December 31, 2004

Tsunami news

Beyond the official news, excellent personal accounts and on-site coverage are being reported by blog journalists. BoingBoing has some good info:

December 29, 2004

Internet Deprivation

We're becoming so accustomed to using the Internet as our source for news, entertainment, and communication that when we're someplace without Internet access it's like being without a newspaper, without a phone. Visiting family with only dialup (or nothing at all) can be both an experience in slow culture and excruciating separation.

And the nicest thing one can do for visiting relatives and friends is to offer them time with your broadband. :)

December 12, 2004

Fleece blankets

I really, really like my fleece blankets. I have one for the couch that keeps me warm when my husband:

  • has the windows open because it's cool outside
  • has the air conditioning on because it's warm outside
  • thinks the inside temperature of our condo should resemble a walk-in cooler

I also have another fleece blanket for bed -- allowing me to sleep in my own personal zone of warmth.

A few nights ago I was up late, reading online, with couch blanket wrapped around me. Then I went to bed, and almost walked in to the bedroom with couch blanket. Oh no! By now, couch blanket and bed blanket must be sworn enemies. I had visions of a blanket-anti-blanket explosion. Isn't this the kind of thing that happens on Star Trek? I'm lucky I didn't open the door; I'm fresh out of dilithium crystals.

December 09, 2004

So what's the deal with Blogger tonight?

I tried to log in for twenty minutes and gave up. I read that Google was making some improvements but I don't think this counts. (ha)

December 07, 2004

Back in Black

It's been a while since I last wrote...busy with classes, foolishness at work, fighting with a dip into a minor bit of depression.

My employer is three or four months into a lingering reorganization. The latest news is that, as of January 1, I'll officially have two levels of no management. Both my immediate supervisor's position and the supervisor above are unfilled.

Right now I only have one level of no management (since my boss was called up to military service in May). I guess they think we're doing such a great job on our own that they've decided to give us more of the same (HA).

I've had to deal with bouts of real depression before, so I know this phase wasn't bad at all by comparison. But since I was lingering on the edge of getting serious with it, I ended up increasing my antidepressants for a while. Until I realized I was having side effects from the higher dosage, and backed down to my normal level again. But it helped me over the hump, and I'm dealing with things better again.

I've been on antidepressants for several years now. According to what I've read, people with epilepsy have strong tendencies toward depression. It might be associated with epilepsy itself, or the meds we take to prevent seizures, or maybe both.

I do know that I grew up with recurring depressive feelings since I was very young -- so it's not the meds alone. I thought that it was normal to experience life that way. I was an adult before I had gained enough life experience and perspective to see that my point of view was different from others', and to decide to look for help.

October 04, 2004

Visiting the Elder One

ZipIt took me a long time to peck out this post with my beak.

Last weekend my family left me alone to guard the house and went to visit the Elder One of the flock. She is 95 years old and it was the anniversary of her hatch day. <squeak!>

I am 13 and I feel old already. I am no spring lovebird anymore.

While they were gone, it got dark and stormy. I was really happy when they came home a little early so I wasn't alone. It was another one of those darn hurricanes. Teletypeturtle sat next to me and gave me pets, and it made me feel better. I love my family.

September 24, 2004

Mountain Day at Mount Holyoke

Yesterday was Mountain Day at my alma mater, Mount Holyoke College. I hope my sister had a great day off.

Mountain Day is a wonderful, experience-the-moment tradition. The college president picks a day each fall when the weather is nice, the autumn leaves are colorful, and the day just cries out to be enjoyed.

It's always a secret until the last moment. We wait to hear the bell tower ring more than eight times at eight o'clock. When it does -- it's Mountain Day. Class is cancelled, and we all play hooky for a day.

In my sophomore year, we actually went to Mt. Holyoke and climbed the little mountain. That was probably the best Mountain Day I ever had. Somewhere I have a set of snapshots of us in our sweatshirts and jeans, my friends and I, hiking up the mountain and enjoying the view.

September 20, 2004

Learning a foreign language, the hard way

Communicating with Zip is a hit-and-miss affair. Sometimes I know exactly what he wants. But there are other times:
  • On Sunday afternoon, my husband was napping in his chair when Zip woke him with a great fuss of alarming chirps and squawks. The tone was clearly understood: Something is very wrong! But it took some time to figure out that the something was my red, reflective-lensed sunglasses -- which had been sitting on the table facing him all day long, but had just become a problem.

  • On Sunday evening, Zip was tucked away to sleep for the night. But about 10 p.m., he raises a ruckus, banging his food dish repeatedly with his beak. After a while he gives up and flaps his wings wildly in place, then goes back to sleep. The next morning, I discover that he has either eaten or thrown out almost all the food in his dish. Was this before or after the banging? Was the banging to signal he wanted more food? Or that he disliked the food he had?

September 15, 2004

New Bookstore!

Our new Barnes & Noble bookstore opened today. It's been "Opening Soon" for months. People were flowing in like travelers converging on an oasis. At last, Altamonte has its own lovely bookstore! Yum.

September 08, 2004

The real underground

Let me just say I am done with hurricanes for this year and do not wish to write about them any more. So we had just better not see any more come this way.

Of greater interest to me: the real underground, direct from Paris, where one can watch films and have a drink or some couscous with friends far from the madding crowd. All it takes is that adventuresome spirit, a good sense of direction, and a talent for avoiding the police.

Somehow the story reminds me of "good" hackers (as opposed to malicious ones). Of course, access to the city's underground could be used maliciously. But why bother, when it's so much more interesting to outsmart authority and have some private fun?

September 06, 2004

Rawk!

ZipPooh Frances! You're gone and I'm still here!

I squawk insults in your general direction.



September 05, 2004

Still raining

No kidding! It's letting up somewhat. There are some downed trees in our neighborhood but I don't feel like going outside in the rain to take a closer look. Some neighbors with dogs have been out (when you gotta go, you gotta go!).

