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Saturday, December 31, 2005 1 comment

Home again

9-½ hours after leaving, give or take. Wife’s brother & his family is here for a little euchre & New Year’s celebration. So FAR Manor is full tonight & I have to go be a host or something. :-P

Friday, December 30, 2005 2 comments

Outrage of the Day: Bush-league posturing

So you commit criminal acts by using the NSA to spy on American citizens. The news gets out, and what do you do? Stop the criminal acts?

Oh, heck no. Not if your name is George W. Bush, anyway. You go after the “leakers” instead.

I’m sure more readers of Tales from FAR Manor are intelligent enough to know this already: but if you still think this administration is anything but corrupt, you’re living in la-la-land. Period.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005 No comments

Happy b-day, Other Brother!

Hope you got lots of cool stuff!

Fingers crossed

My bro Solar came down with the flu yesterday — fever of 102°F and all. I brought some beef stew from Mom’s last night, then ran & got him some Gatorade this morning. He seemed like he was less than hungry for company, so I came over here to Mom’s for the afternoon. Got a bike ride in (I’m a day behind on exercise this week, foo) and now the bread machine is cranking away at tonight’s rolls. Daughter Dearest is napping, so I have the computer all to myself!

Things are quite a bit different here compared to FAR Manor, which has mostly to do with population density. FAR Manor is in a pretty rural area, sitting on acreage. Pinellas County FL is mostly a low- to mid-density sprawl — lots of low-rise condos, single-family homes, one- or two-story office buildings, and the like. I doubt there are 10 (dry) acres left undeveloped here, or at least 10 contiguous acres1. At home, I have to go 10 miles just to get to town, 15 to a supermarket. Here, you can walk (or at least bicycle) to the supermarket, since you don’t have to go more than a few blocks to get to one... but going 10 or 15 miles is quite an expedition due to all the stoplights. Trade-offs everywhere you look.

DD and I are talking about going to see Chronicles of Narnia and eating at PJ’s, a seafood restaurant about a block from the beach, tomorrow. Hopefully, I won’t have the flu myself by then.

1I consider a golf course to be developed. Of course, there are lots of those around here.

Sunday, December 25, 2005 No comments

Vacation blogging

Daughter Dearest is hovering over my shoulder at the moment, wondering when I’m going to get off her computer so she can go back to IM’ing her online buds... hey kid, give me five more minutes, OK?

Internet access is a little restrained here... I need to buy mom an Ethernet hub for Christmas or something. DD is staying here at Mom’s, while my bro Solar is putting me up. He gets his Internet access at work, although he’s talking about having me help him put in wireless.

Have a great Christmas, or whatever holidays you celebrate at this time of year!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005 No comments

Score, big time

Putting stuff away in the outbuilding last night, I found two more short stories from my college days. That brings the total number of shorts found to five since I started this project. I would say those are all I have, but I’d completely forgotten that I’d written these last two... so who knows? Maybe there’s more....

The Ultimate Holiday Greeting

Daughter Dearest has been annoying the Red teachers at school with this one:

Happy Christeidholikwanzukah!

Vacation has begun!

It’s official: I won’t be setting foot in the office until next year.

I’ll take the car in for an oil change tomorrow and generally get it ready. Friday, Daughter Dearest and I will be going to Florida for a week. Woohoo!

My new design mantra

It’s about people, st00p1d!

It applies equally well to product design, documentation design, or work environments.

Monday, December 19, 2005 No comments

E-paper becoming feasible?

Category: Technology
Current music: Digitally Imported (DI.fm) EuroDance

According to this article in Wired, Siemens has demonstrated a flexible, ultra-thin, ultra-cheap display technology. Wired’s lead-off is a tad alarmist, though: “The cereal aisle at your local supermarket may soon resemble the Las Vegas strip,” they warn us.

Um, no.

