The 135 Tidbits entries below appear with the most recent entries first. To see them displayed in the order they were written, please click here.

 August 24, 2010
Blog Fatigue

Friends,

As you know if you've spent any time floating around here at all, I used to do a pretty decent job of maintaining this little piece of real estate on the web. The last time my posts slowed to a crawl... it was for much the same reasons as now: too much work, not enough time, and the blog is taking much to much administrative effort to keep going.

When I first started blogging here in 1998 or so, I hand-tooled the html every time I updated the page. Not difficult, but it gets tedious after a while. Then I met Jehan Semper, who programmed a content management system in perl that I used for years. Wow, did that make it easy to keep the site updated.

But even so, hand tooling special features became a bit of a chore, and I wanted things like "comments" and other Web 2.0 gadgets like all the other cool kids. Along came Movable Type, and I was once more off to the races.

Now, it's the one-click uploading of photos and comment screening that I want. Like all the cool kids. If I paid any attention to this blog at all, it would be to delete the hundreds of comment spam e-mails I get every week. Of course, I don't bother because I get thousands of junk e-mails each week, and it's a struggle just to reply to valid e-mail, let alone maintain my blog.

...let alone go to work, raise my kids, deal with recent surgery (more on that in a future post), and many other things, besides. But you get the idea.

This blog started out as a means of keeping in touch with friends and family and occasionally waxing philosophical about the topics of interest to me. Truth be told, I haven't really run out of things to say. But it would be more fun standing on a cool new soap box.

So, do any of you, my dear readers, have any suggestions on how I might improve my blogging experience, and thereby renew my enthusiasm here? How might I make it easier on myself to share not only recipes with you, but photos of the finished product? Or pictures of the kids? Or embed movies, for that matter?

Feel free to comment with your suggestions... I promise to read them!

--me

Posted by at 02:09 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 March 07, 2010
The Great Dr Pepper Experiment

So, I hear people talking about how they prefer their sodas of choice to use the sugar recipe instead of the high fructose corn syrup recipe. Given that sugar and HFCS are pretty much identical, chemically, I was curious as to whether there really is a difference.

So I set up a test.

I went to the local grocery store, and bought two otherwise-identical bottles of Dr Pepper -- one using the current formula, and the other using the 'heritage formula' that uses sugar instead of HFCS. I chose Dr Pepper because that is my poison of choice. And yes: I AM WELL AWARE THAT I SHOULDN'T BE DRINKING SODA POP AT ALL, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

Pepsi was also an option to do the sugar versus HFCS taste test challenge, but Pepsi is not my poison of choice.

So. I made myself some peanut-butter toast to use as a palette reset. I asked Paulette to pour one type of Dr Pepper in one mug, and the other in another while I was out of the room, and to return the bottles to the fridge so that I couldn't be swayed by knowing which formula was in which mug.

I came back in the kitchen and began the taste test. I ate a bite of peanut butter toast, and then tried the first mug. Very bubbly. Otherwise, about what I'd expect from Dr Pepper. I had another bite of peanut butter toast, and then tried the second mug.

Hmmm. A very subtle difference. Very subtle. A little (only a weeee bit) fruitier, perhaps. More like... cough syrup.

Hmmm.

I held out the second mug. "This is the sugar version."

"Yes."

"The difference is almost too subtle to notice. But given a choice between the two, I prefer the HFCS recipe."

So, there you have it.

If you slipped me sugar instead of the HFCS version, I probably wouldn't notice or care. But when paying close attention, when it comes to the taste of Dr Pepper, sugar is not an advantage.

This public service message is brought to you by the find folks at Rousselle labs, who remind you that all soda is bad for you, whether you bow to your Big Corn overlords or fall sway to the great "Sugar Is Better" lie.

Posted by at 05:40 PM in the following Department(s): Journey of a Thousand Pounds , Tidbits | Comments (4)
 December 06, 2009
Santas I Have Been

1984. Junior year at high school. Someone (I don't recall who) had brought a Santa suit on the last day of school before winter break.

"Anybody wanna be Santa?"

"Sure, I'll do it." I put on the costume. Now, keep in mind that at the time, I was in pretty good shape: I was a varsity swimmer, skinny as a rail, and all my weight was lean muscle. I slipped into the suit and turned into the skinniest, whitest Santa you've ever seen walking with a city swagger at a mostly non-white, inner city high school. (Yes, people, even Buffalo has an inner city, complete with drug gangs and guns in the schools and all that.) I didn't bother with the beard, if there was one.

I decided to play it up. Over half of the kids had skipped school that day, so there really wasn't much going on in any of the classes. The teachers were taking it easy, the kids were taking it easy, and I was feeling... playful. Frisky.

Keep in mind, at school I was a straight-laced, perfectionist, up-tight white boy. I had a sense of humor, but I tended to be... guarded around the girls. They'd never want anything to do with me anyway, I figured. (Well, except for the fact that several kept hitting on me, and I was too wound up to do anything about it.) But, now, here I was in this Santa suit, with none of the classroom pressure I normally put upon myself, and I was free! Free to be a different guy.

I didn't play Santa. I played a guy playing Santa. I played a guy who didn't mind being forward -- inappropriately forward, in fact -- who was playing Santa. And everyone else played along.

"Hello, little girl, want to sit on Santa's lap?" I asked all the pretty girls, esp. the seniors and other "unattainables." And they did. All smiles, and some giggles, these girls I never would have approached as myself gladly sat down and entertained lecherous banter with my jolly ol' elf.

Looking back... for all that I was a smart kid, why did I never, ever see the lesson in all this? Those "unattainable" girls weren't unattainable. They liked me! I was a likeable enough guy; all I had to do was engage.

At the end of that school year, some of those girls signed my yearbook saying that they would always remember me as their lecherous Santa (or words to that effect). The one time I let my guard down and allowed myself to be playful was the me they would remember.

A lesson I don't think I ever really took to heart.

2006. Married man, father of two young boys. (Nolan was an infant.)

I was president of the community association board of directors. The community center was going to have a tree lighting ceremony, and I figured they'd ask me if I wanted to light it. Imagine my surprise when they said that *Santa* was going to lead the lighting ceremonies. And then, further surprise, they asked if *I* would be Santa.

Since the fire department would be giving Santa a ride to the event, I went a couple of days early to meet with the guys at the fire station, and to try on the suit. The suit was a good suit, but imagine my dismay when I discovered that, well, I didn't need any padding to fill out the suit. It fit me perfectly. Bah, humbug.

Instead of my brown steel-toed boots, the firemen leant me a pair of black fire fighter boots and the ensemble looked quite convincing. Hands down, the coolest part of the gig was getting to ride in the fire truck, sirens a wailin', en route to the event. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend it.

At the time, Alex was four years old. Old enough to enjoy the all the trappings of Christmas. Paulette brought the kids to the event (there were games and activities for the kids; it was a big party, of which the tree-lighting was just one part.) Let me tell you, one of the most surreal experiences of my life was sitting there in Santa's chair, talking to the kids as they came up one at a time to tell Santa that they were being good and what they wanted for Christmas... and watching my own children look at me and completely not recognize me. Eventually, Alex came up to sit on Santa's lap.

"Hellooo, Alex! And are you being a good little boy this year?" I had on my Santa voice. Having spent years in radio, my "on" voice is very different from my normal conversation voice. But still....

"Yes," he said, in that matter-of-fact way he had. No sign of recognition at all. Or was there?

"Are you being a good big brother?" I asked.

"Yes."

"And what would you like for Christmas?"

"A Spiderman!" I didn't even know he knew who Spiderman was. We didn't watch tv at home except for DVDs of the Wiggles and Walking With Dinosaurs and the like. But anyway...

We talked for a bit with the usual patter before I sent him along, but man that was weird. Talking to my own kid and he didn't even realize it.

"The usual patter." Ha! I've been doing Santa for the community holiday events ever since. I'm such an old pro. But, yes, there's a routine.

2009. I've dropped about 35 pounds or so. If anyone were to ask why Santa's looking a little bit thinner this year, I'd simply say that it's been a lean year for all of us. Ho, Ho, Ho. (I needn't have worried. I saw myself in the mirror, and in that get-up... let's just say, even a few belt notches in, this Santa has a long way to go in the weight loss department.)

This year, my children are not in attendance. Otherwise, we go through the usual routine. The difference, this year, is that it's a new events committee, so they set things up differently. I had a Mrs. Claus, for example, and some helpful elves who would lean in and tell me the names of the kids before they came to sit on my lap. Wonderful touches like that.

One boy kept asking if I was the real Santa. At one point, he asked me if I could make kids fly. This was while we were outside, getting ready to light the big community tree outside the community center. Lots of kids and parents were within earshot.

"Can you make kids fly?"

"Well... not since that one incident in Albuquerque."

The parents completely cracked up. It was great. Having played Santa a few times now, I've grown into the role. My Santa is a working guy who loves kids, but has an easy-going sense of humor. I encourage the kids to be good to their siblings and find things they love to do in school, but really, the emphasis is on having fun.

This season hasn't felt very Christmassy so far, and truth be told, I wasn't really looking forward to playing Santa this year. But putting on the suit, hearing the carolers at the party, cracking jokes for the parents and posing for pictures with the neighborhood kids definitely helped.

Today, our family is going to get a tree. It's time to get into the spirit of things.

Ho, ho, ho, everybody. Ho, ho, ho.

Posted by at 12:44 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 November 27, 2009
Thanksgiving 2009

Just a quick note:

It's customary for many folks in the US to take stock this last weekend of November of what we have to be thankful for. (Our Canadian friends do it a month and a half earlier. Something about the exchange rates on Canadian days being shorter than US days, or something.)

At the risk of sounding sappy, I just want to say that of course I am most thankful for the continued health and happiness of my beautiful and intelligent boys. Of course I am extremely thankful for my entire family, in all of the many directions it extends.

But I also want to give out a very big thanks to my dear friends. For the past few years, I've generally gotten so wound up in the day-to-day of running my business and tending my family that I started to lose connection with my friends. This year, in part thanks to Facebook, but also thanks to my realizing I just plain need to reach out, I've managed to reconnect with many good friends from my past as well as make new good friends at my taekwondo studio, in my neighborhood, and elsewhere. And, I've tried (with varying degrees of success) to shore up the friendships I've been enjoying on an ongoing basis.

As I wrestle with new challenges and new opportunities in my life, I find that my friendships provide me with a sturdy foundation without which I would surely lose my way. Thanks in particular to John, LAL, Kathy L., and so many others. You guys are the best. I can only hope that I prove to be as good a friend to you as you continue to be to me.

And... thanks to you, dear reader, for sticking with me even during my prolonged silences on this blog this year. It's been a rocky year in many ways, but better times are just around the corner.

Posted by at 01:44 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 September 25, 2009
They Just Don't Make Them Like They Used To....

Sorry I've been away from the blog for so long. I've been dealing with the daily grind. You know how it goes.

While I've been otherwise occupied, some goobers decided to smash a 1959 Chevy Bel Air into a 2009 Chevy Malibu in order to make a point:

They just don't make 'em like they used to.

Some of y'all who knew me back when may recall that I used to drive a classic car -- that my first car was, in fact, older than I. There were a lot of things to love about that car. From time to time, I even fantasize about the notion of picking up another such car, fixing her up, and making that my driving-around-town vehicle.

But, no, that's a foolish notion, and nostalgia for the things I'm fond of gives way to the sad reality that there's a reason they don't make 'em like they used to. And, that's usually a good thing.

Here's a link to the article: IIHS crashes modern Malibu into '59 Bel Air.

I recommend reading the article. But, since you're here now anyway, check out the video:

[sigh]

Posted by at 01:35 AM in the following Department(s): Technology , Tidbits | Comments (0)
 May 25, 2009
Remembering

My father and my uncle. Both of my grandfathers. My brother-in-law. A good friend of mine from high school. Several good friends of mine from college, and those who I met later in the workforce. They served our country by taking up arms, for a time, as part of our military forces. Some saw combat; some did not. My brother-in-law and high school friend are still serving in active duty today. Overseas, in the theater of war. Right now.

All of these I mention survived their time in the armed forces ('so far,' I must hesitantly add). In the case of my father and grandfathers, I'm particularly glad they survived, because otherwise, I wouldn't be here. Of all of these who completed their service to the government, all went on to contribute in other ways to our society. As parents, as teachers, as a professor, as an assistant principal, as a cop, as a business owner, as a pastor, as so much more.

But so many others, so many more good men and women did not survive their time in our service. How many other children were never born because they didn't return? How many good teachers and parents and professors and business owners and friends and mentors never had a chance to contribute because they had already given their ultimate sacrifice?

Whether they lost their lives in some grand battle to stop Hitler or in some pathetic training exercise gone awry or in some minor skirmish in a battle that never officially happened; whatever their personal motivations for being there; however futile or pivotal their actions were -- they died in our service.

I am thankful to those who have served. I am thankful to those who serve today. To those who survived -- I appreciate what you have done. For those who didn't survive, I honor their service and mourn their loss. Our loss.

Kevin Lier and Lee Scott Dwen, thank you for your continuing service, and may you return home safely to your family and friends and enjoy many long years ahead.

Posted by at 03:11 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 May 21, 2009
Prestidigitation? Elaborate.

I recently got in touch with a writer friend of mine on Facebook who noted I'd listed among my interests, "Prestidigitation." He is a very skilled writer, and expert at economy. He wrote me a message that is the epitome of elegance:

Subject: Prestidigitation?
Body: Elaborate.
To which I replied something along the lines of:

"Magic" is typically divided into a few major categories, such as: mentalism (think of a card, any card, and I'll tell you what it is), prestidigitation (pick a card, any card, and I'll do something clever with it), and escape (get me out of this straight-jacket, you card!). There are a number of sub-categories: stage, close-up, street, kids', cardistry (flourishing), comedy, bar, and so on.

First, let me say that I pretty much like it all. I like to watch as a spectator; I like to solve the puzzle (when there is one), and in some cases, I like to practice the art myself. As with writing and reading, I enjoy it for its own sake, and I enjoy dissecting the performance and grokking it. That said, of the major categories of magic, I'm particularly interested in prestidigitation.

I enjoy watching good escape magic, but it's more of a physical feat than a clever ruse. What you see is what is happening.

I've been enjoying studying mentalism, especially as it is all based primarily upon psychological tricks that are also used by con artists, marketing/commercial enterprises, and self-professed psychics. I've always been fascinated by human nature and what makes us tick. So, I enjoy *studying* it. But I don't generally find it as entertaining to watch. (There are some major exceptions.)

Prestidigitation, however, is a joy to watch, to study, and to practice. I'm not very good at it, mind you, but it's fun to try. It typically involves sleight of hand (ie, physical skill), optical illusion, and/or misdirection.

I'm a big fan of comedy magic, where comedic timing is so intricately linked to the timing of the trick. In particular, I'm a fan of card tricks (I collect playing cards), but any kind of prestidigitation can be fun.

Here's a classic example of excellent sleight of hand (under the category "comedy close-up magic") by Bill Malone:

Here's another routine by the same guy (not so much comedy, but excellent close-up magic):

Here's some sleight (watch that Rubik's cube!) plus some excellent misdirection and illusion on stage:
Barry And Stuart On Stage

Notice how, in all three cases, the performance is all about story. I think that's another reason I dig prestidigitation. Escape magic is all about physical daring-do, and mentalism is, for the most part, mind games. But decent prestidigitation requires a story and brings it all together. Without story, all you have is a trick.

What about you, dear reader? Do *you* like magic? What kinds?

Posted by at 10:34 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 March 16, 2009
In memory of JBH

During my time at WVBR-FM, I worked with an amazing collection of talented people. They all had something to give, something to learn, something to teach. A few of the cast of characters at VBR had been there for long spans of time -- even decades -- and provided the thread of continuity that bound the rest of us, who were there for no more than three or for years at a stretch.

One such character was John Barry Hill, our "JBH". He was the station's chief engineer when I was there, and had been for decades before. He was, at the time, one of the station's three living memory keepers; he knew the crews from by-gone days, and helped (and, to be honest, sometimes hindered) the development of the station's overall character by providing us with continuity.

JBH was not a perfect man, and he was not necessarily perfect for the radio station. But he was a good man, and he was, on the whole, good for the station. I'm glad to have known him.

I enjoyed his story-telling, and all of the many technical tricks he taught me. He was a gifted practical joker, and had a lively sense of humor. And the man had a voice -- both in the character sense, but also in the vocal sense -- that was compelling. Today, as a writer, I tend to focus on narrative and character voice. As a listener, I'm enthralled by good 'pipes'. JBH had it all. He had Voice. He could put you at ease, or rile you up, but mostly, he just told great stories and explained in just the right words how to do what needed to be done.

JBH is the second good friend of mine from my VBR days to have passed this scene. I have yet to comment on the passing of one of the station's other great "memory keepers" -- Atley Nesbitt. I will, in time. Both men deserve to have their memories honored. While it may be some time before Atley gets his recognition, I was touched to learn about a brief tribute paid to JBH by fellow WVBR alum, Keith Olbermann:

Here's to you, JBH. You made a lasting impression on all of us who knew you.

Posted by at 10:05 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 February 16, 2009
Facebook Insecurity

This past weekend, I attended what I like to call a "writers conference." (It was RadCon -- an event more properly called a "science fiction convention," but I went there as a writer, so let me cling to my euphemisms, okay?)

During a lull in the conference, I should have been working on red-lining the page proofs I'd received for Swordplay, which contains a short story of mine ("Last Man Standing"). Instead, I decided to create an account on Facebook, as I'd alluded to earlier.

Once on Facebook, I found a near and dear friend of mine who had posted to her "Notes" section a response to a couple of questionnaires that seem to be making the rounds. "Twenty-Five Random Things About You" and "The Name Game", where you answer questions based upon factoids about yourself.

These seem like really fun games to play, and I want to play. I want old friends of mine to have a chance to catch up with some of the tidbits I've collected in my life over the years. I want my old friends to find me. I intend to find a way to share what I can with them.

BUT.

So many of these fun little games can pose a security risk. I don't mean like, "Oh, Betty Sue from first grade might find out that I've converted to Pastafarianism and now will use that information against me to spoil my relationships with our mutual friends from first grade who have since become religious fundamentalists." Rather, I mean, "Oh, I mentioned the name of my first pet, and that's the security question on my credit card accounts."

I've written a bit more extensively on the topic of "breaking and entering" into your identity using this kind of information. Please take a look at my previous blog post on the subject. But, let me repeat part of it here:

If someone wants to get at your online identity, your weakest link (and therefore your greatest vulnerability) is probably your security question.

Many online data warehouses will, if you "forgot your password", simply e-mail your password or a password-reset link to your e-mail address. As long as you have reasonably good control over your e-mail address, that's fine. But many online data warehouses will, instead, ask a security question (possibly even one that you have picked). Upon successfully answering the question, *anyone* can be given complete access to *your* online identity.

This is particularly problematic for AOL and the major blog networks, where the user ID is already public. If Johnny Badguy wants to hijack your blog on BlogJournal, and he knows (isn't it always a 'he'?) that your blog belongs to "Victim-American", then he already knows the login ID to use. When asked the security question, well... all he has to do is look it up on the web, no?

It's like this: Johnny Badguy types in your login ID and clicks on "I forgot my password." He is then asked, "What year did you graduate college?" He then searches your blog (or elsewhere on the internet, as appropriate) for any references to your age, deduces what year you probably graduated, and then he's in. "What's your mother's maiden name?" He looks for any references you may have made to your grandparents. "Where were you born?" Again, not usually all that hard to find the clues necessary to come up with the answer.

I've been meaning for some time now to post an essay about an old car I owned, but I know I used that as a security question/answer for something, and until I track down what it was, I'm reticent to share that online....

So, yeah. One of these days, I'll probably join y'all in the "Twenty-Five Random Facts About Me" game. But I strongly encourage you to make sure you are not sharing any information that you have used as the answer to a security question on any of your bank, credit, or online accounts.

By the way... will you be my friend?

Posted by at 11:32 PM in the following Department(s): Technology , Tidbits | Comments (3)
 November 15, 2008
Diabetes - Quick Follow-up

As readers of my blog will note, I often (although not always) make light of complicated or troublesome topics in order to drive home to a particular point.

A couple of days ago, at the request of a friend of mine, I drew attention to "World Diabetes Day". I hadn't even been aware, until I received her e-mail, that there was such a day. And yet, the topic is of particular concern to me for a number of reasons. As I am often wont to do, I eased into the discussion on my website with my usual attempt at a light touch. Once I started talking about Type 1, I got a bit heavier. It's possible that maybe, just maybe, by implication, I was making it appear that Type 2 is a walk in the park by comparison, which it is not.

One thing I mentioned is that Type 2 can be managed by lifestyle choices, often in combination with drugs. The emphasis here, however, should be the word "managed." It cannot, at present, be cured. It does not go away. The disease (and its treatments) produce a number of complications and undesirable side-effects.

A relative of mine who occasionally is kind enough to read my musings here and post his thoughts contributed a comment to my previous post on the subject, and I'm repeating it here because it bears repeating:

"Type I & II are both terminal. Type II is very difficult for me. It is not the 3 or 4 shots a day, its what it does to your body long term even when it is under control. It never gets any better." --Tony
My previous post included the links of a number of excellent resources. I'm going to post one more for the wikipedia.org online encyclopedia entry on the subject. Just read the first couple of paragraphs. After that, you may decide it's worth your time to read the rest of the article.

Either way, thank you for indulging me on this topic. And if it should happen that you have a few bucks to contribute to a good cause, I hope you'll consider one of the diabetes research foundations I mentioned in my previous post.

Also, if you are pregnant or have a child who is younger than three months, please consider participating in the previously mentioned TEDDY Study. If you have a relative with Type 1, you might want to consider participating in Trialnet.

And now, we return to your politics-ranting, baby picture-displaying, pop culture-commenting, sometimes humor-making blog, already in progress.

Posted by at 02:29 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 November 12, 2008
Coming Soon! World Diabetes Day!

This Friday (November 14th) has been designated "World Diabetes Day" -- a day when everyone in the world will be struck by diabetes.

No, wait. Let me try that again.

This Friday (November 14th) has been designated "World Diabetes Day" -- a day to dance and sing and celebrate diabetes.

No, that's not it either.

It's more along the lines of an "awareness day". Like "Cephalopod Awareness Day", only not that stupid.

Seriously, did you know there are two main types of diabetes? Type 2 sucks, and it usually hits you when you're a fat old feeb, like me (although some children come down with it, as well). No, I don't have type 2 diabetes. At least, not yet. But, because of my lifestyle choices (choosing to be a fat old feeb), I'm a prime candidate. A relative of mine does have it, and he has even commented about it here on my site from time to time. Who knows? He may choose to comment again. In the meantime, I'll sum up what he has noted in the past: it sucks. But you manage it, and life goes on.

That's the thing about type 2 diabetes: often, one can manage it through lifestyle changes. Occasionally, management of the disease involves taking oral drugs.

Type 1, on the other hand, is a colossal bitch. There is a genetic component, and it can not be managed through lifestyle changes alone. Once it sets in, it requires aggressive, annoying, invasive action every day. It generally affects children, and only rarely strikes a person past the age of 15. Here's what a good friend of mine has to say on the subject of having a child with Type 1:

"I can't tell you how much I hope and pray that they will find a cure so my son won't have to go his whole life with 4 injections and 4-8 finger pricks every day. "
Please visit worlddiabetesday.org and spend a few minutes on the site. Check out "the diabetes warning signs" and check out the little booklet they have under "materials".

Parents of children under the age of 15 need to know the signs. Fat old feebs like me need to work on not being fat old feebs. And when you vote, in either local, statewide or national elections, please think about what your candidates' positions may be with regard to scientific and medical research. (That said, if you wanted to donate a few bucks to research for a cure, that could only help.)

Thanks in advance for taking a few minutes to become a little bit more aware about diabetes.

UPDATE: Here are a few other sites that have more information about the disease, and also information about funding research for a cure: the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International at www.jdrf.org, the American Diabetes Association at www.diabetes.org, Diabetes Australia at www.diabetesnsw.com.au, and the TEDDY Study at http://teddy.epi.usf.edu/.

Posted by at 12:43 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 October 25, 2008
What I Did Last Halloween

Last year, when we prepared for Halloween, each of the kids picked out these little pumpkins to decorate with markers and small carvings. I picked out a big pumpkin and decided to carve something based upon a photo I'd seen a few years ago that kinda sums up that ol' Halloween Spirit.

I carved it a couple of days in advance, but I didn't put it out until the day, itself, because our street is somewhat conservative in it's decorating ethic, and I didn't want to overplay my hand. Here is what I carved:

Too Much Candy

I told the visitors who came to our door that the pumpkin had had too much candy.

I have some ideas for this year. We'll see if I get around to pulling any of them off....

Posted by at 02:26 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (2)
 July 26, 2008
Other amspay fake headline subjects I've liked

I hate, hate, hate the amount of time I have to spend just weeding out useless amspay e-mail, but I nonetheless found the following fake headlines on some of their subject lines kinda entertaining:

* Scientists create prosthetic brain
* Court rules lesbians are different from lesbos
* Bush And Putin Agree To Restart Cold War During G8 Summit
* Schwarzenegger Admits Starting California Wildfires
* Gay Rights Terrorist Kills Eight In Fabulous Bombing

I haven't switched my mail over to the new "mail scanner" server. I've been too busy weeding out the amspay. Grrrr.

Posted by at 01:25 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 July 23, 2008
How I spend [some of] my time

In addition to voluminous issues at work and at home (and, yes, the new baby is absolutely adorable, but his big brothers require a bit more attention at the moment!), I am finding it extremely difficult to get unburied from all the effing amspay in my e-mail inbox.

What tends to happen with me is I spend a certain amount of time each day on e-mail and other writing, and if my inbox is filled with a thousand messages, I'm spending most of that time pruning the amspay rather than replying to the one or two legitimate messages that deserve my attention. At some point, though, I have to move on to do other things, otherwise nothing gets done.

On the one hand, this means I must beg your forgiveness if you've sent me an e-mail that I haven't responded to, yet. On the other hand... well, there is no other hand. Well, except to say that if I owe you an e-mail even if it isn't in response to one of yours, well, the time I would normally spend e-mailing you has been taken up, instead, by these effing ammerspays.

And I'm getting absolutely flooded, lately. Flooded.

One of the common amspay attacks I'm receiving involves incorporating sensational (and false) news headlines in the subject line, presumably in an effort to sucker me into opening the message and then clicking on the link contained therein (which, I must assume, would only get me more junk e-mail.)

Yesterday, I received the first such fake headline that actually made me laugh out loud: "Bush to Sell Louisiana Back to the French."

Today, another one caught my attention: "Bush Averts Albanian Uprising By Invading Alabama."

I'll be moving my e-mail services shortly to a new server where, my testing shows, at least half of the junk e-mail that's making it past my filters will get caught. That still leaves half a ton left to prune, but I need as much good help on this front as I can get.

And maybe, one of these days, I'll get around to posting more photos of baby Andrew and his big brothers....

Posted by at 02:02 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 July 14, 2008
Name That City

I live in a development in an unincorporated area of my county, just east of the city of Redmond, WA, but not close enough to be annexed by said city. The county in which my neighbors and I reside takes our tax money (interestingly, they charge us more in taxes than I ever paid when I lived in the city of Redmond -- not just in absolute dollars, but as a percentage, as well) and spends it in downtown Seattle (the county seat) rather than spending it here.

Then, when something needs to be done out here, they'll mandate that we (as residents of a development) fund it out-of-pocket through our homeowners associations.

That's obviously an oversimplification of a much more complicated process, but you get the gist. Some of us are not happy with this arrangement, and are starting to explore the idea of incorporating this area into a city, which would bring some of those tax dollars back to us.

But, if we can and do incorporate, what would we name this new city? "East Redmond?" "Redmond Heights?" "Redmond Hills?"

The name is a marketing choice: after all, the residents here would have to vote on incorporation, and they probably wouldn't vote to incorporate "Irving, Washington," no matter how funny that would be.

Here are some other names I'd love to try, but might be problematic. I've checked to make sure they haven't been taken, for the sake of the exercise. (George is already taken, for example):

* President
* General
* Carver
* District of Columbia
* Notgnihsaw
* Wa Wa

More seriously, why not pick a name to commemorate the traditions of our large Indian population?

* Diwali (literally, "festival of lights")

Or, for that matter, the aboriginal Native Americans?

* Tlahwahdees (the original name of a local Sammamish settlement)
* Simump (another name for the Sammamish tribe)
* Willows (the Sammamish were known as "willow dwellers"; there is already a local street by this name)

What do you think? Any suggestions? Have fun with it!

Posted by at 12:00 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (2)
 June 23, 2008
"I'll take Potpourri for $100, Alex"

Random news that's fit to print:

* Andrew James continues to be the (current) cutest baby in the world, just as Alexander Benjamin continues to be the (current) cutest almost-six-year-old in the world, and Nolan Theodore continues to be the (current) cutest three-year-old in the world. I'll post more pix soon to prove it.

* I have recently signed a contract for my third pro fiction sale, "Last Man Standing", for the upcoming Swordplay anthology coming from DAW Books. Three short story sales to a pro market makes me eligible to join the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America -- a union that (I've been told) would put me on the invite lists for other upcoming "invite only" anthos and also allow me to vote for the Nebula Awards.

Also of note, this was my first attempt at writing historical fiction (not that I don't have some background in history, mind you). I'm very happy to have sold it right out of the gate, since there are few markets for historical fiction.

* I have even more recently signed a contract (and received a check!) for my fourth pro fiction sale, "If I Did It", for the upcoming The Trouble With Heroes anthology, also coming from DAW Books. I'm very excited about this sale, as this was a tricky piece of writing. It's a very short story (only 2,400 words or so), but I try to pack in as much humor, wry social commentary, and *story* as I can in a tiny little package. Satire is typically hard to sell, but it's something I *want* to get good at, so it's nice to see my practice may be paying off.

