Friday, December 31, 2004

Broken Ankle

My vacation has veered off on an unwelcome tangent. Yesterday my mom slipped on the ice, and fell and broke her ankle. She's doing fine, at the hospital they put some pins in. Had originally planned to be back in Iowa by yesterday evening. As it is, I'll be back over there some time today, and probably I'll end up using New Year's Day, like any ordinary Saturday of the year, as a sermon work day.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Where's George?
If you haven't checked out a website called Where's George?, you really ought to. This has either got to be one of the niftiest "useless ideas" I've ever seen, or else it's a test run for tracking all cash purchases in the "New World Order." ;-)

(Novus Ordo Seclorum, on the back of the dollar bill amidst all that Masonic symbolism, is Latin for "New World Order"...)

The idea behind Where's George? is simple— to track where your money goes. Just Enter, Mark, Spend...

Currency Tracking Study
First you go to the site and there you Enter your zip code, and the serial number and series of a bill you have in your possession. Then you Mark the bill. Then you Spend the bill, in natural circulation— that means no fair trading with friends or family, just spend it as you would any other bill in your wallet.

Enter, Mark, Spend... It's that simple!

(Well, you also ought to register on the site first, but that's easy, and also completely free.)

Eventually somebody may notice your markings, and check out the Where's George website— where hopefully they will enter their zip code, and the serial number and series of the bill. Bingo, you've got a hit, and if you're a registered user, you can find out where your bill went!

I've been "georging" for a couple of years now, and I've had dollar bills turn up in every corner of the country. Some of my bills have been found and reentered several times. Over 480 total hits so far. Different people mark their bills in different ways; the way I do it is pictured above.

Where's George? It's an interesting hobby. Check it out!

Wednesday, December 29, 2004


1. [n] a form of pool played with 15 red balls and six balls of other colors and a cue ball
2. [v] leave one's opponent unable to take a direct shot, in a game of snooker

The men in the tuxedoes at the snooker table. The expert at the card table: "Putting aside all high-minded purposes, if this book sells it will have succeeded of its chief end, as the author needs the money." The experts at the snooker table, in the Victorian room with high windows and wainscoting around on the walls. The man— in the helmet— by the tower: "Press the button. Codeword delta— delta— delta." ———"If this book sells, it will have succeeded of its high windows, as the man in the black helmet— by the tower— needs the codeword." Potting a red, then nominating a colour. The usual shot is half-on or quarter-on, so as to succeed of clearing the in jaw. Putting it shut will set you up for making out the next shot, without resort of a safety. But bringing it half on will also lead to a bring-back, which sets you pretty for leading on through, and perhaps even the coveted mark of running the balls for a century. This is seldom seen in amateur play, especially that of the player at the village pub, a game chap who is often little more than a set-to potter with hopes of pocketing a colour. So in his game, he must set himself to be snookered. This the seasoned balls-runner sees, and knows well to avoid as he is able. His game is an odd-up favourite to surpass the bar, and to make for home with scarcely a foul or baulk to be found out against his name.


Monday, December 27, 2004

It Never Rains but It Pours

Made it over to Madison yesterday afternoon in one piece. Though halfway over, somewhere near the town of Boaz, my digital dash suddenly went out on me. Just plain went blank. So I drove the last 70 miles having to guess how fast I was going. For once, I was trying to get behind other cars— get behind them, and hope that they're going at some reasonable highway speed.

Damn! What is this with repairs? For the past couple of years, the Aquamobile has required nothing beyond the usual routine oil changes, etc. Now, in barely more than a week, two unexpected and unrelated repairs: first the alternator, and now the digital dash.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

A Blessed Christmas!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.

The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.

