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Wednesday, September 28, 2005 No comments

Soaked... in more ways than one

Current music: Groove Salad
I got a spit of rain on the way to work this morning, just enough to worry me since I was on the motorcycle and had neglected to grab the fanny pack containing my rain suit. What little rain there was dried out by the time I got to work.

Wife called, relaying a message from the mechanic: he thinks it’s the water pump that’s leaking, not a heater hose. Looks like $350 parts & labor. I have half a mind to ask him if he has to go through that A/C line he said was broke, and to replace it if he does. Maybe I can get working A/C out of the deal, especially now that I won’t be needing it for a few months. (It’s supposed to get down to 50°F Friday morning!)

Meanwhile, the spark coils I ordered for Big Zook (an old Suzuki GS1000G I used to ride) came in, and I swung by to pick them up on the way home from work. Of course, it was raining when I came out, and a bit more than the spit this morning. The front of my jacket was pretty well soaked after a few miles, by which time the rain slacked up and eventually stopped. Riding the bike always tacks 20% onto the rain probability, and forgetting the rain suit adds some more.

So the dealer either forgot, or didn’t realize, that Suzuki had upgraded the spark coils (like most of the electric parts on that bike)... and doubled the price from $46 to $92. And each coil runs two cylinders (on a four-cylinder engine). So the young lady at the parts desk agreed to eat half the extra cost, and I told her I’d have to pick them up later in the week when I get some more moolah. Thank God I get paid Friday.

I’d really like to get Big Zook running though. If it runs good, it would make a great winter bike, what with the full fairing. It’s also big enough to handle a sidecar (although I won’t be the one to do that). We might just sell it; gas prices are heading north again and people are getting interested in alternate transportation again. One of the more optimistic futures I see for us could be titled Biker Nation....


So fascinating, in fact, that I forgot to get the camera.

When I work at home, the most comfortable place to sit (at least this time of year) is on the the screened-in (and windowed-in, does that make it a Florida room?) porch. There's a typing desk sitting out there because there was nowhere else to put it, and its location means it doesn’t get its horizontal surface buried with clutter. So with the windows open and the ceiling fan going, it's not only like having an office with a window, it’s almost like working outside. I share the space with the cats, who are glad to have someone out there to ignore.

On the storm door leading outside, a praying mantis was on the glass, busily munching a bug he’d caught. The bug was struggling feebly, at least until the mantis bit its head off and chewed it up. The mantis didn’t seem to mind having an audience.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005 No comments

The World’s Shortest Fairy Tale

Received in email, cleaned up slightly.

Once upon a time, a prince asked a beautiful damsel for her hand in marriage.

She replied, “NO!”

And the prince spent much time hunting, fishing, and golfing; he drank beer and farted whenever he pleased, and lived happily ever after.

Actually, the shortest fairy tale goes, “Once upon a time they lived happily ever after. The end.” But I like this one better; it has a moral.

Working at home

Current music: Moody Blues - Say It With Love
I’ve sort-of fallen into a routine where I work at home on Tuesdays. Today it worked out even better than usual: Planetary Governor Bok-Bok asked school districts to take a couple of snow days Monday & Tuesday to cushion any Rita-related fuel shortages, so I didn't have to worry about getting the kids up and taking them to school. If that weren't good enough, I turned off the alarm so I could get a reasonable amount of sleep for a change.

Time to get some work done....

Monday, September 26, 2005 No comments

Massachusetts Mandates Open File Formats

Over the strained objections of guess who, Massachusetts has mandated use of the Open Document format (ODF) for all office productivity applications. ODF is the native format supported by the Free (and cross-platform) OpenOffice program, and being adopted by the Linux-based Koffice suite as well.

This is a good thing. The taxpayers of Massachusetts will save money by not being locked into a proprietary “solution” (more like a solvent, dissolving state revenue), citizens can download a Free program instead of paying upwards of $400 for a commercial one to read government documents, and — amazing! — nobody died. Other state and national governments have flirted with the idea, and succumbed to, shall we say, “pressure.” One notable exception: the Largo, FL city government saves its fortunate citizens upwards of $1M/year by using Linux instead of that other operating system.

The question is, where did Massachusetts find their big brass ones? And will they rent them out to other governments?

Making time for other stuff

Daughter Dearest has gotten interested in playing Magic:the Gathering again. We’re both playing non-aggression decks — hers is a black/white pre-built with a couple of modifications; I use a blue-white deck I built primarily to frustrate The Boy’s green/black attack deck (which it did pretty well at). Last night, it was one of those situations where you could beat on each others’ creatures all evening and not do much damage to anything. We each had largish armies on the board; I finally ended up decking out.