* Last night, I finally, finally, FINALLY began work on my new novel project. Wow, did it feel good to get that started. This beast is going to be much, much better than my first novel-length project (The Do Over), if only because I learned so much from the many things I did wrong on that one.

* More advice to Kevin (see my previous post on "Valedictory Advice") will be posted here shortly.

* M. Night Shyamalan is one of the most talented film directors working today, but his latest offering, The Happening, is so anti-science that I could scream. He tries to make a catch phrase out of "...just a theory!" That he does this in a flick ostensibly about ecological calamity is bizarre. When Paulette gave me a Father's Day pass to go see a movie without the kids around, I shoulda seen Iron Man instead. Grrr.

More later, potaters.

Posted by at 01:52 AM in the following Department(s): Novel-in-Progress , Tidbits , Writing | Comments (1)
 May 22, 2008
An Approach to Insomnia

As I've mentioned from time to time on these pages, I am prone to insomnia. This has been true for me since high school, when I was more tightly wound than that character "Cameron" from Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

I'm not the perfectionist that I used to be (man, life is so much easier when you lower your standards), but I still have plenty racing around in the ol' noggin to sometimes thwart my efforts at sleep. Constant interruptions from the kids (two out of three children in this household currently like to break up the monotony of cutting zzzs during the late night/early morning hours) fuel my body's occasional aversion to surrendering to sleep.

I found an interesting approach to insomnia in a book called And Never Stop Dancing by Dr. Gordon Livingston (I presume). No, despite the title, this isn't some New Agey feel-good picker-upper. It's a collection of observations by a psychiatrist who also happens to be an eloquent story teller.

In a chapter entitled "No one ever died of insomnia," Dr. Livingston (notice that there *is* a period after the Dr. in this case, as opposed to the missing period from a case of Dr Pepper) gives a neat formula for handling sleeplessness. If, after a half hour of trying, you still can't fall asleep, get up and do something for at least forty-five minutes before trying to sleep again. Repeat as necessary.

This isn't a cure by any stretch, but it's a fantastic way of *dealing with it*.

Oddly enough, I've been intuitively pursuing this kind of approach for a while now (as noted in this entry from last year), but I like the idea of having a formula to use as a guideline, rather than resorting to temporarily-giving-up-on-sleep out of exasperation.

You may wonder why it occurs to me to mention this little formula to you on this particular occasion. Then again, you may have already seen the time stamp on this entry.

Posted by at 04:17 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 May 06, 2008
Mission: Mt St Helens

Around this time last year, Paulette came up with the idea of taking the kids down to Mt St Helens as a kind of family field trip. Alex's school has the kids do show-and-tell, and encourages them to talk about things that start with the "sound of the week" -- that would be the letter of the week, but that's not how they teach reading at his school, they teach sounds -- and the letter V (or, rather, the sound V) was a few weeks away. Paulette's idea was that we could see the volcano one day, and then spend the rest of the weekend visiting friends in Portland, OR and hitting the Saturday Market.

A side note about the Portland Saturday Market: ten summers ago, some friends from my Cornell days and I converged on Portland for a mini-reunion that we have every year (each year in a different city), and we went to the Saturday Market as part of our weekend. While there, I saw a photographer's exhibit that was simply breathtaking, and I very much wanted to buy one of his custom-framed prints. It was amazing. But, I was also only two months away from getting married, and I wanted to make sure that Paulette wouldn't mind me blowing a big wad of cash on a piece of art just before we dropped an even bigger wad of cash on our wedding.

As it turned out, she and I have very similar tastes in art, but since we'd never really acquired any art up to that point, I wanted to clear it with her. The photographer didn't believe in having business cards -- he said he never sold any of his work by using them -- so I figured I'd just run back down to Portland to pick up his stuff on some future weekend.

I've never seen him at the Portland Saturday Market since then, but whenever I'm down there, I always look. I don't know his name. But I know I'd recognize his work if I ever saw it again. It was that amazing.

Anyway, circumstances interfered with the Mt St Helens trip last year, but this year, we made it happen... and, just in time for hitting the letter 'V' again this year. Or the sound, 'V'. Whatever. Paulette and I bundled up the kids in the minivan for what is expected to be our last family adventure together before the anticipated arrival of Baby 3.0.

This is late April?We left after work on Friday, April 18th. Let me make a comment about April in the Seattle area: it never snows. At least, there's no record of snow accumulating in Seattle after April 1st. In late April, the tulips are already in bloom, and most of the trees have already flowered if not grown their leaves. As we were getting ready to leave, I had to snap a photo of the blanket of snow threatening our tulips. Crazy, crazy.

We drove down to a town near Mt St Helens; the plan was to make a hotel there our base of operations and we went back and forth between points Washington and Oregon. The hotel was ready and waiting for us, we all got a good night's sleep, and had a pleasant breakfast before heading off to the visitor center at Mt St Helens.

The lava caves we had hoped to visit were closed due to snow. In fact, so were just about all of the vantage points except for the main visitor center, which was far enough away from the mountain that the snowfall (it was still snowing) made it impossible to see. There was a little movie about the big eruption in 1980, and a scale model of the volcano and surrounding area that you can walk through. Nolan loved that part, while Alex preferred the movie.

We had a good visit at the center, but I was nonetheless a little disappointed that we didn't get the see the volcano.

After a refreshing dip in the pool and hot tub at our hotel (Nolan and Alex both absolutely love swimming. However, Nolan is still learning, so the hot tub was more agreeable to him because he could stand on the bench seats and didn't have to worry about actually swimming swimming), we headed down to Portland to visit with our friends Bjorn and Kirsten.

We had a fantastic evening. Excellent conversation, excellent food at a local Italian restaurant that was kid friendly, more excellent conversation, and just an all-around agreeably relaxing time was had by all. I've been a little out of sorts lately, and there's nothing like a pleasant evening with old friends to put one's mind at ease.

It's a plane! It's Superboy!I must mention (if you haven't visited the link already to Bjorn's site) that Bjorn has an airplane named Superboy. In fact, if I recall correctly, Alexander's first plane ride was in Superboy. Bjorn loves to fly, and he told us he'd be happy to take us for a look at Mt St Helens if the weather for the next day turned out to be as good as the forecast claimed.

Although we have a lot of friends in Portland and surrounding areas, we ended up not making any other plans for the weekend, since we weren't sure how the kids would do on the trip. Sunday morning, we went to Saturday Market (I love saying that -- "Sunday, at the Saturday Market..."), and Alex was pretty obviously not happy to be dragged around while his parents wanted to look at the artsy-fartsy stuff on display. I did not find the photographer I'd been looking for these past ten years, nor did I expect to, but I can still hope that someday I'll bump into him again.

We had an appropriate lunch (Mmmm... outdoor market food) and then phoned Bjorn to see if he was still up for a plane ride. Silly me. The boys love airplanes, and Bjorn loves to fly. The weather was cooperating, so *of course* everyone was up for a ride.

Alex helps check the fuel.Bjorn was so gracious with the kids. He had Alex help out by checking the fuel and plugging in the rear headsets. The plane may not look big, but it was able to hold me (and I'm pretty big) and Paulette (who is flying for two) and Nolan in the back seat, while Alex flew shotgun in the co-pilot's chair.

As it so happened, we flew up into a big bevy of clouds, but we found a hole that enabled us to get up above the cloud cover. ("Why not just fly through the clouds?" "Because the temperature up here is below freezing, and the plane would ice up very quickly if we tried.") At this point, it became obvious that we might see nothing but overcast skies (well... undercast, I guess, since we were above the clouds) blanketing the mountain, but what the heck, we were already in the air. So, we headed to Mt St Helens to see what we could see.

Co-pilot Alex.Keep in mind, just getting the boys up for a flight made for a wonderful time, and Paulette and I enjoyed sitting next to each other in the cozy back seats. But if we could actually get some snapshots of the mountain while we were there, well... so much the better. In fact, I should make this point if it hasn't become obvious already: Mt. St. Helens was the McGuffin for our trip. It was the excuse; it was not the reason. The reason was to get us out as a family, enjoying some different scenery and different settings. The goal was to leave work and the daily chores behind for a little while. That said....

Miles and miles of big, white, fluffy clouds rolled by beneath us while Alex enjoyed being the co-pilot and Nolan played with his trains. Then we saw a break in the clouds, near where the volcano should be, and lo and behold... Wow, what a view. We were so close to the crater, we could see the plumes of steam roiling up into the air. (For those who don't know, the volcano is still active... it's just not erupting at present.)

We snapped our photos. Alex would have some neat print-outs for his show-and-tell that week. All-in-all, though, it was just cool the way the weekend all came together. We had some pleasant quiet time as a family, enjoyed a soothing, low-key visit with gracious friends, and then had a private tour of a snow-capped volcano. A magically delicious weekend.

If a picture's worth a thousand words, let me leave you with this:
Mt St Helens in all its snow-capped glory.

Posted by at 05:06 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (2)
 April 18, 2008
The Most Dangerous City in America

My wife and I often enjoy picking up college courses recorded by The Teaching Company. We recently picked up a new geology course that has the latest research on the state of the field these days.

Wow, what a fascinating topic. It's amazing how much there is to learn, and how we know what we know, and how the development of the field has affected our understanding of biology, cosmology, and so on.

We picked up the course on DVD (some courses are also available in audio-only formats), figuring that the visual nature of the lectures might be of interest to our budding young scientist, Alexander. By way of planning for an upcoming family outing to Mt. St. Helen's, we skipped ahead to a lecture regarding the eruption of this volcano in 1980.

The volcano and its activity since its most recent eruption are fascinating, but the lecturer also went into the tectonic activity that makes this region ripe for a catastrophic earthquake. I've known for years now that when Mt. Rainier blows, we'll likely have a couple of months warning, but the eruption could produce lava flows (floes?) as far north as Seattle. In fact, we live in an area that was partially hit by Rainier two eruptions ago.

[For those who don't know: Mt. St. Helen's is south of Rainier, putting it closer to Portland, OR, but still rather nearby.]

What I didn't know was that our local region was wiped out by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake just over three hundred years ago. Because of the way the Juan de Fuca fault works here, we are already entering the "danger zone" for the next catastrophic quake. That said, it's more likely that the next big one will hit in 100 to 200 years (these big'uns tend to hit four-hundred to five-hundred years apart), but we're still entering dangerous geological times.

The instructor of the course gave a compelling argument that Seattle and Portland are likely to be destroyed within the next couple of hundred years.

This isn't necessarily as scary as it sounds. History contains several examples of cities destroyed by a catastrophic event, only to be rebuilt. Such examples include San Francisco after it's big earthquake (and subsequent fire) of 1906 and the devastation of Tokyo and Yokohama following the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake.

Then again, the above mentioned earthquakes measured a mere 8.0 on the Richter scale, and they *did* kill hundreds of thousands of people. I don't know if I'd necessarily prefer to be hanging around when a 9.0 hits. While Seattle and the surrounding areas will certainly be rebuilt following a major volcanic eruption or earthquake, I might be inclined to miss the main event that leads up to a new and improved city.

For all that, though, when it comes to being the most dangerous city in America, Seattle certainly stakes a strong claim, geologically speaking.

Los Angeles, eat your heart out.

Posted by at 02:30 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 April 05, 2008
New York by Proxy

Hi, all. This is an open request for any reader(s) I may have in the NYC area.

Have you seen or might you see Simon Lovell's weekly Saturday evening magic performance, Strange and Unusual Hobbies? As a student of magic, I've enjoyed his lecture notes, but I've never had the chance to see him in person. He seems like quite the entertainer.

I'd love to hear a review from any of my friends or passers-by to this site. It may be another year or two before business takes me back to NYC, but I can live vicariously through y'all in the meantime.

Thanks!

Posted by at 05:01 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 March 31, 2008
Rites of Passage

On Sunday morning at around 3am or so local time, I complete my fortieth lap around the sun. I am officially older than Jack Benny.

A few friends came over while I prepared a batch of jambalaya, which I made spicier than usual (but still not spicy enough). Several of our guests have kids Alex & Nolan's ages, so the kids all played upstairs while the grown-ups enjoyed grown-up conversation downstairs. It was an enjoyable, low-key affair. Good food, good friends, kids safely (for the most part) entertaining themselves. It had snowed the day before (very unusual for this part of the country at this time of year), which leant to the "lazy Sunday" quality of the day.

All-in-all, not a bad way to mark the occasion.

Someone asked me if I'd be picking up a fast car or a motorcycle soon. There were other references to middle age thrown around. Friends of mine who have known me long enough will note that I've been in a mid-life crisis since approximately seventh grade, so I've gotten most of the living-dangerously urges out of my system, I think.

Our house saw another rite-of-passage by Monday morning. Alexander woke up having lost his first baby tooth. By the end of the day, Alex had lost a second tooth; both had been loose for a quite a while. In the morning, the tooth fairy is probably going to have to pay a little visit. What's the going rate for a tooth these days? Is it still a quarter?

My little boy is growing up. And I've aged gracelessly into a fat old man. I guess that means my parents are older than dirt. Bwahahaha.

(Hi, Mom.)

Now that I think about it, Jack Benny accomplished a great deal by the time he was 39. I guess I'd better get cracking.

Posted by at 10:34 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (3)
 February 21, 2008
Thinking of You

I'm thinking of you. I've been thinking of you quite a bit lately.

For example, Amanda, when you kindly sent me that "What's up?" e-card out of the blue; you got me thinking of you.

And Kevin and Brian and Greg and Andrea and Allen and others: when you post comments to my blog or drop me an e-mail, you get me thinking of you. I have some of the coolest friends around. Even if I'm terrible about responding. [sigh]

This is funny. A friend of mine from wayyy back (Hi, Jeff) posted a comment to an essay I'd listed here regarding something I'd said that reminded him of something Scott Adams had posted on his own blog. That was at least a year ago, if not longer. Now I'm reading a Scott Adams book of things he posted to his blog, and it's got me thinking of you.

My mom needed some tech support for her website recently, and so she phoned me. And e-mailed me. I finally woke up at around noon, found the messages, and then helped her out. (Woke up at noon? Yes. See what time I'm posting this to my website? I'm staying up way too late, and getting up late is working out okay with regard to our child care / work schedule.) So, yeah, mom. When I do tech support over the phone, I'm thinking of you.

The kids have been sleeping in the big bed in the guest room upstairs lately. There's a painting in the guest room of trees on rolling hills. When I put the kids to bed, and I see that painting, I'm thinking of yew.

I get e-mails all the time from (alleged) Russian women who "saw my profile" on the internet. That reminds me... I haven't had shashlik in a while. Shashlik was my favorite lunch during my summer in the Moscow. Shashlik is made of marinated mutton. Great. Now I'm thinking of ewe.

When I think of bad puns (which, admittedly, is all the time), I occasionally remember how a certain someone used to admonish me that "puns are the lowest form of humor." Oh, the bitter irony of how my sense of humor sometimes makes me think of you.

...

Memory triggers are on my mind. I just recently completed a short story that takes place in the world where my next novel is set. A world where the main character will spend the entire novel exploring the relationship between our memories and our sense of who we are. Hokey as it sounds, dear reader, as I prepare to embark upon this new novel, I'm thinking of you.

Posted by at 03:25 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (4)
 December 12, 2007
December Goings On

My business finds itself in the unfortunate situation of having to move. Our landlord is selling the building, and so we need new facilities. Now. We need to be out by early January.

I've been coordinating the move, and it's quite a bit of work. Finding a new space took a great deal of time and effort, and now getting movers, getting the phones switched, etc., isn't letting me relax. Now add to that the Christmas rush. And add to that the fact that I'm doing more of the heavy lifting at home these days, as well, and you've got one busy bee at Casa Rousselle.

Paulette and I have typically shared the chores at home (still do, actually), but she's somewhat more tired than usual, and I'm the guy to pick up the slack. Why is she tired? Well, that's the other busy-making thing going on: she's busy making Baby 3.0. Good news, to be sure, but exhausting, and so there's no end of stuff that needs to be done at the Big Red House.

So that's why I'm not posting much on my blog. Well, that, and my proverbial dog ate my blog posts. And I'm bummed about the news regarding Anita, a friend of ours here in town. And I need to go Christmas shopping.

But other than that, not much going on here. How's by you?

Posted by at 11:54 AM in the following Department(s): The Boys , Tidbits | Comments (0)
 November 15, 2007
Time Travel Made Stupid

Some old friends have been on my mind lately. As luck would have it, Paulette and I had a wedding to attend recently that allowed us to not only visit with many dear friends at the reception, but also to visit with others who live in that part of the country whom we also have not seen in years.

While we had a great time catching up with so many, the trip was a bit like trying to see seven countries in five days. We spent a lot of time in the rental car, cramming in as many get togethers as we could, and we were lucky that the boys put up with it all as well as they did. Being on the opposite coast, changes in the weather and time zones also played havoc with my sense of time.

I only checked my e-mail twice during the trip, and wouldn't you know: I received a message from one of my aforementioned old friends who has been on my mind but who was not a part of this particular whirlwind tour. (We weren't hitting her particular state/commonwealth.)

She is one of my dearest friends who knew me from grade school, and she wrote with news that certainly demanded I get back in touch with her. Because our schedule was so packed, I didn't get a chance to phone until all the travelling was finally done.

What somehow escaped my addled brain was that with the travel being done, I was back in my home time zone. So I phoned at what should have been a normal time to chat locally, but was, well, not such a normal time to chat where she was. Woke her up. Probably woke up the kids and hubby, too. Oops.

I've heard of dialing drunk (something I've never done, since I don't drink), but this was worse. This was a case of dialing stupid.

Gary Larson drew a Far Side cartoon years ago in which a child was trying to enter the Midvale School for the Gifted by pushing on a door marked "Pull". I'm that kid. But what's worse than catching yourself in a brain fart is realizing that there are witnesses. Unlike a friend or two of mine from the past who screen calls (and, interestingly, never seem to be home when I try to phone them... or e-mail them... or drop by unannounced... or stalk them at work...), this one answered the phone.

"You sound sleepy. Did I wake you?" I asked, thinking it was three hours *earlier* where she was than where I was.

"Well... yeah," she answered, from three hours *later* than I.

For those of you counting at home, that's a six hour mistake.

During our recent trip, it was great seeing so many people who are so close to me in my mind and memories. But nothing really turns back the clock like making a bone-head maneuver like that. 't really takes me back.

Posted by at 02:17 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 October 07, 2007
That which is up

Long time, no write. I know, I know. There's just so much going on, that I haven't had the time to string together even a few coherent sentences. Here's a snapshot of that which is afoot:

* The boys: Alex and Nolan continue to amaze and astound me with how fast they are growing, how quickly they are changing, and how much they are learning. Both are in a bit of a boundary-testing phase at the moment, which is unfortunate for their beleaguered parents, and Nolan simply can't fall asleep in any kind of reasonable fashion. That said, they remain generally happy and intellectually engaged, and it's amazing how they are developing very different personalities from each other, even though they both seem to have very similar temperaments and skills.

Both have excellent language skills, for example, but have been developing them in different ways. Alex developed a speaking cadence and mannerisms before filling in with words (he would "babble in paragraphs" while his vocabulary was still catching up), while Nolan is soft-spoken but assembles complex sentences with words chosen both carefully and correctly. Nolan clearly understands more than he lets on, whereas Alex is a pro at shooting from the hip.

They remain, in every way, amazing to behold.

* Casa Rousselle: not much going on with the house these days, but car woes are interfering with scheduling on the home front. My VW wagon is over eleven years old at this point, and it's showing its age. We may have to take it out back and shoot it, given how miserable it's been. We have frequently been reduced to having only one car, and it's increasingly difficult for me to be able to work from home on those days when I'd prefer to do so. [sigh]

* Work: in addition to the database work I've been doing as a gun-for-hire, I began the process of buying out my former business partner in a small business a couple of years ago. The business is finally starting to find traction, and so we have just recently hired our first new full-time employee. While things are slowing down as we bring our hiree up to speed, the long-term gain should be huge. Who knows... I may even be able to take a vacation sometime within this lifetime.

* Writing: I have written only one new short story this year so far (although I have a second one worked out in my head, and will probably commit that to paper before too long), but it appears that my third "pro" publication is going to hit the bookstores in the spring of 2008. The irony is, that particular work is being culled from my time at Cornell in a "Best of" anthology, and as luck would have it, the editor selected items that I'd co-written with a friend *during my high school years*. Funny that my third pro sale should come roughly twenty-two years after the pieces in question were written.

* Journey of a thousand pounds: I'm currently down about 25 pounds since I began skipping the sodas on April 1st of this year. I recently fell off the wagon (again), but I'm generally pleased with the three-steps-forward, one-step-back progress that I've been sustaining.

* My life in politics: Having served as president of my home owners association(s) on-and-off for the last seven years or so, I'd stepped aside at the beginning of this year in what I figured would be my final turn as board chair -- I'd decided that there was a lot to be gained by simply being the "board member without portfolio." Nothing doing. The fellow who took my place stepped down soon thereafter, and the then VP didn't want the job, and the next thing you know, everyone's asking me to step back in. So, I picked up the gavel once more. I'll comment more in the coming weeks about the many adventures I've had on the board, and why local politics is simply crazy, crazy, crazy.

In fact, I expect to comment on all of these facets of my life in more detail in the coming weeks. Like Alex, I feel the need to babble, and I know the words will come.

Posted by at 01:48 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 July 21, 2007
Will Power

I won a bet a few months ago. The bet was with a fellow named Allen, and the wager was a copy of the final Harry Potter book. Because I won, Allen was to buy me a copy of the book on the day it was released.

Since then, I proposed that our community throw a "Harry Potter Party", which I may have mentioned in a previous post. The events committee in our neighborhood said it sounded like a great idea, and so they began the work of organizing it. One task fell to me, however, and that was to attempt to secure some copies of the book to give away as prizes. Although there is a small amount of money in our event committee's budget that could be used in that direction, it's always better to try to get donations, when possible, so that the money can be there for the next event.

Our neighborhood supermarket was very generous (Thank you, QFC!) in donating three copies of the book toward the event, and I picked them up about ten minutes ago, so that I'll have them in hand when I go to help set up for the party in the morning.

So here I am with three brand new copies of the book... a book that I am eager, eager, eager to begin reading. But these copies are for the party, and Allen won't be bringing me my copy until sometime tomorrow -- likely, after the party. But I want to read a copy now!

I thought about leaving them in my car, but it's raining tonight (unusual here, for this time of year; summer is the "dry season") and I don't want the humidity to warp the pages. So, here they are. Sitting on the kitchen counter. Calling to me. "Allan... Allan! Just one little chapter. What could be the harm? Nobody will ever know!"

That, ladies and germs, is how I came to be a hundred pounds overweight. "I'll just have one bite of that Ben & Jerry's. No one will ever notice." How does one bite become a hundred pounds? The same way one little chapter becomes staying up until the time my alarm goes off, the book half-read, and me having to buy another copy to hide my crime.

Nope. Better to just go to bed. I'll get my own copy tomorrow. No borrowing any sneaked peeks tonight.

Nor, for that matter, any ice cream.

Will power. It's not just for breakfast anymore.

Posted by at 02:07 AM in the following Department(s): Books/Movies/Music , Journey of a Thousand Pounds , Tidbits | Comments (0)
 May 29, 2007
Ah Bih Mah Ung

Went to the dentist today to have some work done. When the procedure was pretty much completed, the dentist asked me to bite down on this little paper thingy that stains your teeth, thereby revealing how your bite is lining up. So I bit down, but didn't seem to quite be able to close on the paper thingy. Tried again, with no luck, and then third time was the charm.

Well, the bite needed adjustment, so he made some tweaks, and then got another paper thingy for me to bite on, and the exact same thing happened. Only this time, I began to have an inkling as to why it was so hard to clamp down on that paper thingy. Something was in the way, perhaps? Hmmm. Near the very end, the dentist's assistant was looking at my mouth and said, "It seems you've bitten your tongue."

I didn't see it in a mirror until later, when I checked out the damage in the vanity mirror of my car. Oh, yeah. Pretty obvious.

"I'm going to feel *that* in about an hour."

Boy, did I ever. And it made talking after the anesthetic wore off *very* difficult. Putting me in a situation where I'm not able to speak, especially when there's stuff I need to communicate with others, is just plain mean. It's like the poor Italian in the joke:

Q: How do you torture an Italian?
A: Tie his hands together and then ask him to explain something!
Avoided chewy food tonight. [shudder].

Posted by at 09:52 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 May 13, 2007
For Mothers Everywhere

Happy Mothers Day To Youuuuuuu,
Happy Mothers Day To Youuuuuuu,
Happy Mothers Day, All You Moms Out There,
Happy Mothers Day To Youuuuuuu.

Posted by at 01:18 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 April 14, 2007
My Grandmother's Offical Obituary

REV. EVELYN L. MARING, 85, of Tonawanda, NY died Wednesday, April 4, 2007 at Elderwood Crestwood Nursing Home in Niagara Falls.

She was born October 9, 1921 in Huntington, WV to William L. Dial and Grace Trainer.

Rev. Maring graduated from Huntington East High School. She studied at West Virginia Wesleyan College, Asbury College, Morris Harvey College, University of Pennsylvania and Drew University. In the 1970’s, she felt the call to preach and went to Duke University Divinity School where she took the Course of Study for Ministry.

For thirteen years she and her late husband, Rev. Dr. Robert M. Maring, served as missionaries of the World Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries in the Methodist Church of Pakistan. She received her license to preach in 1976, was ordained Deacon in 1977, and she served as pastor for six different United Methodist churches in West Virginia until 1987 when she and her husband retired from the West Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church and moved to Port Charlotte, FL.

In addition to her calling as a Methodist minister, Evelyn was a talented artist (sketch and painting), calligrapher, and organist/pianist.

During her 20 years of retirement, she was active in the Port Charlotte United Methodist Church by singing in the choir, assisting with communion and speaking on missions there and in other local organizations. She was a Chaplain and past President of the Port Charlotte Woman’s Club and former Secretary of the China-Burma-India Veterans. Evelyn was a world traveler, having visited over 75 countries with her husband and hosting tours to many of them through Educational Opportunities.

She is survived by her only daughter, Karen (Lee) Rousselle of Tonawanda, NY; two grandchildren, Allan (Paulette) Rousselle and Sandra (Michael) Hanagan; 4 great grandchildren, Alexander and Nolan Rousselle, Devon and Sierra Hanagan; a brother, C. Harold (Jackie) Dial; and 13 nieces and nephews.

In addition to her husband and her parents, she was preceded in death by a sister, Letha Schultz and a brother, Luther Dial.

A memorial service to celebrate her life will be held May 9, 2007 at 1:30 p.m. at the Port Charlotte United Methodist Church with Rev. Douglas H. Zipperer officiating. Inurnment will follow at 3 p.m. in Restlawn Memorial Gardens, Port Charlotte.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Mission Fund of the Port Charlotte United Methodist Church, 21075 Quesada Ave., Port Charlotte, FL 33952 or to the Alzheimer’s Association, 225 N. Michigan Ave., Floor 17, Chicago, IL 60601-7633 or on the internet at www.alz.org.

Posted by at 10:39 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 April 04, 2007
Rev. Evelyn L. Maring (1921-2007)

This morning, my grandmother Rev. Evelyn L. Maring, retired Methodist minister and former missionary to Pakistan, died in her sleep. She was 85 years old. This marks two years -- nearly to the day -- since my grandfather, her husband of 63 years, passed away.

In addition to her calling as a Methodist minister, she was a talented artist (sketch and painting), calligrapher, and organist/pianist. She leaves behind many dear friends and family members who cared a great deal for her. As was true of her husband before her, she leaves the world a better place for her having been in it.

October 9, 1921 - April 4, 2007

Posted by at 12:43 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (3)
 March 29, 2007
...Could be raining...

[Scene from the movie Young Frankenstein: Dr. Frankenstein and Igor are exhuming a dead criminal]

Dr. Frankenstein: What a filthy job.
Igor: Could be worse.
Dr. Frankenstein: How?
Igor: Could be raining.
[it starts to pour]

This past Monday, my faithful laptop "iCarumba" blew itself out. Luckily, the hard drive survived, but the computer was left otherwise completely toast. I've been planning for months to buy its replacement, knowing that the end was near, but I kept delaying. I got almost exactly four years and one month out of that piece of equipment; the longest I've ever kept any one machine as my primary computer. I'd say, "it shall be missed," but that would be a lie. It was underpowered from the day I bought it, but I was too cheap to get the machine I really wanted and too cheap to buy its replacement before it finally forced my hand.

So when that little piece of hardware shrugged off its mortal casing, I ordered its replacement and had it the next day. When I haven't been tugged hither and yon at work or by the kids, I've been spending my time migrating my expletive from the old machine to the new one, and learning my way around the new 'un. It needs a name. Since it runs both Mac OS and Windows, I've been thinking of calling it's respective incarnations "Jekyll" and "Hyde", but which would be which?

This week also struck me with another bout of vertigo. Ah, nostalgia. The first time I encountered this kind of inner ear imbalance problem, I was a grad student at University of Effing Pennsylvania. I've been struck by it several times since then. I don't get sick often, but every once in a while, this ton of bricks lands on my head. Symptoms: if I move my head in relation to the ground, I feel like I've been whacked in the back of the head, I get dizzy, a sudden headache grabs my brain, and occasionally I even feel a little nauseated. In short, it's just like grad school, only all at once instead of being spread out over several semesters.

As we are nearing the end of March, my database clients all have much work they want me to do (very lucrative) and my other business (not yet lucrative at all) has enough orders on the books that, if I were to put in the effort to fill them all, we could close the quarter in a strong position. But demands at home and sleep deprivation and this vertigo thing and my computer... well, today was finally the day I gave up on the hope of having a record quarter.