First off, the article quotes several skeptics who question whether Siemens can manufacture the e-paper in quantity. Assuming they leap that hurdle, they’re talking about 30 cents for a piece of e-paper measuring a couple of square inches (or a handful of cm2). The realities of mass retail suggest — no, scream — that when a box of cereal costs about $3 and a can of soup goes for 59 cents or less, adding 30 cents to the per-unit packaging costs will fly about as well as a pig. There might be a handful of special promotional cases, but overall I wouldn’t be concerned about blinking cereal boxes any time soon (where “soon” is 2008 and beyond).

But if the Siemens e-paper idea works out, it could be the final piece of the puzzle that leads to widespread acceptance of E-books. I thought I’d written about this before, but it must have been off-blog. I believe that electronic books will only become popular when the readers are cheap enough to be disposable — selling for $10 in the checkout line racks, for example — and are no larger than a paperback book. The major hurdle here has been the display; they're relatively bulky and too expensive to make E-book readers more than a “bleeding edge” idea at the moment. Take a page or two of Siemens flexible e-paper, put a card slot and some rudimentary controls on it, and you have a reader.

Now watch book publishers try to kill the technology the way the RIAA and MPAA are trying to kill DVD/CD writers....

The War on Christmas: Dispatches from the front

Perhaps The Register won’t yank this story about Bad Santas terrorizing New Zealand like they did with the guy who chatted up his mom online....

Gmail Mobile

Gmail, if you haven’t heard, is Google’s free (but invitation-only) email service. They’ve recently added a useful new feature: you can access Gmail through your cellphone at http://m.gmail.com — I tried it with my Moto V220 and it worked pretty well.

I have 100 invites; if anyone wants a Gmail address just leave a comment. You need to include an email address for the invite. Munge the address to foil the spammers, but not so much that I can't make it out.

Sunday, December 18, 2005 No comments

Busy weekend

Current music: DI.fm Chillout
I’m not terribly fond of weekends where you have no decompress time.

Saturday morning dawned; Mrs. Fetched and Daughter Dearest headed out to deal with the chickens. I decided to try fixing some pancakes for when they got back, and botched them totally (my brain-fart was forgetting about the self-rising flour). With no milk, I used the remnants of a can of condensed milk plus water to thin it out, then tossed in some self-rising flour hoping to correct the mistake. Didn’t work. Not even the boys ate them.

So we rushed out the door to a 50th wedding anniversary for some friends of the in-laws. It was a nice outing overall; starting at a Ryan’s, then we ended up at one of their houses where we shot a couple rounds of pool and shot the breeze with people we haven’t seen much of. From there we went straight to a Christmas party put on by a couple at church; I enjoyed some spiked eggnog and we all chowed down again.

This morning, I got dressed and sat down with the iBook for the first time in several days. Her Imperial Highness came out, literally looked down her nose at me, and ordered me to get the boys up and go over to the church early to vacuum the sanctuary and take the greens out of the window (there was a wedding this afternoon). Ooooooookayyyy... first off, she certainly knows that getting the boys up doesn’t go with getting anywhere early. Of course, The Boy had a friend over (we wish he had more friends like EJ, but that’s a different story), so of course he had to have an attitude.

First trip upstairs: “OK, I’m getting up.”
Second trip: “I’m not going to church, I’ll go help at the chicken houses.”
Third trip: “I don’t have to get up.”

At that point, I told him that he could remember that when he was walking to work and back today, then asked EJ if he wanted to come to church with me. He did, they both got moving, I dropped The Boy off at the chicken houses and grabbed the church keys out of Her Imperial Highness’s purse (another minor detail), then took care of things at church.

After church, we ended up getting some pizza, had about an hour and a half before going out again with the in-laws. Then SWMBO decided the living room had to be cleaned up (and it’s mostly her stuff), but I got a reprieve to pick up M.A.E. from work.

Now it’s bedtime. I can’t wait to get back to the office and relax a little...

