the queen of the farking universe, you owe me” edge that I've heard from the girlfriend's crazy mom.

At that point, I had enough of her yelling at them and told her so. She rounds on me with some crap about how I must want them to be freeloaders. Baaaaaaaaaaad move. This female is a professional leech, hasn't paid squat on a house they “paid” to move onto the property, has stuck her parents with co-signed loans, etc.

I probably shouldn't have said anything, but at that point I no longer cared. “I wouldn't be calling anyone else a freeloader if I were you,” I said.

“What's that supposed to mean?” in this self-righteous tone that just about anyone gets when they're called on something like this. I ran through the stuff above, and it was go time. I was informed how they mow the parents' lawn twice a month to pay for the house, and blah blah blah, and then she called The Boy a bastard. Now it's really go time, as the wife shot to her feet and Big V beat a hasty retreat out the door. And went running straight to her mother with the boo-hoo-everybody's-so-mean-to-me song.

About five minutes later, I get a phone call from the mother-in-law, wanting to know if I'd accused Big V of being a freeloader. I repeated the conversation best as I could, and she goes, “well, there's more than one kind of freeloading, so don't call someone else a freeloader when you're doing it too.” That basically went right over my head, but I didn't have time to process it since she went on, twisting what I'd said. I called her on that, and refused to back down. She finally said, “well, let's just say this is in the past” and we said toodles.

This was when I finally told the wife something I've felt for a long time now: Before God, I wish we didn't live here. I mentioned to her off-hand that the mom-unit said we were freeloading too, and that (to my surprise) was like arming a nuke. I repeated that part of the call, and Wife-o-licious was immediately spoiling for a fight. She's the confrontational one at FAR Manor, her & The Boy at least, and I think she was irritated at herself, sitting on the sidelines while an amateur (me) took the floor before.

We piled into the minivan and drove down to her mom's. Big V was still there, all pitiful and blah-de-blah. Wife totally ignored her, she had a bigger fish to fry. Turns out we haven't paid for the minivan and “my” car. So I think we'll be taking the car back down there & I'll probably cash in some stock to pay for the van. After that, I have no clue: if the wife stops helping in the chicken houses (and I've provided plenty of free electrical and plumbing work there, but mentioning that would have started a big tedious tit-for-tat, so I didn't say anything), it's pretty much over for their farm.

So this would be the ultimate vengeance: sell FAR Manor and move closer to where I work. Their freak-out over the property being up for sale is why we ended up buying it; they wanted that 10 acres “back in the family.” The 10 acres would be gone-zo once again, and we'd have a much-needed distance between us and the in-laws.

Now I'm going to do the church bulletin, then pour myself a generous helping of Barbarossa spiced rum. Wife said she didn't want her family driving me to drink; I said “too late.”

The Kiss

Pucker up!

Friday, August 26, 2005 No comments

My Haiku Corner is open

Current music: Groove Salad
I guess I could “blame” my online friend White Trash Poet for this. Like WTP, I wrote a lot of poetry when I was younger. Most of it was, you know, the kind of stuff that rhymes — with a little free verse and a fair amount of haiku-style poems.

We were introduced to haiku in 7th grade, in one of our English classes. I took to the form right away and started cranking out stuff. Our teachers didn't say boo about kigo, a keyword or phrase indicating season that is a traditional part of haiku, and so I happily and ignorantly cranked away. A multi-stanza haiku (which could loosely be called a renga, I suppose) I wrote at that time, a typical schoolboy's lament, was published in the student paper.

Some time in high school, I put poetry aside for other kinds of writing and non-writing activities. Since then, I might jot down a spontaneous rhyme, but what little I wrote could be classified as senryu (comic haiku). I think what attracts me to the form is the challenge of expressing a thought in 17 syllables (or less, technically), something I can hold in my head and compose without rushing to find pencil and paper. I read a few on-line discussions about haiku, and found a couple of misconceptions confusing references to weather or nature with kigo — these are often a subset of kigo, but (for example) “rain” can occur in multiple seasons in most places. And yet, that told me that there was something more to haiku than a five-seven-five syllable pattern, and I needed to find out what it was.