Alexander cried tonight (I'm composing this on Thursday night/Friday morning) because I wouldn't play Crazy 8's with him after he hit his brother during their nighttime routine. It bums me out when Alex cries, but the idea is for *me* to manipulate *his* behavior, not the other way around. Besides, he needs to understand that hitting his brother is a bad idea. Nolan is very clearly going to grow up bigger than Alex, and paybacks can be a bitch.

Yet for all the deadlines, physical discomfort, and mechanical inconveniences of the week, I approach my 39th anniversary on this planet with my morale intact and a quiet sense of optimism. Sure, I may be fat. And my hair (what's left of it) may be turning from blond to brown -- thereby calling into question the real cause of my vertigo. But I'm doing okay.

After all, it could be worse....

--Allan (in Seattle. Where it never rains.)

Posted by at 11:50 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (2)
 March 13, 2007
Northeast, Northwest

Having spent most of my adult life alternating between the East and West Coasts, and having recently spent a very quick (alas, too quick to be able to catch up with dear friends of mine who live there) trip to my old stomping grounds on the other side of the country, I thought I'd share a few thoughts with regard to the East Coast versus the West Coast.

Northeast: lots of old buildings, some several hundred years old.
Northwest: an old building is more than twenty-years old.

Northeast: In the allegedly suburban areas, the streets are narrow, and the buildings are packed tightly together. Traffic is awful.
Northwest: In the suburban areas, the roads are wide, and the buildings are spaced out more. Traffic is awful.

Northeast: Drivers will deliberately veer into your lane, or accellerate, or decellerate, just to prevent you from executing the turn that you signaled, to the point of intentionally running you off the road and killing you.
Northwest: Drivers will inadvertantly veer into your lane, or accellerate, or decellerate, thereby accidentally running you off the road and killing you.

Northeast: Streets wander around aimlessly, street signs are often lacking, and any given town is likely to have fifteen streets with exactly the same name (such as "Spring St." in Boston).
Northwest: Streets are aligned to a grid, street signs are everywhere, and any given town is likely to have fifteen streets with confusingly similar names (such as "NE 90th St", "NE 90th Way", "NE 90th Ct", "90th Way NE", "90th St NE", and "90th Ct NE" in Redmond).

Northeast: In the winter, the trees all look dead. In the fall, everyone acts as though the Northeast is the only place that leaves change color.
Northwest: In the winter, the trees are all lush and green. Then again, they are lush and green all year long. They are evergreens. Except in the fall, when they change color.

Northeast: Chinese food.
Northwest: Thai cuisine.

Northeast: Dunkin Donuts
Northwest: Starbucks

Northeast: The "Big Dig" was a fiasco.
Northwest: Hey! Let's submerge the Viaduct on Seattle's waterfront!

Northeast: Snow. Cold snaps.
Northwest: Wind storms. Earthquakes.

Northeast: During non-peak travel times, the typical flow of traffic on the highways (where the posted speed limit is 60 mph) is approx. 80 miles per hour.
Northwest: During non-peak travel times, the typical flow of traffic on the highways (where the posted speed limit is 60 mph) is approx. 55 miles per hour.

Northeast: They still haven't learned that highway on-ramps are for accellerating and merging.
Northwest: They still haven't learned that green lights mean, "Go."

Am I missing any?

Posted by at 12:47 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 March 12, 2007
How to Secure a Flight...

Here's a handy How-To for any of my faithful readers who have ever wondered how best to book a flight using frequent flier miles.

How to Secure a Flight Using Frequent Flier Miles in Twenty-Seven Easy Steps

Step 1: fly so often on a given airline that you rack up a couple hundred thousand frequent flier miles. Or, get a credit card that rewards you with frequent flier miles, spend lots of money on it, and see where that gets you. Both methods are equally problematic.

Step 2: use the website of your airline-of-choice and pick "redeem miles". For the sake of this handy guide, I used American ("Come sit on the friendly tarmac with us.") Airlines, but I'm sure most airlines are equally problematic. Enter your Frequent Flier number and password. You do have these handy, don't you?

Step 3: Enter the desired dates of your trip out and back.

Step 4: The dates you have selected are not available for 25,000 miles. Nor are any other dates that could possibly work for you, and your travel plans are pretty flexible. So, select the "Anytime miles" level of 50,000 miles.

Step 5: Now the dates you desire are available. Select them and click continue.

Step 6: You see a list of available flights. Begin making your selections.

Step 7: Your phone rings. It is a client/customer/co-worker/family member. Answer it.

Step 8: Conclude your phone call. Resume making your flight selections. Click continue.

Step 9: You see a message that says, "Your session has timed out. Please start over again." Or words to that affect.

Step 10: Repeat steps 3 through 9.

Step 11: Twice.

Step 12: Repeat steps 3 through 6. When phone rings again, ignore it.

Step 13: After choosing your flight preferences, click Continue.

Step 14: One of the flights you chose six seconds ago is no longer available. Go back to choosing your dates, extra miles level, and select new flights. Click continue.

Step 15: Congratulations. You've selected a flight that hasn't overbooked yet. But you're being charged $110. Ten dollars is for converting your miles. The other hundred dollars is because you are booking a flight that takes place soon.

Step 16: Utter profanities. Then get out your credit card and enter payment information.

Step 17: Click OK, even though it isn't and you aren't.

Step 18: The evening before your flight, go back to the site to print up your boarding pass.

Step 19: Your flight information cannot be retrieved, but a message tells you to call customer service at their toll free number. Call.

Step 20: Navigate your way through their automated touchtone maze. Get hung up on by their system.

Step 21: Twice.

Step 22: Call again. After a few minutes, get through to a person. Tell them your story.

Step 23: The first flight in your trip has been cancelled. Because of bad weather? No. Because they don't have a full crew for that flight. But, hey, they can book you on a flight a few days later.

Step 24: Inform the helpful agent that a few days later is not going to work for you. Why she tries to find alternatives for your originally scheduled flight, ask: if nothing suitable can be found, and you have to arrange to fly a few weeks later (your next available opportunity), can you get your mileage back in the meantime and get reimbursed for the fees you paid to redeem your miles?

Step 25: According to the rules, you cannot get your fees back, even if the airline doesn't provide you with what you were paying for (which was, in essence, a ticket within a short time window). Ah, but that's okay, the friendly agent found you an alternative outbound flight (on a different airline).

Step 26: At the appointed time, go to the airport. Since you are not flying on the airline that lists you as a frequent flier, you are now once again eligible for random heavy-duty screening at the security line.

Step 27: Be randomly selected for heavy-duty screening at the security line. Try to act like you are not offended by the way the search is conducted, even though you know and everyone else knows that this kind of search is meaningless in the grand scheme of things, and wouldn't even prevent the kind of attacks that brought about this random heavy-duty screening in the first place.

Congratulations, you're now on your way. You have secured a flight using your frequent flier miles.

It may take you a few more or a few fewer steps than twenty-seven. After all, your mileage may vary.

Posted by at 12:43 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (2)
 January 26, 2007
Good Advice and Good Advisors

Many years ago, after a long term relationship I'd been in started heading south, I came to the conclusion that I needed some good advice because whatever I was doing simply wasn't working. But to whom do you turn when you need some good advice? For whatever foolish reason, I decided that the best people to get advice from would be... people who had experience with making long term relationships work.

That ruled out taking advice from the likes of John "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and Psychobabble is from Uranus" Gray. True, his specials on PBS or cable or whatever were entertaining, and from interviews I've heard, he sounds like a smart enough fellow. He's also been divorced (from another alleged relationship guru, no less) and spent almost a decade as a celibate monk (his term, not mine) for the Maharishi Yogi Bear guy (you know; the alleged spiritual guru who snookered the Beatles, etc.). John Gray may be a fascinating conversationalist, but I just don't think I'd be looking for relationship advice from him.

[While tooling around the Internet to fact-check today's brief missive, I came across an assessment that I rather liked. The writer panned his books, but recommended an interview with him that Tony Robbins had recorded. "Just two guys talking," was the way she described it, and she said it was much more worthwhile. Having heard the interview, I'm inclined to agree.]

Instead, I ended up taking the advice of people who had demonstrated more success (and less tendency toward cults), and because I successfully pulled that relationship out of its tailspin (at least for the most part), the experience reinforced my tendency toward choosiness in where I go to find good advice.

As circumstances would have it, I am aware of at least three friends of mine who are currently going through a divorce. As I recently had lunch with one such friend, I found myself constantly starting to say something and then stopping. I am *extremely* unqualified to utter anything that would count as advice to my friends who are going through this, because I have no personal experience whatsoever with divorce.

[Well, except for one thing: I am expertly qualified to give advice on password security issues because of the nature of my day job, and it seems to me that anyone getting a divorce is well advised to be aware of certain password security issues that make them potentially vulnerable to their future ex-spouses... but more on that in a future post.]

So instead, I offer my friend what little support I can, and I ask the same questions that I'm sure they have been asked a dozen times before. How does one go about finding a lawyer to represent you? How does one know if the lawyer is a good one, etc.?

But it occurred to me later: if you want to make sure you're getting good divorce advice, should your lawyer be divorced, him/herself?

Posted by at 12:45 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (2)
 December 27, 2006
Notes on Christmas 2006

As I write this at the end of the day-after-Christmas, snow is gently falling on my neighborhood on the Ridge. Because the hour is late and Christmas has passed, the strings of lights and other illuminated lawn decorations have gone dark. The scene out my window is absolutely beautiful in its silence and tranquility. Any moment now, I expect O-Ren Ishii and The Bride to solemnly step out and begin their dignified sword fight to the death, as they did at the House of Blue Leaves.

Here are my notes on Christmas 2006:

* Both of our sons are into planes, trains, dinosaurs, cars, and the space shuttle. In an effort to try to minimize fighting over the same toys, they both were presented with the exact same space shuttle toy (complete with "crawler", fuel tank & rocket boosters, cargo bay arm and satellite). Does that mean they don't fight over the toys? Of course not. The most common fight is over which shuttle belongs to whom. Alex is particularly concerned by this; Nolan is the unwitting mixer-upper.

* The boys also each received one model F-16 jet plane each. But they have different paint schemes. No fighting over those at all. The irony being, of course, that they are fighter planes. Go figure.

* This isn't the first year I've thought this, but here goes: it would make a lot more sense to spread out the distribution of the gifts over several days, rather than opening them all on one day. I think the kids would get more out of it, and it might nip the otherwise inevitable post-holiday let-down.

* Alex has been unusually reluctant to do what I ask/tell him to do these past few days. His teachers warned us that this is a common behavior at this time of year for kids this age, and will likely clear up when he gets back to school after the winter break.

* Nolan's verbal skills are absolutely exploding right now. (No, not literally.) Go, Nolan!

* I had a very busy day at work today. It felt good.

* Santa gave me a very nice pair of gloves. And an excellently framed copy of my first professionally published short fiction.

* The movie Cars, which was given to boys on DVD this Christmas, is an excellent movie, but just a wee bit too long.

* Did I mention that a couple of weeks ago, I was Santa Claus for our community-wide holiday party? I got to ride in a fire truck, which was quite a perq, and lead the lighting of the Christmas Tree. Wow, do kids dig Santa. Alex and Nolan were there, too. Boy, was that surreal. Watching my kids see me without really seeing me. Alex spoke to me briefly. He said he wanted a Spiderman this year. I told him that I seemed to recall giving that to him last year (which we did, on a tip that that was what he'd asked the school Santa for last year), and that he might enjoy some of the other things he'd be getting this year. It occurred to me to mention that he broke the Spiderman from last year, and he should take better care of his toys... but that might have been a little over the top, even for me.

* Santa couldn't judge any of the homemade cookies for the cookie contest, because Santa's beard and moustache were sewn just a little too tightly to allow cookies to be consumed without destroying the illusion. Alas.

* I still have yet to mail out several gifts we'd bought for good friends of ours who live out of town. And I have yet to write our annual Christmas letter. Eeek!

As I write this, the kids and Paulette are asleep upstairs, and I see the gently falling snow outside my kitchen window. It's so unseasonably peaceful after such a busy, bustling few weeks. And I can't help but wonder... will we still have power tomorrow morning?

Ah, Redmond.

Posted by at 02:11 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 December 21, 2006
Strategery, part I

Late last week, while I was out of town on business, a brutal wind storm swept through the region I call home, knocking down a large number of very tall trees and thereby making many important roads impassable, destroying more than a few houses, and leaving roughly a million people in the region without electricity (including, alas, my wife and children).

Some folks never saw any interruption to their power supply, of course, while others in the region are quite possibly going to go without for more than a week (and possibly much more, although that remains to be seen). While my own house and business had power restored this past weekend, I have family in the area that is likely not to see power resume until Thursday, and still other friends who are being told to wait until next weekend. (I began writing this on Monday, by the way, and those estimates remain unchanged as of late Wednesday night/early Thursday morning.)

There have been two interesting side-effects of this massive power outage, beyond the expected traffic snarls and the grocery stores having to throw out all their dairy products. Oh, and the run on flashlights and batteries at the region's Home Depots, et al.

The first side effect of note: gas lines. In fact, many of our traffic snarls are being caused by very long lines at the proverbial pumps. The region was warned a day or two in advance that this storm was coming, but folks apparently failed to fill up their tanks and, worse yet, failed to get gas for their back-up generators. Power generators are not uncommon around here this is a heavily wooded region of the country, the power lines are typically left above ground, and storms like this are not rare. QED. But this power outage has been longer than we'd typically have to deal with; even folks who were appropriately stocked up with a reserve of fuel for their back-up generators have been running them for a while, and had to fill up on gas. Hence, gas lines.

The second consequence has been smoke. After the wind storms passed, we've been left with very still air. At the same time, residents who have wood-burning stoves have been using them to heat their homes and apartments. *Also*, we've had more than a few idiot locals who have decided to dispose of the debris on their property -- including green wood -- by burning it. This was just made illegal in our area last year, but some locals still do it. With all this burning and with the air not moving, the Redmond basin and elsewhere are being treated to a rather sooty haze. Asthmatics, beware.

Throughout my life, I've enjoyed several opportunities to experience polis interruptus. A blizzard or three in Buffalo and Boston, a tornado in Florida, severe flooding and severe drought in a number of places, a wildfire in California, an earthquake in Seattle. I also had one near miss with a terrorist attack in London (I had been at the building one hour prior), and another near miss with a falling boulder at Multnomah Falls in Oregon (missed getting squashed by two hours).

And given all of these hits and near misses, how prepared am I for emergencies? Well, granted, there's not much prep work you can do in anticipation of a boulder falling on your head. But with the recent (and truly sad) story of a family of four getting stranded in the mountain roads of the Oregon Coast, you'd think I'd have thrown a box of Luna bars in the back of my Suburban Assault Vehicle, along with tire chains, road flares, and the Boy Scout's Official Handbook.

Nope.

Oh sure, I've taken CPR and emergency preparedness training (then again, I had those classes just before that earthquake, and I could probably use a refresher. But what if that brings on another earthquake?) -- yet, have I ordered a backup power generator for *my* house? Have I picked up a defibrillator and taught Alexander how to use it?

Truth be told, I haven't even gone Christmas shopping yet, and I've not only known that Christmas *could* happen, I've actually known the date it *will* happen. For quite some time, I've had this knowledge.

Just as the earthquake waited for me to get my emergency preparedness training, and just as the malls *should* still be open on Christmas Eve (I hope), so, too, I imagine that future crises will belay until I am adequately prepared. (This last windstorm struck, for example, while my minivan sat awaiting my arrival from San Francisco *with a full tank of gas*, and far, far away from any trees that could fall on it.)

I've got history on my side. I've got piles and piles of data to show that I've done okay with only adequate (or sub-adequate) preparation in the face of adversity, and most years I still manage to get some presents wrapped and under the tree before Christmas day has come and gone.

But correlation does not prove causation, and it turns out that another windstorm is heading our way. Tonight. If you don't hear from me for a few days, you'll kno---az4z/!dDD

Posted by at 03:18 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 December 19, 2006
Air Raid. It must be Tuesday.

Last week I was in downtown San Francisco to teach a database class. In the middle of one of our sessions, an air raid siren began to blare. I stopped my lecture and said:

"That can't be good."

"Oh, that," one of the attendees said, not phased in the least. "It's just Tuesday at noon. That happens every Tuesday at noon."

"What? San Francisco gets bombed?"

No. Apparently, they test their air raid sirens every week.

"Yeah," chimed in another. "If they *didn't* set off the siren, *that* would have been cause for alarm."

It's all so clear to me.

So, if you happen to be in San Francisco on a Tuesday, and noon comes and goes and you don't hear an air raid siren, then, well... duck and cover.

Posted by at 12:00 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 November 30, 2006
More on the Weather

This is what all the fuss is about?The secret to success in comedy, according to Steve Martin, is

timing. Now, I've been meaning for years to remark upon Seattle's self-proclaimed number one television newscast and their penchant for always leading the news with something weather related. I first moved to the area sometime in -- oh, I don't know, 1995?

And I first started maintaining my blog (originally known as an "online journal", since the term "blog" hadn't yet been pimped at the time) a year or three after that. All the while, I've been kicking around the idea of pointing out this silly habit of the Seattle infotainers to lead off their alleged news broadcasts with talk about the weather.

And here it is, years later, and I finally get around to mocking these guys, and what happens? Their silly report about snow just south of Canada actually presages an actual weather emergency for the area. Okay, it's a minor weather emergency compared to many that I've been through (blizzards, cold snaps, tornados, etc.), but it's still relatively nasty. The entire Puget Sound area has been pretty much shut down for this entire week so far, and there have been a few weather-related fatalities.

While we were only hit with a dusting of snow both where I live and where I work, the hilly roads and the dearth of any kind of heavy equipment to clear the roads has left a treacherous ice field between home and office. That doesn't stop me, of course -- I grew up in Buffalo, NY, where winter driving is one long, controlled skid, and besides, my current vehicle is an All Wheel Drive minivan (I'm *so* Seattle Yuppie) -- but it nonetheless means I actually have to pay attention while I drive. And that's tres un-Seattle.

Luckily for me, everyone else is afraid of the weather, so they stay at home altogether. That means I get to skid my way down the ridge without having to worry too much that there'll be another car at the bottom to block my path. Whee!

The kids are already blase about the whole deal. Oh, sure, the first morning, they wanted to get out and play in the snow. But when Alex learned that there wasn't enough snow to even make so much as one lame snowball, he was pretty much done. Nolan seemed to enjoy the change in scenery, but otherwise didn't know what to make of it all.

But while the kids have put it all into perspective by getting on with their lives, I'm happy to report that the local news station of record has not been so enlightened. Every single news story for the past week has been weather-related, and every single forecast has warned us that "things are going to get worse before they get better."

How many ways can you say, "Major employers in Seattle have decided to close their campuses?" Or, "People who drive too fast on the ice are getting into accidents?"

Watch the local news and count the ways.

Cool! Can I go in now?

Posted by at 02:30 AM in the following Department(s): The Boys , Tidbits | Comments (1)
 November 28, 2006
Stage 3: Digging

I don't have a department (category? room?) in this House of Cards named "irony", but if I did, that's where I'd have to file my entry for today:

I really dig this post by my writing buddy James Osborne. Among other things, it's about blogdeath. And the only thing worse than blogging about blogging is blogdeath. Or, perhaps, blogging about blogging about blogging about blogdeath.

Help! I'm trapped in an ironic loop!

Posted by at 11:50 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 November 25, 2006
Tonight's Top Story

Tonight's top story on the local news: SNOW!

SNOW! SNOW has been spotted fifty miles away, mainly to the north and along the Canadian border in the higher elevations of the mountains.

One town just south of the Canadian border actually saw flurries on the interstate in the evening. SNOW ON THE INTERSTATE! AHHH!

Local news is a very funny thing in the Seattle area. The most-watched local news is a television station that, whenever possible, has the weather as its lead story for every broadcast. If it rains, it's newsworthy because, well, it's rain. If it doesn't rain, it's newsworthy because it didn't rain. Snow is cause for a special edition of the news (even though it snows here every winter; we live in a snow-capped mountain range, for crying out loud), as are thunderstorms, hail, sleet, warm temperatures, cold temperatures, el nino, la nina, the "pineapple express", high winds, low winds, no winds, and average winds.

I'm not making this up. This is the kind of thing that sounds too goofy to be true, and yet it amazes me how reliable it is.

When the Seattle Seahawks made it to the NFC Championship game last year (for those readers who don't follow football, this was the game to determine who would go to the Super Bowl), I was curious to see how they would work the weather into the lead story. And they did. On the night before the game, they talked about how the stadium was preparing for the game. The lead story was about how they had painted the grass with the "NFC Championship" logo and had to use special fans and tarps to enable the paint to dry despite a light drizzle.

Yes, that's right: the night before finding out if the Seahawks would go to the Super Bowl, the lead news story was not only about the weather, it was also about WATCHING PAINT DRY.

I'm sure Seattle is not the only town in the US where so little of note is happening that the weather is always the lead story. But what amazes me is that this is true even though Seattle's weather is so inescapably boring.

To paraphrase the allegedly Chinese curse: "may you live is mostly cloudy times, with occasional flurries along the Canadian border."

Posted by at 11:32 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 August 30, 2006
Flying. With Children. Without diaper cream.

Paulette and I took the kids with us when we went to this year's WorldCon (The World Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention), which we attended to reconnect with the science fiction writing community. This is the first time we flew with both kids.

Luckily for us, we had booked direct flights. Luckily for us, it turns out that both kids were just fine on the flights both on the way down and on the way back, even given the couple of hours we spent sitting at the airport waiting for our flights. (The flights were on time; we had simply chosen to arrive very early in order to reduce the likelihood of other logistical problems.) Luckily for us, the flights were on time and pretty much event free.

Unluckily for me, I was still recovering from The Cold That Wouldn't Go Away, so I was dreadfully congested and the resulting pain in my sinuses during takeoff and landing was brutal. But hey, luckily for me, I at least could take my sinus medication that I had with me. We couldn't bring the kids' sinus medication with us on the main cabin (but, again, we were lucky that they didn't end up needing any).

My sinus woes notwithstanding, everything that could go right for us with regard to flying did go right for us, and I know just how lucky we were. Their were so many potential failure points, it's amazing we got through unscathed.

Flying with children on a commercial flight these days is obnoxious even under the best of circumstances. Consider:

  • You are not allowed to bring any liquids with you through security (except for baby formula, if you have a baby with you, or prescription medicine with your name on it). Children's Benadryl or other decongestants for the kids are, by necessity, in liquid form. And they are not prescription. If you have any reason to believe that your kids might have clogged sinuses, you'll have to try to take care of business before you check your bags and just hope the medicine doesn't stop working before you land. If, like us, you'd prefer not to medicate your kids unless it's proven to be necessary, then you just have to hope it's not necessary.
  • You are also not allowed to bring creams. This would include the kind you use to treat diaper rash. So, again, you have to take care of business before you check your bags and then hope that in the time you spend waiting for your plane, and then for the duration of the flight itself, and then during the time waiting for your checked bags, your kid's diaper rash doesn't become so unbearable that he or she feels the need to complain about it loudly. In our case, Nolan *did* have a very nasty diaper rash. But, again, we lucked out and he didn't complain about it while we were at the airport or stuck on the plane.
  • If you have connecting flights, the odds against you getting away unscathed from giving up your creams or children’s medicines go up exponentially.
  • Don't forget to follow TSA recommendations and get to your airport a couple hours before your flight's scheduled departure!

Nevermind that flights these days are inevitably overbooked, and that crowding also has an impact on your and your children's comfort. If the trends in "air safety" continue, you can bet that families will be doing much less traveling by air in the coming years and that, consequently, we will begin to transform into a less mobile society than we've been trending up to this point. (Whether that is a bad or good thing is another matter, entirely).

As I've noted elsewhere (and often), I have a few friends who happen to be conspiracists. They believe that every upheaval in our society is the product of some massive, secret coordinated effort. In order to know which group is massively coordinating in secret to bring about the upheaval, one is supposed to look at who benefits (since, as we know, conspirators are perfect in their ability to bring about their desired goals).

I must therefore conclude that the most recent terror plot that was thwarted by the British authorities was secretly set into motion by Evian, Colgate-Palmolive, and Vidal Sassoon. After all, who has benefited the most from the new security restrictions at airports banning bottled water, hair gel, and toothpaste?

Alas, our next scheduled family flight will involve multiple connections.

Yippee.

Posted by at 12:52 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 August 28, 2006
More On Killing Kenny

I've received a number of interesting responses to my Ken Lay Shoulda Faked His Own Death tidbit, many of which were not posted to the comments section for that entry but were, instead, sent to me privately. No doubt, they wished to be shielded from the Real Killers.

As regular readers of my blog will attest, I am not generally given to believe in conspiracy theories whereby a bunch of people get involved in hookwinking everybody else, and those everybody elses are none-the-wiser (except for all those everybodies who believe it was a conspiracy). Unlike Oliver Stone, for example, I do not believe that the FBI, the CIA, the Mafia, the pro-Castro Cubans, the anti-Castro Cubans, the US military, the Military Industrial Complex, and Bob Guccione all worked together to kill President John F. Kennedy. Rather, I believe that the assassination was the work of one lone gunman: the Cigarette Smoking Man.

Likewise, I do not believe that the Trilateral Commission was behind New Coke, or that some Vast Rightwing Conspiracy created James Carville as a shill to discredit Democrats. The problem with most conspiracy theories is that they rely too much upon the competence of the conspirators not only to carry out their nefarious schemes and benefit from them without any fallout from the Law of Unintended Consequences, but also to get away with their plots and keep them all entirely secret.

That said, while it's fun to imagine that recently-convicted-yet-legally-exhonerated-because-he-died-before-sentencing Ponzi schemer Ken Lay could have faked its own death, the idea collapses under it's own weight. The problem is the definitive autopsy. Even if the Federalis who owed Kennyboy a debt or two chose to "look the other way" in the case of any dispute, the fact is that there were/are simply too many people who have a vested (and legal) interest in making sure that the body really did belong to the Kenster.

As my wife pointed out to me, that list would include:

  • the prosecuting attorneys
  • the judge in this most recent case
  • his life insurance policy holders
  • his own attorneys
  • his heirs
  • his bookie
  • thousands of reporters who would love to crack such a case
  • and millions of his victims who'd like to know for sure that the perp is well and truly dead.

In the comments section to the aforementioned essay, one of my brilliant readers notes that if Ken Lay's heirs didn't bump him off, they should have -- and, it would be cheaper for them to cover up the murder than it would be for Kennyboy to cover up a faked death.

Another reader suggests murder by non-heirs:

What if [Ken Lay's] death was done as retribution for the complete debacle. Maybe a higher power decided that ol' Ken had a good run, had taken the fall for the Enron fiasco and now it was time to sweep the disaster under the rug for good to avoid further investigation. If there were other parties who were involved in Enron but due to their power had remained untouched by Ken's finger of death they certainly would want to move past this issue. And what better way to do that than to eliminate the "responsible" party. America's conscious would be soothed that Ken is in a warm place and would be more interested in the bumblings of the Bobagadooch in the not so round office. Then the trail would end and no more would come of it.

This theory would give credence to a covered up death (few witnesses, cremation) but would also allow for a gory autopsy to confirm, at least in the public's eye, a full death.

The autopsy, as reviewed by many medical professionals, indicates that Mr. Lay died of heart failure resulting from years of gunky build-up in his arteries. Sure, he *could* have been bumped off and enough of just the right people could have been bought off to endorse the long-standing heart disease scenario. Anything's possible.

But even though it lacks the sexiness of a good juicy conspiracy, I'm inclined to go with the 'natural causes' explanation. Hmmm. Natural causes. There's something else the Cigarette Smoking Man knows something about...

Posted by at 11:00 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 August 11, 2006
The Best Lay-ed Plans

This idea was presented to me over dinner recently by a smart fella who, I gotta admit, made a compelling case. My humble essay is simply a re-framing of his idea:

Imagine that you are Billionaire Arch-Villian Kenneth Lay. You have an effload of money. You are the smartest man in any room you walk into. And you've just been convicted of the sodomization of thousands of shareholders, customers, and government agencies by way of your Ponzi scheme corporate shell, Enron. Sentencing has not yet been completed, and you are out on bail. Oh, and you have a cadre of wealthy and well-connected friends, including the former governor of your home state and now President, who has a cute nickname for you.

Oh, and you don't want to go to jail.

How much would it cost you to fake your own death? How many people would have to be bought off to make that happen? One to pretend to have found the body and phone it in, one to three medical personnel to declare the body belongs to Ken Lay and the body is dead? Was there an autopsy? Does the county coroner need to be bought off? I'm certain the funeral director and one or two members of his/her staff would have to be purchased. Let's guess that anywhere from four to twenty people would need to be bought off. I'm guessing we'd actually come in at the lower end of that range, because the fewer people involved, the better.

How much, exactly, would it take to buy off a doctor? Even one with a decent reputation, who presumably would have a higher price? Would three million do it? Five? I doubt a mortician would require anywhere near that much.

Avoiding any kind of investigation would be easy. You've got friends in Very High Places, remember.

So, a few people say they saw a dead body, and that the body was Ken Lay's. Nobody official questions whether they are telling the truth because, hey, there's no reason to suspect otherwise, and nobody would order an investigation in any case. Even at five mill a pop for twenty co-conspirators, you're talking no more than 100 million at the absolute most to pull this off.

Chump change.

Hmmm.

So when my friend mentioned this theory (actually, he's quite convinced that Kennyboy is alive), I thought to myself: what would you expect to be true if the man in question did, indeed, fake his death?

Well, you'd expect that the body in question would be cremated. That there'd be very few witnesses to his death. That there'd be no autopsy.