Tonight, I lucked out; DD just doesn’t have the killer instinct. While I was mana-starved, she waited around until I managed to build up enough flying creatures — and protection for them — and then (as is usual with my deck) I nickel-and-dimed her to death. She could have put me away a lot earlier, and should have, and she realized it after it was too late.

We’re all going to drag the Dungeons&Dragons stuff out this weekend & have some fun. The kids who like to play are old enough to drive now, and FAR Manor has several good places to set up, so they’ll be coming here & we’ll be ready. (For some reason, they climbed into the attic once to play Magic, go figure.) I might try throwing some narrative on the blog afterwards, just for fun.


I didn't realize how dirty my keyboard wrist rest was at the office until I dripped a little water on it and tried to rub it off. I had to get some soap on a paper towel to clean it off.

Yay, rain!

Finally, we got some rain here. The last rain we got was literally what Katrina brought, and that was what, the end of August?

Car is still in the shop, the mechanic hasn’t gotten around to looking at it. I took the van so I wouldn’t have to deal with riding the motorcycle in the soup. Tomorrow I’m working at home, so no problem there.

Sunday, September 25, 2005 No comments

I Survived White Knuckle Sunday

I put the text of the sermon I gave today on Street Prophets.


The Boy's cousin came by while I was napping, and parked his four-wheeler in the usual place in front of the garage. I got up in time to take The Boy to work, so we hopped in the van. I backed up, and... crunch. Smooth move, Ex-Lax; I just backed into the four-wheeler.

Great. Fortunately, I'd only broken out the plastic in one of the taillights. I scooped the pieces into a bag, took The Boy to work, then hunted up some airplane glue. Wife-o-licious was much more helpful than she admitted, as we played it like a jigsaw puzzle and glued the sucker back together with a little clear packaging tape for reinforcement. After the glue dries good, I'll put the lens back on.


We're the third owners of FAR Manor. We had been making noises about putting a hardwood floor in the living room, but given the finances it wasn't going to happen any time soon.

The widow of the original owner was in the area a while back; we knew them when we lived back in the woods about 1/2 mile away. She came by to visit, stepped in the living room, and said, “Why did they put that carpet down? There's a hardwood floor underneath it!” I pulled up a corner, and sure enough it was there.

We moved furniture out of the way; I grabbed a big pair of shears and cut just past the walkway.

The harder half is where the carpet still is — we need to move some other furniture out of the way before we can pull up that side. Then there's the sanding and re-staining phase to come. Fun fun fun.

Happy? Campers

The Boy, Lobster, and a cousin.

Basil blooming

The plant survived being knocked over, obviously.

Saturday, September 24, 2005 No comments

Some bumps in the road

The Boy and his girlfriend have hit their first couple of issues. On his part, one morning I took him to school and he told her that he'd gotten on the bus (she wakes him up in the morning, she's the only one he gets up for). For her part, he was planning to join some friends of his camping out Friday night & she talked him out of it.

So there's a little friction going on there. Wife had a little talk with the girlfriend about not being clingy, giving him space, and I told The Boy that lying to her about trivial stuff isn't smart: if he lies about little stuff, what else would he lie about?

Friday, September 23, 2005 1 comment

Must See: Pass Christian, MS after Katrina

Jimmy Johnson, the artist who draws the incredibly funny (and all too real-life) Arlo & Janis comic strip, has been a resident of Pass Christian, MS — one of the small coastal towns flattened by Katrina. Fortunately, he left well ahead of the storm and even managed to keep his website updated (much to the relief of his fans).

He and other residents were allowed to return this week and pick up some of the pieces. Fortunately for Jimmy and his neighbors, they were behind a low ridge that spared their houses of all but severe flooding (many houses in the area were floated off their foundations) and he is one of the lucky few who has been able to at least camp out in his own house. Instead of posting comics, he has been bicycling around what's left of the town and taking pictures of local landmarks, relief stations, and neighbors salvaging their belongings. Nothing I've seen in the media or the blogosphere has really brought home the devastation on a personal level like this photo gallery.

The most poignant picture in the gallery is this one of a memorial to local victims of Hurricane Camille in 1969.

Just go check it out. And if your local paper doesn't carry Arlo & Janis, you can at least read it online.

On the bike again

Yesterday morning, The Boy didn’t get up early enough to make the bus. No problem, the school is a block off my usual route to work and he needs some time to get breakfast and so forth anyway.