Back to today. Reading WTP's blog must have reamed out a couple of channels that had been clogged, because earlier this week the haiku started flowing out. The last two nights, I've had to get out of bed and write down haiku that came to mind before my Muse (capricious b**ch that she is) would let me sleep. Rather than to clutter my diary here with who knows how many haiku and senryu, I decided to open a new blog. Maintaining two blogs ought to be interesting.

Full house

The Boy came back last night. The half-empty nest has gone back to being a little crowded.

Events precipitating his return were just a little more dramatic than I'd expected. Big V has been checking his grades online, and he's doing OK in all his classes except for one. She got all huffy, made him sit down and do the homework for that class, with her breathing down his neck. Unfortunately, there wasn't that much to do for that class that evening, so he wrapped up before Big V got bored and walked away. She told him he needed to do more, he said that was all there is, so she decided to finish tossing his girlfriend out of the house.

He walked out with the girlfriend, and Big V grabbed him and pulled him back into the house. (How she did that is a question to answer... despite her moniker here, she isn't that big — and he is.) His temper, not the most amiable under normal circumstances, got away from him (again) and he punched a hole in an interior wall.

All this is going down while I'm on my way home from work, held up because I have to make a PDF of a manual before I could leave and this sucker has lots of bitmap graphics (meaning it takes over a half hour to build). After a couple of botched attempts and clearing some old files off the hard drive, I email the PDF to Mr. Anxiety Attack and get on my way. I'm supposed to meet the wife and Daughter Dearest at a local Mexican joint, but the wife was gone before I could get there (without telling anyone what was up, and forgetting to leave $$$ to pay for the chow).

So we had the four of us that make up the core family, plus Lobster, plus The Boy's girlfriend. She stayed with us last night, and probably will again tonight, but she knows she can't stay much longer than that. As big as FAR Manor is, it's kind of crowded for six adult-size people. So between trying to blast a PDF out at the last minute, and all the other stuff that was going on, I got kind of stressed out last night. Wife noticed it, and said, “I don't want you getting sick.”

“I doubt I will,” I said. “If I was going to get sick from stress, it would have been when we bought the house.”

“You did, don't you remember?” said she. “You got the shingles two weeks afterwards.”

Oh. Then she gave me a hard time when I wanted to get some milk to settle myself down and sleep. She probably thought I was going to head for the rum bottle. Nope... that's tonight!

But The Boy seems amenable, at least at the moment, to try counseling. We need to get to the bottom of what it is that's giving him a short fuse on a nuke.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005 No comments

Lobster's back

Something must have really went BOOM with Lobster. He and his dad got into a gen-yoo-wine fight, and Lobster packed up and came back here. I have no clue at the moment what happened, and I don't think I'll be blogging about it when I do find out.

Man. Must be something in the water. All the outrageous stuff going on lately...

Outrage #1: Robertson's Fatwa

So now Ayatollah Pat Robertson has apologized for his remarks about having President Hugo Chavez assassinated. Good. He really should get up on TV and do a Jimmy Swaggart “I have sinned” routine, but we all know that ain't gonna happen.

The Bush administration passed up an opportunity to prove that we've not become Iran with a cross instead of a crescent, opting to mumble something about “private citizen” instead. Yeah. I could buy that if it were just some backwoods Talibaptist blathering to his little congregation. But this “private citizen” happens to have a major TV network and the ear of the entire White House and about half of Congress, any time he wants it. At some point you cease to be a private citizen, elected or not.

An attempt to pretend he didn't mean “assassinate” apparently didn't work. I have a feeling he was getting calls and emails from people saying “take me off your lists” and had to backpedal a little farther to salvage his empire.

Thanks, Pat, for making all Christians look bad. On the other hand, you may have jumped the shark here, like Oral Roberts with his “send me money or God will kill me” shtick and the whole Jim Bakker/Jimmy Swaggart thing, and this is the beginning of your long slide into obscurity. This Christian certainly hopes so. “Sell all you have, give it to the poor, take up your cross, and follow Me,” is what the Son of God told the rich man. Think about it, Pat.

