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Monday, March 30, 2009 8 comments

FAR Future, Episode 79: Letters From the Sand

Last exhortation to vote in my poll… closing time is 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. Thanks to all who have voted so far.

Friday, December 21, 2035
Letters From the Sand

What a wonderful Christmas present… a letter from The Boy came last week. Sounds like he’s doing well. I edited ever so slightly.

Hey. Sorry I haven't wrote until now, I just started walking one day and kept going. There's still people out on the road, even when it's getting cold like now. But I was going east, so I decided to check out the beach to see how big the flood was getting.

I got to Myrtle Beach, and somebody asked me if I wanted a job getting junk off the islands that are flooding out. The pay sounded good, so I said sure. We're working off a boat, digging up storage tanks from gas stations and getting transformers off power poles and those boxes on the ground. The government doesn't want it [messing] up the water, I guess, and the crews make some money selling what we get out. There's a couple people still living in the condos on the beach, even with a foot or two of water coming in the ground floor. They said they don't want to leave, it's their place and they're not going even if they don't have electric or water. That's so stupid. One of the boat owners said if a big storm comes in, they won't be able to leave and if the building collapses they're dead. It's not like they don't have nowhere to go, they can get a place in Atlanta, Raleigh, or Columbia.

I'm sorry I can't live with you guys yet, I've got [stuff] to work out from when they sent me to Colorado. The government gave me a card that lets me get food even if I'm not working, so I don't have to worry about that. I don't have to worry about anything right now, except if something breaks while I'm working and that doesn't happen anyway. At night, sometimes I play guitar in one of the bars that the salvage people like to hang out at. It's a little extra money and I guess they like my music. It would be nice if we had some electricity for some amps and a drummer, I could play some really good stuff, hahaha. Some of the people I work with are optouts, or used to be. They say they're seeing if they can get back in. They don't talk much, but they smoke with me on breaks and come to the bar to hear me play. I wrote a song for them called I Opted Out Today and they laugh when I play it and put money in my tip jar, so I try to play it every night.

So I don't know what I'll do when this job is done. It's hard working in the cold water, but they give us heated gear and it helps a lot. I guess when we get all the toxic [stuff] out, we'll either move to another place or I'll hit the road again. I always wanted to go out to California, so maybe I'll save up some of my money and get a train ticket. Maybe I'll stop in Colorado and piss on the shale. I heard they put some of the junta people there, so maybe I'll piss on them too. Well, gotta go, playing a gig in a few minutes. Love you guys.

It’s good to know that he hasn’t opted out, and he’s doing something useful (and something he likes, although not necessarily at the same time). But it makes you wonder how many people up and down the coast are sticking to their homes. I hope he gets to see California, and maybe play his guitar on what’s left of the beach out there. He sent a picture, I guess a co-worker took it, of him sitting on a car with his guitar in his lap. The water was up to the windows on the car, with a half-drowned gas station in the background and the morning sun peeking out from behind a cloud. I texted his gadget and told him he should use that picture for an album cover. He texted back, “Yeah hahaha call it Optout Beach.”

They had a segment on “coastal salvage” on the tube last week. The Boy wasn’t in it — they were showing crews down in Florida, I guess because it’s warmer down there and the documentary crew didn’t have to get too cold. Or maybe they were just getting a tax write-off for a vacation. But like The Boy said, there’s both a financial and an environmental incentive to get stuff out of there. I told Daughter Dearest about her brother’s new occupation; she said “Don’t tell Pat, he doesn’t need any ideas.”

“I thought Pat’s been getting better lately,” I said. “He and Ray like to hang out, right?”

“Well, yeah… until something better comes along, anyway. Oh, did I tell you he wants a gadget?”

“I’m not surprised. He’s a teenager; that’s the time for ’em, right? Let him connect with some other kids, maybe he won’t feel so alienated here.”


“Besides, it can be a creative tool. Don’t the newest ones have a synth? Let him start making some music like he talked about.”

“I’m afraid of what he might start making. Remember what The Boy did with a guitar?”

“Kids are always going to look for some kind of music to piss off their parents. As long as he doesn’t go in for death country, it’ll be fine. He doesn’t have any B.F.E. or Prairie Dogs tracks, does he?”

“I don’t think so.”

We ordered his gadget, it came in the Monday mail, and he immediately started in on the synth. Turns out he’s into clatter… and he’s not bad at it. If you haven’t heard clatter, it’s 90% metallic percussion… and dang difficult to do well mixing, let alone live. Done poorly, it sounds like a drunk rampaging in the kitchen cabinets; letting the noise overcome the rhythm is the surest way to make bad clatter. Done well, the noise compliments and supports the rhythms; it’s catchy (at least for those of us who like it) and gets you moving. The best part, from Pat’s standpoint, is that Daughter Dearest has little in her bag of musical lessons that applies to clatter, so he’s getting lessons from a teacher down in Atlanta (they owed us for Serena teaching them a creative writing course, so it’s all good). Now Pat just needs a bigger battery so he doesn’t run his gadget down in the middle of the day…


Saturday, March 28, 2009 10 comments


When you’re running down the street, and your
hair is on fire… people get out of your WAY!”
— Richard Pryor

As I was shoveling down a bowl of cereal this morning, Mrs. Fetched asked me, “Do you want to help me with the chickens?”