As I got to the school, I noticed the temp gauge in the car climbing beyond its usual 1/3 of the way up. I’d been smelling anti-freeze off & on lately, so I unloaded the kid and headed back to the gas station. When you can take the radiator cap off the car when the motor’s warm, that’s not a good sign.

Ever since I first smelled the anti-freeze, I’d been popping the hood and looking for steam. This time, I found it coming up behind the engine. I used a handy spigot at the front of the gas station, called Wife-o-licious, and she told me to drive over to our mechanic’s and she would meet me there. Got home, jumped on the motorcycle, and got off to work. The car’s still in the shop, so I’m biking it again today.

I think this brutal dirt road I drove up Sunday morning, picking up one of Daughter Dearest’s chorus-mates, poked a hole in one of my heater hoses. I’m not 100% certain, but it doesn’t really matter. I probably should have the system flushed this time of year anyway.

Ready for White Knuckle Sunday

White Knuckle Sunday is what I call days that I get tagged to preach at our little church. Being the lay leader, I’m supposed to do it once or twice a year, and it has been longer than that so....

As these events can come up without warning (I got a call on Saturday night once when the preacher developed a sore throat), I try to keep & develop some ideas in a folder on this iBook. Much to my pleasant surprise, I found something I’d worked on last year that was 99% complete. A few tweaks, and it’s ready to print out. I need a couple of props — for some reason, when I write a sermon, it seems to go better with a couple of props — but that’s primarily a piece of paper and a little box.

I’ll post the text on Street Prophets if I get a few requests. ;-)

Wednesday, September 21, 2005 4 comments

Gimme shelter

I stopped by the shelter last night to see if they needed any help, and to bring a couple of bushels of apples for one of the peeps who was heading to Gulfport today. Turns out that the 100 or so people of the next wave that were to come got diverted: FEMA decided to put them up in hotels instead. Huh? I’m thinkin’ somebody with a hotel knows somebody at FEMA, but I certainly can’t prove anything. The upshot is, the shelter is winding down; when the last few families get placed in their apartments or houses (which are being prepared), they’re done.

The good news is, they have been accredited (or whatever the equivalent is) by the Red Cross as a disaster shelter. That does mean a bit more work: they have to have everything in a state where they can open up, literally within hours. But they’re willing, and that’s the important part. Saturday is the last volunteer day; they're going to sort the mountain of clothes & other donations, put them on pallets, and ship them to a church somewhere down in hurricane country. If they don’t find a place in Louisiana, I’m sure there’s a couple of places in Texas that are going to need some help real soon.

As I was talking to the guy, a little kid (age about 4 or 5) came by with a piece of cake. Seeing that this was getting way on beyond supper time, I was thinking, “this kid’s gonna be wired big-time.” Sure enough, he came over and started punching my gut and talking to me: “Did that hurt?” “Your belly’s hard.” “Are you gonna have a baby?” Heh. Some guys work out all the time and have only a six-pack to show for it. I have a whole keg!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005 1 comment

Letter to the Editor: Peak Oil

I shot the following (without links) to the local paper. I got a phone call from them just now; they’re going to print it.

Hurricane Rita notwithstanding, it looks like refineries and pipelines are getting put back together and gas stations almost always have fuel to sell now. Things seem to be getting back to normal.

At least for now. The International Energy Agency, the official energy watchdog for Western nations, is now predicting non-OPEC oil production to peak in about 5 years. How much longer to OPEC’s peak is in question. By “peak oil,” the IEA means that those producers simply won’t be able to increase production anymore: there’s still oil in the ground, but we’ve nearly exhausted all the easily-extracted oil even when taking new discoveries and advances in technology into account. What oil is left will simply require more and more effort for less and less return.

Couple this fact (and even the big oil companies like Exxon-Mobil and Chevron admit it) with increased demand in Asia, as the economies of China and India expand, and we’re going to reach a point — probably sooner than peak oil — where demand grows beyond supply. Even the biggest fish in the pond, Saudi Arabia, is already nearly producing at maximum capacity, so saying “pump more oil” isn't going to do us any good. It will be obvious when we reach this point: we’ll see shortages and price spikes like the last three weeks, but they won’t go away. Ever.

We’ve built our whole lives around an assumption that we can simply drive anywhere we want, without worrying about the availability or price of fuel. Perhaps as early as next year, probably within five years, almost certainly within ten, that era will be over for good. Fortunately, we have some time to make some basic lifestyle changes and develop habits to help us cope. The aftermath of Katrina has shown that we can’t depend on our government to do much more than get in the way — it’s up to each of us to help ourselves, our family, and our neighbors deal with the coming changes.