The Boy meets Reality

One of the recurring theme of conversations with The Boy, especially bringing him home from work, is his assertion that he, Lobster, and M.A.E. are going to move out and get an apartment in January. My audible response has usually been a grunt, although I think “Yeah right” to myself. Trying to explain the Real World to The Boy, I have found, is a waste of syllables; I figured he’d find out for himself.

So with school closed around here Thursday and Friday due to the ice, they piled into Lobster’s truck and went off to secure an apartment they had scoped out some time back. M.A.E. later told us that the manager wouldn’t rent to them because The Boy and Lobster are still in high school, and “we’ve had problems doing that before.” The other minor detail was three people of mixed gender in a two-bedroom apartment. Nobody would come out and say it, but it was pretty clear that The Boy and M.A.E. had planned to share one of the rooms.

The Boy said, “everything was going fine until the manager asked us if we were students [presumably at the local college -FF], and M.A.E. said we were in high school.” He didn’t even mention the other part.

In a vain attempt to further drive the lesson home, Mrs. Fetched ran a few numbers past The Boy: at $525/month rent, each person had agreed to put up $175/month. Lobster says he can’t even afford to pay us $100/month for rent (plus all the food he eats), and M.A.E. barely brings home more than that per month. With the only full-time job among the three of them, The Boy would be the one essentially paying the rent. And then there’s the minor detail of electric bills, heating bills, laundry, food... kiss all the extracurricular stuff (movies twice/week, shooting pool) goodbye. He didn’t respond much. With him, you can’t tell if it’s sinking in or bouncing off.

Thursday, December 15, 2005 3 comments

Last winter’s ice storm

The beginning and end of this year have seen ice storms at FAR Manor now. The storm in January was much stronger, icing up the ground as well as the trees (only the trees today). Even in the northern reaches of Planet Georgia, ice doesn’t stay around too long — so you grab the camera while you have the chance. Today, I didn’t have the chance... but January’s storm was more photogenic anyway. Here’s a few pictures....

On the road in front of FAR Manor.

Part of the front yard. The tree dominating the picture flowers in the spring.

A Christmas ornament of sorts. Too bad it would have been just a stick 10 minutes after bringing it inside...

This is my personal favorite. It has been the desktop wallpaper on my iBook all year now.

Lunchtime blogging

Second night in a row that I couldn’t get to the computer — I was mucking out the gutters in the outbuilding, by hand, in the dark cold rain, last night. Blog stuff is backing up, so I compromised on my self-imposed “no blogging at work” rule and decided to post all this junk at lunch.

The NWS was a little more optimistic about last night’s weather than they should have been — they said we would be well clear of any significant freezing rain. WRONG! Power glitched at the house and rang a phone once, this morning, but everything else seems to be OK. I disconnected the DSL box at home just to make sure. Going to work was a bit of an adventure; the roads were only wet (not icy) but power was out in town and several traffic lights were dark on the highway. And how the juice managed to stay on at FAR Manor is a puzzlement. At work, the power had glitched some time last night, long enough to shut off my G3. I ran the disk repair stuff and got to work.

It’s still this cold steel rain (phrase borrowed from Pink Floyd, it’s perfect) outside, so I dug into the more dubious reaches of my overhead bin for lunch. I have several packs of ramen for days like this, but I only used a pinch of the beef-flavored sodium packet and opted instead for this “Kyo-Green® dietary supplement” packet that’s been sitting on my desk for like forever. Oh, the ingredients sounded soooo appetizing: barley grass powder, wheat grass powder, Bulgarian Chlorella (an algae grown in mineral springs, yum), cooked brown rice, and Pacific kelp (more yum). I’m not a picky eater, so when I say it was “edible,” adjust for your own level of picky. I figured worst-case, I’d be out 20 cents for the ramen and I could still go out. I’m scarfing some potato chips and some quality candy & nuts that the employer handed out yesterday as a side dish. We’ll see if I end up with with a major download event this afternoon....

The Piña Colada Song revisited

“I walked out on that dark beach thinking I was going to hook up with the girl of my dreams.... But when I got close, she turned around — and we both got the shock of our lives.”