  —John 1:1-14


The Nativity

Unfold thy face, unmaske thy ray,
Shine forth, bright Sunne, double the day.
Let no malignant misty fume,
Nor foggy vapour, once presume
To interpose thy perfect sight
This day, which makes us love thy light
For ever better, that we could
That blessèd object once behold,
Which is both the circumference,
And center of all excellence:
Or rather neither, but a treasure
Unconfinèd without measure,
Whose center and circumference,
Including all preheminence,
Excluding nothing but defect,
And infinite in each respect,
Is equally both here and there,
And now and then and every where,
And alwaies, one, himselfe, the same.
A beeing farre above a name.
Draw neer then, and freely poure
Forth all thy light into that houre,
Which was crownèd with his birth,
And made heaven envy earth.
   Let not his birth-day clouded be,
   By whom thou shinest, and we see.

  —Christopher Harvey (1597-1663)


Christmas Is Here

Still have to wrap Christmas presents today. Will be spending this afternoon with parishioners. Tomorrow morning, services at St. John's and Mt. Hope, and then off to see family over in Wisconsin.

Mandrake 10.1 is coming along just fine. Am set up with the UW-Madison FTP mirror, and have downloaded and installed from contrib the next-to-newest version of Fluxbox, along with a boatload of dependencies. Also a fully functional version of mplayer, from a Penguin Liberation Front mirror. And also the initial security updates— 84 megs over a dialup connection!!

I'm taking some time off next week, so for these next several days my blogging will be light to nonexistent. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 24, 2004

Mandrakelinux 10.1, Installed at Last

Well, late yesterday afternoon I got home from visiting someone, sat down at my desk with my IBM ThinkPad, clenched my teeth, and finally installed Mandrakelinux 10.1, which I've had sitting around now for a couple of weeks.

And it works. It works beautifully. Though I have a lot of tinkering ahead of me these next several days, restoring the data I backed up to zip disks, and reconfiguring everything back to the way I'm used to.

The installation went quite smoothly. I did a clean install, repartitioned my hard drive so as to get rid of that small Win98 partition that I haven't used in ages.

The old Savage S3 "scrolling hang" bug is still present, a characteristic not of Mandrake but of my graphics card. I edited a config file, added a line which cures the problem.

At present I'm using the KDE desktop, Mozilla, and my old Hotmail account (ke4081_3 at you-know-what, for anyone who absolutely has to reach me right now). Over the next several days, as time allows (I would have to do this right before Christmas, wouldn't I?!), I'll be migrating back to the Fluxbox window manager; Opera; and for e-mail, Sylpheed. By the way, you would think they'd still include Fluxbox on the Mandrake CDs?! Oh well, I've already downloaded a tarball of the source code for the latest version of Fluxbox, I can compile it if need be. Or probably I can find it in contrib, once I set myself back up with the UW-Madison computer science department FTP mirror.

Screenshots once I've gotten things back to something like normal!

Anyhow... after a couple of weeks of dawdling around and not having (or finding) the time, I've got Mandrake 10.1 up and running at last!


Thursday, December 23, 2004

Gear: Rocker Blotter

It was nine years ago, December of 1995. I was unemployed, my car had just had a rebuilt engine put in, and I was rapidly plummeting toward flat broke. So I went and did the obvious thing, and purchased a beautiful but utterly useless item: a cherry wood rocker blotter.

rocker blotter
Over the past ten or twelve years, I've picked up a number of little items which I call my "gear." Most of them dirt cheap, none of them more than moderately expensive. Usually items of no practical utility whatsoever. But they strike a chord somewhere deep within me. And they add, in a small but real way, to the longterm beauty of my everyday life.

That rocker blotter has sat for several years now on my desktop. Even though I often write with a fountain pen, I've never used the rocker blotter on fountain-penned ink. No, it just looks cool sitting there on my desk. In its own small way, it adds to the quality of life.

The inlaid wooden strip on top, according to the Levenger catalog, was manufactured in the 1930s and lay undiscovered in a warehouse in Paris for many years. After it was found, someone got the bright idea of inlaying it in these rocker blotters. When I first got the rocker blotter, the cherry wood was quite light. Over the years, I've watched it darken and mellow.

Like I say, most of my items of "gear" are of no real use. (My Swiss Army knife would be an exception.) But still, my life would be poorer without them. You could call my "gear" hyacinths for the soul. Of course, it should come as no surprise that in an age when fewer and fewer credit the soul, fewer and fewer find value in hyacinths.