Sunday, September 18, 2005 3 comments

An Evening at the Shelter

We didn’t get a truck — which turns out to be a moot point, as I’ll explain shortly. Instead, we cleaned out our closets and took a vanload of clothes on over to the shelter early this afternoon.

We got over there, and before we could take our stuff in we had to wait for... a truck & trailer hauling furniture out. Turns out that various organizations are “placing” families in houses & apartments in the region, and (at least) this shelter is simply a whistle stop on the railroad. Good thing, because more are coming in next week; rumor has it that the next group of evacuees includes Vietnamese fishing families (which I remember being a point of ethnic tension the summer of 1980 that I spent in Biloxi). It’s kind of strange: we’re going to have new neighbors of ethnic groups heretofore unknown in “these here parts,” and it almost seems like they’re depopulating the coastal region — given the long-term environmental effects of flooding hitting all those toxic sites in Louisiana, that's probably for the best. I plan to avoid Gulf seafood for... pretty much the rest of my life.

But I digress. Later in the evening, I went back and signed up for a shift at the shelter, offering to do whatever was needed. It was a very educational experience. Some of the things I learned, in no particular order:
  • If this shelter is typical, they’re getting overwhelmed by the amount of material pouring in. The first part of my evening was spent tossing bags of clothes (including some I recognized) onto a mountain of stuff to sort through later. There are also two semi-trailers parked at their loading dock, literally packed with bags of clothes. In another part of the shelter, they have clothes that have been sorted through on long rows and racks, in a size to rival some department stores. It’s very likely they don’t need any more clothes.

  • There is a list of things they need, but it changes from day to day. If you want to donate material, and you want your contribution to be of immediate use, bring things they want (don’t trust yesterday’s list though!) and mark them. Those things (diapers, I can almost guarantee being one of them) will be whisked into the distribution.

  • Don’t expect a well-oiled machine. Nearly all the people at the shelter, including those running the show, have maybe a few days more experience than you do on your first night. If you’re willing to do whatever needs to be done, you’ll stay busy for as long as you want to be there. Ask for directions, someone will point you the right way.

  • At this particular shelter, they need volunteers most between 9–11 a.m. and 9–11 p.m. I suspect that the evening shift is going to be pretty universal, because people are helping the families settle down for the night & get their kids to sleep.

  • Just don’t donate used underwear. Period. I guess anyone intelligent enough to read Tales from FAR Manor has enough sense to know this, but I’d have thought anyone with a room-temperature IQ (in Celsius) would know it. Lordy.

  • Volunteering at your local shelter is worth the effort, even if you don’t interact with (or even see) the people you’re helping. Stuff needs to be done, just go do it.

I’ll be going back as often as I can in the next week.

Saturday, September 17, 2005 No comments

The Routine

Current music: Red Rockers - Eve of Destruction (not as good as Barry McGuire’s original)
Went to see Just Like Heaven last night with the girlies (The Boy and his girlfriend saw The Exorcism of Emily Rose). I’m rarely in the mood to go to the theater, although I usually enjoy what’s set in front of me when I get there, and last night was no exception. A halfway-decent plot line and a little ghostly physical humor helped. The Boy liked Exorcism so that went well.

So work is work and life is life. I was hoping to get up to the resort today, but wife found out some of the evacuees are getting moved into otherwise unoccupied houses here & there. They have places to put people, they have furniture, but they don’t have a truck to move the furniture. Neither do we, but that’s never stopped her before. If we find a truck, that’s what we’ll be doing today. I’ll update later (with pictures, I hope) if things go off. Seems like something happens to scuttle relaxing weekends at least 90% of the time, but this one is actually worth the effort for a change.

“We’ll go next week,” she said. That’s what she said last week too, but (as usual) I refrained from saying so.

Thursday, September 15, 2005 2 comments

The Pledge

A lot of my misguided brethren are up in arms over a court ruling that the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance infringe on the rights of school kids who are expected to stand up and recite it every morning (often garbling it — I remember when I thought it said “and to the republic for witches’ stands”).

A couple of thoughts...

First: the words “under God” do not appear in the original pledge — they were added in 1954, at the urging of Republican role model Joseph McCarthy (yes, that McCarthy). It’s important to remember that religious demagoguery is certainly not a new force in American politics; it has always been lurking in the tall grass, ready to bite any politician that strays from the broad middle. Removing those words simply restores the Pledge to its original form.