Outrage #2: Utah Rave

Current Music: DJ Lithium

You kann haff zee paperz, und zee paperz kann be in ordaire, und ve vill bust you anyvay. Ja wohl!

OK, if you suspect that someone in a crowd of 2,000 people is doing drugs (and in a crowd that size, you can bet on it), you bust those people. It doesn't warrant shutting down an entire concert. I'll bet you could go to any twanger concert and you'll find some attendees lighting up — but somehow the Gestapo doesn't see fit to point guns at people, kick women, and spray tear gas indiscriminately at a Travis Tritt concert. Oh yeah, kickers tend to be armed; they might shoot back.

Well, have a look at my “Current Music” links down through my earlier posts. Spray me with tear gas and call me a criminal: this mid-40s white churchgoing male likes electronic music, and has since Kraftwerk released Autobahn in 1975. I like the trippy ambient stuff, I like the hard-thumpin' dance numbers, and 'most everything in between. Next rave within driving distance of FAR Manor, I'm going just to make a statement.

At least there's still some vestige of the America that used to be, the one where people had freedom to peaceably assemble; the thugs were sufficiently embarrassed to try confiscating video cameras that caught them in the act. Fortunately, some of the video escaped. I'm generally an easy-going, forgiving type of person... but I hope the people in charge of this raid end up with new careers outside of law enforcement: poultry plant workers or garbage sorters would be too good for them. Making license plates, now there's a suitable job for 'em.

Monday, August 22, 2005 No comments

A Boy and his computer

Current Music: BeatBlender
After a rather unpleasant episode Friday, The Boy and his aunt (whom we shall call “Big V” here on the blog) sort of patched things up between them. They have made a pact to help each other track their glucose levels (she's Type II, he's Type I), and today he had his act sufficiently together that he was pretty civil for a change (I've noticed he really gets whacked out when his glucose goes about 220 or so). So Friday, he was probably riding a serious sugar jag; he wrote this rambling letter about how much he hates us for trying to separate him & his girlfriend (we aren't trying, but would be overjoyed if it happened) and made a not-so-veiled threat to kill himself if he succeeded. That was enough to get me to call the local mental health agency and talk to a counselor there. We agreed that he needed to get in there, although there just wasn't any way to force him to go.

So today, he asked me to call him. Turns out he wanted to use the iMac that was still in his old bedroom to write papers and so forth. I didn't have any problem with that — when you need a computer you need a computer — so I tossed it and a smallish desk in the van and drove it down to Big V's place.

The interesting part was when I asked him what his paper was about. “Psychology,” he said. “I have to interview a psychologist.” Welllll, I was right there with a name and contact info on that one. On the way out, Big V stopped me and told me she was booting the girlfriend tomorrow because she was giving The Boy cigarettes. Perhaps our prayers are being answered!

Saturday, August 20, 2005 3 comments

Sports vs. arts

Current music: Aura - Orbit Revival
Daughter Dearest had a pool party today, put on by her chorus teacher. Parents were invited too, so I got a little more sun than I should have without slobbering on sunscreen (another symptom of oncoming age; I used to never burn). She's in the Honors Chorus after a brief & successful audition.

As Arlo Guthrie said, “I told you that to tell you this.” I only find out after she starts school that last year, this chorus won a nationwide tournament in their division last year. Sheesh. If it had been any kind of sport, all the way down to middle school badminton, there would have been billboards at every road on the county line. If it's art, it gets in the papers and the school puts it up on their sign, but where's the community pride? Where are the billboards? Even a little sign as you enter the county?

Then we wonder why nobody seems to think funding the arts is any big deal.

The Aviator

My father-in-law bought a DVD of “The Aviator” and we gave it a watch last weekend.

I'll admit having no clue what the movie was about going in — and I was impressed how they told the story of Howard Hughes's early life as a movie maker and aircraft manufacturer, ending with his worsening mental condition. I was even more impressed when I realized that was Leonardo freeking di Caprio in the lead role! Sonuvagun, that guy actually can act!