Now all I need to do is find some green blotting paper, to replace the light brown that I've used all these years in the rocker blotter. I visit office supply stores and whatnot, not so very infrequently. You'd think one of these times I'd take the time to stop and look?


Tuesday, December 21, 2004

As Time Slows Down

As we head into these last few days before Christmas, it's always felt to me as if time slows down. I don't know exactly when I notice it kicking in, but somewhere around the 20th or 21st I usually can feel time slowing down.

When I was a kid, of course, school would let out for Christmas break several days before Christmas. And we would head into that glorious stretch of two weeks or so when there was no schedule, no hassle, no timeframe, and nothing that had to be done.

I managed to stay in one academic setting or another up into my mid 30s, so this phenomenon of end-of-semester and shifting gears became very, very familiar to me. Even when I was living down in North Carolina, and due to the poverty of student life I usually spent my Christmases 1100 miles from family, I would feel myself, several days before Christmas, entering into that end-of-year slowdown. I remember one year down there in Durham, heading out to a store and, on my painfully limited student budget, buying myself a gyroscope and a deck of Rook cards. It was around December 20 or 21. And I spent those few days before Christmas watching that gyroscope gyro around on the wooden living room floor of my apartment, and playing all the hands at once in various card games with those Rook cards.

One odd thought which came to me somewhere along the line is that these several days before Christmas "felt" to me like those five odd days at the end of the Mayan calendar, the five days that didn't fit into any of the Mayan months. Or was it a short five-day month? No doubt a nitpicker could find fault with this comparison, but then again in my experience, nitpickers and naysayers are generally a pretty sorry lot.

Let's see, shortest day of the year... that's either today, or thereabouts. Winter solstice? Let me go look it up in my almanac. If I don't forget. All I know is, it's been getting dark mighty early lately.

I'm hoping my schedule will slow down some over these next few days. Last week was the busiest week I've had since the fall season began, and it was capped by my weekend misadventure with the Aquamobile conking out on me up in La Crosse. (Now fixed, it was the alternator.) I'm hoping this week to find some time to just sit around, watch Cowboy Bebop (one of my recent DVD purchases), stretch out on the couch with a cup or ten of hot apple cider, and slide slow and lazy into this home stretch right before Christmas.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Monday, Monday

Well. 'Tis Monday, my day off. The Aquamobile is in the process of being towed back from La Crosse and fixed. I doubt I'm going to complete the Mandrake 10.1 install today: if I feel like doing some preparatory data backup, I will; and if not, then not. This feels like a day to just lie around the house, space out, and unwind.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Automotive Trouble

Well, late yesterday afternoon I was heading up to visit someone in the hospital up in La Crosse. First red light I hit on the south side of La Crosse, the Aquamobile stalled. I got it running again, but at the next red light it stalled again. Sensing trouble, I got off onto a side street, where at the first stop sign it stalled yet again. And this time it wouldn't start.

Fortunately a couple of Good Samaritans came along to lend a hand. One of them, who lived in a house across the street, drove his van over and tried (and tried, and tried) to jump start the Aquamobile with jumper cables. No dice. We pushed the Aquamobile into a parking spot.

I hoofed it over a couple of blocks to a hospital, which was not the hospital I was originally headed for. The lady at the information desk put me through to the information desk at the other hospital, they put me through to the hospital room, and I learned that a couple of my parishioners were at that moment on the road to La Crosse. One call to a cell phone and ten minutes later, they swung by and picked me up, and we headed over to the hospital I'd originally been heading for. Visited, and headed back down the River. (In these parts, when we say "the River," we always mean the Mississippi.)

So this morning the Aquamobile is still sitting, parked on a side street, up in La Crosse. I've got the service at St. John's, then hitch a ride down to Mt. Hope for the service there. Then ride down with someone to visit a parishioner in the hospital in Waukon. The St. John's Youth Fellowship will be going Christmas caroling this evening, with Christmas party following. Hope it warms up some today: looking at Gkrellm on the edge of my screen I see it's 4° below zero right now.