“Sure,” I said, “as long as I can get to a junkyard by noon to get a jack and fake spare for the Civic.”

“Oh yeah.” I mentioned this need somewhat earlier in the week. I once had these things, but Daughter Dearest’s Civic did not and I’d rather have me stranded than her. While I have new tires on the Civic at the moment, that doesn’t mean I won’t catch a nail or just wear ’em out later on.

So while she was getting ready, I called a junkyard about a half-hour from the manor, and got no answer. Their Yellow Pages ad included a website, so I pulled that up… and found they’re not even open on Saturday. (That would explain their not answering the phone.) “Try the mechanic,” Mrs. Fetched suggested. “He might have some in his bonepile.” I have that number in my phone already, so I tried it and got the same no-answer. Having struck out, I went with Mrs. Fetched.

While we were there, she tried unsuccessfully to start the incinerator. This is a normal occurrence when it has been raining, especially as much as it has this week. “Do we have any gas?” she asked. We did, since I’d filled a pair of 1-gallon cans last weekend; one had 2-stroke mix in it, but the other was straight gas. She sent me home to get the gas while she raised a curtain that had many gallons of rainwater trapped in the folds.

When I returned, she had me pour about half the gallon into the incinerator (which is nearly full of dead chickens). “Did you bring a match?”

“I didn’t think we’d need one,” I said. “You can just hit the igniter and it should get it going.” She hit the switch…

FOOM!!! Fire belched out the smokestack and blew the access hatch off the front (the latch has been broken for a long time). I found this highly entertaining, really the high point of a morning that involved dealing with both heavy rain and stinky chicken houses, and vocalized my appreciation. “I’m glad you enjoyed that,” she groused. “It scared me.” Well, sure… but nothing happened we weren’t expecting. By this time, the rain was slacking off.

After finishing the last chicken house, we came outside to find Mrs. Fetched’s mom. Suddenly, the “we don’t have to take hay to the cows” became “we have to take hay to the cows.” Grumble. At least it had stopped raining. But the 12:30 ending became a 2:30 ending, involving me locking the keys in the truck and having to go to the in-laws to get the spare (at least Mrs. Fetched now had something to be amused about). So we went back to the incinerator and Mrs. Fetched again tried to get it going, with no success.

“Do you think we can pour some more gas in there?” she asked. There was a little smoke coming out of the stack, but no obvious fire.

“I suppose.”

“Well, be careful!”

I obliged, splashing some gas into the main opening. With no bark-back, I commenced to pour some more in. With about a quart left, I was thinking “that should be enough—”

FOOM!!! For a moment, all I saw was flame, then the normal picture returned. I’d jumped about three feet to the left; Mrs. Fetched squawked and got out of her jacket (one sleeve was on fire); the gas can was lying on its side, also burning at the nozzle end. She put out her jacket, and I slapped my head to make sure I wasn’t doing a Richard Pryor, then grabbed the can and flung it into the gravel where it continued to burn. With the immediate danger past, I started laughing — I’m sure if we’d gotten video, it would have been worthy of Jackass.

“That wasn’t funny!” Mrs Fetched said, then started laughing too.

I felt my hair. “It’s singed!” which, somehow, made things even funnier. “I guess I’ll have to get another haircut.”

“Nah, it doesn’t look too bad.” My hands both had all the hair singed off them as well, and there were tender spots on my left hand and on my forehead above my right eye. (Good thing I wear glasses all the time.) Mrs. Fetched’s jacket didn’t even look singed; I think maybe a little gas splashed on it and she put out the fire before it scorched the material.

Meanwhile, the gas can continued to burn in the gravel. “Do you think it will blow up too?”

“I don’t think so,” but all the same we backed the truck up and watched it finish burning up from a few dozen yards away. Once the flames mostly died down, I grabbed a shovel and put out the molten remains before dousing it in a convenient mud puddle and then carrying it to the dumpster.

And we never did get the incinerator started, although we tried for nearly half an hour afterwards.

I suppose you could say we were very lucky. On the other hand, if we actually were lucky, we wouldn’t be dealing with chicken houses. :-P

Friday, March 27, 2009 6 comments

Weekend Cinema

If you haven't voted in the poll, it's open through Tuesday!

Got no money and only a little time? Weekend Cinema thinks about you!

You may not have much time on your hands, but these guys? They have plenty. Perhaps far too much, in fact. But the results are… quite interesting. So put on your wool sweater and marvel at the Baaa-Studs as they bring you Extreme Shepherding!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009 11 comments

Polls, Jobs, and Other Incidentals

Submerged stumpIf you hadn’t noticed yet, I’ve put a poll in the sidebar (just below my picture)… just curious to see what comes back. Lurkers, regulars, drive-bys, please go hit a checkbox or three and then feel free to expand on your thoughts in a comment here. I’m going to let it run through the end of March.

The Boy… are you sitting down? … got a JOB!!! In (wait for it… wait for it) a poultry processing plant. ROFL — we can’t get away from the dang chickens, can we? He had his first day of training today, one more tomorrow, then he’ll be working the night shift. His job entails hosing down the equipment to keep it clean & mostly sterile… think of The Boy in waterproofs next time you eat chicken, OK?