Come on-a over to my house

It's been raining for over 12 hours now. No major damage visible in our neighborhood yet, and we still have electricity.

This little frog has decided that our porch ledge looks like a good place to hang out. I hope it stays that way.

September 04, 2004

Saturday night, 10 p.m.

The first rain bands began around 11 a.m. today. We've had rain on and off all day, but it looks like it's going to pick up in earnest soon.

News reports from the coast sound ominous. The Bahamas got hit pretty hard too - and are still getting hit, since Frances seems to have slowed to a crawl.

September 03, 2004

Home improvement, hurricane-style

Had to share this great comment from my friend Nigel, who just put a last-minute patch over the hole in his roof from Hurricane Charley.
I'm done with the roof. I was just up there making a last ditch effort. I used my neighbors' fence to board up my windows.. The fence had already fallen down anyway and their house is condemned so I figured, why not??

Waiting to get pummeled

Frances Sep 3 ForecastSo here we sit, Zip, husband, and I, waiting for Frances to come howling 'round the windows.

Wind, rain, and hail -- and hurricanes often spawn tornadoes as well. Most of our downstairs neighbors have sandbagged around their entry doors in the hope that, if we experience flooding, it won't be serious enough to creep in.

Some people have left town. There are some empty parking spaces around the neighborhood. At work, we distracted ourselves by debating the idea of leaving versus staying put.

But, really, where would we go?
  • The gas stations have almost universally run out of gas.
  • People who evacuate from the coastal areas generally come here first.
  • The interstate highways were bumper-to-bumper yesterday.
  • Frances is so large, I've heard forecasters compare it to the state of Texas. What's the point of getting on the road, just to ride out the storm in a hotel with strangers? We may as well be at home with neighbors and friends.
  • We live on the second floor on relatively high ground. If our actual home space were flooded, most of Florida would have to be underwater. More or less.
But hey, we've got electricity, for now. Bananas, popcorn, peanut butter, tuna fish. Candles and a radio that can be hand-cranked to run. At least six hours of battery power for the computer. And two full liters of vodka that we bought on vacation, duty-free!

September 02, 2004

Freaky Frances

ZipMy mom (that's what I like to call Teletypeturtle) is worried about Frances. She keeps looking at the news and the computer, and filling the freezer with ice. I think she should pet me some more. That will make both of us feel better. <squeak>

August 31, 2004

Hurricane, vacation, hurricane?

Vacation was great -- will post a picture or two if I have any that look decent at small sizes. But now Hurricane Frances threatens.

If Frances comes our way, it's likely she'll hit from the opposite direction as Charley. I guess it would be too much to hope that she would blow things that are now leaning eastward back to vertical again. :-)

My friend Nigel has a hole in his roof caused by a fallen tree. I hope Frances doesn't head our way because things could get pretty damp in his house. (And for many others.)

August 26, 2004

Zip rants about pellets and jail

ZipChirp! I can't believe my flock went on vacation and left me at the jail that they call my 'hotel.' Again. They know that the jail people don't feed me the right size food. They give me those little scrawny pellets. I want big manly pellets. Those little things are not food. I will not lower my beak to consume them!

I saw that Teletypeturtle brought a bag of my manly pellets with me to the jail. But I ended up with piddly little pellets by the end of the week anyways. I was so perturbed. I didn't even beak her a friendly hello when she came to release me from jail. That's what she gets for not taking me. So there.

August 15, 2004

The lucky ones

We didn't even lose our electricity, although it flickered a lot. I guess after the last time it failed in a storm (on Easter Sunday) the power gods fixed it really well because they didn't want to be out here on a holiday again.

A lot of people in our area are lacking power, some are lacking clean water as well. But we're all fortunate compared to those in Charlotte County, where Charley made landfall.

Living in coastal areas is always a gamble (we were there once) but the scenery is worth it! Some people don't fully understand the risk, especially if they're new to Florida. And even if you do know what's coming, there's only so much you can do.

August 14, 2004

See ya, Charley

Charley's left us safe and sound, fortunately with only minor damage and no one injured in our neighborhood as far as we know. A little property damage here and there:


A few more trees broken. Sorry about the lens flare on the photo of the second tree. The sun came out as I was taking that picture -- but it's pretty amazing as the tree top is snapped right off.



There's a lot of debris scattered in the roadways and a lot of cleanup to do.


But this is my favorite. This morning I discovered that we had a refugee in our kitchen. A moth had sneaked in and spent the storm sheltering with us. The mystery now is -- how do I get him back outside without harming him?

August 13, 2004

Part of a fallen tree

This is the (part of a) fallen tree I posted about earlier. Click for a larger view. It fell right between the parked cars and the condo building, and no one was hurt.

The 'real stuff' should be heading our way in a few hours.

Good news from Mom in Fort Myers. They still have telephone service, though no electric. The main part of the storm itself has passed, but they're getting a heck of a lot of rain. The storm surge is now moving on land there. They're watching the drainage ponds in the center of their complex visibly rise. The walkways are already under water.

Hurricane Charley approaches

That's not mist in the distance -- it's a torrent of rain falling as one of the leading storms generated by Hurricane Charley flew over our neighborhood.

Just a minute or so before I took this photo, a large branch fell off the tree in the center of the picture and thudded to the ground. Fortunately it looks like it fell in a grassy area next to the building.

My husband was on the phone with his mother in Fort Myers as she lost power. Fortunately she's on the fourth floor of her condo, so at least we know she won't get flooded out. We're in Orlando, which until a few hours ago seemed to be in for nothing more than heavy rain and tropical winds. Now it looks like Charley wants to see Mickey Mouse.