Second: welcome, my brethren, to the push-back. You have worked tirelessly for generations, attempting to establish your theocratic dystopia, and crying “persecution!” when you are simply not allowed to impose your beliefs on other citizens or our government — eventually, you provoke the wrong people and they won’t be intimidated. For every “Sponge Dob” Dobson and Pat Robertson trying to push non-Christians to the margins of society, there’s going to be a Madeline Murray O’Hair or Michael Newdow pushing back at us. Naturally, it doesn’t end there: I imagine that Newdow is getting death threats tonight, and we know Ms. O’Hair came to a bad end.

Third: this could be the work of God Himself. Personally, I think that the 1963 Supreme Court ruling that banned required prayer in schools (kids can pray on their own, and “they took prayer out of schools” is simply a Big Lie) was the result of God running out of patience. Why would God want His name taken in vain, through kids forced to pray in segregated schools? I think if Christians in general had been in front of the civil rights movement, rather than far too many white Christians fighting for the status quo, we might have a very different situation today. But now, we have segregation by class — poor school districts get the cast-offs of wealthy ones, and Christians largely either don’t want to see or (especially in the wealthy areas) actively oppose any kind of revenue sharing. Again, if Christians were in front of a movement to insure equal education for all in this country, we would be living in a different country.

Behold, this was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.
--Ezekiel 16:49

Perhaps we are being judged. But not with a hurricane.

When Icons Exceed their Shelf Life

Current music: BlueTonicWorld - Paradise (slow-mo-tonic mix)
I rarely — never, actually — post from work. If I run across a topic I want to blog about, I'll tuck it into a Sidenote pane and (with any luck) give it some thought.

So when I saw this posting about Garrison Keillor waving lawyers at a blogger for his parody T-shirt, my first thought was to rip the superannuated geezer a new one. You mess with one blogger, you mess with all of them — and God help you if your offense gets noticed by the likes of Kos or Commander Taco. I’d be willing to bet a doughnut that there are more people reading blogs than listening to Prairie Home Companion (which is a trademark of Garrison Keillor, and I couldn’t care less).

But upon reflection, it struck me as sad. In a way, Keillor’s radio show was an early form of blogging: he talks about stuff that’s happening around him and throws in a little humor. It’s ironic that, as I type this, he responded to a letter-writer (on a different topic), “it's pretty much an established rule in American life that when you are in power, you are the object of satire.” Unless, of course, you can file SLAPP suits against people satirizing you. Instead of keeping his show relevant to the changing times and media, he has let his brain ossify. It’s one of the saddest things of all, when a formerly creative mind gets rigid: the first sign of death.

I’d been planning to give his show a listen some time. Now I don’t think I’ll bother.

Monday, September 12, 2005 No comments

They’re here!

Rumors condense to fact: the local megachurch wannabe is taking in 150 evacuees. Not 150 families, 150 people. They’ve put out a flyer listing all the stuff they’d like to get help with — furniture not the least of it. We’re batting around the idea of converting part of the detached garage into living space & inviting a family, but the climate control would be a nightmare (even if the walls & roof are already insulated).

Looks like CNN finally got wind of the SOBs from Gretna blocking the bridge. They had the police chief on, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying in the way of excuses, because it was in a pizza joint & the sound was off. I truly hope some of those responsible (in Gretna, not the pizza place) do jail time.

Crazy land

Some friends of ours have a flaky daughter, who’s 21 and has 3 kids (all at once — triplets). She “tried” to commit suicide today; I use quotes because it was one of those attention-getting mechanisms, the usual post-fight-with-boyfriend kind of thing. She did leave a note, “love to everyone and sorry I’m such a screw-up” or some such tripe.

It backfired on her though; she got a bit more attention than she wanted. They're keeping her in the hospital overnight for “observation” — meaning they’re going to ship her to a psychiatric hospital as soon as there’s an opening. whoops!

Wife’s bro and his wife are splitting up too. Everyone’s wigging out around here. We probably ought to have the water checked or something.

Spider wisdom

Spiders and me are not exactly the most compatible creatures on the planet. The little SOBs seem to think it’s great fun to run a guy line across a walkway, about the same distance from the ground as my nose. For my part, if I’m wearing shoes and I see one near the ground, it’s stompin’ time.

So one night a while back, the night I finished bottling my beer in fact, I had cleaned up the equipment, loaded it up in its box, and carried it to the outbuilding where I keep it in between batches. I had some extra bottles, so I had to make several trips. Coming out onto the small stoop, I saw one of the biggest spiders ever, off to the left, hanging on a guy wire. He saw me too, and immediately started (wisely) putting some distance between us. It was dark, and I didn’t have a stick, so I glared at him (which made him back off even farther). He had a huge web between the uprights of the stoop and a tree, that much I could see in the dark.