The next morning, I starting poking around on Wikipedia, starting with the Howard Hughes entry. Turns out that the movie was pretty much accurate. I like it when movies stick to the script, but you could argue that Howard's life was sufficiently colorful to not require much tarting-up.

If you haven't seen it, it's worth renting.

Mint in bloom

It's been mostly a pretty good year for the herb garden, what with all the rain. I'm partly color-blind, so I'm not sure what to call this color; to me it looks like a light blue but some might call it purple. What... ever. :) Just click it to get a bigger image.

I used to have a 35mm Fujica camera way back when; it got stolen in a burglary while the wife was pregnant with The Boy. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy using a macro mode to get up close on things, especially flowers. It's like a secret world.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005 No comments

Computer-related items

Current music: BassDrive

A few more or less related news items and personal notes about today's and tomorrow's computers....

Well, that didn't take long: hackers got the development version of OSX86 running on standard PCs. Personally, I don't see much to get excited about. I (erroneously) expected Mac sales to crater in response to the announcement that Apple is moving to Intel CPUs over the next two years; it hasn't happened yet. My guess that the Intel-based Macs will use a 64-bit CPU and the OS won't run on the current (32-bit) Pentiums. Given I'm 0-1 on this topic so far, though, take that with a grain of salt. If the plan is to use Pentiums for the newer Macs, I doubt that Apple will put that much effort into locking it down — they'll do enough to make it non-trivial, and those people who buy OSX86 and install it on their white boxes will be on their own, support-wise. The way I see it, if Apple sells ten times more OSX86 boxes than their current Mac sales figures, they'll break even on sales and win big on margins.

On my own iBook, I've switched back to Apple's Safari browser. It's tons faster than what I was using (Camino) and it's built-in RSS aggregator works very well. If you were using Safari to read Tales from FAR Manor, you would see a little “RSS” button in the address bar. Click on that, and you'd get the RSS feed for my blog. You can bookmark the RSS feed and it will count the number of unread posts you have in that directory. It's really nice. Dashboard and Automator are everything they're cracked up to be as well. I'm using an older version of OSX (10.2.8) at work, and I already miss having these functions.

Speaking of iBooks, you had to have heard about the stampede in Richmond VA. Wazoo! I think I'd have eBay'ed the whole shebang myself; they could have easily raised $300,000 that way. But you can't expect intelligent thought from a school system that dumps computers that work and replace them with Smelly Dells. Unfortunately, when you use low-bidder purchasing, you get what you pay for.

I sure hope that school district isn't running W2K on their new computers. The Zotob worm hosed up bigger and much better-funded entities than a school district. Another report said ABC News had to use typewriters to get the news out. Wow... I'm surprised they even had any typewriters available, let alone enough to go around.

I'm being a good boy and not blogging from work. More tomorrow, if time allows. The Evil Twins are visiting, but fortunately they're already in bed. I should be in my bed as well. 'Night!

Monday, August 15, 2005 3 comments

I fought the lawn...

...and the lawn won.

Never had a stump do that to a lawn mower blade before.

Wife is taking it to an old farmer down the road a ways; if he has an anvil, he can heat up the blade & pound it straight. Otherwise, we can always get a new blade.

Sunday, August 14, 2005 No comments

Cuddling up with Tiger

Current music: Groove Salad

They (who's they? You know, “them”!) say to never upgrade your computer when you have a deadline. Hey, I use Macs, I've never gotten bit before... until last night.

A while back, I wrote about cashing in some stock options. The check finally arrived, and after paying some bills there was about $250 left for “discretionary” items. Our Macs have been languishing on Jaguar (OSX 10.2) for some time now, more and more software requires something later nowadays, and frankly it's been chafing me. So we made a trip down to the mall to get a Tiger (OSX 10.4) “family pack” (5 licenses for less than 2 single licenses) and I got around to installing it yesterday. I figured I'd have it together in plenty of time to finish the church bulletin.

WRONG! Actually, it turned out that the only apps that flaked out were those I use to do the church bulletin: Vim, groff, and X11 (I use a PostScript viewer to check things before printing). I ended up switching over to NeoOffice and finishing up about 1:30 a.m.