August 11, 2004

Ways to wear a lame ID badge: Croc Hunter

Croc Hunter: The Croc Hunter wears his lame ID badge and lanyard casually lashed around a front belt loop. He's ready a moment's notice to pull it free and use it to tie a crocodile's jaws closed, right after wrestling it to the ground.

But crocodiles are rare here in Florida. He's more likely to see a gator -- or a Gainesville Gator, for that matter. The natural enemy of the Gainesville Gator is, of course, the Seminole.

August 10, 2004

Ways to wear a lame ID badge: Ring Around the Collar

Ring Around the Collar: She's less than five feet tall, so the lame ID badge --unassisted -- ends up hanging somewhere around her navel. So she loops the lanyard around her neck and then clips the lame badge itself to the tip of her polo shirt's collar.

August 09, 2004

Ways to wear a lame ID badge: The Obedient, The Hanger-On, and Stealth

My employer has issued ID badges to all staff. Naturally they are not the same cards that let us in the building.

While employee safety is paramount, of course, we're not going to spend too much money on ID cards. Instead, HR went around with an outdated digital camera taking pictures of staff. They laid out the digital pix in a Word template, printed with a color laser printer, and laminated them. Wow: ID badges that could be counterfeited by grade-schoolers!

The Obedient is the first pose that I saw around the building: ID badges hanging politely from the supplied lanyards like nooses around their necks.

The Hanger-On is more to my taste, where the lame badge is clipped to the very bottom of one's shirt tail, as if it might fall off and be lost forever at any moment. Oops! How did that happen?

Stealth holds to the letter of the policy while delightfully flouting the spirit. It states that the badges must be "worn," but neglects to specify whether they must be worn in a visible area. Therefore, Stealth wears his badge clipped to the inside of his pants pocket.

I've only begun to catalog the variety of opposition to this dictum! I must continue to roam the halls and blog my discoveries.

August 08, 2004

Creativity is not just a word

Hugh MacLeod at gapingvoid is running a wonderful thread on creativity that gets better every day. His business card cartoons are pretty cool too.

August 03, 2004

Whose land is it?

JibJab said, "This Land is Your Land," and it was good.

And the Ludlow lawyers were wroth, saying, "Guthrie said it first."

Now the EFF saith, "Not so fast."

And Arlo, son of the Guthrie, thinks dad would be amused.

Phoning for pizza, the total-surveillance way

The ACLU has a creepy and cool Flash video illustrating the future of a "total-surveillance" society if we don't get some better privacy legislation enacted.

August 01, 2004

Moonly Froghopping

Tonight the sky is rich. The moon is haloed in diffusing silverlight. Humidity works such magic: softly the moth-white lunar disk bleeds into the darkness.

A frogling hops up the cement walk. She's tiny, brown and perfect -- or was she a he? Either way, she leaves me standing in the dark, looking down at the walk and up at the moon.

July 27, 2004

Nerdly CSS Page Magic

I had some fun this weekend walking through a tutorial at A List Apart on creating "liquid layout" Web pages using just CSS and <div> tags, no tables required. A nerdly thing to do, alas, but I confess I enjoyed it.

Now only if Microsoft would update IE so it actually worked to standard. I love my Firefox browser at home, but have to use IE at work. Corporate standard and all that.

July 26, 2004

Woodpecker!

We looked at each other through the office window for a while, and I struck up a conversation.

I invited him in to help with debugging our Web site, but he wasn't interested.

It seems we don't have enough grubs in our server.

July 25, 2004

Read: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering GeniusI have to rate A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius as only moderately tasty. Some parts were great...others made me cringe. Eggers is unflinchingly honest, except, of course, when he admits he's just making it up. Writing this book must have been both agonizing and cathartic.

I liked his approach to the issue of a writer's privacy (or lack of it, as some have seen it.) Blogger-critics are most incensed by intimate, private blogs. Most are dross. But when they're good, they draw us in like moths to flame. And as Eggers says:
...but after all that, what, in the end, have I given you? It seems like you know something, but you still know nothing. I tell you and it evaporates. I don't care—how could I care?
We feel that to reveal embarrassing or private things ... we have given someone something...that revealing our habits or losses or deeds somehow makes one less of oneself. But it's just the opposite, more is more is more—more bleeding, more giving.
Reminds me of a Sting song, "Nothing 'Bout Me."

July 18, 2004

The Orange Who Ruled the World

The Orange, by Benjamin Rosenbaum, is a quick, tantalizing, mesmerizing read. And completely online. Check it out.

July 17, 2004

Words of Wisdom from Dubya

"I'm honored to shake the hand of a brave Iraqi citizen who had his hand cut off by Saddam Hussein."
—George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., May 25, 2004
Thanks to Pure Land Mountain :-)

July 11, 2004

Now reading: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering GeniusI've just started A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. If you read this book, look for commentary in the most unlikely places. Like the copyright notice.

The first chapter dives right in to his mother's illness. It's clear where the "heartbreaking" part of the title might be going here. Well written, but I'm getting so depressed just reading and feeling this story (and knowing he lived it) that I'm not sure if I can keep reading.

I is a graduate student

My tenure as a graduate student officially began Saturday. The program is designed for working students, with Saturday-only classes that last all day. I'm not sure I'd have time for it any other way, but after a full day of class interaction I was wiped out. I intended to do classwork today (Sunday) but I'm still recovering.

July 06, 2004

Frogstock

Frogstock. A legion of festive frogs sings in the night.

Sophie's World

Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy. Tasty! cover: Sophie's World
An intriguing book on several levels, though not light reading. Sophie's story surrounds a course in philosophy from the early Greeks to modern times; the author does an excellent job putting the essence (or highlights?) of complicated topics into stories and examples that are approachable. After all, Sophie (the recipient of this course) is only 15. Along the way, the story itself becomes rather philosophical, as the nature of the characters themselves and their reality is called into question.