Next morning, I armed myself for battle and marched over to... nothing. The spider had taken down the entire web, except for a single guy wire, and left for parts unknown! Smart little barstid — which is probably how he lived to get that big.

Saturday, September 10, 2005 No comments

Some thoughts on the “debit cards”

Among the government and private assistance (finally) being offered to victims of Hurricane Katrina is a $2000 debit card being offered to various households. Experience with The Boy's girlfriend1 suggests that $2000 is, at best, barely adequate to establish a single person who has nothing. I seriously doubt it would be enough to get a family of even three set up, even with all the other help they might be getting.

The girlfriend, I figure, might be able to get established in her own place with $2000. She would need: deposit on an apartment plus a month's rent, a car (no public transport out here!), insurance & fuel for the car, deposits and payments for turning on lights, gas, and phone, maybe some furniture (like, you know, a bed & a dining room table for starters) if the apartment doesn't have any, and enough food to tide her over to her next paycheck. Oh, and there's cigarettes, but don't get me started on that. Evacuees need all that to get back on their feet, plus a job or two (the girlfriend has a job at least). It might take $2000 or more just to live on until they find work.

It's difficult to be independent when you're starting — or starting over — from scratch. Some will go back to rebuild their city... and I wonder if some of the refuseniks stayed because they hoped to be first in line getting cleanup and repair work. Others will be glad to relocate, especially with people wanting to help them get started. For all the noise we make about New Orleans “charm” and so forth, living poor would certainly obscure the charm. I suppose it would be like that for me if I moved to the beach: it's a nice place to visit, but if I lived there I'd have to fight traffic every morning, and I'm not used to living cheek-by-jowl with hundreds of people; beach communities don't seem to have a problem cramming a thousand people into the same amount of land as FAR Manor's acreage, where it's just the six of us (including Lobster and girlfriend).

Maybe that's why hurricanes do so much damage these days.

1I really need to come up with a nickname for her....

Energy gloom

I saw several stations on the way home with bagged-up pumps yesterday. The BP near the office, that had been out for two days, finally got a shipment in though. Around home, the gas stations have nothing but regular, and now at least some of them put a 20 gallon limit on purchases (“during this temporary energy crisis” says the sign). I'm getting the impression that supplies are really tight at the moment, and it wouldn't take much to create out-and-out shortages.

As if gas(oline) was our only problem. Natural gas production got hosed up big-time by Katrina too. Economist/blogger Jerome a Paris wrote, “Now that [natural] gas costs 3-4 times more, power prices are set to increase by 50-100%.”

Got wood?

Morning runaround

The lawn mower is finally fixed. No sooner had I put the blade on, Daughter Dearest mowed out back until the replacement bolt I put on the handle came off & got lost. I went by the lawn mower place (among other things) and the guy let me take a couple of the bolts with big plastic wingnuts (lets you fold up the handle for transportation or storage). Other things we did on the trip this morning:
  • ate at Waffle House

  • got groceries (I put some ice in a cooler, which helped keep the milk & ice cream cold coming back)

  • complained to the cellphone peeps about my phone's camera being out of focus (they gave me a number for a warranty exchange, yay)

  • swung by the library to pick up a loaner (Haiku: This Other World by Richard Wright)

  • gassed up the minivan — more on that in another post
Now that's how you combine your trips!

Friday, September 09, 2005 No comments

Here they come

I'd forgotten that schools have a pretty good rumor mill. The kids are telling us that a largeish church is taking in either 100 or 150 families, just that one church. They've heard that something like 700 kids will be signing up for school soon. Seeing as the system currently has about 2000 kids, that's going to be a pretty big influx. I presume the actual number will be somewhat less, but if they can do it without problems, bring 'em on.

Now we're hearing the death tool in New Orleans may not be as horrendous as we thought. Good, let's clear out some space and make room for them, then.

Funeral for a friend

It’s been said that nothing travels faster than bad news, but the cosmic rule that makes me the last to know something takes precedence even over the speed of bad news. Wife called me this afternoon: a kid that used to go to our church got himself killed in a car wreck a couple of nights ago. Not even a year older than The Boy, and *poof* he's gone. Ran wide in a curb and hit another car, according to the papers.

I told The Boy that this was exactly the reason we worry about him. He laughed.

The stuff I have to document...