Meanwhile, things got a little weird at my job today. It really started last week, I suspect, when I was working at home shooting some pix for a new product and found that the mounting holes were spaced ¾ inch too far apart. There was a scramble to fix that problem, especially since time is running out, and the payback came this morning. First, a picture on a quick install guide (for a different product) said “750” instead of “760” — which might have been an issue, if the text in question was large enough to see on the printed version without a very strong magnifying glass. They had to open the PDF and zoom waaayyyy in to see it… and of course, this was suddenly a critical item. Also critical, after not being even noticed for about a year, is that the picture of the yellow Ethernet cable is “too green.” I ended up borrowing DoubleRed’s desktop PC to use for the “connect to computer” shots… of course, it doesn’t have an Ethernet card, but I was able to stick a card in and make it look right. I’m pretty sure this was Revenge of the Engineers… they have their little freak-out dance they do when things get tight, and I don’t have to watch Dancing with the Stars because I see this performance all too often.

We’re supposed to talk with the dean of the music department tomorrow. Daughter Dearest is planning to transfer to the college just up the road next year, and the dean wants to try talking us out of it. There have been some issues… the dorm rooms have been plagued with mold (absolute hell on a music major), and the food has been somewhat short of edible at times as DD claims to have found a loogy in the salad once. Quite frankly, we would expect better from a private college with a good reputation. At least we’ll be able to afford next year.

The SXSW festival has their entire musical showcase available on BitTorrent. It’s a 6GB load, in three parts, and you’ll have to wade through it to find what you like. The torrents are organized only by artist, so you have to slog through it all. I’m still listening to part 1 (while helping to re-seed all three parts). At least I got my ratio back over 1.0 now. Fortunately, I’m fairly easy to please, so I’ve been throwing every tenth song or so into iTunes for further listening. Sometimes, a tune I’m not fond of at first will grow on me; sometimes, the opposite happens.

After I brought Big V home from the hospital on Saturday, she went right back in first thing Sunday. She may have a heart issue or a blockage; either way, it ain’t a good thing. At least she escaped the last hospital with her foot still attached. I just hope she starts doing a better job of taking care of herself. She’s getting on Mrs. Fetched’s nerves, big-time, so she isn’t in that bad of shape.

Mrs. Fetched’s mom planted four rows of potatoes today… sounds like we’ll be picking them up by the tractor bucket-load again this year. I’ve got to start my yellow pear tomatoes and get some spinach planted. And I need to plant myself in the bed…

Monday, March 23, 2009 9 comments

FAR Future, Episode 78: School’s In

Please take the poll (on the right).

Wednesday, November 28, 2035
School’s In

OK, Serena thinks I really am old and decrepit. She might be half-right. But thanks to everyone pitching in, including Bobby, we had the apartments ready in time for our new boarders. Seems to be a recurring theme at FAR Manor, huh? Call them… the Smiths and the Joneses. Close enough.

Speaking of Bobby, his new best friend is Martina Smith — she’s his age and he’s spent the first week showing her everything around the place. Sean and Mary (her parents) were a little apprehensive at first, but when Pat’s not in school he’s taking the day shift in the pasture, so there was plenty of firepower in case any critter (two-legged or four) were to give trouble. As for boy/girl stuff: 1) they’re 10. 2) kids these days have no modesty whatsoever anyway, so it’s not like “playing doctor” is any thrill. I guess that happens when you spend winters sharing a house with two or three families — after a while, you just stop worrying about walking in on someone… from there, it’s a short step to polite not-seeing and then to doesn’t-matter-anyway. Meanwhile, the kids all have to pile into the bathtub together (with one at a time, only the first few would get warm water), so they’ve known little different. From the privacy perspective, the new folks were thrilled to have their own apartments, even if they’re a little small. They said on the way up here, they were wondering what they might end up with — there are stories already going around about people who are making their guests sleep in tents or the living room floor, some real horror stories. I wonder how much of that is promised help not showing up (like what happened here), and how much is people just taking the government stipend and not bothering to provide for their guests.

Ray Jones is like 6 years old, so he would have been on his own except that he and Pat hit it off somehow… don’t ask me what a half-alienated teen sees in him, or vice versa, but the oldest and the youngest are buddies. It doesn’t seem to bother the Joneses, or maybe it bothers me more than it should. It’s good to see Pat taking an interest in someone other than himself; he just seemed to be pulling himself into a shell before. His homework is starting to turn around, and he’s talking about signing up for music come spring semester. Ray and Martina didn’t take long to adjust to school — their schools were very similar in structure and use the same textbooks for all but one or two courses. Bobby and Martina help each other with their schoolwork, naturally, while Pat helps Ray with reading and math. I guess they spend a lot of time out at the tree house in the pasture.

School is a lot more fluid than it used to be when I was a kid… but back then, school wasn’t taught by volunteers with the county facilitating the community centers, administering tests, and furnishing textbooks and lesson materials. Most of us rotate teaching various classes, except that Serena always does creative writing and drama (there’s some prestige for our little school, having a known playwright on the staff) and I end up doing history. Daughter Dearest, being part of the school system staff, does most of the admin work for our group and teaches music (which might be part of what has Pat alienated; he wants to take music but not from his mom). I once suggested that Luke come up and teach important skills like barbecuing and mixology, but I got voted down. Luke said he wouldn’t have the time for it anyway; even during the fall and winter he gets traffic coming through.