Definitely worth reading if you've had any interest in philosophy but had difficulty getting into some of the concepts. After reading Sophie's World, I finally understand those references to Plato's "world of forms". And I prefer Sartre (though Berkeley sounded interesting too).

July 05, 2004

Thou shalt not beak walls!

Zip: Thou shalt not beak walls!My lovebird Zip is 13 years old and he's never done this before.

He was wandering about (under my watchful eyes) after a shower under the faucet and decided to begin exploring the corner of the wall with his beak. The wall, mind you, which I had just painted yesterday evening.

"NO!" I exclaimed. "Thou shalt NOT beak walls! That is NOT allowed!"

He just looked back at me, of course. I could speak Klingon as far as vocabulary counts, but the tone does help. It was clear that I was not pleased. He stopped for all of five seconds.

Normally I would herd him back to his cage at this point, but that option was not available since I was in the middle of cleaning said cage. Next strategy: Place some large and vaguely scary objects between Zip and the tasty-looking wall corner, like Kleenex boxes and liquid soap bottles.

My dear Zip is a bird of little brain. If I'm lucky, he'll have forgotten about this episode by the next time he exits his cage.

Does your 'God' beat up their 'God' ?

Farmers bare all for 'rain God', CNN reports. It's the quotes that get me. The Nepalese doing the baring take their beliefs seriously. The single quotes around 'rain God' are condescending and snide.

Imagine the uproar if CNN ran this headline: Christians pray to 'God'. Flame me not. I'm illustrating the point.

July 04, 2004

Happiness is a sleeping bird

Happiness is a sleeping birdFortunately Zip is here to remind me that nothing is worth getting too cranked about.

It's always a good time to nap. He lets me know this by grinding his beak, making a little whispery rasp that says all is well in his little birdy world. Naps are interrupted to snack, to groom feathers, to exercise one's lungs and wings, to bathe, etc.

At bedtime it is time to be covered up. It is time to chirp loudly until one's human obeys quickly and covers the wire cage home with the nice, dark, opaque blanket cover. Then the whispery rasp and sleep can begin again.

Now reading: Sophie's World

Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy. Last weekend I was in Maryland for a ColdFusion conference. I detest traveling alone. It throws me into a survival-level tension, where I obsess over where my next meal is coming from. I find myself swimming through a crowd of strangers from one session to the next, and I am too busy coping to be more than marginally sociable. Chit-chat I can handle, but I eat alone.

cover: Sophie's World So when I discovered a Barnes and Noble down the street from the hotel, I was giddy. A safe place that felt like home, where I could hang out for the rest of the evening after dinner. I browsed through summer reading, bestsellers, Gibson and Gaiman, but I ended up buying this book. My excuse was that I didn't use cash, I used a gift card that was a birthday present. And after a full day of tech talk, I needed to balance my brain. As the Pythons would say, "And now for something completely different."

June 30, 2004

Haiku by beaver

Castor the beaver proudly asserts, "I spit haikus like rappers spit rhymes."
The birch tree stands tall
Castor prepares for winter
Birch tree is splintered
Get acquainted with Castor at cede. Castor's haiku happens to be located in the comments to this entry, but Castor's full story is featured in the sidebar links.

June 28, 2004

Life of Pi: Adrift but not lost

A friend loaned me her copy of Life of Pi. A very enjoyable book! I'm not revealing anything more than the book cover when I say that Pi manages to survive following a shipwreck on a lifeboat he must share with a full-grown tiger. Strong threads of plausibility and the author's vivid language and imagination made the story work for me.

Life of PiI liked Pi's return-question, when he's being challenged about the truthfulness of his account: Which is the better story? Pi himself knows that his words are hard to fathom. He could bow to expectations, compose an alternate version, one that might sound more like what other people expect. But, he says:
The world isn't just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no? Doesn't that make life a story?

June 24, 2004

Mystery moth

This is one heck of a moth. It's around four inches across (10 cm), maybe a little larger, and resting quietly outside my front doorway.
Mystery Moth
You just never know what to expect here in Florida. Some people lose their pet dogs to alligators living in those pretty little ponds behind their homes. Mostly, snakes won't bother you if you won't bother them. And the poisonous ones are in the minority. I think.

I do like the lizards. But they might eat moths.

June 23, 2004

Dear RIAA: Libraries are not landfills

I found this story via BoingBoing.
BoingBoing: As part of the antitrust settlement against the RIAA, the record labels are obliged to donate a large number of discs to public libraries. Rather than giving America's libraries decent music, the RIAA is dumping the worst deletes and cutouts in their warehouses...and blaming it all on a computer error:
MSNBC: The Des Moines (Iowa) Public Library was on track to take the lead in redundancies....Its crate of 2,647 CDs, due to arrive in the next couple weeks, was listed as containing 430 single-song discs — 16 percent of the total -- of Whitney Houston singing "The Star Spangled Banner" at the 1991 Super Bowl, according to Steve Cox, of the Iowa State Library.
The Shifted Librarian: 382 of our 1325 settlement CDs are "new"; all the rest are either cut-outs/remainders, or in the case of three titles, "promotional use only" CDs (either stamped with that slogan or with the barcode punched BEFORE the cd was shrinkwrapped). That means 71.2% of what they sent us is stuff currently sold in remainder bins.

June 22, 2004

Got wonga?

Cool OED Word of the Day: wonga is British slang that originated with the Romani as a word for coal or money.
2001 Arena Aug. 47 A means of flaunting your wealth that works on two levels: not only you can afford this, you've even got enough wonga left over to make it worth owning.

June 21, 2004

My little green teenager

My lovebird Zip is 13 years old today, making him a teenager. It's hard to believe I've had this little ball of feathers in my life for 13 years.

For the first few weeks, Zip and his brother Zap just huddled in the bottom of their cage in a little clump. Soon they discovered their hearty little lungs, and I've been living with squawks, squeaks, and chirps ever since.