Well, guess what? The body was cremated before the funeral.

There were very few witnesses to his death.

And there was an autopsy. A big fat autopsy complete with gruesome details and blood samples and all kinds of verifiable stuff. This doesn't rule out fakery completely, but it certainly ups the price and increases the likelihood of some piece of the conspiracy breaking down.

Ken Lay is almost certainly dead. But if he didn't fake his own death, he oughtta have.

Posted by at 03:05 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (2)
 April 25, 2006
Moral Obligation?

Some (alleged) chick has staked a claim at "myspace", this online community thing, and posted an unused e-mail address at one of my domain names which means whenever someone updates her (if she is, indeed, a she) "space" by posting comments or the like, I get the notifications.

I wanted to put a stop to this by following the link that myspace puts into the notification e-mails, but then I'd get asked for a password, which of course I don't have. Well. Since the e-mail is coming to me anyway, I simply clicked on "I forgot my password", and lo and behold, the password was e-mailed to me. I logged in and checked out this (alleged) chick's settings. I figured that if I could find an alternate e-mail address or something, I could just remove the address that is dropping mail into my e-mail box and set up everything to go to "her" other address.

Myspace has made the news a bit lately because it is a community that attracts teens, and there have been some infamous recent events where adult predators have been posing as teens on the online community to set up real-world meetings with actual teens. This kind of nastiness aside, there are other kinds of pretenders who create an alter ego on this or other on-line communities to pose as someone they are not, often to become a disruptive member of whatever groups they end up joining. It's all very strange and clearly involves people who have much more free time than I have, but it is also the reason I put my tongue-in-cheek when I allude to this chick as an (alleged) chick.

That all said, after poking around this account's settings, I've come to believe that the account really was set up by a high school-aged girl who lives in some other state in some town I've never heard of. The account settings that are not revealed in the public areas of myspace (but which I can see, because I have the password) lead me to believe that this girl typed in an e-mail address at one of my domains as a simple mistake (and no, I won't post the details that lead me to this conclusion), and there are other indications that this is not a hoax identity.

This leaves me with a quandary. I was unable to find any other e-mail settings (apparently, you can only set up one e-mail address for your myspace account), but I have the girl's name and hometown... and, of course, complete access to her myspace account until she changes her e-mail address setting. It's not enough for her to change her password -- every time she changes her password, I'll get the e-mail that confirms it.

So... do I have a moral obligation to notify her that she has given a complete stranger access to her myspace account? Does being a good citizen require me to try to track down a home phone number or contact her high school or e-mail one of her "friends" on her contact list in order to get word to her that she's made this error? (Words cannot convey how resistant I am to that idea.) Or, does being a good citizen require me to dead-letter an e-mail address on one of my domains, the electronic equivalent of turning a blind eye?

What do *you* think?

Posted by at 08:58 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (4)
 February 11, 2006
The War Against Valentines Day

Who would do such a thing?

The Top5 Humor List folks have put together a blantantly anti-Valentine's Day site called Bad Cupid. Take, for example, their Valentine's Day Breakup Haikus (please).

What kind of a sick-o would contribute something like this?

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Uh-oh. I'm drawing a blank.

Or this?

It's Valentine's Day And I wrote you this haiku What rhymes with beeyotch?

Or this?

Roses are Red and Violets are Blue; Now, $#%& OFF! -- My break-up haiku.

What kind of person would write such things?

I'll never tell.

Posted by at 10:09 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 December 25, 2005
Holiday Wishes

I take this brief break between having wrapped and set up all of the presents for the kids under the Christmas Tree and the carnage that must inevitably follow when the kids discover said gifts, to wish you all a Merry Christmas.

If, however, my wishing you a Merry Christmas is in any way troubling to you -- whether because you observe neither the religious nor the secular traditions of this holiday or because you simply prefer to take offense where none is intended -- then allow me, please, to wish you a Happy X-akkah, or a Happy X-zaa, or a Happy X-tivus, or a Happy X-stice, or a Happy X-Year, or simply a pleasant weekend, whatever your inclinations should favor.

As for me, I have enjoyed spending the 24th in the company of my family and good friends, and I look forward to enjoying more of the same on the 25th.

"May your pleasures be many; your troubles be few...."

Posted by at 02:43 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 December 08, 2005
Lennon. And Marx.

Yesterday was a day that will live in infamy.

Today ain't so hot, either, historically speaking.

In honor of John Lennon, who was killed on this day in 1980, let us pause to reflect upon how much he and Marx contributed to modern culture.

Posted by at 01:24 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 November 28, 2005
Holiday Irony

Am I the only one who finds Barbara Streisand's Christmas Album to be the absolute height of irony?

Posted by at 05:08 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (2)
 November 26, 2005
How's the Fam?

A quick update on life at Casa Rousselle:

When you have a couple of kids in the house, a cold can take root in the home and never quite get away. A cold has been bouncing back and forth between Paulette and Alex for weeks now (mostly manifesting itself as sniffles in Alex and sore throat in Paulette), but a few days ago it got everybody and it got worse. Congestion. Coughing. Even some more unhappy bodily reactions that I shan't go into. Plenty of physical discomfort to go around.

And yet, we've been doing okay, by and large. Nolan started crawling -- the real deal, not just his "commando crawl" with arms only, but getting his legs into the act -- on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. His two lower teeth are in, and he remains happy as a clam. (How happy are clams, anyway?)

Alex is developing an interest in time -- mostly motivated by his dawning comprehension that Sesame Street can't just appear on the TV on demand the way his favorite videos can (with his parents' cooperation).

We had an excellent Thanksgiving get together with my aunt who lives thirty miles or so away.

Life is generally good. We have much to be thankful for -- especially when it comes to our good health (current colds notwithstanding), our happy children, our comfortable living quarters, and having so many good friends and relatives in our lives.

Time-wise, we remain a bit extended. We hope to get our "Change of Address" announcements (we moved in March) and Nolan's birth announcement (he was born in April) mailed out sometime within the next couple of weeks. This clears the way for us to get our holiday cards mailed out sometime in mid-2007.

But enough about us. How are you?

PS: For the first time I can recall *ever* in my life, I have managed (with my wife's prodding) to purchase a Christmas tree during the Thanksgiving weekend. Yikes! Alex has already announced to us several times today, "I want presents." His wish list on my Amazon account will no doubt get quite a work-out....

Posted by at 11:41 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 October 13, 2005
Words I Made Up

I love playing with the English language. Here are some words I made up for various things I've written:

  • abusual: dangerously atypical
  • bootishly: the way people walk indoors in Buffalo, NY in the winter
  • misanthropomorphic: to hate animated Disney animals
  • posteriority complex: obsessed with the quest for the callipygian ideal
  • pyronecrobestiapedophilia: an alternative lifestyle even PETA wouldn't approve
  • therapologist: someone who defends psychiatric counseling

I'll post others as I remember them.

Posted by at 12:35 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (2)
 September 18, 2005
Name calling, Context, and Disagreement

So, my wife and I bought the TV show "24 - Season Two" on DVD and spent a couple of weeks watching an episode or three each evening after the kids were put to bed. Having now seen the first two seasons this way, I must heartily recommend "24". Wonderful fun, with an emphasis on plot reversals:

In a "reversal", the plot or action suddenly veers off in another direction from what was expected. The reversal can be good *or* bad. It doesn't always have to be bad. A really good reversal changes the goals/questions for the characters involved.

If you are a writer or an aspiring writer, you could do worse than to take in how 24 approaches plot reversals (regardless of how you evaluate the plot holes).

As a friend of mine commented recently, watching a couple of seasons of 24 back-to-back can give one an acute attack of paranoia. These episodes are all about conspiracies within conspiracies, and they can make you a bit jumpy.

Inspired by the gleeful paranoia-euphoria of being fresh off of season two of "24", and thinking of a couple of very dear friends of mine who live their lives in such a state, I pounded out my little tidbit, "Choose Your Own Conspiracy". It was a lark, intending to mock how quickly and irrationally we can sometimes resort to blaming conspiracies when simpler, more credible forces are more likely at work.

One such friend (ie, one of my friends who sees conspiracies within conspiracies as being rather pervasive) posted a response chiding me for being naive. I'm going to repeat her comment here because it deserves some elucidation:

Much like a child who is completely unaware that he is, in fact, the reason why his parents got divorced, you are happily clueless.

You are blissfully unaware of what is going on around you and your own culpability therein.

You won't even acknowledge a conspiracy that was so clearly pointed at you!

It is arguably amusing, but very, very costly.

Now, this sounded to a couple of other faithful readers like an "insane" slam from "the angry left". At first blush, it certainly seems nasty.

It was none of these.

Like many shouting matches that pretend to be reasoned debate on the talking head news shows, the conversation here is falling apart due to lack of context. Let's back up a little bit and provide that context.

Jehan and I used to work together for a well known national brand that she occasionally refers to as "thatplace.com". She and I have spoken often and at great length about the different kinds of conspiracies that may or may not be plausible in the realms of politics, racial profiling, and the day-to-day grind on the job.

I've never been public about my reasons for leaving thatplace.com except in the vaguest of terms -- and I intend to keep it that way -- but it is not perhaps much of a secret that before I left, my successful team was reorganized out of existence, much to the dismay of my team and myself.

Jehan was a member of that team, and remains one of the most talented devs I've ever had the pleasure to work with. Like most of my former team (and myself), she eventually left thatplace for much the same reasons that the rest of us did. She and other members of my former team showed an amazing amount of loyalty to me and to each other, for which I will always be profoundly grateful.

Jehan's and my on-going conversation has included reflections upon things that happened to me during my last few months at thatplace. It has always seemed to me that those things were obviously part of the larger reorg (and aftermath) that engulfed our entire division of the company. There were, it seemed to me, sound business decisions behind the reorg, however much I may not have agreed with them.

My friend and former co-worker believes otherwise. She believes that the events that unfolded were designed not for business reasons, but for personal and political reasons. To be blunt, she believes that I and my team were not collateral damage, but deliberate targets.

Our (hers and mine) long-running conversation on the subject gets further complicated by two things: my position is reasonable and requires no evidence, whereas her position is less reasonable, requires evidence, and yet she nonetheless has enough evidence to make a compelling case.

Now, re-read her comment above. See how context changes everything? She's not raving about vast right-wing conspiracies (which is what I believe some readers have come to think). She is mocking me for mocking conspiracy theorists. Here, I was mocking those who would be so paranoid that they would see a conspiracy in the destruction following a hurricane. She counters that I would be so blind as to deny an obvious conspiracy that targeted me directly and personally... insofar as she believes this is exactly the case.

Did this clear anything up? I hope so. Now, let's get down to business.

One of my faithful readers is another friend whom I met in a completely different context, named Allen. Since very, very few readers of my blog could know the circumstances to which Jehan is alluding, it is only reasonable that her remarks should be misinterpreted by many of my readers. But Allen went so far as to label her response as being from "the angry left".

Allen, you're a good man and I love you like a brother. (You know, the brother who moved away to Canada like some commie-symp blue-stater, so we don't talk about him so much at the dinner table; that kind of brother.) But just as the "angry left" was being ridiculous to keep crying about some phantom "vast right-wing conspiracy", so too is it ridiculous to cry about some phantom "angry left".

Not all who oppose us are necessarily part of a unified enemy. Sometimes, we are opposed by our dearest allies. Not all who disagree with us oppose us. Intelligent people will disagree about the best way to accomplish common goals.

It's true that Jehan's remarks did read a little harsh, and I appreciate your standing up to defend me. But, well, your remarks were a little harsh, too.

Can't we all just get along?

Posted by at 02:35 AM in the following Department(s): Essays , Tidbits , Tidbits III | Comments (4)
 September 02, 2005
Locals' Lament

As part of my high-tech whirlwind database life, I occasionally travel to locales far and wide to teach accountants and IT professionals at law firms how to use a database language called SQL (structured query language). Sounds exciting, doesn't it? This is excitement personified.

When a law firm hosts one of these classes -- which is to say, when they provide the training facilities and allow others to attend -- they are accorded a couple of "free" seats in the class. Typically, the employees of the host law firm who attend the class run the risk of getting less out of the class than their counterparts who travel from nearby towns to attend.

Why? Because when a person attends training within their own firm's offices, he or she is often called away for a quick-emergency-meeting or to put out this-one-little-fire or something along those lines. Their training time is not respected by their colleagues because -- Hey! -- they are there at the office anyway, so what harm could it be to pull them out of the class for one teensie-weensie-moment.

Attendees who pay full fare and come in from another firm are not at their office mate's (or boss's) beck and call, and therefore can't be pulled aside to attend to a quick little problem.

For lack of a better term, I'll call this the "locals' lament". It's convenient geographically and economically, at least, for you to be the host but the distractions of being on your home turf keep pulling you away.

So it is for me and this year's North American Science Fiction Convention. My wife and I attempt every year to attend the annual World Science Fiction Convention (typically held during the days leading into the Labor Day weekend) because it features a strong track for professional writers in the field. When "WorldCon" is held outside of North America (this year's was held in Scotland), there is a smaller version held on our home continent, the aforementioned "NASFiC". This year's NASFiC is being held in our home town.

Should be convenient, no? Should make our lives easier, because we don't have so much to arrange in terms of travel and taking care of the kids and all that stuff, right?

Nope. Just as we missed the World Horror Convention when it was held here a couple of years ago, we find our attendance at this year's NASFiC very, very challenging. Difficulties and distractions at the office and at home have led me to miss all of the ceremonies, panels, and parties thus far. Yesterday, I left work in time to make dinner with some friends in town for the Con, but that's the most I've managed so far. Instead of our annual week-long participation, it looks like Paulette and I will be able to get two days this weekend at the most.

Next year's WorldCon will be held in LA. We look forward to having it away from home again (as usual), so that we can once more take full advantage of it.

Posted by at 05:09 PM in the following Department(s): Teaching , Tidbits , Tidbits II , Writing | Comments (1)
 August 15, 2005
Word of the Day

I love this word:

Schlimmbesserung

This is a German compound word that means to correct a mistake with another mistake. (The transliteration is "bad bettering" or "bad improvement".) This came up recently on an e-mail list where everyone was correcting everyone else's spelling of a given word, and each got it wrong, in turn. Very funny.

Posted by at 05:06 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 July 30, 2005
Rebuttals and More Marketing Happiness

On the recent "California Condor" joke/story I posted where a friend of mine said that he made it up all by himself, a reader rebutted:

The condor/eagle/owl story was surely not made up by your friend. I saw that in Maxim I belive about 2 years ago, I think it was even joke of the month. I looked on the net, and I see the first posting of it was in September 1992.

Faithful reader went on to say that my friend is a "liar", but later asked that be changed to "liar face". So noted.

And, of course, that's the reason I had said that my friend said he made it up -- by way of expressing that I was dubious of the claim, but allowed that I was giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Regarding my post on the marketing genii at Qwest, faithful reader noted:

Qwest has been around for a "long time", since 1996, when all the long distance deregulation stuff was in its heyday. It was not a renamed company -- that's when it actually started. It was pretty successful, and eventually sucked up LCI (you might remember their 5 cent per minute commercials), and US West (one of the baby Bells).

Another faithful reader had kindly posted a similar comment as to Qwest's origins. In my defense, I'll point out that most of the current telecommunications giants in the US were formed by the so called Baby Bells recombining. Thus, Bell Atlantic took over Nynex and GTE to become Verizon, Southern Bell and Bell South merged and then took over just about everyone to become Cingular, and T-Mobile emerged from the ashes of VoiceStream and a few other telecom companies. So please don't judge me too harshly for thinking that Qwest was similarly a new name for combined entities.

I love the comments. It's cool to see that some people are actually reading my ramblings here. My original point, however, about the dubious intelligence of the marketing minds between Qwest's campaign stands. In fact, I'll point out that Liberty's marketing gurus have jumped into the fray by ending their ads thus:

"And that's insurance in action."

That's just what I need, Liberty: insurance inaction. Where do I sign up?!

This profligation of "in action" tag lines is the best stupid trend I've seen since a former employer of mine inadvertantly named their operating system for hand-held devices "WinCE". This led to a series of software products made "for WinCE".

Oy.

Posted by at 11:04 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 July 27, 2005
Marketing Genius

One of the local phone companies out where I live is now called "Qwest". It seems like every phone company I've ever heard of has changed its name within the past few years -- except for ATT, I think... do they still exist? -- and I couldn't even tell you who Qwest used to be. So I guess their marketing is doing a good job of making me forget that they used to be somebody else.

As part of their effort to reinvent themselves, however, their ads are trying to convince me that they are competent (the company they used to be never was, and I've seen nothing to convince me that they are now) and that they provide excellent service (see previous parenthetical aside). On this note, their ads have not succeeded.

You see, for months they would end their television commercials with an allegedly "real life" customer service rep exclaiming, "That's our spirit of service in action!"

Now, when I type that out, that looks reasonable, doesn't it? But when they *read* that slogan, it sounded more like this:

"That's our spirit of service: inaction!"

A palpable pause between "service" and "in action", while "in action" was slurred together to sound like one word.

A few weeks ago, the ads changed. The alleged "real life" company rep now reads the line as if it were punctuated thusly:

"That's our spirit of service. In? (pause) Action."

Really. A lilt on the word "in" as if it were a question. Followed by a long pause. Followed by "action." Of course, this only draws painful attention to the problem with their tag line in the first place.

But at least they are figuring it out, right?

No.

I swear to you, I just heard a new ad for them a few nights ago, and the company spokesmodel informed us all that Qwest offers "the best in security."

(connect the dots here)

Posted by at 08:46 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (3)
 June 28, 2005
National Boss Day?

Sunday, October 16 is National Boss Day, according to my daily planner.

Because its on a Sunday, does that mean the boss has to come into work? ie, does the boss get a day on?

Posted by at 02:41 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 April 03, 2005
My Grandfather's Official Obituary

As it will appear in the Port Charlotte, FL newspaper tomorrow:

REV. DR. ROBERT "BOB" M. MARING, 83, of Port Charlotte, Florida died Friday, April 1, 2005 at Peace River Regional Medical Center, Port Charlotte.

He was born March 13, 1922 in Huntington, West Virginia to Robert L. Maring and Hazel Caldwell Maring and moved to Port Charlotte in 1987 from Charleston, West Virginia. He was a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College where he received his B.A. degree. He received his Masters of Divinity Degree from Asbury Theological Seminary and his M.A. degree in World Missions at the Graduate School of Drew University. Dr. Maring completed study programs at West Virginia University, the Graduate School of the University of Pennsylvania, and the Perkins School of Theology. He earned his Doctor of Ministry degree at the Theological School of Drew University.

He was an ordained minister of the United Methodist Church and has served as minister in Kentucky, New York, West Virginia and Pakistan. For thirteen years he and his wife, Evelyn served as missionaries of the World Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries in the Methodist Church of Pakistan. He served either as a pastor or district superintendent from 1946 until 1987 when he retired from the West Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church.

As a minister in the church, Bob, as he is know by his friends, has been Annual Conference Secretary and has been chairperson of various annual conference boards and committees. He was a world traveler, a student of the world religions, and international relations. Since retiring he was active in the Port Charlotte United Methodist Men's Fellowship and served as Co-chairperson of Evangelism and Missions Committee. He is a veteran of World War II, U.S. Army. Member and former Vice President of the Charlotte County Veterans Council, member and Chaplain for the local and State China-Burma-India Veterans Assn. and member and former Vice President of the Port Charlotte Lions Club.

He is survived by his loving wife of 63 years, Rev. Evelyn L. Maring of Port Charlotte; a daughter, Karen (Lee) Rousselle of Buffalo, NY; two grandchildren, Allan (Paulette) Rousselle and Sandra (Michael) Hanagan; 3 great grandchildren, Alexander Rousselle, Devon and Sierra Hanagan; and 14 nieces and nephews. In addition to his parents he was preceded in death by a sister, Helen Capehart.

Memorial services will be held Wednesday 3:00 PM, April 6, 2005 at the Port Charlotte United Methodist Church. Rev. James R. Kuse will officiate with military honors by the U.S. Army. Inurnment will be in Restlawn Memorial Gardens, Port Charlotte.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Mission Fund of the Port Charlotte United Methodist Church, 21075 Quesada Ave., Port Charlotte, FL 33952. . Arrangements by Roberson Funeral Home & Crematory Port Charlotte Chapel.


Posted by at 03:06 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 April 01, 2005
Dr. Robert M. Maring (1922-2005)

This morning, my grandfather Dr. Robert M. Maring, retired Methodist minister, former missionary to Pakistan, and World War II veteran, died from congestive heart failure. He had just turned 83 years old a few weeks ago.

He was much beloved by his wife of 63 years and his daughter and grandchildren, by his several congregations in West Virginia and in Pakistan, by his many friends in his adopted home of Port Charlotte, Florida, by his former colleagues in the armed forces, by his late sister and his several neices and nephews, and so many other family and friends and colleagues. He lived to personally visit dozens of nations, to meet with dozens of world leaders, to tend to hundreds (if not thousands) of good people in need of comfort, and to spend his life in love and grace by the strength of his faith. It is rare to know a man of such strong will whose life is dominated not by cynicism, but by optimism. He was a good man who will most certainly be missed.

March 13, 1922 - April 1, 2005

Posted by at 11:09 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (2)
 March 30, 2005
On This Day in History

March 30th, 1968:

"I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President."

--Lyndon Baines Johnson

During the same address to the nation, he outlined his plan for peace in Vietnam.

At least he kept one of his promises.

Posted by at 03:12 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 March 24, 2005
Catch!

Me: I need to update the address on my Translucent Spiffy credit card.

They: Okay. We'll need the code above the number on your card.

Me: Numbernumbernumbernumber.

They: I'm sorry, sir, but that's the number from your old card, not your new card. We need the new card.

Me: But I never activated the new card. It got thrown into a pile somewhere and was packed in a box and I have no idea where it is right now. The old card hasn't even expired yet....

They: Well, you need to have that new card in order to update your address.

Me: But I didn't activate that card!

They: Our system says we need the new card. The only way to supercede the new card is to issue you yet another new card.

Me: But you'll end up sending it to the old address, right? We've already moved. The move is done. We don't live there any more. And you don't allow forwarding of your replacement cards, do you?

They: Hmmm. Let me talk to someone else and see what else I can do.

Herb Alpert: A Taste of Honey.

They: Mr. Rousselle?

Me: Yes?

They: You have another card with us, the Silver Something card. Why don't we update the address on that card, and see if we can then update the first card as part of that process.

Me: Okay.

They: Do you have your silver card with you?

Me: [rummage through extremely disorganized wallet.] Here it is.

They: What's the number on that one?

Me: Numbernumbernumbernumber.

They: Okay, and the address?

Me: Addressaddressaddress.

They: And your supersecret pin code for the Silver card?

Me: I have a supersecret pin code for that card?

They: Mmm-hmm.

Me: Uh... Mother's Maiden Name?

They: Nope. Try again?

Me: Uh... Birthplace?

They: I'm sorry sir, but that didn't work either.

Me: Well, how about Father's Middle Name...?

They: I'm sorry. The system only gives me two chances. I'll have to transfer you over to the pin number department and have you reset your pin. Then they'll transfer you back to me to update your address.

Me: ???

They: Thanks for your patience. I'll be right back.

Herb Alpert: A Taste of Honey.

They: Mr. Rousselle? I have Drone Number Forty-Two on the line.

Me: Hi, there.

They: Mr. Rousselle, in order to reset your password, could you please read me the four digit code that appears above your account number?

Me: Numbernumbernumbernumber.

They: Thank you, sir. You may now set your new pin.

Me: Newpinnumber.

They: Thank you, sir. Now I'll put you on hold while we get someone on the line to help you update the address with this card.

Herb Alpert: A Taste of Honey.

They: Mr. Rousselle?

Me: Yes?

They: The address change went through for your Silver Something card, but not for the Translucent Spiffy.

Me: [sigh]

They: Well, you can always retrieve your statements online...

Me: No, I can't. I can't set up the online account, because when I tried to do that, I was told that I needed the new card to do that. And I don't know where the new card is....

They: Hmmm.

Me: Hmmm.

Posted by at 06:12 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 January 20, 2005
Secret Handshake (Day 21)

Sometimes I can be a real idiot.

I went today to check on the progress of our house-in-progress. Today is officially Day 21 on the schedule. (Note: I'd originally posted an entry on Monday the 17th and referred to that as Day 19, but it turns out that Monday was a scheduled non-workday because it was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Alas, since I was working that day, I didn't register that the construction crews might have the day as a scheduled day off. The fact that they were actually on site working didn't alter that impression, either. I've update the heading for that entry to read that it was the Day Before Day 19. But thats not what I was referring to when I said that I can be a real idiot....)

A cover-up so immense...Day 21, according to the schedule, is when the crews are supposed to wrap up getting the siding installed. As you can see from today's photo, they were still working on it when I dropped by at around 4pm. They were working on the area beneath the front eves while I was there, and there's still some space above the top floor windows that need to be taken care of. The other sides of the house appear to be all done.

While I was there, I had a chance to meet one of my future neighbors. This is where my ability to sometimes be an idiot comes in.

By way of background, I should remind you that I once studied Tae Kwon Do (back before I turned into a blimp). TKD is a Korean martial art, and one of the things that one learns at a good TKD school is rudimentary Korean language skills (how to count in Korean, the Korean names of various techniques, etc.) and rudimentary etiquette. Nothing super fancy, but enough to at least show some respect for the traditions and the practitioners of the art.

One of the things we were taught is that it is polite, when shaking hands or when handing something to another person (or taking something from another person), to bring up your left hand and hold it (palm down) below your right elbow as you extend your right arm in front of you. That sounds more complicated than it is. It's a subtle gesture, one that you might not notice if you had never been taught it -- although you better believe that your instructor will notice if you fail to do it!

There's a deli nearby where I work that is owned and managed by a family of Korean-Americans. I noticed that whenever I give them my payment or accept my change or my purchase that they automatically offer this gesture. Noticing that they do so, I reciprocate. It's a little thing, an attempt to acknowledge their culture and their politeness.

So as I mentioned above, I had the chance today to meet one of my future neighbors. And when we shook hands by way of introduction, I noticed the gesture. Involuntarily, I said, "You're Korean?"

Even as the words came out of my mouth, I felt like an idiot. What an awkward way to introduce myself, by starting off asking about their ethnicity. Stupid, stupid, stupid. What an effing moron I can be sometimes.

"How did you know?" she asked politely. Yes, this future neighbor is a she, and no, I did not ask, "So, you're a woman, too?" I sorta mumbled my way through my answer, about how I'd learned the preferred handshake when I took Tae Kwon Do, and I was all stupid and awkward about it. I dont even know if my answer made sense. (Would *she* know that TKD is a Korean martial art? Just because shes ethnically Korean doesnt mean she knows Tae Kwon Do...)

I'm inclined to think that my future neighbor wasn't offended; at least, I *hope* not. We had a pleasant enough (albeit brief) conversation. She did notice that Paulettes and my future house seems relatively large. I should have told her that I hate, hate, HATE backyards, but that didn't occur to me at the time. (That *will* be my response from now on, however.) Instead, I just mentioned the kid thing, and was otherwise non-committal. I didn't want to get into the whole indoor swimming pool issue, the bomb shelter, the mad scientist lab, and how it's not the size that matters, and all that.

So far, I've met maybe a half-dozen of our future neighbors. They have all been very friendly and welcoming, and I expect that we're all going to get along just fine. Still, I hate the idea of making an awkward first impression.

Secret Korean handshake: dumb white guy opens mouth, inserts foot.

Posted by at 06:05 PM in the following Department(s): Building a House , Tidbits | Comments (0)
 January 17, 2005
The Graft: Two Years Later

Warning! This entry is not for the squeamish!

Heading into the Christmas season in 2002, gum tissue covering one of my teeth acquired a tear (which is a delicate way of saying it ripped -- ouch!) and necessitated some speedy oral surgery called a "gingiva graft". I told the gory story here on this website, and it is currently one of the most searched for sections of my public journal.

It had occurred to me as we left behind this most recent Christmas season that I ought to give an update. Interestingly enough, a visitor to the site dropped me a line at the same time asking how things have been going.

Well, funny you should ask.

I had my wisdom teeth pulled out in April this past year, and once again the procedure was effortless but the recovery was a drag. In fact, I was fine for the first day or two after the event, but then the pain level started to creep up. At the same time, I was settling into a relatively new job, and had to travel quite a bit as a result. There's nothing quite so fun as hopping the globe while recovering from oral surgery and having that slow taste of cloves (used as an anesthetic) to make all of your food taste weird.

But that, too, passed, and life went on. Then, a month ago or so, I had my biannual (did I say biannual? I meant semi-annual! Silly me... Freudian slide, I guess) dentist check-up, and my dentist said: "What the hell? Don't you floss?"

Well, no, not really.

All by way of saying, I need to floss more or my dentist will disown me (after taking all of my money and, he says, some more of my teeth). OK, that's probably more information than you really wanted to know. But despite all that... the area that had been the site of my gum graft is actually looking pretty good. It's been two years now, and it's clearly in better shape than it had been in before the tear.

But there's more to this story on a couple of different levels.

One is how the passage of time lends perspective on things. A reader stumbled upon my site and described a very similar chain of events with regard to how well their gingiva graft(s) have been going. Which is to say, they haven't been flawless, which is why another procedure is on the horizon. As my reader knows... I feel your pain.

But the reader went on to ask (in reference to some other issues I mentioned in my string of essays about the gingiva graft): "I also feel my smile is weird and different since that little thing that attaches your lip to your gum has been sliced. I can't even see it! I feel like my lip is kind of hanging freely and falls forward a bit? 'Is this normal?' I sure hope so."