It took a little poking and prodding, but all is well with my iBook again. I had to load X11 and Xcode (the development system) from the software DVD, download a Tiger-specific version of Vim, and recompile groff. I'm slowly poking at the new features, starting with Automater. Dashboard looks really nice too.

Vacation's pretty much over... I'll probably be back to updating two or three times a week after today.

Farewell, Lobster... for now

The nest got a little emptier today. Lobster, for primarily economic reasons, has decided to move back home and try to get along with his mom.

We were (mostly, I was) talking about how stupid little things can blow up into huge arguments and how he can recognize and deflect those things. He & his mom have gotten into it pretty heavily a few times. SWMBO unwittingly provided a perfect example; coming in from the chicken houses, she walked by the room and sniped, “why hasn't anyone put away the peaches I sliced!?” I got up & took care of the three slices still on the table, then came back.

I explained to Lobster that I could have easily (and justifiably) responded, “if it's that important, why didn't you put them away?” and then it would have been go time. But would it have been worth it for three lousy peach slices? (I'm not talking about three sliced peaches, but three slices of peach.)

“It looked like you're getting pushed around,” he said. I pointed out that you don't have to look at it that way — I'm just not wasting time arguing over stupid little stuff like less than one peach. I'll save my breath for more important stuff.

It remains to be seen whether he can hold his temper when the time comes. If not... well, he'll be back.

Saturday, August 13, 2005 1 comment

She quit smoking — give her a hand!

Current Music: Music One
RenaRF, one of my C&J pals, has put down the cigarettes and is sharing the experience with the rest of us. Good on ya, Rena!

Peter Jennings's losing battle with lung cancer is only the most visible example of the toll that smoking takes on our friends, loved ones, and even our icons. My uncle is very much on my mind as I type tonight; he quit a couple of years ago (almost to this day) after being diagnosed with an arterial embolism. Years of hard living, heavy smoking and drinking, came with a price: his body can't even take the stress of surgery needed to repair the embolism, and he quit too late — the lung cancer was already lurking and came up earlier this year.

Being a true adult, he has accepted the situation (yep, he's still hanging on). He knows he's (his words) a “walking time bomb” and when the embolism goes, he won't last more than a few minutes. He's enjoying whatever time God has chosen to give him, and frankly he has lasted a lot longer than I expected. This is a good thing for all of us, especially him.

Losing him is going to be hard on him and my family. He's my mom's brother, and one of my dad's best buddies (my parents are long divorced but get along better now than they did when they were married). He got my brother & me summer jobs one year when he was working as a cook on offshore drilling platforms. The worst part is, if he had quit long ago (or better yet, never started), the embolism would have either never formed or at worst would have been operable.

I hope, when she is ready to write about it, that Rena will be able to tell us what motivated her to suck that first butt at age 18. The Boy has also picked up this habit, and hasn't ever really been able to describe his own motivations besides a “peer pressure” cop-out — he's always had plenty of friends and co-workers who never smoked, and has seen what it's done to his great-uncle even if he wouldn't know Peter Jennings if the man rose from the dead and smacked him upside the head with a TelePrompTer™. Teenagers often have self-destructive tendencies; Lord knows I took more chances than I should have even if I was fairly average in that respect. Maybe it's one of those “won't happen to me” things.

Friday, August 12, 2005 No comments

School's in. I hate school buses.

Mid-August, and school has already started. I'm obviously not the only person who thinks this is ridiculous: several states are passing laws mandating school start on a particular date — it varies from state to state, but is fairly close to Labor Day. Good idea. I hope it catches on here too. It's not like they're holding more school; they're just building a ton of slop into the schedule now. What's the point?

On the way back from our weekend in North Carolina, I saw a road sign on a four-lane highway: SLOW MOVING SCHOOL BUSES USE THIS ROAD. I swear, my first thought was, “you mean there's some other kind?” Look, I understand the need for buses. Not everyone can drive their kid both ways. With gas prices going through the roof, Daughter Dearest is going to be riding home a lot more often (the school is only a block off my commute route, so dropping her off in the morning is no problem). She can socialize, nap, or do homework on the way home to pass the time like I did.

