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Thursday, March 23, 2006 5 comments

Adios, Sonny

Early yesterday evening, cancer finished the job it started on my uncle Sonny a couple of years ago. He was unresponsive by the time we got to his place (in Florida) yesterday morning — he pretty much started shutting down Sunday evening — but perhaps he could hear us. He was surrounded by his friends and relatives at the end, and went peacefully and probably painlessly.

So Mrs. Fetched and I are staying another couple of days; the service is on Saturday and we'll head home Sunday morning.

This is a choka rather than a haiku, so I'll post it here:

The cook was puzzled:
Why were his loved ones weeping?

What they cried over
Was naught but an empty shell —

While Sonny himself,
had not felt better in years.

Recent memories:
Nephews thanked him for his help;

His two sons, stricken,
Struggled to express their love.

His partner, Colleen,
Not as ready as she thought.

His sister told them,
"Finally, he is at peace."

Friends and relatives
Praying for a miracle.

He told them good-bye,
Knowing they could not hear him —

Looking at the light,
He let it pull him upward.

The light flooded him,
Both around him and through him.

He heard bells and song,
It was new but familiar.

Finally he stopped,
A gatekeeper greeted him.

"Have a beer, Sonny,"
A frosty can of nectar —

"I'm ready to work,"
Was the master cook's reply.

"Oh, you'll work, alright;
The kitchen is waiting now.

"But those gone before —
They want some time with you first.

"Time to cook later;
Now there's a celebration.

"You gave much on Earth;
It's time for you to receive.

"Riches uncounted
For the open-handed ones,

"Who give all away,
Without thinking of themselves.

"Now enjoy yourself!
You can start cooking later.

"When the party's done,
Start preparing a big feast

"For those left behind,
Who will join you when it's time."

So heaven rejoiced,
As Sonny walked through the gates,
Into the Eternal Joy.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006 1 comment

Impromptu road trip

Actually, I knew this was coming, but was hoping to put it off for another week or two.

My uncle in Florida, mom’s brother and dad’s best buddy (even after the divorce), is rapidly losing his battle with lung/brain/etc cancer. We’re heading down in the morning to see him for a couple of days, probably for the last time.

The Boy wanted to come, but couldn’t get the time off work. As it turns out, my other bro is coming in & so there wouldn’t have been room anyway. Daughter Dearest is stuck with school; chorus is getting ready for the national competition next week. Just Mrs. Fetched & me, it looks like. I hate leaving DD in charge of the asylum, especially since she’s not been getting up for the school bus lately, but Mrs. Fetched’s mom and brother will be up checking on things at random intervals.

Meanwhile, I’ve loaded up the iPod with a handful of audio podcasts and a couple of video podcasts — Mrs. Fetched can watch a Photoshop show if she likes; I grabbed a couple of cooking shows (and all my audio subscriptions) for me.

Monday, March 20, 2006 No comments

Bonus babies, aka new toys

They passed out bonuses at work on Wednesday — a little earlier than I was prepared for, because I’d like a new MacBook but want to wait on the next hardware revision. So to assuage the technolust, I settled for getting an iPod and all the stuff I’ll need to go with it. Seeing my iBook is fairly old, it took nearly four hours to copy all my music and photos over a USB 1.1 port... just an incentive to get that newer laptop, I guess. We also picked up a 250GB hard drive for Mrs. Fetched’s video editing system — that G4 dualie has churned along for nearly four years now with no hardware upgrades, and it seems like 80GB drives aren’t as big as they used to be — and a set of noise-cancelling headphones.

I’d like to say one thing about the headphones: They. Are. FANTASTIC.

It seems to be an axiom that whatever the absolute worst cube in the office is, it will be assigned to me. The dwelling place I’ve been stuck with for the last couple of years is certainly a candidate if not the runaway winner — as far away from the windows as possible, along a main traffic route, and directly across from a training room with at least one of everything we make. Many of those products have fans, and they run all day. The only thing that drowns it out is the blare of the trainer, whose voice carries through most of that part of the building — he “can’t” shut the door because it would get too hot. The new headphones don’t do much for the chatter, but they easily knock out 80% of the fan noise emanating from the training room. Switching off the noise canceller produced a roar that I thought at first was blood rushing through my ears (like you might hear with a seriously good headset with no sound coming in), but was actually the training room.