Reader, nothing is normal about any of this, and you will NEVER BE THE SAME! BWAHAHAHAAAA! Your intimates may or may not notice the change in your smile -- my guess is that they won't -- because even if there is a change, it's probably very subtle. But what *will* happen is, you'll get used to how it feels. Just like you get used to how it feels when you have a tooth extracted, or braces put on or removed, or you gain or lose weight, or you get earrings, or your foot is amputated by a passing subway train, or whatever.

I'm having to reconcile myself with the sad fact that with every passing year, I look a little bit less like the guy I looked like in college. And let's make no mistake: I didn't appreciate it then, but I wasn't such a bad looking guy in college. Of course, I appreciate it now because now I'm 80 pounds heavier, my hair is *darker* (I liked being a blond, durnit!), I'm fatter, I weigh more, I have widow's peaks, and I'm much larger than I used to be. In fact, I'd have to say that if the gum graft altered my smile at all, it was nowhere near as much as my weight gain has altered my smile. :-X

So, dear reader, if you want to stop feeling self-conscious about how the gum surgery has affected your smile, do what I did: gain an average of five pounds every year.

Fortunately, ice cream is both good for your surgery recovery *and* for pursuing that weight gain.

There's another aspect of the oral surgery I wanted to mention here, with regard to what it means down the line. Two years or so have passed since the graft(s), and over half a year has passed since I had my wisdom teeth forcibly removed. I've settled into my new mouth, though, and my mouth is probably about as healthy as any typical American male my age.

But therein lies the rub. As a good friend of mine once commented (he is ten years older than me): it's all down hill from here. In a bad way. Sure, it's oral surgery today, but next year, it's getting new glasses. Or arthritis. Or mid-life crisis (more on that in a future essay). Or menopause (for half of my readers, anyway). Cancer. The flu. Knee replacement surgery. Empty Nest Syndrome. Senility. Flatulence. Halitosis. Ennui. Rigor mortis.

It's been two years since I had the procedure(s), and you've caught me in a philosophical mood: it wasn't a walk in the park, but then, walks in parks are overrated. Everything has worked out okay as far as my mouth is concerned... much to the chagrin of my waist.

Posted by at 01:40 AM in the following Department(s): Gingiva Graft , Tidbits | Comments (3)
 December 23, 2004
Happy Festivus!

December 21st is one of my favorite days of the year. From this day forward, the amount of daylight increases every day.

December 25th is a pretty cool day, too. Celebrating Christmas, especially with a kid in the house, is always a fine time. Some folks get stressed out over the holidays, but not me. I love it all -- the shopping, the giving, the receiving, the spending time with family and friends. The whole bit.

Well, okay, I don't love the extra traffic near the malls, but even that's not such a big deal.

December 23rd, of course, is neither a holiday nor a seasonal day, but it is rapidly becoming one of the most widely-recognized made-up non-holidays ever. December 23rd is Festivus! According to the description spelled out in an episode of the sit-com Seinfeld, "a Festivus for the rest of us" is a day for complaining about how people have disappointed you and for setting up a plain aluminum pole and adorning it with... nothing. Festivus is supposedly a statement against the commercialism that has overwhelmed the holiday season.

How long do you think it will be before there are Festivus greeting cards? And... how ironic would that be?

Happy Festivus, everybody.

Posted by at 01:39 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 December 17, 2004
Help me! What's a Hope Chest?

Okay, I admit it. I'm a guy. I grew up never needing -- nor wanting -- to know what the heck a "Hope Chest" is. As near as I can tell, it's some kind of girl indoctrination thing whereby grown women who should know better start their daughters on the path toward planning for the eventual wedding by giving them a box to put stuff in that's, well, domestic.

Is that about the size of it?

I have a writing project in mind that may involve the whole hope chest scene. Do any of you, my loyal (or, even first time) readers, happen to know anything about hope chests that you'd care to share with me? Please?

Feel free to comment by clicking on the comment link, or send me e-mail (the link is on this page *somewhere*.

Thanks!

Posted by at 12:23 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 November 12, 2004
Turning a Corner

Every once in a while, I take a break from telling my devoted readers (well, okay, my devoted *reader* -- some tech support guy in India who is learning English by reading this site. Shake the spatula, my paint chip cellphone!) how to vote or what to think and actually post news about events in Casa Rousselle.

The years 2003 and 2004 have been exceedingly odd here at Allan Central, but I haven't been thrown out of the roller coaster car and it's entirely possible that things are heading for an upturn.

Life hasn't been bad -- in fact, all things considered, we've been doing okay. My family and I are all generally healthy and of sound minds. We remain materially comfortable, insofar as we have been maintaining a roof over our heads and food on the table, clothes on our backs and fairly reliable transportation at our disposal. Our friends remain genuinely wonderful and supportive. We remain blessed to live in a part of the world that is relatively free of crime and political oppression, with an abundance of natural beauty and well-harnessed natural resources. And of course, we are exceedingly blessed to have a happy and healthy child who grows smarter and stronger, more articulate and more beautiful with each passing day.

But the past couple of years have also been rather stressful. Finances and careers and balancing desires with reality have been the major sources of stress, with the typical problem of figuring out how best to use our time.

One problem, for example, has been the house situation. We have a great house... for two adults. Alas, we are no longer just two. We are a couple with a child, and we've been chafing at the boundaries ever since Alexander learned how to walk. We don't have a yard and can't fence in the back patio, we live right off of a major street, and that means we can't just let Alex go outside on his own whenever he wants out of the house. Etc., etc., etc.

It's likely that our house is bigger than the trailer my parents lived in when I was Alex's age, but Paulette and I would still like to have a fenced-in yard for Alex. Is that being too greedy? I don't think so. We'd still like to have rooms to use for "his" and "her" offices, separate from each other and from Alex's room and our bedroom and the living room. More than our parent's had? Surely. But in this age of working from home, it's not unreasonable to want it.

And what if there should be more children in our future? While my sister slept on a bunk bed in a closet off of my room, I'd still prefer for Alex to be able to have his own room and any future kids to have their own rooms, too.

So we started looking at new houses, and found something that we liked that had a great floor plan. Well, okay, Paulette's office is going to have to be the living room, after all. And, well, the closet for Alex's room is just big enough to hold a crib (but not a bunk bed). But otherwise, it's still bigger than what we've got now.

Granted, it's on a small, small lot -- so small that the back yard is pretty much the same size as that patch of green you usually see between the sidewalk and the curb -- but at least we can fence it in and let the kid(s) roam about, if we are so inclined.

The house hunt took up the better part of the first half of 2004. Once we found what we wanted, however, we then had to figure out how to acquire it. Since we are not independently (or even dependently) wealthy, we would have to sell our current house to buy it.

Houses in our neighborhood have been selling like hotcakes for big, big bucks, so we got our house ready, waited until I wasn't travelling quite so much for my job (thereby allowing me to help with the house), and then put our house up on the market.

And waited. And waited. And waited.

And waited some more.

Wouldn't you know it, the week we went on the market was the week that pretty much all house-buying activity in our part of town stopped dead.

We tried all sorts of things, but nothing helped. Every morning, we would have to make the house completely spotless in case someone wanted to drop by to see the place. That took a lot of time out of each day. But that, plus the many things we did to make the house more attractive, seemed to be in vain.

In the meantime, the clock was ticking away on our offer on the other house.

Months went by. Months.

And then, just as we neared our very last deadline for wrapping up the deal on the new house, we found a buyer for the old house who turned out to be the best possible buyer we could have hoped for. Yee-ha.

As we approach the end of 2004, there are a lot of things like that which seem to be turning around; turning out simply excellently. Given a rocky couple of years, we're ready for things to go our way for a bit.

Now, if only that story I sent to The New Yorker finds a home there....

Posted by at 11:30 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 August 05, 2004
Selling a House

Selling a house in this market is like removing your eyebrows with duct tape. Most of your time and effort is spent in the set-up; the whole process is unpleasant and, toward the end, painful; it'll smart for a long time after it's over; and the duct tape people make a few pennies besides. Oh, and neither activity is particularly helpful with regard to your tax situation.

It's very distracting, the whole house-selling thing. It involves moving lots of boxes into storage in order to make your house look bigger (because there's less stuff in it). It involves getting the carpets cleaned and then trying to keep your two-year-old, who is not yet potty trained, from peeing all over the nice, clean rug at the first available chance.

It's about making sure to cart around all of your valuables with you when you leave the house, because not all of the people who will be traipsing around your home are scrupulous. It's about touch-up painting and fixture fixing.

I've been having a hard time concentrating at work lately. Dealing with heater cleaning guys and realtor phone calls and last minute, gotta-do-now tasks hasn't been helping on that particular front. Now that our house is on the market, I hope that some of the home-related urgency will pass, so that I may attend to the other urgency of justifying my paycheck (and continuing to draw one).

Of course, my concentration might also improve when that itchiness around my eyebrows goes away.

Posted by at 12:37 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 July 26, 2004
Microwave Blues

True story. My office occupies a building which I share with a few other folks, one of whom has donated an old microwave oven for our common benefit. The microwave oven is *quite* old, however, and it takes six minutes to properly heat up a can of soup that would otherwise take only three minutes.

I brought in a frozen dinner for my lunch today; one of those biiig frozen dinners that takes something like ten minutes to nuke in a *good* microwave oven*. I wonder... am I going to have to microwave this meal for twenty minutes before I can eat it? At what point do you say that a microwave oven is really not speeding up the cooking process at all?

It's very hot outside today. Maybe I'll just cook my HungryPerson dinner on the sidewalk....

Posted by at 11:28 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 July 07, 2004
A Brief History of Time

I've been going through some very old piles of paper in my office. I found this on a note I'd written a few years ago:

A Really Brief History of Time

7000 BC -- Time is invented, but it runs backwards.

1 BC -- Running out of time, developers reengineer it to go the other way.


Posted by at 05:46 PM in the following Department(s): Humor , Technology , Tidbits | Comments (1)
 May 11, 2004
A Few Bad Apples

I don't have much time to read (or watch) the news these days. Job, travel, kid, and chores take up my entire day. Nonetheless, I keep hearing about how some Iraqis have been mistreated while incarcerated by the US military.

The leadership of our country keeps refering to "a few bad Apples" as being to blame for this shameful behavior. Every single time they talk about it (that I've heard, anyway), it comes back to "a few bad Apples".

I'm doing my part. This past weekend, I gave away my old Macintosh computers. If a few bad Apples can bring such shame and disgrace upon our current administration, how could I even dare to harbor them in my home?

BTW, if you or anyone you know is interested in old Mac (pre-USB) paraphenalia, like scsi cables or mouses or whateverhaveyou, please let me know. We've still got an old ZIP drive, etc., etc.

Posted by at 05:40 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 April 26, 2004
Hockey Player for a Day

So, last Friday I went in to have my wisdom teeth out. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my friends and colleagues (sp?) were kind enough to share with me a number of scary stories and pieces of advice, ranging from why I should have the procedure done under general anesthesia, under local anesthesia, or with no anesthesia at all. And why I shouldn't have them taken out at all. And why I should have had them taken out when I was a teen. Etc., etc., etc.

Well, the long and the short of it is that I went in on Friday, and was put under general anesthesia for the first time in my life. This was the oral surgeon's preference, not mine. I guess his job is easier if he doesn't have his patient awake and objecting to the way he smashes around in their mouth.

There was no "count back from ten" kind of moment for me that many others describe. Instead, they kept up conversation with me while they were running the IV and setting up to do the procedure.

"It should be easy to find a vein," I said to the lady running the IV.

"Well, it was actually kinda hiding there."

"Hmph. I used to donate blood all the time, and they said I had good veins."

"Oh, really?"

"I don't donate blood anymore. They won't take it." I was starting to get groggy.

"Oh, and why is that?"

"I spent some time in England."

In unison, both the anesthesiologist, the oral surgeon's assistant, and I said, "Mad Cow disease."

Then someone asked, "How long where you there?" Something in her voice made me think she was kind of testing me. Like, to see if I knew the answer.

"Oh, three months," I said. See? I *did* know the answer.

And then I woke up.

It was exactly like waking up from a sleep. None of this "missing time" phenomenon I've had described to me. I fell asleep without realizing it, but then I woke up. My jaw was a little sore.

"Can you stand up?"

Um. "Are we done?"

"Yep. Here, let me help you." She led me into another room. And so began the process of realizing that there were now holes where I used to have four teeth.

In the days that have followed, I have followed the doctor's advice. I have taken the drugs they advised me to take. I have applied an ice pack. I took naps the first couple days. The swelling has been kept to a minimum. The soreness, although never outrageous, has been constantly annoying. Fortunately, it hasn't been debilitating. In short, as I have followed the doctor's advice, I seem to be heading in the right direction, healing-wise. I've even started eating food that's a little more solid than Jello Chocolate Pudding.

Now, if I could just figure out why, when I woke up, I was in a hotel room in Vegas, and how I got that scar where my kidney is supposed to be, I'll be all set....

Posted by at 11:27 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 March 30, 2004
On This Day

Did you know that Eric Clapton was born on March 30? (I love this Eric Clapton quote: "Given the choice between accomplishing something and just lying around, I'd rather lie around. No contest.")

Vincent van Gogh was also born on March 30th.

Paul Reiser, that guy from "Mad About You"? March 30th.

Some guy from the Moody Blues was born on March 30th.

So was Warren Beatty.

Tracy Chapman was also born on March 30th.

***This just in!!! Norah Jones was born on March 30th, in 1979.

And in 1968, on March 30th... Celine Dion was born.

If ever there was proof that Astrology is bunk, it's this: Celine Dion and I were born on the exact same day.

I *am* the Anti-Celine.

"Oh, but Allan," you say, "it's not just what day you were born. It's what *time* you were born..."

Horse-hockey. There were literally *dozens* of people born on this planet at the exact same time as Celine. And yet, she's the only pop-diva of her ilk that was born on this day.

"Ah," you point out, "she may be the exception. The stars do not dictate our paths, but reveal possibilities. There were also literally dozens of people born all over the world at the exact same time as you were, and I'll bet most of them are disaffected, fat, bitter, cranky coulda-beens, just like you."

Well, I don't know if that argument supports the notion of astrology, but at least I can take heart in believing that there's more of me than there is of Celine.

...as any scale will tell you.

Posted by at 01:56 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (6)
 February 06, 2004
Learning to Quit

One of my character traits that has been dogging me for years is that of tending toward overcommitment. I'm not what some people refer to as a "joiner" -- I don't go around joining clubs just so that I'll be a member of a lot of clubs. Rather, I'll commit myself to performing various tasks or roles to the point where I don't have the time to do them all.

[In case any of my new co-workers are reading this: this negative trait of mine is only in my personal life, and it doesn't apply to my work habits. At work I'm very careful not to overextend mysel-- wait a minute. That doesn't sound too good, either. Hmmmm.]

Overcommitment a different kind of insanity from being a joiner, but not by much. These days, I've got a monthly open mike (open mic?) night at a local coffee shop that I emcee, I'm on my homeowners' association board, I'm webmaster for a couple of non-profits, there's writing workshops and critique groups, trying to be active in my local political party of choice, and never mind regular (and firm) commitments with Alexander (doctor's visits, lessons, playgroups) and the daily commitment to my employer.

Additionally, I have writing goals I'm trying to make and chores around the house that require regular attention. And so on, and so on.

Some of these commitments come about out of necessity, but many come about either because I'm passionate about it (writing; public performance) or because I have some sense of "should" about it (civic participation, and taking a shower *at least* once a week).

Then there's watching ER on Thursday nights, which isn't a formal commitment, but it just works out that way.

I frequently entertain the (false) notion that I used to not be overcommitted -- that I used to live up to all of my obligations. If I were to be honest with myself (it happens, but only rarely), I'd acknowledge that I've been overcommitted since at least elementary school. Cello practice? Who has the time!? Yearbook staff meeting? I'm too busy to make it!

I used to think that I wanted to "be a writer", until I finally wised up to the fact that what I really wanted was to have written. I didn't want to write a novel; I wanted to have written one. Well, I wised up, and decided to become a writer, and then I wrote a novel.

A lot of my commitments are going south because many of them are things I want to have accomplished, rather than because they are things I want to do. Worse, there are a number of things I *should* accomplish that I'm not doing because I'm spending so much time on commitments that I neither should nor want to do anymore. I have stuck out of a sense of duty rather than out of any real need or desire.

If I learn how to quit some of these commitments -- just walk away from them -- then I can take the newfound free time and... blow off my other commitments with less anxiety.

A few months ago, in a rare moment of insight (and free time), I wrote in my private journal that I needed to quit a few of my commitments. I chanced to pick up my journal again recently, and noticed that from that long list of expendable commitments, I'd released myself from exactly one of them. How pathetic.

Clearly, I'm not committed to quitting my commitments.

So, what do I do? When I commit myself to quitting, the first commitment I quit is the commitment to quit commitments. Ack!

I believe there's some organization like a "joiners anonymous." Although, by its very nature, wouldn't all the members really just be posers? I mean, by joining such an organization, aren't you defeating the whole point of getting that joining monkey off your back? So, by extension, there's probably no *valid* sort of "overcommitters anonymous", because the very idea of going to meetings regularly would defeat the purpose of trying not to commit any more.

[sigh.]

I should just be committed.

Posted by at 01:25 AM in the following Department(s): Essays , Humor , Tidbits | Comments (0)
 December 24, 2003
Orange Observations, part I

The Federal Government of the US recently raised the "Terror Alert" level to "High" (or, Orange). This is the second highest level, the highest being "Oh Shit!" (Brown?)

The government has stood at this "High" level of terrorist threat on several occasions since the new system had been put into place. Each time, no attack came through. Now the news media -- in general -- pose the idea that there's an element of The Boy Who Cried Wolf going on here. Is there really a greater threat this time? "You bet your life" says the staff of our fearless leader.

This raises a kind of no-win situation for the Guardians of Justice. If they detect that there's a threat, and they prepare for it, and part of the preparations mean alerting the public, then those preparations may 1) thwart the pending attack, or 2) dissuade the potential attackers.

[There's an important distinction here: to thwart could mean to arrest the bad guys, to take away their resources, or otherwise make it impossible for them to pull off the attack. To dissuade simply means to convince the attackers that they should back off for now, because the timing of the attack is no longer ideal, what with everybody paying attention and all.]

The problem with either thwarting or dissuading is that you can't actually demonstrate that the attack *would* have happened once it, well, doesn't. Proving a negative is always problematic. The only thing you can do is wag your finger *after* an attack has occurred and say, "You should have done more." Witness the finger pointing after September 11th. (From "The building should have been built to withstand planes that weren't even invented yet" to "President Clinton should have gotten Osama Bin Laden earlier, even if we didn't have the political will just then to risk invading Afghanistan," and so on.)

So, we've gone to this heightened state of alert a few times, and then the attacks that we were worried about didn't happen. Does that mean we shouldn't have gone to a higher state of alert?

Who can say?! How can we ever know?!

We can't.

The feds say that they have credible evidence that attacks are being actively planned to be carried out within the next month. They've said similar things on previous occasions. And presumably, they weren't doing this just for the hell of it. I mean, really, what political brownie points do you score by telling the public "There's no reason to panic, but LOOKOUT!!!!"

How do you gain politically by telling the population during the busiest economic period of the year that they could be at risk if they travel away from their home?

Hence the no-win situation. Raise the threat level, and you risk 1) nothing happens, which makes you look like the boy who cried wolf, or 2) something happens, which means you were attacked despite your precautions.

Pundits are like Monday morning quarterbacks. They can always say what we should have done after the fact, but it's ultimately up to the guys on the field to make the call as to what to do as events unfold.

Does the fact that I make this observation about pundits and no-win-scenarios make me a pundit, too?

Aaaaaargh!

Posted by at 01:18 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (2)
Mad Cow Observations, part I

They found a "presumptive positive" case of Mad Cow Disease (or, BSE) in Washington State today. Early reports are that the disease infects the brain and the spinal cord, and that these items had been removed before the meat was sent along its merry way to become somebody's dinner. Still, the local news media in Western Washington State is having a field day whipping up a frenzy over "Where has the meat gone?" even though, by their own accounts, it can't carry the disease.

Still, it *is* big news, and could be an indication of a larger problem. I'm sure we'll all know more in the weeks to come about whether there is a danger, and how far any danger may go.

In the meantime, however, I am reminded of a sentiment I've heard expressed under different, but similar circumstances:

If we stop eating beef now, then the cows have already won.

Posted by at 12:51 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 December 09, 2003
The Halo 2 Conspiracy

I don't play video games anywhere near as much as I'd like. Too many good books to read and good movies to see, too much good work to do, too much quality time to spend with my family, etc.

But every once in a while, I get a chance to play, and my favorite game by far (at present) is "Halo" by Bungie / Microsoft. The game has been out for a while, and there is a sequel in the works.

A friend of mine who has ties to (but does not work at) the manufacturer of a certain game box system has an interesting hypothesis for why Halo 2 has been delayed (aside from the obvious: production schedules almost always slip).

The manufacturer of the game box in question is switching processor chips, and will be introducing the new chip in its next major release of the console. My friend hypothesizes that the release of Halo 2 will coincide with the release of the next version of the console. He further hypothesizes that Halo 2 will have special features that will only be usable on the new version of the console, and that the old (ie, the current version, which is the one I have) console will be able to run Halo 2 but not access these special features. In this way, the manufacturer might hope to lure consumers into buying the next version of the console when they might otherwise just stick with the version they have.

Again, I'm more inclined to believe it's delayed because, well, just because. Bungie has been late shipping *every* version of Halo's predecessors (Marathon), plus, if I recall correctly, every other game they've done (Oni, et al). They hardly need any additional excuses to be late with Halo 2. The guys and gals at Bungie are *very* good at what they do, and they have shown a tendency to favor "getting it right" over "getting it out on time." This strategy has done well by them so far.

But that said, I like my friend's conspiracy theory. We'll know when it ships, of course, but it has that plausibility that appeals to one's sense of order -- that the thing we want is not being denied to us "just because", but for a specific reason. And that reason is *nefarious*! Anything that delays our gratification must be nefarious!

However, while we're making up reasons for the delay, I'd like to suggest my own theory.

Halo is a "first-person shooter" game, which means that the player controls a character in what is essentially a battle (to fight, maim, and kill baddies) and sees everything on the screen from this character's view point.

Allow me to hypothesize that Halo 2 has been delayed because the makers wanted to add some cool new weapons to the main character's arsenal. Machine guns and sniper rifles aren't good enough. I suspect we'll see a flame thrower in the next version, for example.

But I *also* expect that, in keeping with modern times and modern themes, we'll also see the deadliest weapons of them all. The kind that make airport security personnel quake with fear: pocket knives, nail clippers, and shoes.

Posted by at 11:42 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
You've Got Junk Mail!

I hear that the federal government is going to pass a law to define and prohibit certain kinds of electronic junk mail.

At what point does junk e-mail cross over from being protected free speech into being a nuisance that infringes upon the free speech of others?

I, like many people who have worked for a while in and around the internet, am inundated with digital noise to the point where it makes it impossible for me to quickly, reasonably, and accurately sift through my e-mail to read legitimate messages. The signal to noise ratio is *so* huge, I can't just sit down and read all of my e-mail. I need filters to pull messages with specific content to bring them to my attention, and then I'm still missing key e-mail scattered among what's left. So, like many others, I use a filter to sort the rest (two filters, actually), and the filter(s) often fails to catch some junk while it incorrectly flags a legit piece of e-mail as noise.

In any given day, I probably would only have to spend about a half hour attending to my e-mail to deal with legitimate messages (even including legitimate solicitations for my business, and there are a few, you know). But the avalanche of junk e-mail extends the time required so much as to make e-mailing a major hassle.

I went to bed last night at 4am, and I cleaned out my junk mail filter before going to bed. I got up at 8am and checked my e-mail, and I already had a megabyte worth of junk e-mail waiting for me in the filter. Bleh.

I also notice lately that a lot of the junk isn't even trying to sell me anything or draw me into some particular website. Rather, it's just a collection of random words or selections from news articles or short stories that have no context and no reason. I'm guessing that this is an attempt by some of the junk mailers to confuse "smart" junk mail filters that look for patterns in the content to determine what's noise and what's not.

At this point, then, the junk mailers are no longer just harrassing me by making it difficult for me to receive legitimate messages because I'm inundated with offers I have no interest in. They are deliberately trying to confound my ability to even do the sorting. Sending me a random collection of words or a context-free snippet from some (copyrighted) passage is not even speech. It is outright harrassment above and beyond the problematic deluge of low-content unsolicited junk e-mail.

So where does junk e-mail cross the line between free speech and infringement of *my* rights? Some unsolicited mail is actually a good thing, in my humble opinion. But these days, most of it is not. I'd say the line is somewhere between zero messages a day and one megabyte's worth. Somewhere between a genuine sales pitch to an appropriately targetted audience and a sack of random words intended to gag my mailbox. But within that broad range, where should the line be drawn?

Here's to our federal government. May they draw the line fairly and firmly.

Posted by at 10:08 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 October 14, 2003
Other things that happened

Oh, and in addition to the things I mentioned in my previous note, I'm shocked and amazed to learn that while I was out writing:

* Roy, of Siegfried and Roy, was mauled by his own lion
* Rush Limbaugh publicly announced he's a drug addict

Next thing you know, Saturday Night Live will have a funny broadcast, and Bill Clinton will be direct and truthful about something.

Strange days, indeed.

Posted by at 11:00 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 October 12, 2003
What a difference two weeks makes

I just returned from a two-week intensive fiction writing workshop. It was an amazing experience, one that I'm sure I'll be parsing in my brain for months to come.

While I was gone, I had no access to e-mail or the Internet. My e-mail piled up at an exponentially higher rate, which has proven to be *most* annoying. The amount of spam coming in has increased an amazing amount. I'm being told that that's been happening across the Internet. Not a good thing.

But more more interestingly, the *news* has changed since I left for the workshop.

Arnold Schwarzenegger (sp?) had just closed the gap on his closest rival, according to polls, in the race to replace California Governor Davis in the recall election. Now the only poll that matters has been taken -- the one officially run by the state -- and Arnold is now governor. Holy cow. A bad day for Arnold's agents and business managers, I imagine, but a good day for him personally, I suppose, and for his political allies (moderate Republicans, I imagine).

Okay, that's not a regime change, insofar as Arnold was starting to lead the opinion polls just before I left, but it's still interesting.

More of a change is the hard fall the current federal administration is undertaking. The CIA has created quite a stir over an alleged "outing" by White House officials of a particular CIA agent in the field. If I understand the story correctly, the agent in the field is the wife of someone who had made the administration not look so good when he publicly announced that he had warned the administration that certain information that they wanted to put into the State of the Union address was unverifiable.

If all this is true, and I haven't read up enough yet to know, then this is a shocker of a change since I went incommunicado. I leave, and the President is doing okay but maybe he's starting to drop in the opinion polls. I come back, and a potentially Very Ugly Scandal is unfolding. If the CIA sticks to its guns and if the allegations turn out to be correct, the White House staff will almost certainly be looking for new work in about a year. (Trust me. I was a history major. :-)

Israel bombed Syria while I was gone? Holy cow!

But even more of a shocker, perhaps the most stunning shift in the planet imaginable over the course of a self-imposed two-week news embargo, is the news that the Chicago Cubs could actually end up going to the World Series.

How the fiddledeefuck did *that* happen?

I take two weeks off, and the entire world has gone crazy.

I promise, it won't happen again in the near future. I'll stay right here and make sure the planet continues to spin correctly on its axis for a little while.

[sigh] It ain't easy being me.

Posted by at 07:31 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (2)
 September 05, 2003
Insensitive

Advisory: The following contains insensitive material. Reader discretion is advised.

Mortality is on my mind today. I'm in Buffalo today, so of course mortality is on my mind. Even overlooking the usual (Buffalo is, after all, pretty dead already), there's reason to be thinking about death.

I'm business-sitting for my folks, who need a manager who is as mean as nasty as they are to keep things running while they fly around to meet with vendors and such. I've been working to the point that I'm not getting any fiction writing done, which is certainly not helping the new novel-in-progress (more on that soon), and is definitely not a happy thing for me.

But there's a hurricane and a tropical storm going on that are affecting the weather in places where my folks are supposed to be travelling. If something bad were to happen during their travels (heaven forbid), who would have check-signing authority for their company? You can see why this would concern me. It could completely interrupt the smooth operation of their business, which is what I'm here to take care of.

Then there's the dog. As it so happens, business-sitting in this case includes dog-sitting (Paulette has an axiom about working at a company that allows pets to roam the halls: "Don't."), and the dog is getting on a bit in years. I had a truly terrible thought tonight: what if the dog should bark her last bark on my watch?

I understand that losing a pet can be a devastating thing. I've seen many friends of mine suffer greatly after their animal companions have shrugged off this mortal coil. Not ever having had any pets of my own, I have been spared this trauma. I nonetheless appreciate it for what it is: loss of a loved one.

Still, death is inevitable (or so my doctor tells me), and it is my sad duty to report that the dog currently entrusted to my care (and which, as I mentioned in yesterday's essay, might be contributing to my allergies) is entering the twilight of her days. It finally occurred to me to ask: if she gets sick, who do I call? If she gets more than sick... what do I do?

Morbid as that sounds, it's a very practical question. Calling an ambulance for a person in trouble is obvious. And you pet owners out there probably already know what you would do if something were to threaten the life of your cat or dog. But I haven't had any experience in these kind of matters, and I want to do the right thing.

Well, okay, obviously I will have to find the vet's number, which is no doubt posted on the fridge or something like that. But, if I may venture into the realm of the insensitive-yet-pertinent: what if, well, the dog is beyond the vet's help?

Is there a service that you call to handle such things? Should I check to see if there's a shovel around the house? (There *is* a big back yard....)