Zap passed away at about eight years old, after some type of illness that lingered for several months. He was a sweet bird too, but he had a habit of picking his tail and neck feathers that made him more vulnerable to germs. On the other hand, not having a tail gave him some advantages over his brother. He could hang upside down from the top of the cage like a bat!

Zip was mostly a hands-off pet until the last time we moved, November of last year. Now, he just can't get enough head-scratching. Every morning he cuddles up to the front corner of his cage, looking cute and pathetic, and makes little rusty squeaks. This means that he wants his head scratched and his neck rubbed.

June 19, 2004

What future? I don't even wear a watch.

I just finished reading The Unfinished Revolution: How to Make Technology Work for Us--Instead of the Other Way Around. This one is for a class, so it's outside the range of my usual reading list. Basically it's a manifesto on how computers could be made easier to use by making them more "human-centric" -- fitting the computer system to the way people need to use them, instead of forcing people to learn how to work to fit the computer.

The author, Michael Dertouzos, was head of MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science, so his examples are filled with his own actual experiences using (guinea pigging?) experimental computer applications developed by colleagues. There's a flight-reservation system that operates on speech recognition technology instead of keyboard input, and a "meaning processor" that attempts to spider information as you use it and tag meaning on your behalf to create an ever-expanding index.

The ideas are interesting, but they seem too future-oriented to be of near-term interest to me. Somehow, the technologies required for his vision -- speech recognition, automation scripts, advanced information indexing ("Semantic Web"), easy and effortless collaboration across language and OS barriers -- all without hackers or virii wiping us all back to the Victorian era somewhere in the middle -- seem unlikely to spread to the average consumer and small business level anytime soon.

But "Good thought," as my high-school chemistry teacher always said when we had a decent, but wrong, answer.

These things take time. Personally, I'd just rather wait and see what happens. Guess that's why I'm not an Internet billionaire.

Fortunately, in a May 2001 Computerworld interview Dertouzos suggested a bit more clearly what we can do now as opposed to then:
Can you automate stuff people do that does not require intelligence, so you can relieve them of this work? Can you help your people work across space and time more effectively? Can you customize your systems to your people's individual needs?
Now that I might be able to work on.

June 16, 2004

What is a pet peeve, anyway?

Pet peeve: Just had to share a great page full of ways to combat junk mail, junk phone calls, etc. I detest spammers in all forms.

So if you were wondering about those Peeves and how they could possibly be anyone's pets -- the Word Detective can enlighten you.
A "peeve" is something that annoys or irritates you, and since irritation is a highly individual emotion, one's "peeve" mileage may vary from one's neighbor's.
  *   *   *   *   *
The precise derivation of "peevish" is uncertain, but it may be related to the Latin "perversus," meaning "reversed, perverse." The original meaning of "peevish" was simply "silly or foolish," but by about 1530 it had acquired the sense of "irritable, ill-tempered or fretful." Surprisingly, it then took several hundred years to develop "peeve" as the word for the irritating agent or action. "Pet peeve," meaning the one thing that annoys you more than anything else, first appeared around 1919. The "pet" (in the sense of "favorite") formulation probably owes its popularity and longevity to its mild perversity ("favorite annoyance" is a bit oxymoronic) as well as its snappy alliteration.
The Word Detective's site is fun to surf if you like words and sayings ... too bad my local newspaper doesn't carry this column. It looks like fun Sunday reading.

As for Peeves, the perverse poltergeist of Harry Potter fame -- he's aptly named based on the derivation above. There's a great little scene in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban where Lupin turns the tables on Peeves by executing a quick zinger of a spell that turns Peeves's prank-in-progress onto Peeves himself. Too bad it didn't make the movie. It would only have taken 30 seconds of screen time. And it really takes one prankster -- even if somewhat reformed -- to so effectively take on another. It supports Lupin's character and history as Moony, and his practical approach to teaching Defense against the Dark Arts. And it's fun too. :-)

June 10, 2004

Read your brain quirky

People who read too many books get quirky.
from The Underground History of American Education, by John Taylor Gatto
In a good way: We resist being categorized, analyzed, demographized, and otherwise turned into good little consumers and worker bees.

I consumed a light mystery on the way to the wedding this past weekend. Mangrove Squeeze is set in Key West, so it seemed appropriate to pass on to my sister for her honeymoon there. Not terribly deep, but amusing -- a run-down guest house, Russian mafia and T-shirt shops, two homeless fellows who live in a hot dog, and an arthritic dog... beach reading for sure.

June 08, 2004

Weekend Highlights!

Just got back in town, late last night.

The midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on Friday a.m. did not disappoint. The Marauder's Map and Buckbeak were probably the best special effects of the movie. I give a close third to the little seasonal Whomping Willow scenes just for their humor. (Anybody notice the owl tracks in the Owlery during the closing credits? Or the transforming human-dog tracks?)

I wasn't totally thrilled with the Patronus effect; I guess I wanted the final version to be a bit more similar to the way I had imagined it from the book. A lot of detail had to be left out, by necessity, to keep the movie manageable, but I think the director (Cuaron) did a good job keeping to the spirit of the story. Too bad they didn't keep the final Quidditch match, though, with Harry helping Gryffindor win the Cup.

The wedding went off well; my sister is happily married and off in the Keys enjoying the sun. Not getting sunburned, I hope.

June 02, 2004

Two days 'till Harry, three days 'till the wedding bells ring

My sister is getting married on Saturday -- so as a prelude to the big event, nine of us are going to a midnight showing of the new Harry Potter movie. Woo hoo! My sister, neatly organized engineer that she is, has prepared a neatly organized schedule for Friday and Saturday that starts with breakfast on Friday morning at 9:30. After a midnight movie? Hmmm.