As for the Aquamobile, my game plan is to get my local mechanic to tow it back down here, today or tomorrow. Upgrade my computer to Mandrakelinux 10.1 tomorrow? Possible, but I'm not betting on it.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Blue Mind of Death

When Michael woke up in the morning, he felt he was not quite the same person he had been the evening before.

A glance around the bedroom showed that indeed he was not. Yellows were drabber and dingier now, and when he looked across the room at the dresser, its knobs and drawers and overall shape seemed to hang together more insistently as a single, individual thing. No, Michael was indeed no longer quite the same person he had been the evening before.

Michael closed his eyes again, turned inward, and brought up me:about...

   Micropsych Mind 32.3
   Copyright © 2041-2094
     Micropsych Corp.
   All Rights Reserved.

   Registered As:
    Michael Hensley-Pruitt-Lewandowski-Storr

Well, no doubt about it: up until last night, his brain had been running under Micropsych Mind 32.2. While Michael slept, his brain had downloaded a major service pack through its built-in neural Internet connection. Michael groaned. It was always hell, ironing out the bugs in these new service packs.

Michael's train of thought was interrupted as the EULA for Micropsych Mind 32.3 came up in his mind's eye. No point trying to digest it all, without Micropsych Mind he literally wouldn't be able to think a single thought.

   Accept        Decline

Michael mentally chose Accept, then skipped the cheery intro on all the new features which had been installed as part of his mind overnight. He wondered what happened to anyone who tried to Decline the agreement: would their mind simply cease functioning? He had heard rumors. But they were only dark rumors.

Michael lay in bed, cautiously testing old problem points. No, that tremor in his left hand was still there: evidently the service pack didn't include a fix for that known bug. Now Michael rubbed the fingers of his right hand in the hair of his left armpit, then brought his fingers up to his nose: no, no smell of body odor.

   ΜΨ-Mind   Error 43087: olfactory function

Damn! Sense of smell is still out! There hadn't been a sense of smell since Mind 30.12! Not the most serious bug, but definitely one of the most annoying.

Now Michael sat up gingerly. He sat on the side of the bed, and tested his legs carefully before putting any weight on them. There, easy does it, and he even ought to be able to stand up...

Something different about leg kinesiology in 32.3. But still not much of an improvement. The way Michael's legs moved was serviceable enough, but it bore no resemblance to the way any normal human legs had ever moved back in the days when the human brain ran on its own natural "programming"...

Michael shuffled out of the bedroom and down the hall toward the kitchen. Damn legs! Still, he thought to himself, this way of walking was no doubt far safer and less risky than walking which was governed by... the natural workings of the human brain!

Michael shuddered as he thought of entrusting a valuable commodity like a healthy adult human body to the haphazard workings of a brain that functioned as it had been evolved and acculturated to function... To think of humans running and squealing and laughing and playing in accord with neural patterns that harked back to Triassic jungles and the dark incense-laden superstitions of the dawn of human history! Humans must often have fallen, or barked their shins, or broken bones, or fallen into depression, or gotten drunk and then hung over: all of them mishaps which inevitably would lead to loss of productivity...

No, thought Michael as he got the milk and orange juice out of the refrigerator, Micropsych Mind could be a nuisance at times, but there was no doubt that the world had become a better place since Micropsych Mind had taken over and replaced the natural functioning of the human mind.

Michael set the glasses of milk and orange juice on the table, then started searching around for a cereal box that wasn't empty. Funny, he thought to himself, I'm only 27, and I can still remember people whose brains were running on their own natural neural programming. There were those Amish families up the road, and further up the valley, that little Buddhist monastery. But then the laws were tightened up, in response to the demonstrations and the mounting political pressure. Michael remembered how, when he was 13 or 14, they came and took the Christians and the Buddhists away to reformat their brains, and replace their natural minds with Micropsych Mind.

Michael stood and squinted at four cereal boxes on the kitchen shelf. Something wasn't parsing right...