I got a fun handout for history on Monday, it asked me to go over a list of acronyms and phrases you don’t hear anymore. Some of them took me back:

Homeowners’ Association
Religious Right
Jumbo jet
Muscle car

Since there were ten items, and ten kids, I cut the list up and had each kid draw one. Then they had to look up the term they drew and make a short presentation about what they found (the way I teach history, the kids absorb it almost by accident — while developing research, writing, and presentation skills). We ended up in a long discussion about the religious right, their connection to the junta years (2014-2022), and why “normal” people (who were a majority) didn’t do much to stop it. That lead to a discussion of 20th-century politics, then on to the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, the Founding Fathers, and the Revolutionary War. We ran wayyyy overtime, and cut into Rene’s biochem lesson, but he’s pretty understanding about that sort of thing. The kids can cover a week or more of material during these afternoon stream-of-consciousness discussions, even if they nearly wear me out. Sometimes, I feel like a mouse on a Google hunt. But when we get to the late 1700s again, we’ll breeze right through it and Rene will catch up. But that was just the first presentation. A few of them should dovetail together (like SUV, OPEC, and supertanker), so we can do all three presentations before triggering the info-tsunami.

I asked Rene once what he thought about teaching a class using his sister’s book. “It can’t be easier,” he said. “If something doesn’t make sense, I just give Christina a call.” Lucky him — how many teachers would even think of calling Dr. Cardenas-Roszinski with a question about The Circle of Life: Elementary-Level Biochemistry (3rd ed.), even if they could hunt down her office number? Then again, they would just call the school support staff and get the question answered nearly as quickly.

Our community center isn’t terribly fancy: a hall that we use for classrooms or community meetings, bathroom, the remote medassist room with an outdoor access, a serving area that abuts the covered outdoor kitchen, plenty of insulation to keep the place easy to heat. Maybe 2000 square feet, plenty of room for a school of 10 in a community whose population breaks 60 only if you count the animals. We put it up in 2026, during the Restoration, using materials and some labor furnished by the government. The Boy, and Kim and Christina, painted two murals on opposite walls, depicting how 21st century society has developed… one from order to chaos and order again, the other from machinery to humanity. I’ve used them in the history lessons.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009 8 comments

Violets and Business Models

While I was working at home today, Mrs. Fetched had a client in for some video work. Ironically enough, this client makes (wait for it) poultry processing equipment. I had to take a gadget out to the studio for a little shooting, and noticed the wild violets were once again springing up all over the yard (clicking the photo will give you something larger than life):

White wild violet

Going back inside, I reminded Mrs. Fetched to tell the client that I did product photography for my day job… gotta make these Shiny Things earn their keep, after all. I’d started a blog post about a month ago called “Musings on Photography and Copyrights,” but never got much farther than the title. Technology has dealt a serious blow to photography as a profession these days…
  • $1500 will buy you a pro-level (or at least prosumer) DSLR and the essentials — the barriers to entry have never been lower. But the only photo I ever sold, I took with my late lamented PowerShot (which cost about $300).

  • Digital photography itself has all but wiped out the darkroom. As an old friend of mine (who now shoots weddings) told me, “I used to spend a lot of time in the darkroom, now I spend it all in Photoshop.”

  • Scanners and computers have wrecked the traditional photographer’s business model. People are going to scan their portraits and print copies — it doesn’t matter (to them) if the copy isn’t quite as good, they’ve been trained to not care about quality. And their attitude toward copyright is something like, “I paid some hundreds of bucks for this, it’s mine!”

The guy with the medium-format camera and the account with a commercial film processing facility are still around, but their niche is truly a niche these days. Of course, there are always the people who work for Sports Illustrated or Time; major media will always need skilled photographers, even if they end up becoming web-only publications sooner or later.

The business model of the independent photographer has taken a mortal blow. But perhaps a new business model might work.

One facet could be summed up as “Photography and” or even "and Photography” — in other words, photography becomes a part of the business… and not necessarily the primary part. As I mentioned, I already take product photos as part of my technical writing job. It was something that needed to be done, and I learned how to do them well with basic equipment. But even if photography is secondary, it can provide a competitive edge to the business — if the client needs a good photo, there’s no need to contract with another person who might also take your primary work too.

The whole copyright issue needs to be addressed. With no negatives, digital photography might be best approached as a “work for hire,” the same way technical writing contractors work. Ideally, both you and your customer would hold joint ownership — the customer can fling a copy into Photoshop and mash it up or whatever, while you can license it as a stock shot or use it as part of your portfolio. To get people interested in your work to begin with, consider placing a few good shots under a Creative Commons Attribution license: this allows other people to use them (and spread them around) while you get credit for your work. You might as well make this whole file sharing culture work for you, right?

Of course, I might be completely off base. But this is part of my backup plan in case my day job goes away.