I finally broached the subject while talking with my folks. They said they planned to have the dog cremated (*after* it has passed on to the great beyond, of course) and the ashes placed at a location with particular sentimental value. Well, that made me feel better. At least I knew there was a plan, and that I wouldn't have to dig any holes or anything like that if the thinkable should happen while I'm on duty.

Wow. From sniffles yesterday to death today. I wonder what joyful subject I'll choose to ponder tomorrow. Hmmmm.

Na zdrovya!

Posted by at 10:08 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 September 04, 2003
Those Darn Sniffles

I think I'm allergic to Buffalo.

I flew out to Buffalo en route to Toronto for this year's WorldCon (the annual convention for SF pros and fans) and within a couple of days, I got the sniffles. I haven't visited this region terribly frequently since moving to the left coast -- maybe once a year, or so -- but it's becoming increasingly obvious that every time I make my way near the Great Lakes, my allergies kick up after a couple of days. I'm not sure, but I seem to recall having the same symptoms during visits to Boston, as well.

For those of you who don't know, I ostensibly "grew up" in Buffalo and lived roughly half of my post-college life in Boston.

When I first noticed this sniffle thing going on, I simply wrote it off as a mild allergy to my parents' dog (an aging golden retriever that moved in long after I moved out). Having no pets of my own, I have no other indications of allergies to pets.

But this time, I arrived in Buffalo very late Wednesday night and drove up to Toronto Thursday morning. Two days later, when the sniffles arrived, I couldn't blame it on the dog. Not really. So maybe it's something in the air that Toronto and Buffalo share. Maybe I just make it out to this part of the world during hay fever season. West of the Rockies has different foliage from the Northeast, so it stands to reason that I wouldn't experience hay fever there.

Except I don't always visit the rust belt at the same time of the year. Why would I have hay fever in December (as per a visit a couple of years ago)? Nah. It's not the dog, and it's not hay fever.

So what is it? Clearly, I'm allergic to Buffalo and, quite possibly, all of the Northeast. But only an allergist (or maybe a shrink) could know for sure.

Posted by at 07:35 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (2)
 September 03, 2003
Silly promises

Had a blast at TorCon, this year's World Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention, and I'm just now starting to recuperate. While there, I stupidly promised a fellow Web Rat that I'd resume posting to my website *every day* once I got my internet access back. Yeah, right.

Speaking of internet access: I'm going to be completely bereft of any internet access during the first two weeks of October. Ack! No e-mail. No web. No nothing, and no hope of rectifying that, as I'll be without so much as a phone line during that time. I may end up doing something crazy... like writing some fiction.

I had some limited access to the internet while I was at TorCon, but doing the con was why I went there, not checking my e-mail, so my e-mail presence was spotty at best. Here are the highs and lows for me at this year's con:

  • got to spend time reconnecting with friends and fellow writers who I often only get to see at this time of year
  • made some new friends, too!
  • got to spend some time in Toronto, a favorite place for me (in small doses)
  • Hugo awards and the Ace party afterward were excellent
  • tried a wonderful Ethiopian restaurant that was most tasty
  • the highlight of any WorldCon: realizing on Saturday that you should be at home writing instead of "doing the con"

The weirdest part was attending without Paulette. Over the past few years, we've developed a system for doing the con: who finds out what, who introduces who to whom, etc. This year, it was just li'l ol' me, and the con had a completely different flavor as a result.

I'll post more soon. Gotta get my licks in while I still have access to this here Internet thang.

Posted by at 11:35 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 June 16, 2003
Father's Day Massacree

I failed to call my father to wish him a happy birthday last month. At least, I failed to call him on his *birthday* to wish him a happy one. Yesterday, alas, I also failed to call him to wish him a happy Father's Day. I'm a bad, bad boy.

It wasn't because I don't like my father. I love him. I love my mother, too, and I didn't call her on her birthday, either. Did I remember to call her on Mother's Day? Hmmm. Can't remember. I missed my sister's birthday this year, as well, and my grandfather's, and so on and so on. Alexander's first birthday is next month, but I don't think Paulette will let me forget to mark that one on time.

I have a friend who doesn't believe in obligatory holiday observances. Giving gifts out of obligation is inappropriate, he contends. But giving gifts just because the inclination strikes you has more impact (I agree). I am increasingly leaning toward this kind of thinking, but I still hold to the idea that remembering to call someone on some special occasion (like a birthday of such) is a good thing. For whatever reason, I've been bad about being good.

Paulette was kind enough yesterday to let me sleep in, to make us breakfast, to offer me a small gift (a book from my Amazon wish list) and to go with whatever whims struck me (like taking a walk around the neighborhood, or playing Kung Fu Chaos on the XBox). It was a laid back observance of Father's Day, but a welcome one. It was nice to just take it easy. To have a day where my favorite snack foods just magically appeared because, well, they're my favorite snack foods.

So, yeah, I had a pleasant enough first Father's Day. And then I forgot to call my own Dad.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

I'm sorry, Dad. You deserve better than that. All good fathers deserve better than that, and I happen to think you're great (corny as that may sound).

It's been weird, lately, noticing how much I sound like you when I talk. Not the voice, but the mannerisms. The style. It's spooky. Paulette will ask me a question, and I'll start to explain why this is this way or that is that way... and I'll notice that I sound like you, explaining the same kind of thing to me. It doesn't happen all the time, but it happens often enough.

You and I disagree on any number of philosophical or political points, but we have a common ground that comes from speaking the same language: a language of integrity, of a strong work ethic, of blue collar roots and of entrepreneurial spirit. I learned that language from you.

It sounds kind of hokey to say, "I love you, Dad." It's the kind of thing that feels like it should go without saying. But it also doesn't go far enough. I'm feeling a little down these days with the concerns of work and local politics and, as my previous essay mentions, my own little mini-identity crisis weighing down upon me.

But when all is said and done, my biggest hope is that I not only live up to the very best of all that you tried to instill in me, but that I exceed it. That I build upon what you've done, and go farther. You are doing so well for yourself, and after so many years of hard work, you deserve it. I want to do just as well, and then do better. I have an advantage over you, and I want to make it count: I had you for a father.

Posted by at 10:17 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 May 26, 2003
I Don't Live in a Box

My spam e-mail situation has gotten considerably worse this past few weeks. Where I used to be merely inundated, I am now completely flooded.

One of the more interesting things I've observed is that a great deal of this spam is being sent to old, old e-mail addresses of mine or is being sent with old, old information.

Many years ago, I reserved a couple of domains and put down as my mailing address a PO Box in Bedford, Massachusetts where I used to receive mail for, oh, about a year while I was constantly moving from place to place in Boston. Once I'd found a more permanent domicile, I switched the address to reflect my new living situation . . . and then I moved across the country and had to switch addresses again. Then again. And again. You get the idea.

So for some period of time under a year, the Internic (the "universal" registry for domain names at the time for .com addresses) had my mailing address as a PO Box in Bedford. I believe this was sometime around 1996, give or take a year.

The recent rage in e-mail spam has been alerts to REFINANCE NOW!!!! RATES ARE GOING BACK UP SOON!!! Yeah, yeah, like I'm going to refinance my mortgage with an e-mail spammer. Great idea.

But the funniest thing lately has been receiving a bunch of spam e-mail informing me that my residence "at PO Box XXX in Bedford, MA has been approved for 5% refinancing!"

It has? Woo-hoo! Show me the money, baby!

I wonder if I'd have to get the PO Box appraised before I could refi. Hmmm.

Posted by at 10:37 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 April 30, 2003
Oral Surgery Continues...

I've been receiving posts from people who have found my site because they were looking for information regarding gingiva grafts. I guess the search engines must love me, because they parse each of my essays and make such phrases easy to follow to my site.

Well, it turns out my gingiva graft story is not complete. As I posted previously (and, if you follow the links back in each of my prior posts on the subject, you'll get the complete chronology), I've had two procedures so far. The first one took gum material from the roof of my mouth and inserted it into a little pocket at the base of one of my front teeth. The roof healed fine, but the new pocket didn't quite heal up right. There was still a bit of a cleft, and some of the gum material escaped, which meant there wasn't much coverage. Hence, a second procedure was performed to "freshen up" the edges of the cleft and sew 'em together, in the hope of getting at least a uniform pocket.

That second procedure was a nominal success. Things look a little better, insofar as the cleft is repaired and I have more coverage now than I did before... but the gums never quite healed right. They still look agitated. My periodontist recommends, therefore, a third session. Here, gum material will be taken from yet another portion of my mouth and inserted below the gum line in my lower jaw to create a sort of barrier against further deterioration. My periodontist says this is an older technique, which has enjoyed a very high success rate. But I'm starting to have second thoughts.

Nobody can figure out why my gums haven't healed properly. They continue to look like they are in an agitated, newly transplanted state. Is it really such a wise idea to have them do more surgery in that area of my mouth if they don't know why the previous surgery hasn't done well?

I'm scheduled to go in tomorrow for the third procedure. I'm facing a dilemma, insofar as I want to make sure that I prolong the life of my teeth, but continuing to do a bunch of surgeries surely can't be a good thing. At what point do I draw the line and say what's done is going to have to be good enough?

Everybody I know who has had this kind of work done before has come through it all smiles and with only one procedure. Clearly, my case isn't typical (for all you folks who are researching gingiva grafts out there). But that's no comfort to me at this moment. My mouth feels fine, but that one part of my gums still looks agitated. If I let it go, things might get bad again. Or they might not. If I have the third procedure, I'm doubly protected against further degradation. This procedure, I'm told, has a 99 percent success rate. What worries me, of course, is whether I'm at risk for having the new site also not heal properly.

Hmmmm.

Posted by at 12:01 AM in the following Department(s): Gingiva Graft , Tidbits | Comments (1)
 March 06, 2003
More Technology Woes For Me

A couple of entries ago, I mentioned how I'd had a bad technology week, but that everything should be smooth driving ahead. Well, I guess we all could have predicted what happened afterward.

The car? It died *again*, in exactly the same manner. I took it to the shop yesterday morning for the *fourth time* to deal with this problem.

The "Mattress Fund" website? The Windows Media movie apparently won't play, as currently configured, on Windows XP (although it works fine on Mac). Ack! We're still tracking that bug down.

Another web site I've been working on took me an entire week to do what I'd planned on being able to do in one day.

The new computer is great... except the software I need on a daily basis isn't working so well on the new machine. I need OS X versions of the software, which means more upgrading. Etc., etc., etc.

Isn't technology supposed to make our lives easier? My old 1966 Rambler Classic never had the kind of problems that my 1996 Passat is having... and, hell, I could fix that old car *myself* without the aid of a computer diagnostic kit that keeps lying about what the problem is.

And computers! Why, I never had to upgrade from a number two pencil to a number three pencil because Paper 6.5 didn't support it. [sigh]

And if a horse kept breaking his leg the way my car keeps breaking down, you simply shot it and got the whole thing done with!

And if you wanted to share a visual joke with somebody, you just flat out showed them. You didn't have to worry if their eyeglasses were compatible with your sight gag. Feh.

You kids today, you just don't underst . . . oops. Gotta go -- my cell phone is ringing. More later.

Posted by at 11:30 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (5)
 February 26, 2003
A bad week for technology

I received an e-mail today saying, "Where'd your site go?" This happened once before, for the same reason:

The front page of this site shows the last two weeks or so of entries. I haven't posted anything since, oh, February 12th, so that means that none of my essays are up on the front page anymore.

Until now. :-)

This past week and a half has been a bad one for me and technology. The two biggest issues have been 1) my computer and 2) my car. My computer went senile. After four years, it experienced the onset of dementia and couldn't remember anything. It kept shutting down for no reason. Like a Florida pensioner whose driver's license should have been revoked years ago, it kept crashing. I made the sad decision to fire the old computer, but hiring the replacement took some time. In the meantime, there was much woe to be had. And no time to post here, I'm afraid.

In the meantime, I took my car in to have the "coil pack" replaced. A coil pack, I'm told, does the job that a distributor cap used to do. Costs about $600 to replace, too. Well, $400, but then the shop finds out there's problems with the wires, and the spark plugs need to be replaced, etc., etc.

Except, when I got the thing home, the check engine light came on again and it was running rough and, oh yeah, something was burning in the engine compartment. Took it back to the shop. Later that day, I had it back. They said the computer reported that it was two of the (brand new) spark plugs. Two days later, same symptoms. Took it back. This time, they said it must have been a bad coil pack that was causing the problems both times. (And, no, the shop didn't charge me for the last two visits. They are expensive, but they stand by their work. I like them.)

The net result was that, as with the computer, I spent a great deal of time either without the car or attending to the car, and little time actually using the car. Unlike the computer, though, my car didn't keep crashing. That's good.

As I told Paulette when I drove home from the shop the third time, "Feels like driving a new car. Again."

And as for the replacement computer, well... there are some nice things about having a new machine. Since Paulette and I run a combo Mac/PC shop, and it was my Mac that died, the new machine is a Mac that runs OS X. As with Windows XP -- the first Windows operating system that has surprised me in a *pleasant* way -- OS X is the first Mac OS in a long time that I've enjoyed using. It's much more reliable than the OS 9's or the late 8's were, and it has a bunch of nice little touches that have made my computing experience just... pleasant. XP and OS X are, in a word, "nice." Not a word I like to use, but preferable to the words I used to use to describe my work-environment operating systems.

So, yeah, this past week or two have been pretty bad for me technology-wise, but now it looks like smooth driving ahead. For at least a little while. :-)

Posted by at 06:42 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 February 07, 2003
All Your Bomb Are Belong to Us

A few days ago, some high ranking official (hmm... where to put the hyphen?) of the North Korean government said that North Korea could launch a preemptive strike against the United States by launching a nuclear bomb aimed at... Seattle.

Now, I hope that someone has pointed out to the North Korean powers-that-be that taking out Seattle will not, in and of itself, eliminate the nuclear arsenal of the United States government. A preemptive strike only works when your attack disarms your opponent. If you don't successfully disarm your opponent, then it isn't much of a preemptive strike. See: Japan v. U.S., 1941.

In the case of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese were at least *trying* to disarm the American government by crippling the nation's Pacific fleet. Why North Korea thinks that taking out Seattle will prevent the United States from fighting back, I do not know. I think that's why our current administration has stated that they don't take North Korea's sabre rattling seriously. And while I agree with this sentiment, I'm not sure that telling the North Korean government "you lie" is a particularly face-saving gesture. Maybe, someday, the administration of the United States government will ask for my advice concerning diplomacy.

But I digress. You see, I didn't want to comment on foreign policy so much as discuss personal ramifications if Seattle were to be hit by a nuclear bomb.

I currently live in a suburb of Seattle called Redmond. If downtown Seattle were to be hit by a reasonably-sized nuclear detonation, either in the air or at ground level, then my neighborhood would quickly become a radioactive fallout zone. Our buildings would probably remain standing, but the quality of life (short though it may be) would decrease dramatically. If I read the charts correctly, the radiation would likely kill the healthy adults in my neighborhood within an hour or two. Of course, this assumes that the bomb is on target, and doesn't accidentally hit Everett or Renton by mistake (in which case we might actually escape with our lives).

The point being, it's hard for me to conceive of a more lame, albeit newsworthy, way to end my concerns than to have a nuclear bomb detonated near my neighborhood. I mean, I've got a mortgage to pay off, a business I'm trying to get off the ground, a child to raise, and a marriage to tend, let alone a writing career I'm trying to develop... I've got issues I'm working on. With each passing year, I manage to make a little headway here, experience some setbacks there. I hope to reach the end of my life able to say that, all things told, I done okay.

Speaking purely from a personal point of view, I would be profoundly disappointed to have my life end in the middle of all this tension (I'm talking about my own personal struggles here, not international diplomatic tension) with simply some bolt from the blue. I mean, a random death would be annoying, but *this* kind of random death would be doubly annoying.

Can you imagine reading a big, thick novel with dozens and dozens of interesting characters, all with their own story arcs and intersecting in fascinating ways, with various plot reversals and complications and funny anecdotes, when halfway through the story -]BAM[- there's a nuclear explosion and nothing but blank pages for the rest of the book? *That's* what I'm talking about. No denouement, no nothing. If you read a novel like that, you'd say, "What was the point?"

And that's my point.

Nuking Seattle would be annoying. So, North Korea, if you're listening: please allow me to recommend bombing Paris, instead.

Posted by at 04:12 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits , Tidbits III | Comments (1)
 January 23, 2003
Taking the Day Off

I'm taking the day off. This morning, I'm going in for gum surgery, and when I'm done with that, my schedule is wiiiide open. Not going to work. Not going to talk on the phone. Maybe I'll catch a movie. Maybe I'll catch a nap. Maybe I'll catch up on my reading. Or writing. Or my e-mail. Or... maybe not.

Ah. A day off. And all I had to do to get my day off is go in to the periodontist to have her "freshen up" my gums with a diamond-bit drill and sew what's left back together. Sounds like a fair trade to me.

Posted by at 08:57 AM in the following Department(s): Gingiva Graft , Tidbits | Comments (0)
 January 08, 2003
Update: How go the gums?

As I mentioned in a recent post, I had some oral surgery a few weeks ago called a "gingiva graft."

If you are easily grossed out and if you do not wish to be grossed out, don't read the rest of this post.

Anyway, one of the first things they tell you not to do right after the surgery is pull out your lower lip to look at your gums. Naturally, the patient's first inclination is to do exactly that, and having a warning label that says "Don't Do It" only makes the draw that much stronger. I resisted... for a little while. But there is a minor loophole. You are still expected to brush the rest of your teeth (ie, the teeth not immediately next to where the graft took place), so while brushing my teeth that first evening I took a peek as a natural part of my routine and, well, it didn't look good.

I don't mean it looked nasty (and, believe me, it *did* look nasty), but rather, it looked like it wasn't right. Like certain parts weren't properly attached to certain other parts.

A few days later I called the periodontist's office and mentioned my concerns. Apparently, this must be a common situation. "Just come in at your first scheduled check-up, and we'll determine the situation then," I was told in a calm, practiced voice. (Or, words to that effect.)

I went in for my first scheduled check-up. Turns out, certain parts weren't properly attached to certain other parts.

Ready for the gross part?

As you'll recall from my earlier post, what the periodonist did was to cut out some gum material from the roof of my mouth and graft it onto the gums at the base of my teeth on my lower jaw. Grafting, in this case, involves making an incision to form a pocket where the new gum material can go, then pulling up the outer later to make a pouch that holds it all in. This is all then sewn up with stiches to hold everything in place.

As the periodontist's able assistant (the assistant is more than a traditional dental hygenist, insofar as she was an active part of the surgical team, but I don't know what the correct term is these days for periodontal assistants) worded it, some of the gum material "squirted up out of the pocket." Without being held in the warm, protective glow of the outer layer, these exposed transplanted gum parts just... died.

She clipped away the lumpy, white, dead tissue, leaving behind a lumpy, purplish mass of gums behind that still didn't look quite right to me. "Well," she said, "We'll see how that heals up. You might have enough material still there, and it looks like there's still a recession, but that might heal up." (Or words to that effect.)

Now, the healing process is mildly annoying. There are certain foods I can't eat (I am not supposed to chew with my front teeth, which means if I want pizza or a sandwich, I have to cut it with a fork and knife, etc.) and then there's the mild achy pain, and so on. But that was all simply a matter of inconvenience to me. I had my drugs, and I had my ice cream, so I was prepared to cope with all that. The worst part was me worrying about whether this surgery was all going to work out, or if it would have to be redone. In short, the worst part was not the actual healing or anything *real*, but only imagined possible outcomes.

As you might expect, things were not as bad as I'd imagined, nor as perfect as I might have hoped. After I went in for my second check-up (three weeks after the surgery, and two weeks after that first check-up), I was told that it looked like we would have excellent coverage (Yippee) but that there were a couple of tears ("clefts") that would have to be repaired.

This is my favorite part of the story:

Repairing the clefts involves something that the periodontist's assisstant called "freshening." I love that term. "Freshening."

To "freshen" the edges of the clefts means to take a diamond-tipped drill/grinder and scrape/cut the ends that need to be joined. Once these parts are freshly gaping wounds, they are then stitched to each other in the expectation that they will heal together instead of to themselves. Much as the original surgery should have worked.

I love it because it sounds so dramatic. The reality, I expect, will be much like the reality of the first procedure. They'll numb up my mouth with novacaine (sp?), drill and sew, and a half hour to an hour later, I'll walk out of there, drive to Dairy Queen and get my prescribed milkshake, and life will continue.

I will, however, follow the periodontist's advice this time and take the day off. I don't want to risk doing *anything* to jeopardize the success of this second round of surgery.

:-]

Posted by at 09:33 PM in the following Department(s): Gingiva Graft , Tidbits | Comments (169)
 December 14, 2002
Diet Another Day

On the morning of Friday the 13th, I had the pleasure of undergoing some rather urgent oral surgery. I'll spare you the gruesome the details, other than to say it was a "gum graft" to transplant some of the gum material from my upper palette to the front of my lower jaw where my gums had sustained a nasty injury.

Now, I say I had "the pleasure" of having this surgery done because, quite frankly, I'm glad I had the opportunity to have it done. Dental surgery is much less unpleasant these days than it was when I was younger, and I consider myself fortunate to have this sudden problem addressed with such a quick and relatively painless procedure. Perhaps its the echoes of Thanksgiving Day still rolling around in my head, but I'm not taking such things for granted.

While the procedure itself was relatively painless, the recovery is a bit uncomfortable. Talking is uncomfortable (and if you know me, you know what a drag that must be), and eating is even more so. The periodontist prescribed sleep, milk shakes to wash down the pain medication, and restful activity for a day or two while I get over the worst of it. "Watch a movie at home," she said. "Definitely don't go to work if you can at all avoid it."

Well, I work from home. And as it so happens, I had a major deadline for one of my projects on Friday. While I found it necessary to avoid talking on the phone on Friday (as a part of my job), other work still had to be attended to. So, other than the prescribed milkshake and meds, plus a soft dinner (pasta in creme sauce), I didn't really follow doctor's orders. I worked long hours, got to bed by around 1 in the morning, and then got up at 5 in the morning in order to prepare for an annual meeting that I very much wanted to be a part of.

There is a short list of what I am advised to eat while I'm recovering, and three of the eight listed items are ice cream. I'm not kidding. Here's the menu:

1) Broth and soup
2) Baby foods (no thank you!)
3) Milk Shakes (ice cream number one)
4) Custards (ice cream number two)
5) Eggs
6) Ice Cream (ahem)
7) Chopped or ground meats (how finely chopped?)
8) Puddings

I was also told that overcooked pasta might work out well, but that I should also eat sauces or soups lukewarm for the first couple days, as warmer foods would expand the blood vessels, which could lead to bleeding, yadda, yadda, yadda.

The doctor says I must eat. "Maintaining an adequate diet after surgery is essential," says my little instruction booklet they gave me. After a couple of days, I'll start reintroducing real food. In the meantime, though, ice cream can get a little boring after a while.

After my meeting this morning (which lasted until two in the afternoon, or so), I finally had a chance to rest. I was to meet Paulette and Alexander at the home of friends, but I wasn't up to it. I napped. I ate lukewarm soup. And then, finally, I followed the other advice of my periodontist and went to see a movie.

The cool thing about getting lost in a film is that it's possible to forget one's physical ailments. In this case, I even managed to stop constantly feeling for the stitches in my mouth with my tongue.

The movie I went to see was Die Another Day.

It had possibly the darkest montage at the beginning of any James Bond film. In fact, it was thematically about as dark as any Bond film has ever managed. There were some cool stunts, and the absolute best fight sequences were the fencing scenes throughout the movie. One of the babes in the film ("Mirand Frost") was perfectly cast, and the other ("Jinx") was a decent choice, as well. The plot was the most outlandish we've seen since Brosnon took over the series, and many of the special effects were downright awful. Bond's escape from the glacier looked more fake than footage from a video game would have. But the fight scenes were fun, as I mentioned, and there were unusually nice touches with the permanent cast (Q, Moneypenny, M).

How's this for outrageous: North Korea has enough money to develop a super weapon that nobody in the West suspects. A weapon that works flawlessly the first time. Oh, and the bad North Koreans drive cars that are as well equipped as Bond's. It's hard enough to imagine that Britain still has any sort of real espionage capabilities as it is, let alone trying to imagine North Korea as a military superpower.

Having had a nap, some food, and a distracting movie, I'm feeling much better. It was just what the doctor ordered.

Posted by at 09:56 PM in the following Department(s): Books/Movies/Music , Gingiva Graft , Tidbits | Comments (0)
 December 09, 2002
Shameless Commercial Plug

Warning! Warning! Blatant commercial plug here!

If you're at a loss for gift giving this holiday season, allow me to recommend the gift of a magnifying mirror from The Mirror Place. Quality mirrors are a great gift. After all, how many people do you know who *don't* use a mirror? And not only does The Mirror Place carry a fine selection of high quality mirrors, but they also ship quickly for the holidays. They are also one of my favoritest clients. :-)

In fact, if you place an order with them for over $50 worth of merchandise, you are eligible for 10% off the price of your order by simply saying "I'm a close personal friend of Allan's" to the person who takes your order (if you call) or type it into the comments field (if you order online). This discount is valid for any order placed in 2002.

Do your part to keep America strong. Buy from The Mirror Place this holiday season.

Posted by at 03:34 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 December 07, 2002
A Sad Day in E-Tail-land

I'm so bummed.

CDNow.com is no more. It has been swallowed up by former competitor Amazon.com. I already have a wish list at Amazon.com, and it was completely different from my wish list at CDNow. [sigh] Now I'll have to recreate my wish list from CDNow on Amazon.com. Life is so hard.

My own desire for you all to go out and buy me gifts aside, I am disheartened by the way my favorite unprofitable companies unite to form bigger, clumsier unprofitable companies. CDNow had some wonderful innovations in user interface that made searching for albums and songs much more pleasant than the UI on it's brand new "partnered" site. Amazon.com, likewise, enjoys a number of great UI breakthroughs... that simply don't translate well to their music store. Sadly, the advantages of CDNow's UI are lost, and we are left with one dominant e-tailer of music CDs on the web. Well, okay, Barnes & Noble also sells music, so there is a Pepsi to Amazon.com's Coke. But, still. What's life without Dr Pepper?

Sad days, indeed.

Mourners should feel free to spend money buying me stuff from my wish list at Amazon.com.

Posted by at 12:07 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (3)
 November 28, 2002
Thanksgiving, 2002

Today is Thanksgiving Day, as celebrated in the U.S. What are you thankful for?

I'm thankful for the things I am so often able to take for granted: my excellent health, a comfortable place to live, and plenty of food, clothing, and other essentials to go around.

I'm thankful for my family: wife and baby son, mom and dad, sister and brother-in-law, maternal grandparents who are still living, memories of paternal grandparents, so many wonderful aunts (including one who lives nearby) and uncles and cousins, brothers-in-law, parents-in-law, aunt- and uncle-in-law, second cousins and first cousins-once-removed. I love my family. I am also thankful that *they* enjoy good health, ample food and clothing, and shelter.

When my healthy baby boy smiles up at me... that's just magic.

I'm thankful for so many wonderful friends of so many different kinds: friends from high school days, college days, grad school days, continuing education classes, writing workshops, martial arts schools, workplaces, political organizations, social clubs, and writing groups, plus friends I've met through other friends, online, at conventions and conferences, and who knows where else. I am truly blessed to have such wonderful friends, and I love them all.

I'm thankful for my talents (be they real or self-delusions!) and interests, and the occasional opportunity to find fulfillment within them. For example, I love to work out ideas in public (being somewhat of a social animal), and it's gratifying to occasionally hear back from people (new people, old friends) who stumble upon my essays here on my website. As a story-teller, I love having so many wonderful adventures that I always have an ample collection of stories to tell!

I'm thankful that I can enjoy many of the blessings of both liberty and safety in a world where both are at a premium. Where I live, people don't generally shoot each other in an effort to express their religious and political views.

And while we're at it, I am also thankful for the natural beauty of the land in which I live. The mountains and lakes are breathtaking, the trees majestic, and the architecture a joy to see, every day. I'm thankful for the cultural richness of my environment: the poetry, the paintings, the sculptures that fill my world.

I'm thankful for humor in all its many forms. And the ability to laugh.

I'm thankful for tasty food and melodious music.

I am grudgingly thankful (ha!) for those challenges that continue to push me forward when I'd rather just sit down and read.

I'm thankful for good books to read.

All in all, life is very good to me and those in my life, and I think it's worthwhile to stop from time to time to take stock of life's blessings. Of course, there's always room for improvement, and I'm thankful for *that*, as well. It's good to have things to work toward. I guess we traditionally take stock of our goals around New Year's Eve. But as tradition dictates, I'm currently taking stock of what I have to be thankful for now.

Thank *you* for indulging me this public declaration! I wish you, my friends -- whether we've met before or not -- a most wonderful day of thanks and joy.

Posted by at 12:00 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
News Flash

We put the rabbit ears on the ol' tele to tune in NBC so as to see a grainy rendition of this year's Macy's parade. During a local station break, our crack news team broke in to tell us:

"Pickpockets on the streets of Seattle, Friday at 7."

So, naturally, we've decided not to go shopping in Seattle on Friday anytime near seven (in the morning *or* evening). I'm glad they warned us. If we hadn't tuned in, we wouldn't have known.

Hopefully, this tip from the local news will make it easier for the cops to catch them!

Posted by at 11:16 AM in the following Department(s): Humor , Tidbits | Comments (0)
 October 01, 2002
Ketchup

Been spending most of today trying to catch up on e-mail. After a couple of hours, I've caught up with most of my e-mail from this week.

I still have yet to reply to e-mail from folks who have been waiting for months to hear back.

Before Alexander was born (he's currently lying on a play mat in my office, playing quietly as he discovers that his hands can grab things around him), I had no excuse for being such a bad correspondent. Now, I can say, "Well, the kid has been taking a lot of energy, time, and effort out of my day."