I just finished re-reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban for the umpteenth time. I'm trying to guess what will be cut to keep the movie a reasonable length (after all, this isn't LOTR). I think most of the Buckbeak's-trial subplot will be lost or shortened. Hermione guessing at Lupin's identity (with Snape's hints) may get shortened. And some of Ron and Hermione's arguments over Crookshanks and Scabbers.

And how about the two Quidditch games featured in the story? They're fun to read, but don't seem to advance the plot tremendously (other than Harry's opportunity to send a Patronus after Malfoy's fake Dementors). But emotionally, they do make a big difference in Harry's sense of accomplishment in the school year. I think maybe they'll stay, if only because Quidditch is a big part of the fun of the series. As is watching Malfoy get his just desserts.

June 01, 2004

Whatever happened to the perfectly good word "Frizzle"?

As seen in The Gallery of Regrettable Food 3.0 : one of Fibber McGee's favorites!

Thanks to FloridaGirl for pointing out this Web site.

Feeling bad about your score on a standardized test?

Don't -- read this instead.
...for those of you who believe in testing, school superintendents as a class are virtually the stupidest people to pass through a graduate college program, ranking fifty-one points below the elementary school teachers they normally "supervice," (on the Graduate Record Examination), and about eighty points below secondary-school teachers, while teachers themselves as an aggregate finish seventeenth of twenty occupational groups surveyed. The reader is of course at liberty to believe this happened accidentally, or that the moon is composed of blue, not green, cheese as is popularly believed. It's also possible to take this anomaly as conclusive evidence of the irrelevance of standardized testing. Your choice.
From The Underground History of American Education, Prologue, by John Taylor Gatto

May 31, 2004

Some people can't recognize Mayberry when it bites them on the, um, nose

Mount Dora, Florida is a relatively small town. Population 9418, according to the census taken in 2000.

The holiday-weekend news must have been slow yesterday in Orlando, because they decided to lead both the evening and late-night news with the same story of a police shooting in Mount Dora. Which was especially funny by 11:00 p.m., because it appeared that everyone had gone home except the reporters.

Linwood Davis, age 70, was pulled over by police for driving erratically. He shoved an officer and fled the scene.

Now, here's where the Mayberry angle comes in. Apparently, Davis had had run-ins with the Mount Dora police in the past. And like I said, Mount Dora is a small town. It relies heavily on weekend tourists shopping downtown, and there are a lot of pedestrian-friendly areas. So rather than engage in a vehicle pursuit -- the Mount Dora police just went to Davis's residence and waited for him to come home. Which he presently did.

When police approached Davis outside his apartment complex, he drew a gun, and shots were fired. Davis was shot in the thigh, but fortunately he should recover. No one else was injured. Guess what all the news types have to talk about? Yep -- police shooting.

Which is what happened, I guess. But I liked the first part better.

If you care, here's an 'official' account at the Orlando Sentinel:
Gunfire ends Mount Dora altercation
They'll make you register to read it. Give them fake information.

May 30, 2004

Five days 'till Harry

I'm re-reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in advance of the movie release next week. So I know what's been left out, I guess. Part of the fun.

May 29, 2004

Midnight at the Well of Souls

A Bookcrossing book that I finished this week. The author is creative with alien species -- even sentient plants and silicon-based life forms are included in the mix. The cover art on this copy is fairly hideous. In any case, the original copyright date is 1977, and the book is still in print at Amazon, so it's outlasted poor choices at the publisher. Not a momentous work of fiction, but entertaining, with a nice twist at the end.

Midnight at the Well of Souls, by Jack Chalker

Blackbirds

I like blackbirds.

John Nash published a lovely haiku about a blackbird this week. I think he likes blackbirds, too.

May 28, 2004

A Message to Garcia

A Message to Garcia: Elbert Hubbard wrote this short essay in 1899. The occasion of this story, the Spanish-American War, is a footnote in history now. But the point Hubbard makes is still relevant: competence and initiative matter.

Hubbard was an interesting character. In 1895 he founded the Roycrofters, a semi-communal community of artists and craftspeople in East Aurora, New York. He and his wife were lost at sea in 1915 while travelling aboard the Lusitania. The ship was struck by a torpedo fired by a German U-boat and sank. Most of the passengers and crew perished.

A quote attributed to Hubbard:
Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped.

May 25, 2004

Read Hugo Award Nominees (short form categories) online free!

All of the 2003 Hugo Award nominees (short-form fiction: short stories, novelettes, and novellas) are now available online, FREE. Good stuff: This year's nominees include a short story by Neil Gaiman, "A Study in Emerald", which previously appeared in the anthology Shadows Over Baker Street. If you want to participate in voting but can't attend the conference, a voting-only membership is US $35.

This year's Retro Hugo Award nominee list, for fiction published in 1953, includes a link to online text for an Arthur C. Clarke short story, "The Nine Billion Names of God."

2003 Hugo Award Nominees Page (main)

May 24, 2004

So you think that's sailboat fuel you're breathing, hm?

Sailboat fuel: Reference used by truckers, pilots, etc., to describe an empty trailer or plane. "He's hauling sailboat fuel." Also can refer to someone’s intelligence. "He's got sailboat fuel for brains." Thanks to Buzzword of the Day... sign up here to get your own!

May 23, 2004

The God of Small Things

This book has won a lot of accolades (and even the Booker Prize), so I'll just say there are three specific things I liked about it.