It happened in France, of course. Quality journalism by The Register, as usual.

The Carpet Has Landed

The carpet stretcher worked a treat, as my friends across the pond might say. Mrs. Fetched thought it looked great. I finished tacking down the end where it stops a few feet short of the workbench (desired, although not planned) last night. All that’s left to do is put some plant hangers in the window and bring most of the stuff back in.

It occurred to me that I haven’t done a pictorial entry in a while. I’ll rectify that when I have it together, I hope by this weekend.

Fiction: The Pickup Artist and His Talking Car

I wrote this a long time ago — say, 1992 or so. The original hinted at an 80’s setting, when speech synthesizers were first hitting mass markets and people were amused by them as much as annoyed. But most of the themes are timeless, and it didn’t take much work to make it as relevant now as ten years ago.

So read on to find out just how goofy things get when Casual Sex meets Rise of the Machines...

The Pickup Artist and His Talking Car

Bobby and Amanda lurched forth from the Lizard Lounge some time after midnight Saturday morning, together yet strangers. Her boyfriend had recently left Amanda for one of her few friends; and after about five drinks, going home with a complete stranger sounded like a good idea. A fine idea.

As for Bobby, helping Amanda get back at her boyfriend was an idea that needed no drinks to sound good, although he drank them anyway. So he picked her up — or she picked him up. Whatever. Amanda hadn’t cleaned up her place lately, between work and sulking, so they decided on Bobby’s place.

“D’you think you can get us there okay?” Amanda asked with just a touch of slur. She wasn’t drunk enough to need support, but liked leaning against Bobby. His warmth felt nice in the cool spring air — he wasn’t bad looking either, and seemed like a good enough guy in the bar. There was still a small, nagging doubt about what she was doing, but figured another rum and Coke or three would erase it when they got to Bobby’s place.

“Yeah, the car knows its way home...” Bobby suddenly gave her a nervous look. “’Manda, lemme tell you something about my car —”

“Oh, it’s okay if it’s old. I’m not going home with you for your car.”

“No, no,” Bobby attempted again. “I mean the car... talks.”

Amanda grinned. “My best friend has one of those cars. I’m not some idiot, y’know. I can make my computers at work talk.”

“That’s not what I mean. The thing really talks. And it doesn’t have much nice to say.”

“Oooo, a possessed car. Good thing you didn’t try using that for a pickup line.” Bobby had come to like Amanda’s lopsided grin in the hour or so he’d known her, and even when teasing him now it looked even better than before. (The rest of her looked pretty nice too, he thought.)

“Well, not possessed, really, but damn it’s temperamental.” He tugged at his collar, already loose. “Well, you’ll find out...”

“Temperamental, huh?” Amanda looked intrigued. Sweeping an arm across the parking lot, she cried, “Lead on, Bobby McDuff — or whatever your last name is. Let’s meet this temperamental car.” She gave him a kiss, for encouragement.

Bobby’s car wasn’t particularly noticeable — a brown Nissan, about ten years old, looking reasonably well-maintained. He helped Amanda into the passenger seat, then stalked around to the driver’s side, muttering, “I hope this one lasts more than two blocks.”

He got in and started the car. Bongg. “Fasten seat belts,” the mechanical feminine voice said. Then, “Jeez, you’re polluted. I’d better drive.”

Forewarned or not, Amanda goggled at Bobby. “You weren’t kidding!”

“Yes, Christine, I know I’ve over-indulged,” Bobby said to the dashboard. “Talking cars drive a man to drink; I told you that.”

Bongg. “And who is this?” The mechanical voice sounded definitely icy.

“I’m Amanda. Nice to meet you, Christine.” She looked at the dashboard, and then at Bobby, who wasn’t touching the steering wheel as the car poked its way through the parking lot.