He's a regular excusinator!

And, yes, there will be more pictures posted soon. So there.

I'm pleased to report, however, that I've finally resumed real writing this week. I polished up and sent out a story on Monday that has not been in circulation before, and I hope to get another one into circulation by the end of the week.

Still no takers on my novel, but I'm still sending it out.

I have set a personal goal of at least one professional sale by Labor Day of next year (2003). Not much of a goal, but one needs to start somewhere. I'm confident that one of my short stories currently in the works will snag a slot in a professional publication.

The weather is here. Wish you were beautiful.

Let's see, what else is there to report...

Oh, yeah, I have to make a political observation. Now, I don't have a live television feed (no cable, no satellite, and the rabbit ears hardly work out here in mountain country), so I've missed any television coverage, but I've been reading from time to time about the recent arrests in Washington DC of protesters. These are the folks protesting the IMF and the World Bank and all that.

The protesters were complaining that they are being arrested in violation of their constitutional rights. And yet, as I look at my copy of the constitution, the bill of rights provides that Congress shall make no law abridging "... the right of the people to peaceably assemble...." Where is there a problem here? The protesters were not peaceably assembling. Assembling with the purpose of disruption is not peaceable. It is disruptive.

And yet, there are even legal provisions for the kind of disruptive behavior the protestors were engaged in, in the form of permits for that kind of massive assembly. By filing such a permit, you enable the authorities to better accommodate and mitigate the disruptiveness of your assembly. The protesters were not interested in being accommodated. They wanted disruption, not peaceable assembly. Their Constitution rights were not violated. QED.

Just some food for thought.

Posted by at 10:29 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (3)
 September 11, 2002
One Year Later

It's a quarter past midnight as I write this. 'tis been a very long day at work for me on September 10th. The 11th doesn't look to be any less hectic.

Nonetheless, the 11th will clearly not be a "business as usual" day. How could it be, for any of us?

I send you all my warmest regards and best wishes.

Be good to each other.

Posted by at 12:24 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 September 05, 2002
The Rainbow Connection

Okay, I realize that my little entry for today will really only ring a bell with fellow Gen-Xers, but I hope all y'all will play along just for the hell of it.

I've been playing the soundtrack to The Muppet Movie a bit lately, and a couple of lines in particular from one song, "The Rainbow Connection," keep nagging at me.

In the first line of the song, Kermit asks, "Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what's on the other side?"

I can only come up with one song about rainbows and what's on the other side: "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," from The Wizard of Oz. That's it. Are there any others?

Kermit also asks, "Who said that every wish would be heard and answered, when wished on a falling star?" Again, I come up with one obvious answer: Jiminey Cricket. ("When You Wish Upon a Star")

Go ahead. Think about it. How many other songs about rainbows are there?

Sleep deprivedly yours,
--Allan

Posted by at 10:41 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (3)
 August 29, 2002
Watching California Burn

Road trippin' from Seattle to San Jose, my first drive along the West Coast like this. Paulette, baby Alexander, and I makin' our way down I-5 through Washington State, Oregon, and Northern California.

Northern California is on fire.

We drive past a fire where some kind of large fuel tanks near the highway are blazing; many firemen and fire trucks are on the scene hosing down the flames. There are also several grass fires, and most of them appear to be deliberately set by officials who are on the scene. Traffic continues to drive through the smoke, and I am surprised to find that we can feel the brutal heat from one particular fire even inside our vehicle. Those fires are hot!

Paulette and I are guessing that these short patches of grass are being set now so as to contain any major fire that might head this way later... containment that should result from using up the fuel that could keep such a fire going. Nonetheless, with temperatures in the triple digits even without the aid of the fires, it's amazing to see California burn. Something we would have missed had we simply flown in.

Posted by at 10:10 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 July 10, 2002
The Car Story

No, the baby hasn't been born yet.

So, here's what happened with the car. As many of you know, we've been a two car family ever since we've been a family. She brought her car to the marriage, and I brought mine. Alas, alack, her car died recently of natural causes. Old age. The head gasket went bye-bye, and fixing it was going to cost more than the worth of the car (even if the car were running perfectly). And so we went from being a two car family to a one car family just like that.

We started to think about whether we should get a second car and, if so, what kind the second vehicle should be. We want something safe, something to haul around the kid in, etc., etc. Boring grown-up stuff. Of course, that didn't stop us from test driving a Subaru WRX which, I must say, we both enjoyed mightily. Lots of vroooooom in that one.

Anyway, we started looking at possible contenders, but the big obstacle was money, insofar as we need money to get a second car. Money we don't have. The recurring advice from some quarters was, "Well, *we* used to be a one car family, and that was with two kids, and it worked out just fine for us!" And, of course, it's true that we should be able to get by with one car if we have no alternative. We're resourceful people.

But then again, if we're so resourceful, why can't we figure out a way to handle bringing on board a car payment?

This is what writers in the biz refer to as "back story." The set up. The story before the story. Now here's the story:

I got into an accident with my car just a few weeks after her car gave up the ghost. Very simply: while I was executing a left turn, a car in the oncoming lane executed a collision. His car was driveable after the accident; mine was not. (And, no, we didn't have rental car coverage as part of our insurance package.)

Nobody was injured (although my pride and pocketbook aren't doing so well), and my car has about a month or so worth of repair work to look forward to before I get it back. There was no ticket issued at the scene. Fault was not assessed at the scene, either, but should be soon.

Ironically, the fellows in the other car were Mormons who were in town doing missionary work. My insurance agent happens to also be a Mormon. I haven't asked yet if this qualifies as an act of God.

My passenger was a friend named Tom. He likes to embellish the story a little, and I like his version even though it's not entirely true:

"In my version I was knocked out unconscious, and came to, saw the two guys in the white shirts and name tags, and freaked out because I had picked the wrong religion."

Thus, we were rendered a no-car family.

Being a no-car family when you are about to have a baby is very interesting. For example, if we were to take a cab to the hospital and then take another cab back home from the hospital, we would legally have to have a car seat installed in the cab before the hospital police could let us go home. Or, we could simply hop on a transit bus with our little one in a carrier and no seat belts or car seats would be required. Go figure.

As you might imagine, we'll be taking on a car payment, instead.

My Passat didn't passat very well. I hope our new Dodge does a better job of living up to its name.

Posted by at 11:54 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (2)
 July 05, 2002
In Dependence Day -- Still Not Apparent

The baby is past due.

The "due date" for the baby was July 4th, but "Dependence Day" came and went and there's been no change in status. Paulette is still pregnant.

In other news...

* My stories keep coming back rejected. Haven't written anything new in a couple weeks.

* My Passat is still broken, and is likely to take about a month before it can get back on the road again.

* I've been doing a lot of research lately on certain aspects of philosophy and religion in general, the Bible and Judeo-Christianity in particular, rhetoric, and history. Much of this research is for my next novel, and much of it is simple intellectual curiosity. Alas, research shouldn't take the place of actual writing. However, I've been enjoying the thinking that goes with the research....

* A friend from Clarion West had an excellent story recently published in Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine. Another friend, from Cornell, had a novella recently published in Analog. Yet another friend, from my high school days (although she didn't go to my high school), was also published in Analog a few months ago. I think this is all great. And/but I'm ready to join their ranks, durnit!

The weather is beautiful. Wish you were here.

Posted by at 04:21 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits , Writing | Comments (0)
 July 03, 2002
If a Picture's Worth a Thousand Words...

...then this one cost about four to six bucks per word:

More on the story soon.

Posted by at 10:56 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 June 25, 2002
The Boxer

"All lies and jest
still a man hears what he wants to hear
and disregards the rest."
--Paul Simon, The Boxer

The President of the United States gave a speech on Monday regarding the prospects for peace in the Palestine region of the Middle East. I am amazed at how the speech appears to have been received by leaders in that part of the world. (See this article.)

Palestinian leadership, for example, praise the speech because it mentions the United States' call for the eventual creation of an independent Palestinian state... although they also seem to be scoffing at the idea that Yasser Arafat should step down (also mentioned in the speech) as being ludicrous.

Meanwhile, leadership in Israel praises the speech because it calls for new leadership in Palestine, while the Israeli leadership scoffs at the idea that there could ever be an independent Palestinian state along their border.

And, then, beyond the leadership, the people of the region are quoted by the aforementioned news article as condemning the speech because the listeners hear the message of compromise and they say words to the effect of, "This will never happen. The U. S. expects us to actually back down on 'X'? Not gonna happen."

The article is almost comical. The whole situation is almost comical. The way these people hear only what they want to hear and disregard the rest has all the makings for a Shakespearean comedy.

Except, of course, this isn't a comedy. Both sides are intent upon exterminating the other. The lessons of the Holocaust, forgotten. It's really quite sickening.

Posted by at 10:03 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (2)
 June 16, 2002
Playing with Matches

Can someone please explain to me how an individual working as a firefighter -- a forest fire fighter -- for eighteen years can make the mistake of burning a letter from her ex in the $#@! forest during one of the worst droughts in years?

Hello! Stupid person! You're going to jail now!

Too bad Colorado had to go up in flames, first.

In the upcoming movie Minority Report, the justice system apprehends and convicts people of "future murder" before they commit the crime, thereby serving justice and sparing the victims. An interesting idea (from the mind of sci-fi author Philip K. Dick). Now, wouldn't it be cool if we could to the same thing with just plain stupid people? Like this firefighter and accidental arsonist stupid person? Imagine how much less traffic there would be congesting our nation's highways....

Posted by at 10:59 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (4)
 June 07, 2002
Spam, spam, spam, spam, baked beans, tomato, and spam

I remember how, a few years ago, friends would whine about the amount of junk e-mail they received. They hated spammers. HATED them. And I'd be thinking, what's the big deal? One or two messages a day -- just delete 'em.

Well, now I get more than my own share of spam, and I understand the problem. When the signal to noise ratio falls below a certain point, one just wants to scream. I receive a great many legit e-mail every day which have to be answered (and, as I've noted here before, I don't answer it, anyway) and twice as much junk e-mail. So, like many others, I've started creating a set of spam filters to presort as much of it out of my e-mail box as possible.

The rules vary from keywords (is the word 'Viagra' in the subject line?) to IP address blocking to phrase matching (is there anything in the body about how the e-mail is sent in strict compliance with US Senate resolution blahbitty blah, blah, blah?). Some days, my spam filter manages to keep the load pretty manageable. Other days, I have to thwart the spammers filter thwarting.

Recently, however, I added a rule quite by mistake. I'd intended to block a certain overused phrase that only appears in spam, but due to an error (a short between the keyboard and the chair), the rule came out as: any e-mail with the word "click" in it is to be treated as spam.

As it so happens, the word "click" doesn't actually appear all that often in non-spam e-mail... except when it's appended to the end of the message by certain web-based e-mail hosts (msnmessenger, hotmail, yahoo). The word is often included in messages from web hosting affiliates of mine, as well. As a result, I'd been missing a few key e-mails these past few weeks. Then again, the number of spam e-mails that actually made it to my Inbox was tiny, tiny, tiny. That, alone, should have tipped me off that there was a problem, but so many other legit messages made it through, it simply didn't occur to me to check.

So I've gotten that problem all sorted out. But now I'm wondering, is there anything similar I can do to filter out unwanted telemarketing calls? (Sorry, that's redundant. "Unwanted telemarketing," I mean.) Anonymous CallID blocking isn't enough.

Any thoughts? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Posted by at 03:53 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 April 24, 2002
Long time, no write

The complaint is that I haven't been writing here terribly often... and/or, that what I've been writing lately is L-A-M-E. I must plead guilty on both counts. I shall post more meatiness here shortly.

As it is, for the time being, I'm off to the doctor's office. I am not a fan of doctor's offices, esp. as my medical insurance people keep switching my "Primary Care Physician"... presumablly because each succeeding doctor keeps dropping them as a health insurance company that they deal with. Getting to know new doctors is a royal pain, and it keeps you from developing any sense of rapport or trust with your physician.

This past week or so, I've been experiencing vertigo whenever I change the position of my head relative to the ground. Although I've encountered these symptoms from time to time over the past ten years, this is the worst I've had it since the first time I experienced them, back when I was in grad school. There, I was treated by the worst that student health services could provide, where the doctor (attending? intern? whatever) essentially shrugged, said "um, I dunno", opined that maybe I had a virus, and then prescribed me antibiotics and sent me on my way.

Antibiotics, I am given to understand, are not useful for treating virii.

Anyway, the symptoms did eventually go away that time, and they've only recurred a couple times since, and only mildly. Now, they're back in full force. This began while I was planning this big event featuring Connie Willis here in town. Connie, like others, suggested that I see a doctor. So, I'm seeing a doctor. This one doesn't know for sure the cause either, but at least he doesn't shrug and say, "I dunno," and give me a prescription.

Perhaps this dizziness is just a mild side-effect of being blonde.

Posted by at 01:15 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 April 12, 2002
Sharing a Stage with Connie Willis

Connie Willis is the author of numerous award-winning books, novellas, and short stories. She has won more Hugo and Nebula awards for writing than any other author. And she's going to be speaking at the Write Out Loud! kick-off event in Redmond, WA on Saturday, April 20th. That's just a week away.

Why am I bothering to mention this on my website?

Well, a few reasons. First of all, I've seen Connie at a reading once before last summer, and she was amazing. Very funny, very entertaining. Anyone who has a chance to catch this performance on the 20th should make a point of being there.

The other reason for mentioning it is that Connie was one of my instructors at Clarion West last summer. She taught during the infamous "Week 4", notorious for being the week that breaks so many Clarionites in two unless there's a good instructor to hold it all together. :-)

The other other reason I menion this is that I am emceeing the event. This is certainly the highest profile public speaking gig I've had since I was the marching band announcer for a Buffalo Bills game in 1990. (Of course, that's going to be tough to top.)

Now, admittedly, I'm one of the organizers of this event (the other, other, other reason I mention it), so I guess there isn't that much mystery about how I became the emcee this time. (Whereas, I *wasn't* one of the organizers of the Buffalo Bills.) Still, I'm excited by the prospect. Connie is just a joy to listen to, and Nisi Shawl, the guest interviewer, is also excellent at making a Q & A session come alive.

If you're anywhere in the greater Seattle area and are interested in attending, you can visit www.rasp.cc to purchase tickets, or you can get the tickets at the door. Show starts at 7pm, so you may want to get there a little early if you plan to buy tickets at the door.

There will be a reception and book signing after the talk. Hope to see you there!

Posted by at 05:41 PM in the following Department(s): Books/Movies/Music , Tidbits | Comments (0)
 April 03, 2002
There was no Cheese!

There was no cheese waiting for me at the airport (see previous entry). Perhaps the cheese they told me about was imaginary cheese. They thought they saw it, but it wasn't really there. And since I had found my cheese, the fact that they didn't have cheese supports the "Conservation of Cheese" theory that cheese can be neither created nor destroyed.

Posted by at 12:26 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (2)
 March 27, 2002
Losing One's Cheese

Another true story.

I flew across the country recently on Delta Airlines. My first time on Delta in years. Arrived at my destination, rented a car, and drove a couple of hours to get where I was going. Later that night, I discovered that I didn't have my book with me anymore.

I'd left it on the plane.

The book is called "Who Moved My Cheese?" It's a rather short book (and a thin book, which would explain why I didn't realize I'd left it in the seat pocket on the plane... unlike the Stephen King tomes I usually carry with me), and it was a gift from this past Christmas. A special, pre-publication edition. For those of you who are up on such things, I haven't finished reading it yet, so I have no idea as to the quality of the content, so there. The book itself is easily replaced, but there is that sentimental value attached (being a special edition, and a gift).

So, contrary to my typical nature, I called Delta in the hopes of tracking down their Lost & Found. (Rather than just assuming it was lost, and going out and buying another copy.)

Oddly enough, it only took one call to find the L&F at the airport for Delta, and only one call to them to find out if they had my book. Okay, it took three calls to Lost and Found, but I don't count those as three seperate calls because it was simply a case of my cel phone was in a bad cell area, and the calls kept getting dropped. Go AT&T!

In one call I established that, indeed, they had just found "Who Moved My Cheese?" from a recent flight, and they would have it waiting for me at the Will Call of the Baggage Claim office when I went to the airport for my return flight.

A few hours later, I found my copy of the book. Turns out I had misplaced it in my carry-on (it being so thin, the book ended up in a pouch that offered no obvious signs of its extra contents). Who moved my cheese? Me, that's who.

But, that means somebody else out there has lost their cheese. And, you know what? I think I'm going to go to Lost and Found and liberate it. Having moved my cheese, I'm about to end up with *extra* cheese. I think I'll lend out that second copy to my friends. I'm going to share the cheese. Second-hand cheese.

Anyone out there want a copy of "Who Moved My Cheese?"

Next up: maybe I should call USAir's Lost and Found and see if they have a copy of that new Stephen King book I want....

Posted by at 09:50 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 March 25, 2002
Paranoia: A True Story, part two

So, this past weekend some friends came over for a monthly get-together called "The Mutinous Video Club", wherein we take turns picking a movie to rent and then we watch and critique it as a group. This past weekend, one of the gang chose a movie I'd never seen called "Hackers." An enjoyably awful movie.

In the movie, the Secret Service/FBI goes around busting down doors, barging in as a large group, and sticking machine guns into people's faces within hours of some poor high school slob hacking into a computer system. Shortly thereafter, some corporate weasel (usually in the form of a hacker who is employed by a big corporation) plants evidence to frame the poor high school schmoley for crimes he, the corporate weasel, is committing, and then the FBI/Secret Service stupidly goes around doing the corporation's bidding. Thus, in this movie, students who go in and ruin computer systems for banks and television stations are the "heroes" and "victims", and the corporations and the cops who try to stop them are the "bad guys." But, I digress.

The point is, in this movie and others, law enforcement barges in with guns and shouting, willy nilly, to nab computer-related boogie-men.

So, getting back to my true story: a couple of weeks ago, Paulette had pointed out to me that an FBI guy (she saw a couple, but I ended up only seeing one) and a local cop were kinda walking around our building, knocking on a door or two, and just generally poking around. Just another day on the job. They didn't knock on our door, which was fine by me, but they certainly raised my curiousity.

As I left off the last installment, Paulette phoned me a few days later to tell me that a television news crew was sniffing around. They had, it turns out, rung *our* doorbell. The news crew had told Paulette that the FBI was cracking down on some big alleged internet nastiness, and had confiscated a computer or two from one of our neighbors, and would she care to comment?

Having worked in the news media, I wish I'd been the one who'd answered the door so that I could have closed the door in their faces. Paulette had no such prior experience, however. She did talk to them, but at least she was very, very vague. While this allowed them, during the "news" broadcast later in the day, to say something like "Neighbors are shocked and alarmed" before showing a cut of her saying "You never think it'll happen here" (how deliciously vague!), at least they didn't actually get someone to say something nasy on the air.

Why am I so concerned about this? Well, for a few reasons, but it mostly has to do with my belief that 1) making snap judgements on the basis of what a *news crew* tells you is, generally speaking, a bad idea, 2) we have good neighbors and, unless and until a court says otherwise, we're going to continue to expect that they are good neighbors. News crews can (and have) ruined a few lives along the way with accidental misreportings, and I won't be a party to it.

Anyway, after Paulette called, I came home (I was walking around the neighborhood, wrapping up some errands) and the news crew had left by then. She never saw any FBI on that particular day, despite the news reporter's claim. And, with the exception of our fierce curiousity, it became pretty much a day just like any other. (Although, other news crews came by later.)

My paranoia was just starting to calm down when I received a phone call a couple days later from an friend of mine at the Department of Justice (I'm not making this up). Back when my friend applied for his job with the DoJ, he had put me down as a reference for his background check. Anyway, he called me to say that the guy at the FBI with whom he'd spoken during the background check process had traced back to him because the FBI were looking at me and a neighbor of mine regarding some current case they're working on.

And I'm thinking, WHAT?!

Then I thought about the fact that I have a wireless network that's not encrypted, and maybe someone's been using my network for something nefarious, or who knows what, and my friend at the DoJ says that the FBI told him they'd already spoken with somebody at my house, and he thought it must have been me but maybe it was Paulette, and my brain is racing trying to recall if Paulette had mentioned anything about acutally talking to the FBI, because she might have.

While I'm puzzling all this out, my friend mentions that I was named during an arrest, but that the Feds were becoming a little skeptical of my involvement, because the source was pretty much trying to name anyone he could think of....

MORE...
Posted by at 04:00 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 March 24, 2002
A Man With a Past

They say a man with no past has no future. No, wait. A man who does not know history is condemned to repeat it. Yeah, that's it.

When I first put up this new engine to manage my online journal, I quickly perused the titles of my previous entries and assigned many of them categories so that visitors could look at entries by subject and not just have to wade through them chronologically. (Since there are several folks who visit the site to peruse my Clarion West Journal from last year, I desire to keep the customers satisfied. :-)

Anyway, I've started going through my entries more closely and making more thoughtful choices about what categories to use for each one. Some entries will appear in more than one category, which is also requiring a bit of consideration.

This means I've been reading through every entry in my blog in chronological order from, oh, November or so of 2000 to June of last year (so far). It's amazing the patterns you can see when you pull up and look at these high-level synopses (sp?) of what was on your mind that you *can't* see when you're too busy living it.

While it was clear that there were good and bad things about working for my previous employer, for example, it becomes obvious very quickly from my journal entries at the time that I wasn't going to stay there very long.

I've had concrete plans to finish my novel within a month for, oh, about 16 months now. (BTW, my current plan is to send out the first three chapters to my agent of choice in about four weeks. Go figure. More on that soon, I promise!)

I've been whining publicly about how bad I am at returning people's e-mail for over a year now, at least. That hasn't changed.

But, yeah, it's been interesting to tour my public journal and see the face I've been putting on events and observations in my life... and how obvious certain eventualities are when you read the journal, and yet how oblivious I had been while writing it.

I wonder if I should dare to read my private journal, too. Ack!

Posted by at 01:09 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 March 20, 2002
Paranoia: A true story, part one

I always sit down to write a quick note, and then it becomes a long note. Let's see if I can make this quick:

True story. I've been reading a novel called Vitals by Greg Bear, which is a tour de paranoia about how bacteria relate to each other and to their hosts and how they could conceivably be used 1) to increase longevity, and/or 2) induce "mind control." It's a lot of fun and more than a little creepy.

A few mornings ago, I was chatting with a friend of mine named Eric. We go way back. He was pointing out to me a current paranoid theory about the September 11th plane crash at the Pentagon. The theory goes that a 757 never actually crashed into the building. (My favorite part of the site that espouses this theory is where they overlay an outline of a 757 against the Pentagon, and the outline of the plane is *much* bigger than it would be, had it been drawn to scale... but, I digress.)

The fun thing about getting caught up in such conversations is that the paranoia becomes catchy. The more you look for clues of foul play, the more likely they are to seem almost plausible. So, here we were, kvetching about conspiracy theories, and me in a paranoid mindset already because the book I've been reading is a thriller about a conspiracy. My wife comes downstairs in the middle of the conversation. "Do you know why the FBI are outside?"

"What?!?!

"Uh, Eric, I have to go."

I headed upstairs and looked out the window and, sure enough, there was a city cop and an FBI guy strolling around outside. Paulette said that they seemed to be looking for our next door neighbor. (We are in a townhouse, and are therefore *immediately* next door to our next door neighbor.) I wondered if they had eavesdropping devices in their cruiser. (My conversation with Eric had been on a cell phone.) I wondered, if they're looking for Neighbor, why they don't already know he's out of town until Tuesday. I mean, they know everything, right?

Well, the FBI drives away after a bit. BTW, here's how you can tell if a guy outside your house is an FBI guy: he wears an overcoat that says, in BIG BOLD LETTERS: FBI.

As I recounted this part of the story over dinner the next day, the first response by one of our guests was "Well, he works at [a former employer of mine in the high tech industry] and he has a Middle-Eastern sounding name. They're probably just doing a background check." Very plausible, and it puts my mind at ease. I like our neighbor, and I hope that nothing serious is afoot.

And, of course, I'm also glad that the Conspiracy isn't out to get me, after all, either.

So, what we have here thus far is nothing more than an amusing little anecdote about coincidence and paranoia. Something to chuckle about over dinner.

Until the FBI came back yesterday. And the news crews. And no, I'm not kidding. My wife called me (I was out running errands) and told me what was up. I came right home...

More on that in my next entry. I have to get the phone.

Posted by at 03:20 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 March 18, 2002
Conversation

Had some folks over for dinner yesterday. We talked about writing and we talked about kids and we talked about politics.

Mmmm. Politics.

I haven't had my ass whupped so much in a conversation about politics in a long time. It's not that my sparring partner set out to destroy me (nor did he), it was rather that he demanded intellectual honesty. Something that has been missing from a lot of political conversations I've been having lately. This has led, in turn, to atrophy in certain essential critical thinking skills.

In other words, I've *been* having conversations about politics, but I've been able to get by with surface observations and bumpersticker rebuttals. I had a conversation last night with someone who had actually thought a little bit more about the issues than your average bear (so to speak... his last name is Bear) and, in order to keep up, I had to dig a bit deeper than I've had to in a while.

And, we weren't even really covering the Big Issues.

I'm out of shape, intellectually. I need to resume sparring again. Need to sharpen my wit and keep it honed. Need to surround myself with people whose brains are not in idle. I had a good time last night. Need to do that more often.

Posted by at 02:53 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 March 14, 2002
Giving in to my addictions...

I have many addictions, and they prevent me from accomplishing (or averting) certain things.

As I mentioned earlier, there's sugar. I've been in a crappy mood for the past couple of days, and today I relented and had a big, tall bottle of Dr Pepper. And then, as if that weren't enough, I enjoyed a tall glass of chocolate milk. That wasn't enough, either, so I went to Cold Stone Creamery and had an ice cream. With hot fudge.

Truth be told, I feel *much* better now. So, get off my back.

Other addictions that get in my way?

E-mail. As you know, if you've sent me any lately, I don't actually *write* e-mail. I'm too busy reading it! I loves to read my e-mail. It's a great time-waster.

Web surfing. Another great time waster.

Doing more e-mail, followed by more web surfing. Because, gosh durn it, writing a novel is hard, but reading just one more piece of e-mail or clicking on just one more link, well... that's easy! And, it won't take but a second...

Pacing.

Moping.

Sleep. Now, *that's* a time waster, if ever there was one. But, I'm addicted to that, too.

Worrying about all the work I need to do.

Reading more e-mail. Surfing more web sites.

Those are the big addictions that are getting in my way right now. Those and, as I mentioned earlier, sugar.

You might expect me, at this point, to make some pithy remark about writing this #@$% blog. But, nope. Writing entries for my on-line journal is not an addiction, at all. Like writing scenes for my novel, writing entries for my weblog involves a little more effort. It's not the effortless trap that surfing, e-mail reading, or junk food eating are. Rather, it's a job.

But I do it, because -- in the words of Eric Cartman -- "I love you guys."

Posted by at 03:08 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 March 07, 2002
I like sugar

I like to eat. Eating is fun. Food comes in so many wonderful flavors. Sugar. Fat. Salt. Garlic. Tomato. Cheese. Chocolate. Mmmm, chocolate. Beef. Onion. Banana. Cilantro. Strawberry. Lemon. Gimme tangy. Gimme bitter. Gimme sweet. Gimme meaty.

My favorite drinks are Pepsi and Dr Pepper. All the caffeine, baby, and bring on the sugar! Nothing quenches my thirst like a Pepsi or a Dr Pepper.

Our bodies are equipped with such wonderful taste mechanisms. Enjoy! Food is for enjoyment.

Alas, I have bit of a problem that is related to this. I haven't been moving around much these past few years. Most of my working life has involved sitting in a chair, typing. In my free time (ha!), I like to play cards, or read, or occasionally catch a movie (haven't done that in a while). There's talking. Talking in a group. Talking on the phone. And, of course, there's cooking and eating.

Not much moving around, however. Oh sure, when the weather's nice, I might go biking for an hour along the river. I'll do that for a few days a week for a couple of months, even. I don't walk around much; everything is either in *very* short walking distance, or involves driving. I gave up Tae Kwon Do for various reasons, and swimming -- my exercise of choice in my younger days -- is just awful. The smell of chlorine makes me sick.

Not moving much + eating lots --> gaining weight.

I have become the Pilsbury Doughboy.

In an effort to lose some of that weight, I've recently started to move more. It's amazing how out-of-shape I've become. I used to be able to bench press my own weight. Now it's a struggle for me to bench press Calista Flockhart's weight.

But I've also been making some other changes, including changes to my diet. That's been a little trickier. I've started to get over the caffeine withdrawal, and the cravings for a Pepsi or a Dr Pepper are starting to lessen, at least a little. Thank goodness. And while I haven't *radically* changed my diet, the simple sugars are definitely out. Instead of my beloved Super Sugar Puffs for breakfast, I'm having eggs on wheat toast.

Wheat toast! Blech. But no more white bread for me.

My body's complaining. "Where's my sugar?! Gimme that instant energy!" And yet, I don't feel that I have less energy. I just feel... differently energied.

And I feel full all the time, lately. I hate that. I don't enjoy eating. (Especially wheat toast.) Now I'm eating for the sake of fuel, and not for the sake of enjoyment. Where's the fun in that?

I think I understand, now, those people who say they eat for fuel and not for enjoyment. It makes sense to me now, because if you limit yourself to unprocessed, non-sugary foods, there's nothing there to enjoy. Eating becomes a chore. And since you feel fuller longer, you're not constantly snacking. Anyone who snacks knows that snacking is fun.

I'm sacrificing the joy of eating in the hopes of once again experiencing the joy of being thinner than Jabba the Hutt. I know that this will be good for me in the long run. I'll be reducing the likelihood of certain health risks, etc., etc. I'll look better, move lighter, and feel more comfortable in my clothes. All good things.