   ΜΨ-Mind   Error 114982: small-cardinal visual aggregator

Damn! If he was going to have a hard time counting collections of objects right... Michael took to blindly picking up cereal boxes and shaking them. There... that one... feels like something in it...

Well, that's a clumsy workaround, but it is a workaround. Maybe, thought Michael, he ought to post it on a message board. He opened his direct brain link to the Internet, did a quick google on Mind 32.3 problems... aaahhh, too many search results: rogue synaesthesia, adventitious epileptic seizures, persistent earworm, sudden knee lock... Later!!

As Michael put the coffee on, he pondered on how he had never known being anything but an embodied instantiation of Micropsych Mind. Very shortly after he was born, Michael's brain had been wiped clean, and overwritten with Micropsych Mind for Neonates. Then, at ages two, six, twelve, and sixteen, Michael's brain had again been wiped clean and overwritten with the age-appropriate version of ΜΨ-Mind— each time, carefully backing up his memories first, and then restoring his memories after the new version of Mind had been installed.

Those childhood transitions to a new mind were always difficult, thought Michael as he ate breakfast. There was always a period of disorientation and reintegration. But there had been no mishaps, and Michael's father and mothers had looked after him: Michael couldn't have asked for a more loving foursome than his parents. No, there had been no mishaps; not like those two boys in Michael's class, whose memories were not properly backed up at age twelve: they had lost all their previous memories, and never seemed quite able to function or display emotions properly after that. Last Michael heard, they were doing menial labor on a stratospheric Ozone Platform.

Now Michael poured himself a cup of coffee, and sat back down at the table. No error messages or problems in almost five minutes, good.

No, he didn't see how humankind had ever gotten along, back in the old days when people relied on primitive natural minds... Though, come to think of it... this was always an intensely painful thought for Michael, even after more than three years... there are still people out there, hidden, fugitive, whose brains aren't running under Micropsych Mind... People like Michael's former girlfriend Linda...

Something ached in Michael as he remembered Linda, and how when she walked her legs moved just like a Buddhist or a Christian... nothing like the way you saw people walking nowadays. Of course, she could also walk just like everyone else— the slow, stiff, jerky, shuffling gait— if she had to, in order to pass and avoid detection... Linda's brain ran under the Nixy kernel, developed by nameless rebel hackers out there... the forbidden Nixy kernel, open-source brainware that still left ample scope for the free play of (shudder) primitive natural brain patterns... Linda's whole family had been on the wrong side of the law. She was a strange woman... burning incense, praying and meditating... Of course, Micropsych Mind had no modules for prayer or meditation, but Michael could appreciate the incense. That was back in the days when Mind still supported the sense of smell.

Michael tried not to think... one day, one dark and terrible day, the authorities came and took Linda away, and charged her with mindcrime. They reformatted her brain and installed Micropsych Mind. After that, she was not the same person. Quite literally, she was not the same person after that.

No, Michael tried not to think... He stared down vacantly into an empty coffee cup. Hunh, Micropsych Mind... Michael pondered the rumors he had heard that "Old 666" himself, the head of the Micropsych Corporation, didn't use ΜΨ-Mind, but still ran his brain under primitive natural patterns, just like many of the ruling elite.

And part of it, thought Michael, is that they implant slips of embryo sheep brain into our brains in utero...

Michael got up from the kitchen table, and shuffled toward the back door. He'd see how it felt outside this morning.

Three steps out the door, and Michael caught sight of the tulips along the back of the house. Tulips, pink and yellow and red...

   red Red RED

Something wrong about the red... It was scarlet like the blare of a trumpet...

   Scarlet Like The Blare Of A Trumpet!!!

Michael felt himself pitching, rigid as a pine board, face forward into the grass. He felt no pain. He felt only... scarlet like the blare of a trumpet!

Mind cycled through the google cache: Mind 32.3 problems: rogue synaesthesia...

Michael jerked and spasmed on the grass. The grass smelled (impossibly, smelled) like frangipani and patchouli!