Bongg. “That’s not my real name,” the voice replied. It took on an edge as the car turned out of the parking lot, with Bobby leaning back in the seat with his hands behind his head. “Booby, among his many other vices, likes Stephen King novels. A Japanese car has a Japanese name, and mine is Miko.”

Bobby snarled, with an air of haven’t-we-been-through-this-before, “Yeah, but aren’t Japanese women supposed to be meek or something?”

Bongg. “But Japanese women aren’t made of steel and plastic,” Miko snapped. “And if it wasn’t for me, you’d have lost your license for DUI a long time ago, and you know it.

“Amanda, you should know you’re not Bobby’s first pickup attempt by a long shot. Of course, once his bimbos get to talk to me for a few minutes, they usually sober up and run.”

Bobby slammed the steering wheel. “Amanda is not a bimbo! Now you apologize and I mean right now — or I’ll by God pour sand in your crankcase first thing tomorrow morning!” He grinned nastily. “You’re paid off, after all.”

Amanda burst out laughing. “Bobby, this is wonderful. How did you program this? You really ought to take it on the road; you’d be rich!”

Bobby and Miko responded in unison, “We do. Every morning.” Bobby smiled and said, “One thing we have in common — neither one of us can resist a bad joke.”

Amanda doubled over laughing, catching herself on the dashboard. Gasping for breath, she finally wiped her eyes. “I just can’t believe this! I’ve done expert system programming for three years and I thought it was impossible to create an AI this good! How long have you been driving around in this... breakthrough?”

Bongg. “No work of Bobby’s, I assure you.” Miko’s voice managed to convey a touch of light humor. “He’s an accountant, pretty good at cranking numbers into a computer but not a programmer.”

“I have a theory,” Bobby rejoined. “You know how cars kind of develop a personality when they get older? Well Chri— Miko started talking about the time she — it? got up to about eighty thousand miles.”

Bongg. “I was using oil, and Bobby’s no mechanic. Good with numbers like I said, but — anyway, he got frustrated and yelled at me. ‘I wish you could tell me why the hell you’re using oil all the time,’ he said, so I told him to check the front seals. He was so surprised, he nearly drove right into a tree.”

“Yeah,” Bobby continued, “and since then Miko tells me when something’s wrong and even tells me how to fix it myself. A hundred and ninety-three thousand miles, and runs like new. I figure I’ll have this car forever, if it doesn’t drive me nuts and I drive it off a cliff.”

Amanda looked goggle-eyed at Bobby again. “You mean it — she —”

Bongg. “Home sweet apartment,” Miko announced. “Run on in and have a good time, kids.” They were both sobered up somewhat, and Amanda was keyed up trying to figure out how Miko could have happened, but Bobby had most of a bottle of rum and a few cans of cola in the refrigerator. They had a good time. A fine time.

Bobby woke up alone at about ten, not hung over enough to not wonder what happened to Amanda. He stumbled into the kitchen/dining nook, and found his answer:
Hey sweetie, had to wrap up a project at work.
Would have left you some breakfast but you don’t
have nothing but cereal. Typical bachelor (ha ha).

My place tonight. Supper, whatever, breakfast.

I'll be ready about 5-ish.
Call me for directions. 555-6124 after about 1.

Say hi to Miko for me!
XXX, Amanda

Bobby reached for the cereal, then thought about Amanda’s comment. Throwing on the first clean clothes he found on the bedroom floor, he headed out to Miko, staggering a bit in the bright sunshine.

Bongg. “Where to on a late Saturday morning? Amanda’s place?” Miko sounded not a bit surly for once — rather friendly, in fact.

“Later on, this evening,” Bobby smiled. “Right now, we’re off to the Breakfast House.” He squinted at the reflections off Miko and the other cars. “Whoosh, it’s bright this morning. You mind driving?”

Bongg. “Not at all. I saw her leave this morning; she said ‘see you later.’ I hoped you got her phone number. You need to hang on to this one, I think.”