One of the products I write about at work has a command-line interface (CLI) used for debugging and troubleshooting. Customers got wind of it, requested documentation, and that’s usually where I get involved.

One particular (or should I say peculiar) troubleshooting command is “ti_ts” — which starts a troubleshooting routine on some TI chips in the box. I tried to get them to change the name, to no avail. So on this development cycle, they added a “codesperms” command (which translates to “active codes per minislot’). I have a pretty good idea what the next oddly-named command will be, but don’t want to give them ideas just in case one of them stumbles across this blog....

Thursday, September 08, 2005 3 comments


This is what happens when you try to be a little too concise with your writing:

On the other hand, the shoe fits....

Wednesday, September 07, 2005 No comments

Sign of the Times

“No Fuel”

I noticed the place where I usually get gas had run dry overnight, while I was on the way in this morning. I gassed up last night there, and they only had regular, so it wasn't a complete surprise. But I saw several stations with bags on their pump handles on the way home this evening.

Given the situation along the coast, gas being hard to find is nothing to complain about. Just sayin’.

More FrameMaker 7.2 Leakage

A post on the FrameUsers mailing list (thanks Thomas!) suggests doing a Google search on “FrameMaker new multiple undo” and then reading the cached page from Adobe UK (the first link when I tried it). Doing this turns up some more new features:
  • multiple undo (one of those long-standing malfeatures I griped about yesterday)

  • some support for XML Schema (probably conversion to EDD)

  • support for native Photoshop (PSD) files

A sidebar had links for Solaris and Microsoft updates, suggesting that MacOS users are still left out. Figures.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005 1 comment

The Boy: Good News, Bad News

The Boy grabbed Stephen King's Dreamcatcher from the school library last week. He's been at it pretty heavily, taking it to work with him and reading it on breaks & waiting for me to pick him up. It's good to see him that interested in reading; it has to lead to improving his spelling skills.

That was the good news. The bad news I expected: he's once again gotten difficult to get up for school.

Homebrew, glorious homebrew

I opened the first bottle of Proud Mary — a stout with some fresh rosemary boiled in. I've achieved a personal best with this one; there's no edge to it. Just smooth, dark beer.

My only beef: it could use a little more carbonation, in contrast to the last batch that had a bit too much. The difference may have been the first fermentation — last batch went for a week; I left Proud Mary going for two. Next batch, I'll try 10 days and see what happens.

Adobe Leaks FrameMaker 7.2 Info

In which I take a break from chronicling my personal life and talk about work stuff.

Over the Labor Day weekend, various pages on Adobe’s website mentioned the unreleased version 7.2 of FrameMaker, the preferred tool of the trade for most technical writers (who often affectionately call it “Frame”). Adobe (usually one to hold its cards close to the vest) has since revised the pages, although the old ones lived another day in Google’s caches before those too were updated.

But haste often leads to things getting skipped over, and that was the case with a migration guide white paper on Adobe Germany’s site. I grabbed an unrevised copy of the PDF Tuesday afternoon; the good people at Adobe.de have certainly gone home for the day but I expect the white paper to be sanitized first thing tomorrow morning (by about 2 a.m. EDT).

If you download too late, here’s what searching the PDF for “7.2” turned up in the way of new features:

  • XSL processing at XML import and export (alongside existing read/write rules) — this is a feature I’ve wished for, but (see below) probably won’t get.

  • Conversion tables, which add structure to unstructured files, can create a “first draft” EDD (a combination of DTD and style sheet).

  • Conversion tables also support a “root element” to be applied to the converted document.

All this is structure-related, which doesn’t do you much good if you aren’t interested in moving to structured Frame. I’m sure that there will be the usual bug replacements (i.e. removing some known bugs and introducing new bugs) as well.

A group of vendors and trainers have been constantly flogging their “FrameMaker Chautauqua” conference on various mailing lists where FrameMaker is either the main or a common topic. The conference includes presentations by Adobe and will be held in early November, so I expect that Adobe will officially announce version 7.2 either at the conference or shortly before. If I’m right, it’s safe to assume that 7.2 is in beta testing right now.

FrameMaker has languished in a near-limbo pretty much since Adobe bought up Frame Technologies some years back. Frame has benefitted from minor updates from time to time, but long-standing bugs and malfeatures have persisted. That, and an abortive foray into porting the Unix version to Linux, have lead many to believe that Adobe is less than enthusiastic about supporting the program. The final straw for some of us was in January 2004, when Adobe dropped support for MacOS citing lack of sales (largely brought on by Adobe’s reluctance to modernize the MacOS version to run natively on MacOS X, leaving FrameMaker one of the last reasons to ever use the “Classic” environment).