Monday, March 16, 2009 3 comments

FAR Future, Episode 77: Don’t Have to Live Like a Refugee

Yes, I’ve gotten older. But I have no intention of growing up…

Thursday, October 18, 2035
Don’t Have to Live Like a Refugee

Holá — Serena here. Dad overdid it again; we walked him up to the community center and uploaded his vitals to the nurse in town. She had him wait 20 minutes, took them again, and said he was okay, so now he’s taking a nap. Rene and I try to convince him (and Mo-Dad) to pace themselves, but do they listen? Ha. He’s gotten more like Mom since she died, he used to try to slack whenever he could but now it’s like he’s got to take her place and push himself to the limit and beyond. Mo-Dad isn’t much better, but he’s always been like that. Rene says he’s still trying to earn his place here, even though Dad said he’d earned it many times over. Anyway, Dad was singing this old song while helping finish the new apartments, hammering to the beat — he’s always had a weird sense of humor, but I guess he’s right. Our new guests really won’t have to live like refugees, the rooms are almost done and they’ll be pretty nice. Rene and I joked about taking one of the apartments and letting one of the new families have our rooms upstairs, but we won’t do that. We like having the upstairs when Kim and Christina come to visit, the kids sleep in one room and we stay up half the night in the other like we used to.

The people they were supposed to send to do the apartments never got here; they probably drank their fuel, but with all of us working on it we’re about done. All that’s left to do is paint the walls and ceilings, then roll out some foam and carpeting. Two days of work, three tops, and the guests will be here a week from tomorrow. Dad wanted to call it “Stable House,” since it used to be a garage, but Rene suggested “Carriage House” and Dad liked that better. Bobby’s looking forward to having two more kids more or less his age at the manor, and he’s been a huge help getting their new place ready. Big Sister and her family will take over the old “studio” building when they move in, but Pat (their kid) is a teenager and is already talking about more or less permanently camping out in the pasture shelter (not likely). He and Bobby have different orbits, they get along OK but just don’t have that much in common; otherwise we’d offer to let him share Bobby’s room. Big Sister said he’s a lot like Big Brother at that age, although he’s staying out of trouble and mostly keeping up with his schoolwork.

The tide’s starting to come in, a little higher with each high tide, at least on the Atlantic side. Californians joke about how they always expected to fall into the sea anyway, but it’s not going to start affecting them much for a few more months. The surge mostly has to work its way around the Patagonian and African capes, and the Bering Straits will be impassible going north for a long time to come. Ships are having a time getting through Gibraltar, for that matter. Spain and Morocco say they’re working on transfer points for ship cargo, because ships sailing into the Med will be stuck there for a couple of years, along with the ones that are already there, unless they get a really heavy tailwind. I’m working on a new play, about some people on a ship trying to get out of the Mediterranean, but it’s taking a while. I don’t guess it’ll be ready for Thanksgiving. Dad and I will probably do a sketch about something else; I doubt the guests will be in the mood to laugh about being flooded out any time soon.

Christina said people are already moving into the high-rises they converted down in Atlanta for the Floridians. There’s been a lot of grousing about the units, especially from the geezers who Dad says like to complain about everything. I guess some of the friction involves families sharing floors with people who lived in retirement (i.e. geezer-only) “communities,” and some of it’s about all the activities they’re used to doing but can’t now. Some of them want to try life in the burbs, but only people who don’t know what that’s like would consider it. It’s like living here, a bunch of people living together in the houses that are left, and a lot of busy-work to grow food and keep the infrastructure working. I don’t think the burbers would accept a bunch of people who won’t (or can’t) pull their weight. I suppose there are a few who would enjoy pitching in and being part of a productive community, though.

It’s kind of hard to believe our 10th anniversary’s coming up already — end of the month. Just one of those things… neither one of us were satisfied with anyone else we dated, so we finally realized that we weren’t going to be happy with anyone but each other! The parents were all surprised but really happy about it… Dad suggested we get married on Halloween, since it was a scary idea anyway, and we went with it. The surprise for me came when I got pregnant almost right away. I love Bobby, he’s a great kid and a lot of help around the manor, we just weren’t expecting him so quick. Dad said the Big Brother and Sister were both surprises, so even if I’m adopted it runs in the family, ha! I’m glad we’re not like Kim and Christina though… so much drama in that relationship. So much passion. Kim jokes about how they fight just for the make-up sex. I really like it that the guy I love is also my best friend, and Rene feels the same way. But it seems to work for them, their kids (yeah, two, but as smart as Christina is, nobody worries about that), and their work.

Time to start supper here soon; Rene just went out to start the fire in the outdoor kitchen. We’ll probably start cooking inside just before our anniversary, but that’s OK. There’s not as many bugs inside, but there’s not as much room to move around. With the new families moving in, we’ll probably butcher a cow for Christmas. Dad’s stirring, guess I better send this before he wakes up and wants to add commentary!


Friday, March 13, 2009 2 comments

Weekend Cinema

When you’re too drunk to drive to the theater, Weekend Cinema keeps you safe at home!

I was going to write up a detailed analysis of the Stewart-Cramer smackdown (short version: Cramer lost) but I’m too whacked to do it. So I’ll just link to the interview:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

The thing that still bothers me is Cramer saying something to the effect that “today’s investors don’t want to know about stuff like P/E ratios and the like.” DUH. Dad, if you’re reading this, you would probably agree with me that P/E ratios are one of the fundamental things you should know about investing in a stock… if you’re not interested in fundamentals, you should just spend your money or leave it in the bank.

What’s this world coming to anyway?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009 4 comments


From the Sunday photowalk.