That evening, Bobby and Miko pulled up to Amanda’s place, to be greeted with a kiss for Bobby and a cheery hello for Miko. As they went inside, Bobby shook his head, “Miko really likes you, and I finally think I’m starting to like her too. It. Whatever.”

“I like her too. But if I ever find out you programmed her, I’ll break your fingers.” Amanda grinned. “Well, maybe nine.”

“Well, I’m safe then,” Bobby grinned, flexing his fingers a little nervously. “But I’m still amazed by it all. How did you get off on the right foot with her?”

“Me too,” Amanda gave Bobby that lopsided grin he liked so much, throwing her arms around him. “But I remembered something about my dad. He had this old Chevy, and I swear he was the only one who could get it started. He used to say you just had to know how to talk to a temperamental car.”

Monday, December 12, 2005 1 comment

Sunday, December 11, 2005 No comments


A piece of the carpet we pulled out of the living room is going in my outbuilding. This, of course, entails clearing the floor of all furniture and detritus. As I was moving things out little by little, the renter came by to drop off the car ramps I let him borrow a while back — he offered to help me get the rest of the stuff out, and I gratefully accepted his help.

While stacking some loose papers, I came across two short stories I wrote ’way back in the 80s. I was looking for one of them in particular; it was going to be the first story I posted on the blog. Now I just have to type ’em in.

My back’s a little sore from moving furniture and trying to kick the wrinkles out of the carpet, so no happy dance right now. I guess I’ll drop by the chiro-cracker on the way to work tomorrow morning.

Off to type in a couple of stories...

More hot water for Sony

Sony/BMG says they are “re-evaluating its current methods” with regard to copy protection. Another copy-protection method, used on about 32 CDs distributed in the US, turned up security holes — and the patch sent out just made things worse.

Note that they didn’t say “having second thoughts” — it’s just a re-evaluation. No doubt they want something harder to detect and defeat. Remember, the goal is pay-to-play, and they’re not going to give up easily.

Saturday, December 10, 2005 3 comments

December funk

Current music: Creation Steppin’ Radio
Sheesh. Not only is it December, it’s mid-December. Hey, at this rate I’ll wake up and it will be spring! (now that’s a happy thought)

Like most early winters, I wrestle with light deprivation and my disgust at the commercialist orgy that Christmas has become (if that O’reilly whackjob on Faux wanted to “save” Christmas, he should have started about 40 years ago). Unlike most early winters, this time it’s getting the better of me. The choir’s annual caroling & food basket delivery was this afternoon, and participating did more to boost my spirits than anything else has so far.

Another wrestling move I’m trying this year is been to throw myself into working over the technical writing chimeras called structure and metadata. Perhaps I didn’t dig deep enough, but most of the literature on metadata that I found in a Google search is geared more toward libraries and museums than technical writing.

The blob here is a mind-map of what I’ve come up with so far; I’m almost ready to start turning it into a paper (click the pic for something almost readable). The muddled state of the mind-map perhaps reflects the muddle in my own mind, but nothing I’ve run across so far has challenged my belief that most people involved are making things far more complex than need be. If I don’t write more about it on the blog, I’ll stash the paper somewhere and point to it.

But speaking of muddling, I’ll muddle through, like I always do. It’s nice that Christmas falls on a Sunday this year. Not being a member of a mega-church, we’re having a service on Christmas, although the pastor told me he’s thinking of just reading the story and letting it stand as such — not a bad idea, really. It will be nice to light that big white candle in the Advent wreath on the day it should be lit.

A funk isn’t much of a problem, in the grand scheme of things. A friend of The Boy’s spent last night at our house, and he and Lobster headed out about 10 this morning. About a mile down the road, he went off the road and literally flew over Lobster’s truck before rolling. Thank God he was wearing his seatbelt; the car is totaled but he has a split lip and needs a trip to the chiro-cracker. Lobster called 911 and waited until the first responders got there before leaving.