I was impressed enough to risk official opprobrium by wearing them on the drive home, playing my iPod into the ’phones instead of through the FM transmitter thingie. Like wearing earplugs on the motorcycle, I think I hear better with the headphones: all the wind noise and road noise and climate control fan noise simply fades away; leaving only the hum of the engine, a little residual background stuff, and the music... which I can play at a much lower volume.

The only drawback is that they're the kind that hook over your ears, with the connecting band going around the back of your head. For whatever reason, they irritate my ears after a few hours.

I would pay some serious money for a “cone of silence” headset — something that would cut out both white noise and external chatter.

Friday, March 17, 2006 No comments

Status quo

Things are rapidly getting back to what the problem children call “normal” — staying out waaayy past 10:30p.m. curfew and the like. Mrs. Fetched is again making noises about clearing them out. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006 1 comment

Emotional constipation

Have you ever felt like something wasn’t right, but you can’t articulate it? That’s how I’m feeling tonight.

Or maybe it’s just an excuse to hit the rum a lot harder than I really should be. BWI, Blogging While Intoxicated, that’s me tonight. I guess I should go back to my card game.

Monday, March 13, 2006 No comments

Signs of spring

The last two weekends have involved yard work. It’s amazing how a simple thing like mowing down some border plants (they grow better when they’ve been zapped) leads to all sorts of other stuff. First you see all the fronds in the yard, so you rake ’em up. There’s a big bunch of grass raked up with the fronds. Next thing you know, you’ve got the generator out of mothballs, a blower plugged in, and then there’s an enormous pile of leaves and clippings burning. And what passes for a front lawn at FAR Manor is a little longer than the house and no more than 15 feet deep. Mrs. Fetched saw what I was doing and started in on the other side of the driveway (which parallels the front of the house). Thus does a 15 minute job run all afternoon.

The back yard is a bit bigger, and has been neglected for quite a while. I finally got tired of looking out the bathroom window at a bunch of sticks and twigs on the ground, got out the rakes & blower again, pulled up a zillion little pine trees (Dad helped with that quite a bit) and made a border with some logs that I will probably never get around to splitting. This side will be the yard, that side is the woods. The leaves I threw in the dog run area, also known as the moonscape.

There’s not a lot of lawn out back, which has a lot to do with the trees that nearly took over. Since some of them were leaning toward the house, we had some people come out to cut them down. Others we had a lumber company pay us to take away (they wanted the pines, which had pine beetles in them anyway). But I digress.

Warm days have brought the potted herbs outside until tomorrow afternoon (it’s supposed to get chilly again tomorrow night). I’m hearing the frogs (a spring kigo for haiku writers) peeping in nearby ponds or creeks. I can’t seem to get grass to grow right (hey, less mowing that way), but lots of other stuff just comes up on its own.

Wild onions in the yard. I added some (domestic) chives to my potted herbs, so I haven’t need to harvest them. Besides, with the dogs running around loose... yuck.

Daffodils on the roadside. They’re hardy little boogers; they grow alongside most of the roads around here and you can see them down in the woods. A cheerful reminder that winter is almost over.

The pansies are also hardy; Mrs. Fetched keeps some out through the winter and they’re still hanging around. I’ll remember to get pictures. Maybe.

Talk about lucky...

Almost like hitting the lottery....

Monday Night Cinema — special edition

This one just won’t wait for Friday night — it’s a jaw-dropper!

Turn up your sound and check out Chris Bliss: Must-See Finale

Friday, March 10, 2006 1 comment

Oh hey...

I sold a photo this week! Or I should say, Mrs. Fetched sold it. It was a shot of Amicalola Falls that also appears in Fall at the Falls from November.

A local indie coffee shop bought it to screen onto their “Amicalola Blend” coffee. Not much money, but lots of free coffee coming out of this one....

Thursday, March 09, 2006 1 comment

Dad’s here!

Stopping by on the way back to Michigan. Updates will probably be slow (again) for the next couple of days.

Well, I’ve started...

The boss told us in the staff meeting that the word for the year is “automation.” I told him I could automate quite a bit of my work by going to a markup-based system, and he said go for it.

So I’ve stopped talking about dumping FrameMaker for groff and started doing it. Not a moment too soon — the new Intel-based Macs won’t run Classic applications, of which FrameMaker is one. I’m probably going to be getting a MacBook at work soon, and getting one for myself as well.