Pretty much all summer, the “Chautauqua” people have been hyping Adobe’s presence at their upcoming conference, promising Frame users that they won’t be disappointed by what Adobe has to say about Frame’s life expectancy. Unfortunately, there’s no word on re-introducing MacOS support, preferably for MacOS X. That’s a show-stopper for me and many others: if the rest of the tool chain works well, why change the underlying platform if one tool is no longer supported?

Personally, even if Adobe repents of Windows-centricity, I’m not convinced that page-oriented WYSIWYG tools like Frame are the way forward for technical writing — in a world where our final output is more likely to be PDF and HTML than paper, it doesn’t make much sense to work on the electronic equivalent of a printed page. It makes more sense nowadays to work with markup, either directly (ooo, icky tags, say my less-technical brethren and sistren) or indirectly through an interface that provides formatting hints but no fixed margins or other page-centric details. LyX is a good example of the latter kind of program.

In the end, I expect little or no surprises come November. I’m certainly not going to ask my boss for $695 + hotel to attend a conference for a tool I’m currently planning to abandon, even if the conference is close enough to drive to.

Sunday, September 04, 2005 No comments

Slow progress

Current music: di.fm EuroDance
I haven't addressed the pile of logs that need splitting in some time now. I started whacking at them a little bit today, but decided instead to pick up some sticks in the back; it's about at the point now where I can start weed-whacking without getting the string tangled in a fallen branch. I also need to address the front of the place, on the other side of the driveway, where we had the timber people clear the pines. Picking up the sticks, tilling or plowing the ground to smooth it out, and planting grass seed are things that remain to be done; later this month is the best time to do it.

We got a new lawn mower blade today and I put it on. The boys are now out of excuses to mow the lawn. (I'm sure they'll find some new ones though.)

I helped Lobster change the oil in his truck today... meaning I did most of the work while he watched. Rangers mount the oil filter vertically, leaving very little room for a strap wrench (I told Lobster to get a cap wrench next time he went to the parts place). That sucker was tight. But eventually we succeeded, just in time to get him off to KFC. Then I put my Civic up on ramps and changed the oil in it too. But I'm kind of surprised that Lobster's dad never showed him what to do — he works for one of the pipeline companies (yeah, one that got clobbered by Katrina) and has weird hours, so maybe that's the reason. Or maybe he makes enough $$$ that he just has it done.

Chicken house duty for a couple of hours today as well. Hope everyone else's Labor Day weekend is work-free and fun....

What do you want out of life?

Perhaps the best way to get what you want from life is to know what you want from life in the first place. As I cruise toward what I hope is the mid-point of my life, I think I know what I want of life and (being a guy) it's a fairly short & simple list:

  • A place to stay

  • A few toys

  • “Whoopie” a couple of times a week

  • Weekends mostly available for rest and/or recreation

Beyond that, a quiet, modest life with a quiet, modest retirement would pretty much wrap it up.

I'm halfway there: I have a place to stay (FAR Manor) and lots of toys. The rest is a faraway dream. I haven't had nearly enough to drink to willingly expand much beyond that. I'm interested in hearing what other people want though, and how far along they are to getting it.

Friday, September 02, 2005 2 comments

We're on our own... aren't we?

Given the lackadaisical initial response to the New Orleans flooding, one has to wonder what would happen if we had a nationwide disaster, like the Spanish Flu pandemic, that affected more than a “mere” million people in a few hundred square miles of coastal territory. Given the reports we've seen this week, we can pretty much assume we'll be on our own. “Our” government has dumped too many resources on, and given too much attention to, a war we didn't have to fight to worry about details like saving lives at home. You know it's serious when reporters tee off on a Senator, telling her he saw rats eating a corpse on TV.

In the middle of all this, Daughter Dearest asked me if we could get a picture of the night sky. I cranked the aperature wide open, put the shutter on its max of 15 seconds, and took a few shots. She was able to use iPhoto's one-click Enhance to get something worth keeping:

Starry Starry Night

(The thumbnail doesn't do it justice, click it to get the full-size picture.)

Looking up at all those stars, some of which we know have planets, you can't help but think that there's someone out there, someone who maybe has figured 'most everything out. Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe, because the alternative is almost too terrible to give much thought: that we're alone in the universe, stuck on a planet run by the worst of us.

The mayor of New Orleans is right: God is watching. He knows why it took so long to get aid rolling in. I cannot curse, I cannot condemn, for that is not my place. Perhaps feeling empty like I do is better in that respect.


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