The problem is how the buses clog traffic. Some drivers are courteous enough to pull off at a good place and let all the backed-up commuters get by... but some seem to revel in holding up as many people as they can. Kind of like the geezers who whip out in front of oncoming traffic then crawl along at 15mph under the speed limit. There ought to be a law, where bus drivers have to let traffic go by when they have 8 or more cars backed up behind them.

OK, rant off.

Thursday, August 11, 2005 3 comments

Chicken House Hell: Your #1 Fan

Warning: Any post on this blog with “Chicken House Hell” in the title is not for the squeamish. You have been warned.

My in-laws, not a mile from here, have four poultry houses. One of the nice things about having a mostly anonymous blog is that I can write about family stuff and nobody is the wiser. Anyway, the chicken houses have unfortunately come to stand for much of what I don't like about life at FAR Manor. I believe that Hell is much like a chicken house: hot, filthy, crowded, noisy. Of my so-called “vacation” so far, 3 out of 4 days have involved at least some time in the chicken houses.

Long ago, I had a personal website (that probably would have been a blog if there were blogs back then) where I kept a series of “Chicken House Hell” stories. Like this one, they were rather graphic and distasteful — but you need to remember, these are the lowlights rather than everyday occurrences, from the perspective of one totally jaded by anything that happens in there. Today was a perfect example.

This time of year, it's rather important to keep the houses cool so the chickens don't overheat. To that end, each house has roughly 25 fans, about 4 feet across and turned by 1HP electric motors. The fans that aren't direct-drive have a fan belt, which require occasional maintenance and replacement to keep them turning. Some of the other natural shocks (literally) that fans are heir to include cut electrical cords and broken thermostats. All of the above were true today — and anything I want to get done, vacation or no, immediately goes by the wayside when the chicken houses need attention.

Preparing to splice a cord that got cut, I had to walk out to the Barge and get some tools and supplies (i.e. a knife, a stripper, electrical tape and wire nuts). Walking along the wall, I heard behind me a BANGsqueeeeeee — not a sound I'd ever heard before. Whirling around to see what happened, I rather wished I hadn't: a chicken had jumped into the fan directly behind me, jamming it. I jumped over there and quickly unplugged it to prevent the motor from burning up. The chicken was at the 10-o'clock position, except for some guts on the bottom of the fan housing and a wing on the floor. I suspect it was killed instantly... at least it didn't suffer.

But I did. I gave the fan a turn, and the chicken dropped to the floor as Instant Chicken Soup. Some guts were still in the path of the fan, so I left it to finish the electrical job. Afterwards, I got a bucket and stick, scooped the remains into the bucket, then plugged the fan back in. It started immediately, seemingly none the worse for wear (fortunately).

The news crew as endangered species

Technology and Society
Current music: StaticBeats Chill

It's not happening right away, but it's coming. Auntie Beeb, as usual with clearer sight than corporate media, sees it coming. A perfect storm of advancing technology and ever-tightening corporate news budgets has signed the death sentence for the traditional TV news crew. But like the typical US death sentence, there are years of appeals and delays to go through before the sentence can be carried out.

The London bombing incidents shows there's now a critical mass of mobile video phones and camera phones out there, whose owners are on the spot to cover just about any important event — long before the camera crews can even be alerted.

Mobile phones have turned members of the public into reporters and camera crews — "citizen journalists". The media are hungry for their digital images and eyewitness accounts.

The BBC received 50 pictures from the public within an hour of the first bomb going off on 7 July. By the weekend it had 1,000 images and dozens of video clips sent by e-mail and direct from mobile phones.

By the time the eastern US woke up to the news of the London bombings, the BBC website was already showing video and pictures sent in by average Brits who happened to be in the wrong place at the right time. Then during an arrest in the aftermath of the failed July 21 bombings, “one woman gave a running commentary as police, through a loudhailer, tried to persuade one of the suspects to give himself up.”