It helps that the latest version of groff adds support for links and bookmarks in PDFs, and the HTML output continues to improve, so I shouldn’t lose any functionality.

A Boy and his wheels

The Boy has had a Chevy Lumina sitting in the driveway for a couple of months now, waiting for the title to come in so he could get plates and insurance on it. The title arrived late last week, and Mrs. Fetched took him to get the paperwork done yesterday. He’s happy.

It’s kind of nice, not having to worry about taking him to work (or picking him up) now. At least until he runs out of gas....

Impressions from a bus ride

Busy week so far. Tuesday night, Daughter Dearest and her high school chorus got to go to downtown Atlanta to sing the national anthem at a Hawks game. I went along to videotape it, but they wouldn’t let me bring the camcorder in. Grr. But I got to see what turned out to be a pretty good game, and the home team won it for a change.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. We spent a pretty good while on a yellow school bus getting into town, and there were a few thoughts that impressed themselves on me during the ride (there and back).

I’ve always known there’s some kind of barrier between the freeway and the not-freeway, but perhaps since I was reading The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (good book if you haven’t read it — things haven’t changed much in 65 years) I saw that barrier in a different way. Instead of a safety measure, I saw a boundary between two worlds, mobile and fixed. In some places the boundary was little more than a token: a guard rail or “portable” concrete barrier, something easy to step over. In other places, the guard rail was backed by a high chain-link fence, sometimes topped with barbed wire; sometimes the fence stood alone without the guard rail. The most extreme cases were the metal or concrete sound barriers that loomed 10 feet or more above the roadside.

I still have the ability to read a book and shut out the hubbub around me. The tap on the shoulder I can’t ignore, and never was able to. Daughter Dearest was impressed that I could ignore the noise and read. The kids double-up on an iPod: one earbud in each head.

Bus seats aren’t nearly as comfortable as they were when I was 17 and weighed 140 pounds.

The height of school bus hijinks these days seems to be boys parading shirtless up the aisle. The “freeze-out” I remember from my high school days, and it was much more effective in a real winter.

The security people were very pleasant, in stark contrast to the job they’re doing. I had to ask the guy about his twisted locks; he said he’d been working on it for seven years. Amazing.

Trying to read email on a cell phone is a pain under any circumstance, and twice as much on a jouncy bus.

Sunday, March 05, 2006 8 comments

No-Good, Very Bad...

Warnings: Very long post, graphic

I have to say, I’ve lived a relatively sheltered — one could even say “whitebread” — existence. What I’ve called a “bad day” up to now usually involves interactions with in-laws these days: a shouting match, forgetting whatever plans I had for the weekend to take care of a die-off in the chicken houses, getting pushed into buying a house I didn’t want and can’t afford... the usual everyday stuff in a rural middle-class existence.

Yesterday redefined “bad day” for me and Mrs. Fetched. For The Boy, it was easily orders of magnitude worse. This gets a bit gross down below, You Have Been Warned.

The day started shortly after midnight. Lobster (who seemed to have got the attitude adjustment we’d hoped for, and got his repaired truck about the same time) had volunteered to pick up The Boy when the latter was done at work around 10 to 10:30p.m. But The Boy had called and told me he wanted to go to the apartment tonight because his roommate (we’ll call him “Jimi” here) was sick. “He was having trouble breathing this morning, and BJ (a mutual friend) called an ambulance but he wouldn’t go to the doctor. He has asthma and I was going to take him an inhaler.” The Boy had an inhaler from a bout of bronchitis (misdiagnosed as first-stage emphysema at the time) to give him. Having heard lies upon lies from The Boy, I was naturally skeptical about this — sounded like a massive load of fertilizer, in short.

“The agreement was, you could spend Mondays and Tuesdays (his days off from work) there. You’re supposed to be home tonight,” I reminded him. In one ear and out the other, and no explanation of what they had been doing for the previous two hours. Another friend was in Lobster’s truck (an extended cab Ranger), leaving one more open slot. M.A.E. came bouncing out to go along, and was disinvited by The Boy.

“We’re picking up another friend, so there won’t be room for you,” he told her.

Lobster, always one to take a dig at M.A.E., said “I’ll come back for you if you can give me gas money,” knowing that she didn’t.