So later in the morning, Lobster calls from work in a near-panic. You see, he was supposed to hang around until the cops got there and give a statement; the cop who called him told him he needed to come down to the station to give his statement “and then we’ll decide if we should charge you with anything.” He was nearly freaked out, to the point where Mrs. Fetched agreed to go with him. He got off with a lecture, and a lot of teasing from everyone else, in the end.

Yes, there are things far worse than a simple funk. And the tinnitus has been mostly gone for two days, hallelujah!

Friday, December 09, 2005 No comments

Friday Night Cinema

You kiddin’? It’s too cold to get out!

I have to thank one of the bobs for reminding me of this gem.

Dubya: the Movie (QuickTime)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005 4 comments

Chamber Chorus Doings

I’ve mentioned that Daughter Dearest is in her high school’s Chamber Chorus, a high-talent group that competes on a national level. They get rather busy this time of year. First, they opened the tree-lighting event in town Friday night.

Sunday evening, they sang at the Governor’s Mansion open-house — they were in the ballroom, the prime location (even though the local TV stations taped the chorus that sang outside). The kids got a fair amount of face time with Planetary Governor Bok-Bok as well. A couple of photos:

Gov. Perdue and the choir. I want a yellow sweater like his!

Daughter Dearest and the gov. I got shots of several of the other kids as well, since they couldn’t bring their parents and were told to leave their cameras inside. Fortunately for them, I thought to do another white-balance; I had been shooting with ambient light & switched to flash for the close-ups. I have got to get a white card from the camera shop so we don’t have to worry about finding a white wall or tablecloth or something...

We were there to tape and photograph; I’ll post some Google Video links once I comb through what we took of both events. Now that I’m back at work, I hope I’ll have it ready for Friday Night Cinema — but if I get it done earlier, I’ll post earlier.

New Addition

Mrs. Fetched used to have a dog that she’d trained to help her in the chicken houses — it would pick up dead birds, put them in the bucket, and “do everything but count ’em.” One day, I came out to find the dog dead in the pen for no obvious reason.

After a couple of years, she picked up a replacement puppy — same mom, different litter. Cute little furball, but noisy as all get-out (as in, “get-out of my house you loudmouth mutt!”). In less than two days, she has managed to: lay a minefield in the kitchen (and naturally, I stepped on the mine); drive M.A.E. nearly bat$#!+ with the incessant whining & howling; fascinate the cats (on the other side of a window); keep me up another hour wanting to play (pouncing on my hand like a cat, she has that much class anyway).

I’m not a dog person. But if the furball can help out Mrs. Fetched, fine. At least she’s starting to settle in and get used to not having seven brothers to dogpile with. Training should start soon.

Overnight Boom

A cold rainy Friday afternoon led to a cold rainy night. A warm front then came in overnight, and things went BOOM at about 5 a.m. We jumped up and unplugged all the computers. Thunderstorms continued pretty much all day Saturday and Sunday; cautious me kept the in-house network shut down & disconnected to preserve delicate hardware.

One heck of a warm front: the temp went up nearly 20 degrees (F) Friday night/Saturday morning. Now it’s cold again. The Boy has a whopper of a cold, and the whipsaw weather isn’t doing much to help it.

And now I’m getting zaps off my iBook. Time to look for the anti-static spray.

December bites.

Saturday, December 03, 2005 No comments

XML for books: Simple is enough!

Many technical writers have been looking long and hard at working with XML, for a variety of reasons — ranging from a resume bullet-point to a genuine hope that it could improve productivity and help us better maintain our documentation. The problem is, vendors and consultants are the primary cheerleaders for XML solutions; they’re are all too ready to roll out six-figure systems to the few companies that have documentation departments with sufficient budgets and ignore all the rest of us. I’ve ranted in the Yahoo XML-doc mailing list about this topic, warning that XML is poised to sink into obscurity like its predecessor SGML, and for the same reasons. I truly believe that if XML is to gain widespread acceptance by technical writers, there needs to be a simple (cheap, easy to learn, no consultants required) XML-based system that can produce real documentation. Something no more complex than HTML, for example.