How are traditional news crews going to stay relevant in a time when any incident is already being covered by on-the-spot reporters transmitting raw footage at least, and perhaps polished commentary and interviews?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005 No comments

Extreme Video Enabled

If you live anywhere near a CVS drugstore, you may have noticed their “one time use” digital cameras and camcorders. Their (CVS's) idea is:

  1. You buy the camera ($20 for a still, $30 for a camcorder)

  2. When it's full, bring it to CVS for “processing”

  3. You pay $$$, they give you a CD or DVD with pix or video, they keep the camera

A very clever hacker named Maushammer, of course, has cracked the code (the link goes to his camcorder page) so you can download the video yourself over a USB port and not return the camera. You have to cobble up a cable, but there's a link to instructions & parts are readily available. The camcorder takes video at 320x240 (QVGA resolution, similar to VHS) using the Xvid video codec and mono MPEG audio. The resolution is identical to the video my digital camera can produce, except that...

I expect this to trigger a new sub-genre of home video that I call “Extreme Video” — a $30 digital camcorder will readily go places that even a low-end DV camcorder (at 10 times the price) often won't: on the ramps at a skate park, bungee jumping, motorcycling, and all sorts of other fun (and potentially painful) activities. I understand a model rocketry club in Texas has already built camera mounts for their larger rockets. If Something Happens... hey, you're only out thirty bucks. Go get another one.

One of the nice features about this camcorder is that it's completely solid state — there are no tapes or disks inside (it uses a Flash disk instead). No tape transport means you could use it to record in very quiet settings without picking up motor noise from the camera itself. Another advantage is that it should be able to stand getting jarred around in an Extreme Video shoot without causing dropouts — as long as the optics don't get misaligned, you should be able to keep shooting.

For more information than you ever wanted to know, unless you're a geek like me, check out the camerahacking forum.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005 No comments

Shiny objects, Boy update, beer, tunes

I didn't get a RAZR yesterday, “just” a V220. Neither the Mrs. nor I were really comfortable spending $200 on a phone; $100 was enough as it is. My primary concern was having a phone that talks to my iBook, and I settled on the V220 instead of the next model up since it has a USB port and I don't need video (the still-camera phone is good enough). I need to get a data cable; leave it to Moto to use a non-standard pinout so we can't use the camera cable that I already have.

The Boy is still at my sister-in-law's. She asked us if we wanted him to come home today; our response was “he has to make that decision.” He & his girlfriend are eating a lot of chow, and they're both going to be paying rent when their checks from the lodge they're working at start coming in. He called last night to talk to the Mom-unit; they managed to stay civil since he was wanting lunch money for school. Daughter Dearest took him $20 this morning. I expect he'll stay in school until he's 18, then quit (he has to do that to keep his driver's license).

I bottled my beer (a stout) last night, after two weeks of fermenting: four 750ml (24 oz.) bottles and 42 regular 12 oz. bottles. I thought it smelled wonderful, although the female family members disagreed. Maybe about three or four weeks from now, it'll be ready to drink.

One of the other things I got at the flea market on Saturday were three CDs from World Wide Message Tribe — they since changed their name to The Tribe, then shut down as a band. That's a shame; their music was high-energy Christian dance, a variety of trance and hip-hop that was nothing like I've heard from musicians around here. Unfortunately, not all Christian music is nearly as fun to listen to.

Look for a brief review of the Left Behind series soon.

Sunday, August 07, 2005 No comments

Some good stuff

Vacation for a week & a day — woohoo! We spent the weekend at my mom's rented vacation nest in the North Carolina mountains, about 5 hours from FAR Manor. It rained all day today, including most of the way home, but yesterday was pretty nice. We hit a flea market and scored some odds & ends — my particular find was a small whiteboard we can use to for leaving notes to each other or writing down when each vehicle needs its next oil change or something. I'll talk a little about my plans for the upcoming week tomorrow.

I cashed in some stock options earlier in the week, and hit it close enough to the peak that I'm pretty happy. It went up another 3 cents/share after I did the exercise, then slid the rest of the week and lost a whole dollar/share. We'll just be paying off some credit cards with the proceeds; no toys or new cars or anything. But that will free up some money to attack other debts, and killing off a couple of credit cards should increase our credit score a bit.