M.A.E. came huffing back into the house and got on the phone, which is something she does a lot when she’s mad at The Boy. Since it was so late, we told her to get off the phone and she wound up talking to us until past 2 a.m. At this point, we were ready to tell The Boy to just stay at his apartment, get his GED whenever he felt like it, and find his own rides until he gets his car licensed (the title came in earlier this week).

All that went in the dumpster when the phone rang at 5:15a.m. Mrs. Fetched got it, because it’s on her side of the bed. The Boy was hysterical, barely coherent, but we got the gist of it: Jimi had died in the bathroom, with one of The Boy’s syringes sticking out of his arm, and he wanted to move out of the apartment and come home for good. Three hours of sleep or not; when you get a phone call like that from one of your kids, you get moving.

As it turned out, The Boy had actually been telling the truth about the health of his roommate for a change, even if some of the details were wrong. He was coughing up blood (never a sign of good health), and BJ called an ambulance for him and offered to pay for Jimi’s medical care if necessary. Jimi insisted that he was OK, although he certainly didn’t look OK, and refused to go to the hospital. The chronology, as best as I can piece it together so far, goes like this: about two weeks ago, he hooked up with somebody, which precipitated a relapse of his cocaine habit. When you’re diabetic, you’re the best buddy of every druggie out there, because you can buy syringes without raising suspicion... and The Boy never had to worry about securing his needles beyond the usual disposal issues. So all Jimi had to do to get a syringe was to grab one out of the bag on top of the refrigerator. I don’t know if shooting coke rips up your stomach, or he had some other issue, but it certainly wasn’t helping matters. Earlier in the week, The Boy gave Jimi his half of the rent money ($200) and told him to give it to the superintendent (two doors down). He then told the super that Jimi had the money and would bring it over when he got his half from his brother. Jimi, as far as I can tell, went and spent $100 of that on some coke.

Now we get to the events of early Saturday morning. They picked up the fourth friend, and went to The Boy’s apartment. Jimi looked horrible, but was in good spirits, walking around and talking with them. They decided to make a trek to McDonald’s (nearly an hour round trip) and grab some chow; Jimi begged off and said to go without him. So they went, and spent another hour hanging out at a gas station where another friend was working. At some point during this two hours, Jimi locked himself in the bathroom, shot up some coke, passed out immediately, vomited blood, and choked.

Having absolutely no clue as to what was going on, they dropped The Boy off at the apartment around 4:30 and drove off. He tried the bathroom door, knocked, got no answer, then started to worry after a few minutes. He knocked again, got no answer, then remembered there was a screwdriver on the dresser. He took the doorknob off, opened it up, and there was Jimi. He tried to wake him up, then called Lobster. Lobster came back, took The Boy to BJ’s (who lives nearby), then drove off. What a friend we have in Lobster, eh?

So BJ and The Boy went back up, tried to revive Jimi (here opinions diverge: I’m pretty sure he was dead before The Boy got back to the apartment; Mrs. Fetched is equally convinced The Boy saw him die), called 911 somewhere in the process. BJ left again, and The Boy called us some time after the cops arrived. We got there about 6 a.m., to find three cop cars (and a fourth soon blocked us in). We’re standing around in 28F, freezing away, The Boy barely maintaining. BJ returned, wearing a shirt from some security outfit, and talked to us and the cops. Eventually, they brought out Jimi. The Boy and Mrs. Fetched preferred not to watch this, but he was in a body bag with a sheet draped over that so there wasn’t much to see anyway. I offered a silent, clumsy benediction.

Shortly after, one of the cops asked The Boy to talk with him in the warm car. You can imagine my relief when they opened the front door for him. Presumably they got a statement, then let him out and drove off. The cops said they were done with the apartment, and the super said if the place was clean The Boy could get his security deposit back. OK, fine, we went home to regroup.

The Boy couldn’t get out of working, so after a catnap I took him up (11am to 7pm shift). Mrs. Fetched, her mom, and I gathered up cleaning supplies and went on back. The bathroom should have been declared a biohazard area; there was blood all over the floor and some on the carpet outside (The Boy and BJ dragged Jimi out partway, trying to revive him). Never one to dodge the nastiest part of any job, Mrs. Fetched donned rubber gloves and went in with the mop. I used a spot cleaner on the carpet outside, achieving partial success. Mother-in-law attacked the kitchen. After the spots, I started bagging up Jimi’s clothes, getting some help from Mrs. Fetched when some of The Boy’s got mixed in.