Everything blooming that day was yellow. Today, the Bradford Pear trees are blooming, and those are more white.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009 12 comments

A Tale of “Whoa”

After buzzing up to the gas station on the motorcycle, to fill a couple of 1-gallon cans for the Civic (which I let nearly run out), I found Mrs. Fetched hadn’t returned from the chicken houses. I went there to find that the field man had delayed her, there wasn’t a problem, and she would be home shortly. I came home, dumped one of the cans into the Civic, and put the bike on the stand to clean and lube the chain (it was tight/loose enough).

After spraying the chain, and putting the guard back on, I grabbed the rear wheel and shook it on a lark. Imagine my unpleasant surprise when it wiggled… the axle bolt was finger-loose. I made sure the chain was straight and tightened it down.

That would have been more than unpleasant had the axle come out while I was on the road… I guess “check the wheel” goes on my weekly checklist from now on.

At least the front wheel and steering head bearings are good & tight.

Monday, March 09, 2009 9 comments

FAR Future, Episode 76: Before the Deluge

Maybe we jump the gun, but things could get bad enough this century.

And a hat tip to Odin’s Raven for guessing right…

Monday, September 10, 2035
Before the Deluge

Now let the music keep our spirits high,
Let the buildings keep our children dry,
Let Creation reveal its secrets, by and by…

When the government called for people to take in refugees from the coast, we all looked at each other… then answered the call. It’s not like there’s no time; they estimate it will be several months before the East Coast starts flooding, but we offered to take in two families with kids. This host/guest database they put up is pretty clever. We entered a list of characteristics — families with kids, an interest in gardening, carpentry skills, some familiarity with rural life in general — and it found five exact matches. Unfortunately, we only have room for two. We picked at random.

They sent us some recycled materials (and promised some labor) to convert the detached garage to a duplex. The delivery truck seemed huge, but it certainly wasn’t as big as the trucks they used to haul freight back when. The clattering diesel reminded me of the ambulance that came for Mrs. Fetched a few years ago — sometimes I feel like it came for her last week and other times an eternity ago. She told me to remind them “no extraordinary measures,” although it was too late even for that. She died right where she wanted to, in her own bed in her own house, before the medics got here.

But I’m rambling again. There’s no telling when the labor will arrive. Rene, Serena, and Bobby are doing some of the initial stuff; we cleaned out the garage and they’ve put up some of the framing. Guillermo and I have done a little bit when they’re not looking; they think we shouldn’t be doing anything but we’re just old, not dead, dagnabbit. With any luck, things will be ready when our new guests arrive. The house is pretty well full, which is why we’re converting the garage: Guillermo and Maria are still with us and still working, although they deserve to retire many times over, and Rene and Serena (and Bobby) have the upstairs rooms. The studio is for Daughter Dearest and her family when they move back this month — with the school system facilitating volunteer schooling, rather than trying to get enough fuel to bus the kids into town, they can bring the neighbor kids into the community center and do remote hookups as needed. The Boy would have been welcome here too, but he’s gone again… he’ll come back about the time I decide he’s opted-out, he always does. Kim tells me they’re renovating some abandoned high-rises in Atlanta to take in refugees, and they’re already booked. Things will get a little crowded when they come to visit, but we’ll manage somehow. Maybe we’ll put up a straw-bale house where the cows won’t eat it.

General Freakout seems to have taken charge since that big chunk of ice in Greenland let go. Some of the more delusional types think we can build seawalls all along the coasts (hunh?), and they’re already at it on Manhattan — the game of chicken between the government and private citizens ended pretty quickly, perhaps in time to actually make it work. The running joke, outside of NYC anyway, is that piling up all their garbage along the shoreline would be enough to keep the entire metro area dry. Just about the entire world is jamming the phone lines to the Netherlands, looking for help and advice — but they’re busy trying (and only partly succeeding) to hold back the surge themselves. At this point, a middling storm would flood them out. They should be OK by spring, if they make it that long; the surge is supposed to start receding as the flood works its way around the world. After a couple years, things should settle out with sea levels up around 3 meters.

The loudest outcry for the government to “do something,” not surprisingly, comes from the general direction of private beaches. The rest of us tell them, “it’s ‘your’ beach, it’s your responsibility,” and they just don’t understand why we’re not falling all over ourselves to preserve the property they don’t want us anywhere near. As if we could, given the Restoration-era laws against providing public aid to “fenced” property. They should have gotten a clue when Hurricane Tricia wiped out Daytona Beach back in 2028, and there wasn’t a big government rush to rebuild the rich people’s exclusive playground. Some of that got rebuilt privately, but it will all be under water again pretty soon. A rather rude joke I heard is that Floridians will soon be the new Okies; instead of dust, they’ll be escaping water and wandering the nation. On the Gulf, they’re just abandoning New Orleans to the coming flood. There’s some talk about either moving the Pascagoula shipyard or surrounding it with levees, but if they’re doing to do more than watch it go under they’ll have to get started chop-chop.