When The Boy left, he didn't take his GameBoy Advance with him. It's mine now, or at least it's mine for the forseeable future. I'm also getting his phone number, since: 1) I need a new phone; 2) He smashed his phone and isn't getting another; 3) My 2-year term of service is up and his isn't. That adds up to me getting a nice new phone, maybe a RAZR. Oh, I don't care; as long as it talks to my iBook via USB or maybe Bluetooth, and maybe has a camera, I'll be happy.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005 2 comments

Book review: American Gods

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
(Bear with me, this is the first book review I've written since high school.)

One describes a tale best by telling the tale. You see?

There are several ways, I've found, to write a story that people enjoy reading. One is to create characters the readers can identify with; another is to research the absolute heck out of things and create a solid backdrop. American Gods falls in the second category, though you shouldn't take that to mean the characters are cardboard or wooden (it's just hard to identify with gods sometimes). But Gaiman is either an enthusiastic student of ancient pagan beliefs or a fantastic researcher — perhaps both.

The story centers around Shadow Moon (although you never quite hear him called that), a big quiet man. As the story begins, Shadow is counting down the days to the end of three years in prison. He has a wife and a job waiting for him outside, and he wants nothing more than to get home and stay out of trouble for the rest of his life. But just days before his release, both his wife and future boss are killed in an accident.

Released a few days early, Shadow struggles to get home through a storm, meeting a strange man on the airplane who calls himself “Wednesday.” He knows Shadow's name, offers him a job and refuses to take “no” for an answer. Finally bowing to the inevitable, Shadow sets out on a strange journey that takes him all across America and even “backstage.”

What I'm trying to say is that America is like that. It's not good growing country for gods.

To many immigrants, America was truly the Land of Opportunity, where everyone could have a place of their own and live unmolested by nobility. But for their old gods like Odin or Eostre, or mythical creatures like piskies and leprechauns, America is a desert isle where belief fades with the first generation immigrants. Worse, there are new gods to contend with: gods of steel and glass, gods of cathode rays and silicon, gods of intangibles, gods of rail and highway. There's only so much belief to go around, and Wednesday's quest is to rally as many of his fellow old gods as he can to face off against the modern upstarts. And the beliefs and culture heroes of those who came first are still to be contended with.

You know why dead people only go out at night? Because it's easier to pass for real, in the dark.

In the presence of gods and myths, even those who feed on human sacrifice (Old Europe's gods were bloody-minded creatures), sometimes it's hard for the dead to stay dead. But in what we like to think of as the “real” world, sometimes the living do not truly live. Shadow's wife Laura is somewhat more than a memory, and sometimes Shadow seems to just go through the motions of living. But in the end, as Wednesday says, misquoting Julian of Norwich, “All is well, and all is well, and all shall be well.”*

*The actual quote is “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Not even pagan gods are infallible.

Monday, August 01, 2005 No comments

Odds and ends

Stuff I wanted to share, but don't have time to turn into full individual entries....

Somewhere in Iraq, the locals have made a U.S. soldier a sheik. The moral of the story: you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. I know Iraq is a stressful place, especially around Baghdad; the now-defunct blog This Is Your War depicted a team of soldiers surviving IEDs and walking an emotional knife edge. But it seems like those soldiers who have gotten out and mingled with people, talking (and listening) have had a much easier time of it.

The Evil Weed: it's not just for glaucoma anymore. Scientists at Bath University in the UK have found cannibis may help with Irritable Bowel Disease (aka Crohn’s). Too bad it'll never catch on; the blue-noses would rather have people suffering than risk the possibility of someone feeling too good.

Over the weekend, I literally spent several hours cleaning out a 10 square foot space in the bedroom, next to my dresser. I half-filled a trash bag with stuff that just didn't need to be in my life anymore and created a more compact pile of reading material for the bedside. I also dug out two plastic tubs of socks — some matched, some not — and proceeded to match up about 25 pairs (maybe 1/3 of the singletons). I guess I should attack the top of my dresser next, and maybe take a good look at what's in the bulging drawers.


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