Perspective
A good part of the story is told from Rahel's perspective as a girl, including the mangled descriptions that come from a child's limited understanding. It's integral to the feeling of the place and the story.
"If you ever," Ammu said, "and I mean this, EVER, ever again disobey me in Public, I will see to it that you are sent away to somewhere where you will jolly well learn to behave. Is that clear?"
When Ammu was really angry, she said Jolly Well. Jolly Well was a deeply well with larfing dead people in it.
    *    *    *    *    *
"Where d'you think people are sent to Jolly Well Behave?" Estha asked Rahel in a whisper.
"To the government," Rahel whispered back, because she knew.
Invented Words
There are some wonderfully descriptive passages, and my favorites are the ones with invented and jammed-together words. Wordplay is always fun.
During the funeral service, Rahel watched a small black bat climb up Baby Kochamma's expensive funeral sari with gently clinging curled claws. When it reached the place between her sari and her blouse, her roll of sadness, her bare midriff, Baby Kochamma screamed and hit the air with her hymnbook. The singing stopped for a "Whatisit? Whathappened?" and for a Furrywhirring and a Sariflapping.
The Story Isn't in Time Order, But It IS in Order of Importance
I get the impression that some writers move the last bit to the first just for the heck of it, to mix things up, maybe to confuse the reader on purpose or just because they think it's modern and hip to tell the story out of order. But while the story in The God of Small Things isn't told in direct linear order, in the end I was pleased with the story order because it was meaningful. A nice change!

The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy

May 22, 2004

What Time was meant for

Rahel's toy wristwatch had the time painted on it. Ten to two. One of her ambitions was to own a watch on which she could change the time whenever she wanted to (which according to her was what Time was meant for in the first place).
from The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy
Rahel is seven when she makes this observation. I like the idea of being able to set one's watch and thereby adjust the world. A nicely Nextian device. I mean really, what's the point of assigning names and numbers to every year, month, day, and hour if you can't pick and choose among them as you like?

One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night

Take one high-school reunion being held on a floating oil rig in the process of being converted to a vacation resort, and hosted by a classmate that no one seems to remember. Add a poorly coordinated group of mercenaries being paid to assault said oil rig, some of whom are former terrorists -- from opposing sides. And include the (involuntary) participation of a just-retired police detective who can't seem to avoid running into evidence of Very Bad Things happening in the neighborhood and offshore.

And the dark humor is great... from the first paragraph when I read about "liquidised mercenary raining splashily down" on Connor, and thought to myself, Huh? Is that what I think I just read? Yup. "He reached up reluctantly and wiped the gore from his eyelids..." Not for the squeamish. But if you can appreciate black humor, this book will have you laughing in your chair.

One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night, by Christopher Brookmyre
Author Christopher Brookmyre's Web site - look under Books for the first three chapters online!

Seventeen Ways to Eat a Mango

It's 1962. "J" is sent by his employer, a food-packing corporation, to investigate the mangoes on a remote island. His employer's interests are mercenary; J is a recent college grad, new to commercialism. So -- you've already guessed? -- this is a book about what's REALLY important, living in the present moment, enjoying daily pleasures....

I like treatments of this theme, which is why I couldn't resist pulling this little volume from my local library's shelf. It's roughly the size of a child's picture book, a little thicker, a little less tall, and very out of place in the adult fiction stacks.

But my favorite part of the book was J's frustration with losing track of the time and date as he attempts to journal his experiences.
Tuesday 11:43
I had to reread yesterday's entry just to make sure I didn't dream it last night. Last night? Has it only been two nights since I arrived here? My time is all messed up. I woke up today and the sun was high. I looked to see what time it was: 11:43. It took me hours to realize my watch had stopped. I shook it. Whacked it on my knee. It will say 11:43 until the end of time or until I get it to a watchmaker. A little while ago I stopped just short of pounding in its face with a coconut.
and later:
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday -- pick any one of the above. I give up on dating this thing.
That part just cracked me up. My husband's watch has been losing time for about a month now, and it's driving him nuts.

I went through "watch withdrawal" some years ago. I finally determined that watches kept breaking on me because we're just not compatible with each other. It's something about my skin in contact with the watch back that hoses up the innards. A cheap Timex lasts a year. A nice Seiko lasts about two years. Replacement batteries have diminishing returns with each successive round. I guess I have a magnetic personality, ha ha.

Seventeen Ways to Eat a Mango, by Joshua Kadison

May 21, 2004

tinywords: a daily hit of haiku, FREE

tinywords e-mails a haiku a day to subscribers around the world. It's FREE, and a nice little pick-me-up that usually arrives during the average US business day. You can even have it sent to your cell phone if you prefer... haiku are so tiny, they work well in text messages.

and did I mention it's free?

May 20, 2004

To whom do we write?

If I do not write to you I will write to no one, and if I write to no one then you see I write to no one. It is a very sorry state of affairs when there is no one on the other end. If a man pens a letter in the forest and no one reads it, has he written it?

from Disobedience, by Jane Hamilton
It's a question I ask myself, as I write this letter to no one. Everyone's blogging, but is anyone reading?

Well, yes -- I am. In the end, I write for myself, whether it's here on this Web page, or on the moist handmade-paper pages of the journal my sister gave me. The cover is made from a recycled purple sari, and when I angle it sideways in the lamplight, just the right way, it suddenly turns orange and gold like sunset.

And if you are reading this, maybe you find it interesting. Or not. ;-) Maybe I'll improve over time, and the newer entries will be visibly more entertaining than the old ones. Maybe, someday, I'll have found a new voice, or a new vocabulary, or given up prose altogether and devoted myself to off-color limericks and ale-drinking songs. Whatever it is, I hope I like it.

May 19, 2004

Homesick in an amputated landscape

I missed the shape in the near and far distance, of mountains, what was so grotesquely absent in the Midwest. I could never shake the idea that there must have been some kind of mutilation, an amputation, to reduce a countryside to such awful flatness. The clouds over the lake could only do so much for so long in a day to masquerade as landforms.
  *     *     *     *     *
I wanted to know if, after all the years away, she felt the same, if she missed the comfort, the safety, of the mountains.

from Disobedience, by Jane Hamilton
Disobedience is a Bookcrossing book -- an exercise in serendipity and literary addiction -- when I've finished with it, either I'll give it to someone else in particular, or just leave it in a public place to find its next reader on its own. I haven't decided yet.