The water coming in will be colder than usual — an ice cube that big is going to make a difference even in an ocean — and they’re already predicting a chilly winter. We may even get a significant (1cm) accumulation of snow here, something we haven’t seen since [looking it up] January 2025. Beyond that, ask ten climatologists what the long-term effects are going to be and get 20 different answers. I’m hoping for the “cool and rainy” scenario, since that would fix a lot of problems much of the world has been having with climate change. One of the more troubling scenarios disrupts the Gulf Stream, bringing colder weather to much of Europe, but even that isn’t all bad… that scenario also involves a partial rebuilding of the Alpine glaciers and the Arctic ice cap. I don’t suppose we’ll have much choice in the matter, though. As the kids used to say before things changed, “it is what it is.” One thing’s probably a certainty… hurricane season will be really quiet next year.


Saturday, March 07, 2009 9 comments

What a difference a few days makes

This is what things looked like Monday morning:

Just for grins, I tried the PhotoStitch software that came with my camera and it did a fairly good job of relieving me of the grunt work. I had to pull it into Photoslobber to scale the thing down, though (it was like 7000 pixels wide!).

We somehow ended up in a sort of warm slot during the Sunday snow — it stuck north, south, and east of us, but here it was melt-on-contact. Atlanta got a fair amount of snow, but here the kids were disappointed to see the ground clear and the school bus rolling in right on schedule.

Today, it’s sunny and 70, so I grabbed the camera and took a walk I’ll be posting shots in random order, on and off this week, as I think about it. Here’s two to get started. As always, click for a larger picture or hover for a little extra commentary.

DaffodilsDaffodils out front of the manor. There are several stands scattered around the place. I like ’em because they don’t need much attention and just do their thing as early as they can get away with.

As you will see later on, yellow seems to be the predominant color for early bloomers around here.

SproutsThe lettuce and spinach are sprouting! I have them sitting out on top of the cold frame; they won’t get overcooked that way and they’ll likely get some rain through the week. The onions are taking a little longer, but I dug up the big one out back — turned out to be eight onions growing together — and separated them into a bed out front. They happily established themselves through the winter.

I’m also planning on sowing some seeds, maybe this weekend, out back. I’ve been assured that the deer would chow down on anything I plant in the garden area out back… maybe I need some fence. I guess I'll stake out a couple of rows in the back where the kitchen water drains and go from there — not a lot of afternoon sun, but for cool-weather crops that might be a good thing.

Don’t forget to spring forward tomorrow… and a new FAR Future sub-series kicks off here Monday.

Friday, March 06, 2009 10 comments

Programmers. Argh. (4.0, Premature Indigestion)

I suffered mightily from indigestion Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. I thought I was having a blood pressure spike, as the symptoms were about the same: chest pain/pressure, general feelings of uneasiness and shakiness. DoubleRed said her dad had a mini-heart attack with the same symptoms; we got out the BP machine Wednesday night and I was a tad high but the thing tends to read high anyway. Shortly after that, I began a long series of loud burps… about one a minute for an hour. Every time I’d let one loose, I felt a little better. By bedtime, I got to feeling fairly decent.

Thursday… let’s say whatever was causing the issue decided to move out. For Too Much Input, hover over this text. I still had a touch of whatever it was yesterday evening, but Mrs. Fetched attributed that to the Mexican food we had for lunch. Lord knows I’ve not exactly been eating right lately.

Skipping back a little… I got punted to a new department, which became official Monday. The new boss (not same as the old boss) came by Wednesday afternoon to get an idea of how I manage to get stuff done. I gave him a heads-up… as the new guy, he should expect a certain manager (the same one from Programmers 2.0, in fact) to start trying to poke his nose into the situation and dictating how I do my work.

I was right. I just didn’t expect it this week.

The opening shot came this morning, as part of an email chain concerning an update that we’d been handling through the week. Had I kept my mouth shut, I probably wouldn’t have had to worry about it, but I asked if we needed to update the translated User Guides as well. Another PITA engineer, who thinks his input is far more valuable than it actually is, wanted to know why we had French and Spanish for one product and Portuguese for another — the hobgoblin called Foolish Consistency rides that one hard — and the simple answer is that we sell one product through North America and the other in Brazil. “But we sell the other in Canada too,” said a manufacturing guy, and the seagull manager took wing with a comment to the new boss:

[You need] to make this multi-lingual translation routine and seemless [sic] for all our products.

I responded, “Routine and seamless? Good luck with that one.” We sell different products into different markets, and the markets often shift under our feet before I manage to finish the documentation. There is no “routine” when it comes to translation, simple as that. And seeing as it costs a fair amount of money for translation, there is no “seamless” unless we want to throw money away on translations we aren’t going to use… in this economy, that’s just stupid. I’ve already requested close to $10K for translations this year, and we’re not even through March yet. It also “seems” to me that someone who can’t even be bothered to turn on the spell checker in Notes should not be telling a writer how to do his job (“his” in this case is me).

I should have expected him to dig in… I have to give him this much, he won’t back down from a war of words even when he’s outmatched from the get-go. (Don’t start a flame war with a writer.) I suppose that’s a characteristic of empire-building; you can’t even admit to yourself that you’re on the wrong side on an argument. He whined about requirements (and there wasn’t even a Requirement Spec for this particular product), that the time and cost for translations seemed excessive (although he can’t really know since he’s not the one actually managing the process)… but the next part started (as Mrs. Fetched says) making my ass twitch:

We have impacted release dates in the past due to lack of translations. This is a problem area that needs to be fixed. […] delivery dates *MUST NOT* be gated by lack of documentation. This has to get fixed.