One surprise: even when cleaning up the effects and blood of a dead man you’ve never met, you get hungry. I ended up popping up to a nearby supermarket to get some apples, soft drinks, and the Girl Scouts were out front so I grabbed a couple boxes of cookies... and they had those roasted green peas I fell in love with a while back (wasabi flavor!). We broke for a quick snack, then finished up the job. BJ and his family came by while we were at it; Jimi’s relatives were looking for his diary and a picture of his parents (Jimi was raised by his aunt & uncle after his parents died when he was very young). BJ went through Jimi’s things, finding the diary and lots of The Boy’s syringes in the process, but never turned up the picture. There were lots of very good drawings, mostly in the heavy metal theme — he was quite talented.

Some time after BJ left, mother-in-law opened a kitchen drawer and found the picture. I called BJ, but got no answer, so I loaded Jimi’s things in the back seat of Barge Vader, The Boy’s stuff in the back, and the furniture went into the in-laws’ pickup truck. We left that place one heck of a lot cleaner than it was before The Boy moved in, I can tell you that. If there’s any money knocked off the security deposit, I’ll want to know why — in detail. We drove away, forever I hope, about 4 p.m.

After a day like that, we imposed a permanent 10:30 curfew (only exception is working late), and were in no mood to hear any arguments about it. People tend to get arrested or dead in the wee hours.

Friday, March 03, 2006 1 comment

The creator-consumer dilemma: preservation

O’Reilly’s MacDevCenter blog recently ran a short article about the concerns over long-term preservation of today’s digital media.

It’s an interesting problem. In the olden days, before 1980 or so, the vast majority of “home” media came from a film camera. People typed (on a typewriter) or hand-wrote letters and stories and kept their paper copies in a desk drawer. A few years later, VHS camcorders started making inroads, but almost nobody edited their tapes — partly because it would require three decks, and partly because it would degrade the already mediocre video quality. Here in the 21st Century, we have digital media coming out of our ears (actually going in our ears... think iPod) but I’m still waiting for the tours to Saturn.

But we face a very real issue of impermanence. A while back, I mentioned finding several short stories I wrote in college; some were typed (on an old “portable” Smith-Corona manual typewriter) and some were hand-written. I also have one and a half novels I wrote back then (longhand). All of them were on paper, and had survived over 20 years of storage. Whatever I wrote on a Commodore 64 in the mid-80s didn’t fare so well. Printed digital photos tend to fade over time, and exposure to sunlight hastens their demise — compare that to black&white film photos that have survived 100 years. Videotape can last several decades if stored properly, but dropouts accumulate over time and make the video that much harder to recover. That haircut video I burned to DVD, or those copies of stories and photos burned to CD, are good for a couple of decades if stored properly. On the other hand, check out what can happen to a CD that gets kicked around in a car for a little while:

Those spots are in the CD, not on it. You can’t polish that out. If you want your disks to last, keep them in a cool, dry, dark place.

There are a couple of bright spots: first, there’s just so dang much digital media being cranked out, by you and me and everyone else, that some of it is bound to make it to our grandchildren. Next, if you can solve the “bit-rot” problem (that’s a technical term), future generations could have access to perfect copies of our narratives — no faded photos, no text obscured by stains or yellowing, video as good (or bad) as the day it was taken.

Digital media is much easier to back up; for example, there are plenty of services dedicated to sharing digital photos — and those photos you share are also stored on a disk that isn’t in your house. There are analogous services for video and even text (you’re looking at one of the latter right now), and I even have a little program that lets me use my Gmail account to stash files in one of its folders (yes, my stories are backed up!). Someone truly fanatical about saving their text or photos could print them (even in black&white) on acid-free paper and have (physically) distant relatives keep a copy — if you lose your originals, you could at least OCR the text and scan the photos.

Backing up is easy, but most people don’t do it (or in my case, don’t do it as thoroughly as I should). If you need motivation, try this: you’re one hard drive crash away from losing all of your pictures, video, music, and writings.

Friday Night Cinema

When the wallet and the attention span just aren’t up for a night at the theater, Tales from FAR Manor scours the inboxes and search engines to bring you free short flicks.

Tonight’s feature is both funny and scary, and shows us what we’re in for if we don’t get serious about protecting our right to privacy.


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