...all assuming that I can keep this up, of course.

For reasons unknown to me, I've never found myself interested in drink or drugs. I've never been tempted by tobacco, pot, alcohol, or the smell of airplane glue. Like those who have disdained eating for enjoyment, I've never seen the point of those kinds of gratification.

But sugar! It's a drug in its own right -- it chemically affects mood, balance, and behavior -- and I'm an addict. It's gone beyond simple enjoyment. I need it. I crave it. Even to my own detriment; even as I watch its deleterious effects upon me.

My name is Allan R., and I like sugar.

Posted by at 04:00 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 March 04, 2002
Personal Trainers and Coaches -- Semantics

On Wednesday mornings, I attend a business networking meeting. This past week, one of the visitors to this meeting said that she is a personal trainer.

I mentioned the personal trainer to Paulette, and she asked what that was. She asked if that was anything like what is currently known by the term "coach" (as in, someone to help you achieve your goals in life by developing a plan and putting into action, etc., etc.). Ah-ha, I said, no... a personal trainer is someone who focuses on your physical training.

So -- we both realized this at the same time -- a personal trainer these days is what we used to call a "coach." And, a coach these days is someone who does personal, er, training.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Big deal. And you park on a driveway and drive on a parkway, blah, blah, blah. I just happened to find it funny at the time.

Posted by at 03:31 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 February 26, 2002
Guilty by Reason of Insanity -- Semantics

Yeah, I'm going to babble about semantics again.

This woman in Texas drowned her five children because she thought she heard Satan's voice telling her to kill them. Now she's on trial for the crime.

(Note to readers: if you ever hear the voice of Satan telling you to do something, you may wish to seriously consider declining. If you think the voice is Satan's, the advice is probably suspect. You know?)

Neither the defense nor the prosecution are disputing the fact that she murdered her children. Rather, the point of the trial is to determine whether she was, technically speaking, sane when she committed the acts. The prosecution maintains that the killings were premeditated, and therefore show a rational mind at work. The accused had allegedly told people that she was planning to use a knife, but decided in the end to drown her children in the tub, instead, because that would be less bloody. Hence, premeditation.

The defense maintains that she had had urges to kill her first child shortly after he was born (she heard voices, she has allegedly told her psychiatrist, advising her to use a knife), and then again after later children were born. Thus, contends the defense, we see a pattern of schizophrenia. (Seems to me that this argument also supports the premeditation argument, but I won't go there for now.)

I am not a lawyer, and I do not claim to know all of the legal aspects involved in the case. I'm pretty sure that if she is found "Innocent by reason of insanity", she'll be committed to a psychiatric hospital for the rest of her life. Not quite the same as being acquitted. If she is found guilty, however, the prosecution plans to ask for the death penalty. So, there *is* something at stake here, beyond semantics.

Quite frankly, the evidence seems pretty compelling to me: the mother was guilty of premeditated murder, and *of course* she was insane. Murdering your five children is not the activity of a healthy mind.

Dennis Miller, in one of his recently published rants about coddling, suggests that we change the "Innocent by Reason of Insanity" plea to "Guilty by Reason of Insanity." Sounds like a great idea to me. The fundamental result of a successful plea -- being committed to a psychiatric ward -- doesn't need to be changed. But let's get off this politically correct bandwagon that somehow equates insanity with innocence. The insane are not always innocent... even if the innocent *are* always insane.

Posted by at 04:18 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (4)
Rehabilitation

Back in the old days, when I was a "Sovietologist," I learned an interesting use of the word "rehabilitate." When spoken in terms of communist political history, the word was used to describe the reintroduction of a political figure who had previously been made into an "unperson."

It worked like this: if the Communist Party decided that Tovarshch Gorky was a bad guy, then he disappeared, all reference to him disappeared, and you didn't read anything about him in the papers ever again. His image would be airbrushed out of photos of pivotal events. George Orwell called this kind of persona-non-grata an "unperson."

But, later on, it might happen that the powers that be would decide that maybe Tovarshch Gorky was actually an okay guy. Maybe he wasn't counterrevolutionary after all. And suddenly, his image would be no longer airbrushed out of crucial photos. It was okay to talk about him again in the papers. Just as if a light switch had been flipped, he re-appeared.

This reappearance was known as "rehabilitation."

It is the term that has been running through my head ever since George Harrison died. All of a sudden, radio stations have decided that it's okay to play the Beatles again. I hadn't even noticed that the Beatles disappeared from most radio stations until they reappeared.

Quite frankly, I'm happy to know that it's okay to play the Beatles again. I'm glad they're okay to listen to.

But I've also noticed an interesting and disturbing trend in the movies to rehabilitate music in a very bizarre way. I finally had an opportunity to watch Stephen King's Rose Red in its entirety a couple of weeks ago. Never mind how bad it was -- that's a topic for another discussion. I found it fascinating how Glen Miller tunes were used as the harbinger of doom. As soon as you heard Glen Miller, you knew someone was about to die.

This is becoming a new trope in horror movies. (Another vocabulary lesson: genre writers use the term "trope" to refer to a common paradigm or plot device found within their genre.) Bring back some music that has no horrific associations and then play it every time something horrific is about to happen. Pretty soon, the audience picks up on it, and the rehabilitated song develops a new association for the viewers.

Stephen King may have started this trope with his novel Christine, wherein classic '50's rock 'n' roll streamed out of the car radio of a haunted (possessed?) Plymouth Fury as it mowed down the high-schoolers that got in its way. I don't think music was a key element of horror novels until the big SK began this trick.

But now everybody's doing it. The movie Final Destination from a couple years ago (which, by the way, is about to have a sequel -- be afraid) would play John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" every time Death was about to pay a visit. The way the music was worked in was one of the few clever things about this otherwise non-clever flick.

I, for one, wish they'd cut it out. Stop rehabilitating good music like that! If you're going to bring back good music, bring it back goodly! You can even give it the "Ghost" treatment if you must (The movie Ghost revived a popular fifties tune called "Unchained Melody"), but stop equating good music with bad things.

So, there.

Posted by at 03:14 AM in the following Department(s): Books/Movies/Music , Tidbits | Comments (1)
 February 01, 2002
Only the Good Die Young

I just finished reading The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie. It took me a little while to get into the book, but once I got a feel for the cadence, this collection of interrelated short stories definitely engaged me. I highly recommend it.

There's a great dialog in the book between one character, a Spokane Indian and die-hard Hendrix fan who believes he was the only Indian to hear Jimi Hendrix play the Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock, and his wife. The Hendrix fan lamented Jimi's passing:

Posted by at 06:40 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 October 25, 2001
We interrupt this broadcast...

So, this week and a couple of weeks ago, I was party to the live television broadcast of a local station's afternoon chatfest called "Northwest Afternoon". I attended as a member of the "live studio audience" so as to pay off a favor. They run our PSA's (that's a "public service announcement", and they're pretty much required to run a number of these every day as a community service) in exchange for us putting some butts in seats for their daily afternoon talk show.

It was fun to watch people who are good at their jobs do what they do well. It was also fun to see first-hand exactly how plastic and phoney everything is in the world of television. Examples:

* applause is not only handled through the use of applause signs (well, okay, a twenty-two year old blonde chick who raises her hands when she wants us to clap), but said pre-arranged applause is also augmented by canned applause.

* the star of the show is returning from getting a face-lift. She was very funny and witty about it, but the reality remains that she got a facelift... almost certainly because either she is that vain or the industry let her know that they'd can her butt if she didn't do the deed.

* the stars enthusiastically read the teleprompters as if they're making up the words right off the top of their heads.

There were other things, but you get the gist. Nothing here that surprises you, I'm sure... it was simply the totality of it all that I found amazing.

That said, these were also very fun and engaging people. They seem to like their jobs, and they were very good at getting the audience involved (for live Q&A of the guests, etc.).

On today's show, the guests were co-authors of some lame book about love and romance. Blah, blah, blah. But, one of the members of the audience said something that I found very interesting.

She told the story about how, before she got married, she surveyed everyone she knew about marriage... what makes it work, or why it fails. She said that of those who had stayed in long lasting relationships, every single one of them said that the single most important thing to making their relationships work was *compromise*.

When she asked people who had been divorced what the single most important thing missing was, they said it was *communication*. The woman said that pretty much every divorced person she asked attributed the break-up to "a lack of communication". Whereas, those who stayed together credited "the art of compromise."

I found that interesting.

As it so happens, the others in the audience also found that interesting. So, naturally, the hosts sidestepped her point and went on to talk about other things. :-)

--me

(I'll resume on the feminism and science fiction track tomorrow. No, really!)

Posted by at 03:10 AM in the following Department(s): Books/Movies/Music , Tidbits
 August 31, 2001
Allergic to the East Coast?

I am suffering from a mild case of allergies right now. Runny nose; stuffy sinuses; mild headache. Low level stuff. My eyes haven't started itching at least, yet. I haven't shown these symptoms since my previous visit to the East Coast.

Today I am writing to you from Philadelphia, PA. I've spent the last few days travelling all over the mid-Atlantic region of the US: New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania. I've had low-level allergy symptoms throughout the visit. At first, I'd thought it might be an allergy to pets (we stayed with a very good friend who has a very pleasant dog), but the last couple of days have been pet free, and I'm still sneezing. Those who know me well have pointed out that I don't show these symptoms on the West Coast; only on the East.

The operating theory is that I'm allergic to the East Coast. I'm beginning to agree.

But, how does one treat such an allergy? Do they offer allergy shots to ward against the East Coast? Is there a patch? A pill? How does one protect oneself? How might a hypnotherapist attack this kind of problem?

"You are not really in Philadelphia. Imagine you are in Portland. It is a pleasant, rainy afternoon...." Probably wouldn't work. There's a Portland on the East Coast, too.

We've been spending time in the major cities and in the countryside. No difference. I'm curious as to whether the symptoms will go away upon my return to the West Coast. Hmmmm.

---

On a completely different topic, I received a wonderful suggestion tonight for an alternate title for the novel I'm working on. I'm going to start collecting suggestions, and then I'll put up a new poll to see which ones y'all think might work better than "The Do Over". Please keep the suggestions coming in!

Thanks,

--Allan

Posted by at 12:11 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 June 14, 2001
Bad Attitude

So, I have learned something recently. A little distinction that I think is both interesting and important. I've, uh, been doing research at work and have noticed something about what happens when you put good people into awkward situations for too long....

A person with what we typically identify as "a bad attitude" is not necessarily grumpy all the time. This person is not necessarily always negative. Quite the contrary, the Bad Attitude person can still identify and enjoy good times and funny things every bit as often -- even more frequently -- than he or she did before catching this contagious condition.

The difference between the Bad Attitude and the Normal Guy (or Normal Gal) is the suppression of the safety switch that would otherwise know when to cut the connection to one's vocal chords at a crucial moment.

In a relationship, this may be best expressed by the following example:

Relationship partner says, "Do these pants make me look fat?"

Normal Person replies, "Not at all."

Bad Attitude person, you might think, would reply, "Yes, they do." But, that is a misconception. The Bad Attitude person is not a negative person, and does not seek out to deliberately be mean. Bad Attitude person simply fails to filter out the last part of "the whole truth" part of his/her testimony.

So, in response to the question, "Do these pants make me look fat?" Bad Attitude person replies, "Not at all. It's your butt that makes you look fat."

Now, why does the Bad Attitude compel this kind of truth-saying? Why? And, what is the cure?

I had recently suffered a bout with this dreaded disease, and it seems to be coming under control. This is the first time I've contracted this condition without having to take radical measures (like quitting my job) to be free of it. What's with that? Am I maturing? Growing complacent? What?

I don't know, and I'm not sure if it's good. But, I certainly find it interesting.

Posted by at 03:06 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits , Tidbits II | Comments (0)
 May 06, 2001
Every Fifteen Minutes

Just a quick thought for the day.

I vaguely recall taking a psychology class my freshman year at college where we were told about how the average young male thinks about sex at least every fifteen minutes. (Or, was it every 15 seconds? Hmmm.) This was based upon one of those Johnson & Johnson or Kinsey reports. Something along those lines.

As the men get older, we were told, they don't think about sex quite so much (whereas, the lesson continued, women became more sexually interested as time went on), and I think I know why. As men get older, thoughts about how exiting sex can be are replaced by how pathetic their working lives really are, and how much better things would be if their bosses would just listen to them for a change.

:-)

I know several folks who love their jobs. These are very fortunate people. At the very least, they are not plagued by the nagging self-doubt that comes with realizing that one's life is being wasted on a meaningless endeavor. Better still, they have something more pleasant to think about every fifteen minutes.

Posted by at 05:44 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits , Tidbits II | Comments (0)
 April 04, 2001
Training

We all train each other on how to behave. Every day.

Habits form at the outset of any relationship, and they tend to reinforce each other and evolve each other over time.

Take the customer/vendor relationship. Customers say they want good service, but when it comes to putting their money on the table, they often grant their patronage to stores with bad service because, well, it's cheaper. So, the cheaper-but-you-get-bad-service behavior is rewarded, and it gets reinforced.

When you visit sites on the web, they sometimes send instructions to your browser to open up a new window with some advertisement or another. This is very irritating. One major online retailer has also discovered that when *they* pop up a window promoting a special sale, more people end up buying.

The result is that now this online retailer pretty much *always* puts up that annoying pop-up. It won't be long before the other major online retailers do the same. We, the customers, are rewarding them for their bad behavior.

Now, I should also point out that the major online retailers track where you come into the site and at what point you leave. They do this to find out what's working and what isn't.

If, like me, you are annoyed by unsolicited advertisement windows popping open on your browser whenever you visit an online retailer, my advice for you is to simply close all of your windows related to that store and wait a few minutes before reentering. If enough people do this, then the stores will stop this behavior. I know this for a fact: I (so far, at least) still work for one.

Posted by at 02:40 PM in the following Department(s): Essays , Tidbits | Comments (0)
 March 08, 2001
A True Quaker

Just a quickie anecdote here.

I was talking to this dude regarding work stuff a few days ago, and he mentioned big snows where he was. I asked for his location, and he told me that he was in Valley Forge, PA. I mentioned that I used to live near there, and he correctly deduced I had gone to UPenn, which is his alma mater.

In a follow-up e-mail, he mentioned something about how cool it was to be dealing with a fellow Quaker. For those of you who don't know, the teams at Penn are called the Quakers, as in "The Fighting Quakers". Ha, ha. I don't think about being a "Quaker" much, as I have never had much affinity for my grad school days at Penn.

Nonetheless, after last week's 6.8-on-the-Richter-Scale event here, I guess I truly am a Quaker.

Posted by at 05:04 PM in the following Department(s): Humor , Tidbits
 January 25, 2001
Headaches

Some people get the flu. I get headaches.

I know I'm actually a lucky guy, insofar as my headaches tend to miss the "migraine" category. Which is to say, if your definition of migraine is "head hurts so bad, you literally throw up and can't move for days because moving would make your head explode", I don't get migranes because I don't get the nausea bit.

When I was younger (so much younger than today), I used to get these killer headaches every couple months or so. Sometimes more frequently than that. They clamp on for days at a time, sometimes going longer than a week. Lately, it's been much less frequent, but the duration has been every bit as long.

So, for the first time in maybe half a year or so, a major mother of a headache has wrapped my brain in a vice. Sudden changes in light and turning my head from side to side makes the lower part of my face want to run away from the timebomb in my cranial cavity. Moving my eyes too quickly has the same effect. Sleep is hard to come by and, well, I'm just not a big fan of pain as it is.

My current bout has gotten so bad that I've taken one of the only 'sick days' I've ever taken in my adult life. Taking a sick day doesn't make my headache any better; it simply allows me to be miserable in the discomfort of my own home. Alas, work had to call me for yet another "short fuse" item. "Short fuse" or "fire drill" is a common high tech euphamism for "we decided this morning that the deadline for this major project that we've never even warned you about is this afternoon, and if it isn't done, heads are going to roll. Probably yours."

I'm actually glad that my boss called me about this particular "short fuse" item. It was directly pertinant (pertinent? I'm not looking it up today. My eyes hurt.) to my team, and the most important thing I can do right now is to keep my team happy and productive. I had a once in a long while opportunity to make sure we do the right thing, and I'm grateful to have been given that opportunity, even though it meant I got to be miserable at work and miserable at home all at the same time.

So, why do I bring this up? Here's why. Boss guy: "So, Allan, how are you? What's keeping you down today?"

Me: "I have a headache."

Weh, weh, weh. I can count the number of sick days I've taken in my adult life on *one hand*. And, on this fine occasion, I'm not only miserable, but I sound even more pathetic than I am.

"I have a headache." For crying out loud. He pointed out -- correctly -- that I had a headache yesterday. (I know this is funny. I'll be sure to laugh about it as soon as it stops hurting to move my head.) I guess I needed a new excuse today. Like PMS.

Whatever.

Oh, one more thing. Raging headaches and sleep deprivation combine to make me a little more emotional than I usually tend to get. So, the scene I wrote this week for The Do Over is one wherein the hero breaks down. It was easier for me to get in touch with those sort of emotions, so I'm hoping the scene is therefore all the more empathetic. When life hands me lemons, by golly, I'm making lemonade.

Posted by at 02:04 AM in the following Department(s): Novel-in-Progress , Tidbits , Tidbits II
 January 18, 2001
Dot Com Economics

So, back when I was self-employed or worked for small companies, I would often be confronted by economic choices. For example, if I or someone on my team wanted or needed a new piece of equipment -- let us say, hypothetically, a new monitor -- the decision to purchase would often boil down to the business.

For example, I might ask "How many more widgets must I/we sell to offset the cost of this monitor?" There's also the quintessential "What would it cost me if I *don't* purchase this item?" Even though the second question is more important, the first question always helped to put things into perspective that helped to create incentive. Usually, it would cause me or the member of my team to think in terms of "What can I do today that will help to drive up sales by X widgets?"

But.

What if you work for a company that loses money on every sale? What if you work for a dot com? THEN what do you do? It's like being in a bizarro world. Selling more means... losing more. So, if you want to clear the cost of a piece of equipment, do you try to sell more? Or, do you try to sell less?

Are you better off encouraging your friends to shop with your employer when you know that every dollar they spend brings your employer closer to bankruptcy? I don't get it. I just don't get it.

I think I'm beginning to understand why my essays are getting dumber and dumber. It's because *I'M* getting dumber. Spending time in the land of dot coms is hurting my brain. Decision making here has absolutely no basis in reality. This must be what it's like to work for the government.

Posted by at 03:57 PM in the following Department(s): Essays , Tidbits , Tidbits II
 January 14, 2001
National Politics: Nothin' but Entertainment

National Politics is a sport, and popularity points are the tally by which we determine the winners. At least, that's the case presented by the national media, which continues to sink to depths even lower than those described in James Fallow's excellent book, Breaking the News.

Former President Ronald Reagan recently fell and broke his hip, requiring surgery. This 'news' article recounts the details of his hip replacement surgery in fairly straightforward mannger before it gives us the score update:

According to an ABCNEWS.com poll taken last year, 64 percent of Americans now approve of Reagan's performance while he was in office. That's eight points better than Reagan's average job approval rating while he was in office, 56 percent.

Reagan's career average lands him at the center of the pack of postwar presidents, behind John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower and George Bush, and tied with Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton. His ratings ranged from a low of 42 percent in early 1983, several months after unemployment soared to heights unseen since 1940, to a high of 73 in 1981, just after John Hinckley Jr. shot him.

Reads like a sports column, no? It's like they are talking about how a team fared over the years in the standings of its league.

What is up with that?

This is ABCNews! This is the Associated Press! These are the pinacle sources of 'news' in this country! And, they're reporting on national statesmen as if they were athletes vying for the record books with their accumulation and averages of popularity points!

So, here's the question to make you stay up at night: is the alleged 'news' media cynically reporting on politicians like this because they believe that Americans are that stupid, are they doing this because *they* (the reporters and editors themselves) are that stupid, or is the American public, in generally, really that stupid? Perhaps the national contest for the White House really is nothing more than a pageant and the results have no more meaning in our daily lives than who wins the Miss America contest. I don't know.

Either way, I'm very unhappy about this. Grrrr.

Posted by at 07:56 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits , Tidbits III
 January 10, 2001
Serendipity

Just today, I had to wrap up writing a scene from The Do Over for tonight's writing class. In the scene, it's a pleasant family Christmas event, and I wanted to convey how everybody is happy and jolly and ignorant and at the same time indicate that that happiness and jolliness and ignorance are all about to be shattered.

Brian, the main character, has given his father a t-shirt. The t-shirt reads "If ignorance is bliss, this must be Eden."

We first see the t-shirt at the same time as Brian puts one of his own Christmas gifts on the record player: the Beatles album, "Help!"

("When I was younger, so much younger than today, I never needed anybody's help in any way...")

Anyway, we'll find out at tonight's critique whether I successfully manage to do this foreshadowing thing effectively. In the meantime, though, I was very surprised to find that one of my teammates at work had left a coaster on my desk that they had picked up at a local restaurant. There's a quote on the coaster that reads: "If ignorance is bliss, why aren't there more happy people?"

I know that *she* was commenting on the happiness factor at work (...well, not "the" happiness factor; *my* happiness factor... or, possibly, my *ignorance* factor...), but I thought it was funny how it also so directly related to the scene I've been writing. Thus is the synchronicity I encounter in my life on a daily basis.

Posted by at 07:25 PM in the following Department(s): Novel-in-Progress , Tidbits , Tidbits II
 December 28, 2000
Person of the Year

Just a little observation today, as I have much else to do, but have you noticed that being picked as Time's "Person of the Year" is not usually a harbinger of good things to come?

Example: Ted Turner, President of Turner Communications and Ted Turner Industries, was Time Magazine's "Person of the Year" in 1991. You know what happened after that? His company got onto shaky ground and he had to be bought out. By whom? Time Warner. Ted Turner became an employee of Time Warner four years after being Person of the Year.

Last year's "Person of the Year" was Jeff Bezos, the founder and President of Amazon.com. Copies of that cover can be seen all along the hallways of Amazon's various corporate headquarter buildings. This creates a spooky "Jeff is Watching You" feeling reminiscent of a certain George Orwell novel. One year later, Amazon's stock is worth about one tenth what it was a year ago, and Jeff's not laughing as much as he used to. (For those of you who don't know, Mr. Bezos is famous for his laugh. Just like Bill Gates is famous for rocking back and forth on the edge of his seat like a nervous first-grader who has to go to the bathroom.)

Anyway, this year's "Person of the Year" is President Elect George W. Bush. I'm not quite sure why... I mean, what has he done this year that was so compelling? He won an election. Presidential elections happen every four years, and sooner or later, someone is declared the winner for each of them. This year, it was Bush. Would Vice President Gore be gracing the cover if *he* had won? I don't get it.

So, the President-elect graces the cover of Time Magazine with a very dubious honor. Let us hope that President Bush does better with his administration than President Bezos has done with Amazon. Or, for that matter, better than President Turner has done with his own organization. I'd hate for the US government to be taken over by the guys at Time Warner.

Posted by at 02:10 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits , Tidbits III
 December 05, 2000
RASP poem: "Cog"

So, on the first Saturday of every month there's a little event at Victor's Coffee House in quaint downtown Redmond called RASP: the Redmond Assosiation of SPokenword. With spelling like that, you can understand why they favor the spoken word.

As a general rule, each month's proceedings feature a guest reader (always a poet of one kind or another), and then there's also an open mike before and afterward. However, three times a year, RASP hosts an "Island Style Slam", which is a special kind of poetry slam. Here's how it works:

Each participant puts in a couple bucks and receives three words in exchange. The participants then have twenty minutes to compose a poem using those three words. You may trade *sets* of words with others, but not individual words. The participants are called up in random order to read their work. Three judges score the performers on creative use of the words, composition of the poem, and delivery style. After everyone's done, the scores are tabulated and the top five get up to do it again. From these five, the top three winners are determined; the top three split the money.

Since I'm known for overdoing it, I decided this month to try for all nine words from the three different sets that were handed out, and I tried to compose a poem that used all nine words in two three-line stanzas. It was a fun experiment.

The nine words: mirror, lean, savage, wrinkle, machine, hallelujah, cusp, adjacent, and motor.

The poem was inspired by teenage angst (which tends to pervade poetry slams). I dedicated it to the teens in the audience, and told them that it represents something they have to look forward to.

Note: For the first time ever (okay, okay... out of two tries), I placed in the top five. Must have been the delivery. :)

...but, no, I did not walk home with the money.

As I lean into the mirror Another savage wrinkle Hallelujah, I'm a cog in the machine

At the cusp of understanding
Gotta keep that motor running
Adjecent to, but never reach my dream

Posted by at 12:07 AM in the following Department(s): Poetry , Tidbits , Tidbits II
 November 30, 2000
What I'm up to these days

Wanna see what I'm up to these days? Check out the Wireless Store at Amazon.com.

In other news, the novel is flailing. Flail, goes the novel. See the novel flail? Flail, novel, flail.

Oh, and there's one more thing I needed to mention. A bunch of us at work went out for dinner a couple nights ago, and one of the gang mentioned that he used to work as a chef at a restaurant. Turns out that if a steak is somehow not quite up to snuff, it gets thrown into a pile called "save for well done." The "save for well done" pile is the skankiest steak that they have that may still be fit to serve humans, because they figure (correctly) that less-than-choice meat will be less noticeable once it's charred, and very very noticeable if it's served less-so. People who really enjoy their steak tend to order it medium rare or so.

So, if you order your steak well done... you're getting skanky meat. Just thought you'd like to know.

:)

Posted by at 05:59 PM in the following Department(s): Novel-in-Progress , Tidbits , Tidbits II
 November 16, 2000
The Greed Decade

Remember how the commie pinko liberals among us call or have called the '80's the Decade of Greed. Well, my friends, allow me to set the record straight.

The 90's will ultimately be remembered as the decade of greed. While philanthropy (both as an absolute dollar value and as a percentage of income) was up in the 80's, the 90's marked a particularly dark corner in the American psyche. This is nowhere more apparent than in the high tech sector, where young "players" in the stock market speculated wildly on the dot com stocks and college grads with comp. sci. degrees hopped from job to job based solely upon the salary and -- more importantly -- the all-important stock option grant.

When I write my book called "Dot Com", it will feature these catch-phrases that typify life in the high tech industry in the waning days of the 20th century:

"Yes, but how'd the stock do?"

"But, how'd the stock do?"

"They did what? How'd the stock do?"

As the market continues to correct itself, and the day traders are losing their shirts, it becomes all the more obvious just how much the "gimme" attitudes of the 90's are leading us (as a nation) into some hard times ahead.

And, more to the point, I didn't get to participate in any of that ephemeral success. Bummer.

Posted by at 06:07 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits , Tidbits III
 November 14, 2000
Not fair!

I was tooling around the "Friends and Family" portion of the Amazon site when I chanced upon Jehan Semper's entry. (Jehan created the software that enables me to easily update this website, so be nice to her.)

It turns out that she's posted one product review, which has received a few postive responses, and then the site gave her "review ranking." I then flipped back to my page, noticed that I'd posted four reviews, got twice as many positive responses as she had, but my review ranking was way lower! Unfair!

Too bad I'm so competitive. Now, I'm going to have to go ahead and review more products, just to try to up my review score.

I was once told that I would do the most amount of work for the least amount of money, given the chance. Here, Amazon has me writing reviews for free, all because of that silly ranking system. Sheesh.

Posted by at 11:28 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits
 November 09, 2000
Friends, Romans, Countrymen... What do you want for Christmas?

Hi, gang. This is an open letter from me to you.

What do you want for Christmas? Give me some ideas. My family used to put together little starter lists to give people hints as to the kinds of gifts that might go over particularly well. (Of course, I always listed a new supercomputer, but noone ever got me one. Oh, well.)

So, it's getting to be that time of year again, and my Mom (hi, Mom!) recently sent out a request for suggestions again. Lucky me, I've been building such a list all this time. The wish list I've been putting together on my Amazon account happens to double as a handy dandy "here are gift ideas!" list. When I see something I'd like to buy for myself down the road, I add it to the wish list. And, those handy little things can be set to be viewable by others.

Why do I mention this? No, it's not *just* a shameless plug for presents. (although, no reasonable presents will be refused.) Rather, I'm motivated by one simple thing:

YOU PEOPLE ARE HARD TO SHOP FOR!

There's nothing selfish about giving me a hint as to what kinds of things you might like, you know. Help me out, here! Lemme know what you want for Christmas. Amazon, CDNow, and I'm sure many other on-line stores have excellent little "wish list" features. Use 'em!

Yours,
Santa Allan

Posted by at 03:55 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits
 November 06, 2000
Another Brick in the Wall

Meg and I went to high school together (along with about 300 other kids in our class, I think), and we used to lament to each other about how The System seemed geared toward Conformity. The System was designed to squash all creativity and individuality, turning out cookie cutter people who thought and acted in the same way.

We hated it.

Recently, I've been reading over old journals (a few of my characters in The Do Over are school-aged, and I'm trying to get their voices right), and it's stunning to realize just how seriously I (and, I asssume, we all) took everything. Jeez, kiddo! Lighten up!

Except, on a day like today, as I ponder issues with my job and with my quality of life, I wonder: were we really so far off the mark back then? I don't think the fear of becoming another cog in the wheel ever left, but we certainly don't articulate it much these days.

Hey, Meg. Did you ever find any answers? I could sure use them right now.

Posted by at 12:24 PM in the following Department(s): Novel-in-Progress , Tidbits , Tidbits II

Copyright (c)1998 - 2010 by Allan Rousselle. All rights reserved, all wrongs reversed, all reservations righted, all right, already.
Click here to send me mail.

The author. January, 2010.
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