I wrote a nice little email that took him apart, paragraph by paragraph. In this particular case, we have had exactly one release date held up due to lack of translations (in 12 years), but he seems determined to hold that over my head at any opportunity… completely ignoring the myriad times development issues have held up releases. Perhaps if he was focused on hardware development instead of empire-building, they might meet more deadlines, but I didn’t say that. I went on to mention that documentation release dates keep getting pulled in, and the requirements for translations at the first build means I need to have completed and approved documentation (in English) 4–5 weeks earlier than that, so the translators have something to work from.

This took me to about 11:30 a.m. I wasn’t sure whether it was over the top (and the guideline is if you aren’t certain it’s not, it probably is), so I left the mail unsent and went to make a deposit at the credit union and grab some lunch (tried a random place along the way, a tad expensive but worth it). I figured a long hour, which included a motorcycle ride since I rode Little Zook to work, would give me some needed perspective. Alas, when I got back to work and looked over the email, I did some editing but didn’t see a need to tone it down at all. I sent it to my boss, who told me to not send it, let him handle it, and thanks for the info. No problem… I preferred to get some actual work done anyway.

With that not settled, but my participation thankfully out of the way, the discussion turned to yet another product. This is a “business services” product, so it doesn’t get end-user documentation, and people started questioning whether it should be done. As a necessity, I pointed out that we haven’t ever done translations for those kinds of documents, and asked whether we needed to start. One of the responses gave me a good laugh to end the day:

Maybe you'll have better luck getting an answer than I did.

And that’s the crux of the matter… I’m not going to request two grand or more for something I haven’t been told is needed. Maybe I should stop worrying and start stimulating the world economy.

But the indigestion, and its subsequent cause, are both gone now. There are days that the life of a chicken rancher looks like an improvement…

Monday, March 02, 2009 13 comments

FAR Future, Episode 75: Interlude (Pattern Shift)

In one brief episode, I cover nearly as much time as did the previous 74 episodes. To do it effectively, I had to step back from the first-person narrative just this once. I suddenly developed a few qualms about it late last week, after it had been patiently waiting its turn since mid-December, but couldn’t think of any better way to handle the span of time. So we’ll be back to the blog of the moment, when the episode number and my age are both 76…

Interlude: Pattern Shift

From the cosmic to the sub-microscopic, there are patterns to be seen everywhere. The galaxy dances with its partners in the Local Group; the sun orbits the galactic center and the earth orbits the sun. In its orbit, the earth turns on its axis: the universal tarantella. On the other end of the scale, electrons whiz about their nuclei, while sub-atomic particles dance in patterns that science has only partially mapped.

But patterns leave room for free will and chaos. In the vast middle area, weather patterns spin, some clockwise and some counter-clockwise. Biological and geological patterns respond to the weather… and vice versa. Humans continue to pump, mine, and burn fossil fuels, but less than they once did. In some places, people abandon the land and nature begins the dance of succession, reclaiming what has always been hers. The new wild nature differs from the old in some respects: some plants and animals reclaim their old niches; other niches are left empty, until another native species or an adaptable invasive claims it. Sometimes, humans attempt to help nature rebuild what they had destroyed, with varying degrees of success. In other places, they try to build a landscape that suits their needs while using the old nature as a template.

Little by little, the patterns of human civilization begin to shift, adapting to a growing understanding of what’s at stake: the species must either clean its nest or suffocate in its own waste. In the west, a new ethos is born with the speed that only a well-wired populace can comprehend.

The east becomes a laboratory for other ways to cope. Nations with high birth rates attempt to export their excess people, triggering wars and horrors that give the survivors lifetime nightmares. Large cargo ships are outfitted with sails, crammed with people, and cast off to find harbor where they may… or sink. Uncounted numbers of people die on these journeys, and many ships never reach a port. Japan’s elderly become its coast guard, proud to die defending their nation from invading immigrants — for a nation that cannot feed itself is beholden to others. India and Pakistan balkanize along ethnic and sectarian lines, but somehow manage to avoid nuclear war. Dark whispers of cannibalism are heard in both the east and west. Much of Africa returns to its past, thriving and dangerous coastal cities and a mysterious and deadly interior. But not all the news from Africa is bad: changing weather patterns create a new monsoon cycle in the west, and the desert begins to retreat in Mali and Niger.

In many places, human birth rates fall below the replacement level: those people cherish their few children, plant trees, and live as much as possible within the means of the energy nature gives them. Others live in cultures that are essentially incompatible with the new reality; the Four Horsemen ride them down until they learn a new culture. Human population spends a few years on a plateau, then begins to fall. Not quickly, nor uniformly, but one day the media reports that there are half a billion fewer people alive than 30 years ago. It’s a start.

The CO2 level reaches a plateau, but warming continues… thanks to soot from wood fires, a little slower than previously. The poles sweat, while climatologists keep a nervous eye on ocean levels and far-flung weather stations.

The patterns continue, from the cosmic to the sub-atomic. At either extreme, patterns are either static or change so slowly that humans have not detected the changes. In the middle, patterns change — usually gracefully.

But one late August night, a crack and a roar that goes on for days signals a more abrupt pattern shift.



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