I like Hamilton's description of the Midwestern plains as something mutilated -- as they are from the perspective of the narrator, a Vermont-born teen. For Henry, it isn't just about physical safety, living in the city instead of smaller, wilder places. What really scares him is seeing that his family is changing, and the safe, child's world he lived in as a boy is slipping away.

May 18, 2004

so the tree grows -- let there be blog

"Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets, but humbler folk may circumvent this restriction if they know how. To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither god nor poet; one need only own a good shovel. By virtue of this curious loophole in the rules, any clodhopper may say: Let there be a tree--and there will be one."
Aldo Leopold, conservationist (1887-1948)
and the nerd typeth: let there be blog -- and there was blog, and it was good.

Is writing poetry hazardous to one's health?

The New York Times | April 24, 2004, Saturday
Going Early Into That Good Night

By FELICIA R. LEE
ABSTRACT - Article on study of 1,987 dead writers conducted by California State University's Learning Research Institute director James Kaufman, which concludes that poets tend to die younger than other types of writers; study finds that, overall, poets lived average of 62.2 years, compared with nonfiction writers, who lived longest at 67.9 years; photos; chart (M)

Not everyone is impressed with Mr. Kaufman's findings. Maxine Kumin, 79 and the former poet laureate of New Hampshire, said, ''The suicide rate among poets is not nearly as high as it is among dentists.'' As for her own ripe old age, she said, ''Well, I'm not depressed. I am relatively solitary. I was in my 30's when I started to write, so I don't think I peaked early.''

May 17, 2004

from the Anti War Haiku Wall

spring 2003 ~
not enough dandelions
for all the wishes

sprite

Welcome to England, where's your gas bill?

A must-read by cede... who has turned his bemusement with British bureaucracy into a lovely essay on his blog. My favorite line:
How preposterous would it not be if a "person", i.e. the moisty fungus that grows around an utility bill, for instance tried to open a bank account?

May 16, 2004

Beyond the Nova: Ugly old women and small...

Remember the Nova? It didn't do well in Spanish-speaking countries, probably because Nova was too close to no va (doesn't go). Recent twists on this story, from BBC News:
Buick 'masturbation' car renamed
Red-faced officials at General Motors in Canada have been forced to think of a new name for their latest model after discovering it was a slang word for masturbation.

GM officials said they had been unaware that LaCrosse was a term for self-gratification among teenagers in French-speaking Quebec.

They are now working on a new name for the LaCrosse in Canada. The car will go on sale next year to replace the Buick Regal.

More recently, Mitsubishi had to change the name of its Pajero model in Spanish speaking countries, where the word is a slang term for "masturbator".

While Toyota's Fiera proved controversial in Puerto Rico, where fiera translated to "ugly old woman".

And Ford didn't have the reception it expected in Brazil when their Pinto car flopped.

They then discovered that in Brazilian Portuguese slang, pinto means "small penis".

Story link

John Steinbeck on historical markers

thebiblioholic noted this quote from John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley in Search of America. I like it too.
I am an avid reader of all signs, and I find that in the historical markers the prose of statehood reaches its glorious best, and most lyric. I have further established, at least to my own satisfaction, that those states with the shortest histories and the least world-shaking events have the most historical markers. Some Western states even find glory in half-forgotten murders and bank robberies. The towns not to be left behind proudly announce their celebrated sons, so the traveler is informed by signs and banners--Birthplace of Elvis Presley, of Cole Porter, of Alan P. Huggins.
The upstate New York town of Canastota proudly calls itself "Title Town USA" and houses the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Population: 4,425 as of 2000.

May 15, 2004

Duct tape, Duck tape: Same difference

Another one of life's little mysteries. Turns out both names are -- or have been -- correct. Check out William Safire's column in the Times Magazine: the original product was made from cotton duck cloth.
The original name of the cloth-backed, waterproof adhesive product was duck tape, developed for the United States Army by the Permacel division of Johnson & Johnson to keep moisture out of ammunition cases. The earliest civilian use I can find is in an advertisement by Gimbels department store in June 1942 (antedating the O.E.D. entry by three decades -- nobody but nobody beats this column), which substitutes our product for the ''ladder tape'' that usually holds together Venetian blinds. For $2.99, Gimbels -- now defunct -- would provide blinds ''in cream with cream tape or in white with duck tape.''
...
In 1945, a government surplus property ad in The Times offered 44,108 yards of ''cotton duck tape.'' The first citation I can find for the alternative spelling is in 1970, when the Larry Plotnik Company of Chelsea, Mass., went bust and had to unload 14,000 rolls of what it advertised as duct tape. Three years later, The Times reported that to combat the infiltration of cold air, a contractor placed ''duct tape -- a fiber tape used to seal the joints in heating ducts -- over the openings.''
Here's another amusing factoid, this time from Wikipedia:
The name 'duct tape' comes from its use on heating and air conditioning ducts, a purpose for which it, ironically, has been deemed ineffective by the state of California and by building codes in most other places in the U.S....

May 13, 2004

Survivor All-Stars - America's Tribal Council

Rupert: You're the man! I'm so glad you finally won a pirate's booty!

Richard Hatch: Still the only one who really gets that it's a big darn game. Bite that shark!

May 12, 2004

books just wanna be free

Bookcrossing - Check it out! You can share books with friends, exchange with other Bookcrossers face to face, or let chance take the reins, set your books free in some public place, and see where they turn up next. Don't be shelf-ish.... after all, they're just sitting on your bookshelf, aren't they?

May 11, 2004

This is True®

Get weekly proof that truth really is stranger than fiction at http://www.thisistrue.com. Basic e-mail subscriptions are free -- and you just can't make this stuff up. Really.