As it turns out, standard HTML may be all that’s needed. Printing a Book with CSS: Boom! describes how the authors created a published (to paper) book using HTML to mark up the text, and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to provide the formatting. The trick is to use a commercial CSS-based formatter that supports the proposed functionality in CSS3 (a future standard), which provides page layout necessities like headers and footers.

My hat is off to the authors. We now know that HTML/CSS is adequate for book publishing; knowing that it’s feasible is half the battle.

M.A.E. with PITA

M.A.E. and The Boy were goofing around a few nights back, and he tried to pick her up. What he actually did was drop her on her can. It didn’t take long before she was in serious hurt. Mrs. Fetched ended up staying up with her and giving her Advil until they could get to the chiro-cracker.

Dr. Chiro X-rayed her and yep, she had a compressed disk and some shifting down there. He did what he could to re-align it, and told her to use ice, help it out by pulling her knees to her chest, and avoid hot baths. Things started getting better, until M.A.E. forgot about the hot bath part and took one. Baaaaaaaaad move. Worse, Dr. Chiro had a continuing education seminar in Orlando, so he couldn’t do anything about it. He did refer her to a guy in the next town down, who worked on her for about an hour and only charged her $25 (very important, as she doesn’t have a lot of extra moolah).

Meanwhile, The Boy, who’s like half responsible for all this, is kind of ignoring the whole situation. For example, he called us while Daughter Dearest and I were running errands, and asked us to bring them home some lunch — but when we got there, he fixed his own plate and left it to M.A.E. to hobble out and get her own. Needless to say, she is getting more than a little cheesed.

The one bright spot: I apparently guessed right about the problem being inflammation. I have some good old aspirin (can’t seem to convince Mrs. Fetched that it does many things better than Tylenol or Advil). After we got M.A.E. to eat something, we gave her a couple of aspirin and it seems to have helped. Dr. Chiro will be back in tomorrow evening and will see her then — maybe he can do something else for her.

Friday, December 02, 2005 No comments


I got my driver’s license renewed today, only six days after it expired. It wasn’t too horrible of an experience; a neighbor needed a ride in that direction anyway so I got to talk to someone on the way down. After dropping her off, I grabbed an Arby’s turkey “Reuben” (hey, it ain’t a real Reuben anyway, on that swirly bread) and scarfed it on the way to the bureau.

As usual, there were a fair number of people waiting for their turn. I followed a younger couple in; the guy at the counter handed them a ticket (A110) and told them it would be about 45 minutes. “I don’t want to wait that long!” the woman exclaimed, then handed the ticket back and left. I’ve been to this place before; she has no idea that she will likely never get so lucky again.

“I’ll take that,” I told the counter guy.
He just looked at me, then said, “What are you here for?”

“Oh, okay.” He handed me the ticket, and I hopped back out to the car to get my copy of Motorcycle Consumer News, as I’m trying to catch up on some back issues. I’m down to the last few. Finding a plastic chair in the corner, I settled in to read.

I only got about eight pages read when my number came up. I went to the designated counter, handed the lady my old license (if she noticed it was expired, she didn’t say so), and told her I wanted the 10-year term (I figure by that time, we’ll be out of oil and I won’t have to worry about driving anymore, heh). As I went to get my picture taken, a woman cut in front of me and said, “What’s going on? Three people have gone ahead of me now!” I have no idea what system glitch was bedeviling this poor woman, but she was still waiting for something to happen when I left.

It might have taken 45 minutes from the time I stepped in to the time I left. And my picture doesn’t suck too badly.

Friday Night Cinema

Because you’re broke and exhausted from Christmas shopping.

’Tis the season, and this week’s feature is seasonal... in a “cock your head, raise one eyebrow, then go wubba-wubba-wubba” kind of way.

Simone Isaacs & George Isaacs: Black Jesus & Baby Buddha


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