Then all the world and Michael's Mind® went blue

   Micropsych Mind 32.3
   Copyright © 2041-2094
     Micropsych Corp.
   Fatal System Error at AE::07::3D::55::18::C2::6B::41
   Stimulate any sense to continue

whiteness of the birch bark sang like angels/ blue mind

   Micropsych Mind 32.3
   Copyright © 2041-2094
     Micropsych Corp.
   Fatal System Error at AE::07::3D::55::18::C2::6B::41
   Stimulate any sense to continue

and all my senses sang GLORY/ blue mind of death

   Micropsych Mind 32.3
   Copyright © 2041-2094
     Micropsych Corp.
   Fatal System Error at AE::07::3D::55::18::C2::6B::41
   Stimulate any sense to continue


Friday, December 17, 2004

More on Chimeras

The discussion on chimeras and possible religious implications resumes over at IndustrialBlog.

Radios around the House

Do you know, I've got a radio in every single room of the house?

Seminole 902
In the half-bath upstairs, I've got a fair-sized portable radio, red and silver, I'd guess of early 1960s vintage. Seminole 902, "Transistor Nine"... whip antenna that folds down into the carrying handle, runs on four C batteries. I usually keep that radio tuned to the public radio station up in La Crosse, and if there's one radio filling the upstairs with the sounds of classical music, it's probably that one. (Photo of radio sitting, not upstairs, but on my kitchen table.)

Grundig Satellit 700
In the "radio room"— upstairs radio listening post, hobby room, extension of my library— I've got my Grundig Satellit 700, which is my main shortwave radio. Pulls in everything from the BBC to Radio Tezulutlán from Cobán, Guatemala. Also receives AM, FM, and longwave. I've also got in my listening post an old shortwave tube radio, Hallicrafters S-120, seldom used. (Photo of Grundig sitting, not in my listening post, but on my folks' kitchen table.)

In my bedroom, my boombox sits atop one bookcase, usually kept tuned to the campus station from La Crosse: sometimes I set the sleep timer and drift off to sleep with jazz playing softly. Also have a digital clock-radio, which I never use except to wake me up at 5:00 AM on Sunday mornings: it's kept tuned to a station from Decorah, Iowa, which usually plays golden oldies rock, sometimes also car races(?!).

Downstairs in the kitchen I have a GE Superadio, which pulls in distant AM stations like no other radio I've ever seen. I got it because this is the only place I've ever lived where you can't pull in any of the big-city clear channel stations during daylight— indeed, except for 580 up in La Crosse, the AM dial below 900 is usually dead around here in the daytime, except on the Superadio. I usually have it tuned to the Cedar Rapids station, and I listen to news and weather while I'm eating breakfast. By the way, don't you hate it when stations do station identification five or six times a minute??! "This is 600 WMT... Now on 600 WMT we have the traffic, brought to you by 600 WMT... 600 WMT!!!"

In the living room I have another shortwave radio, a Realistic DX-440, sitting on the end table. Handy for listening to WBCQ, Monticello, Maine, 7415 kilocycles [sic] on your dial, whilst relaxing on a rare free evening. I also have in the living room my old stereo system— which has a turntable but no CD player— on the rare occasions when I use it, I have it tuned to one FM station or another.

In my study I have a Henry Kloss Model One. Small, retro-looking radio. AM on it isn't worth a darn, but it has the most amazing FM sound quality you've ever heard in a small monaural radio. I usually have it tuned to one of them public classical-musickish stations down between 88 and 92 on the FM dial.

And in the downstairs bathroom, I've got a little red and white transistor radio perched atop the toilet tank. Usually have it tuned to 95.7, which plays what passes for rock in these latter days— odd, except when I'm in the tub, I never listen to modern rock, I always listen to golden oldies rock, that is, mid-60s through early-to-mid-80s.

Oh, yeah, I've also got some diddly radio out on the back porch, which during the more seasonable months of the year I sometimes use as a second study.

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Thursday, December 16, 2004

Christmas Shopping

Well, I just passed another holiday shopping milestone yesterday. Yes, when I got home late yesterday afternoon, I found that Mr. UPS Man had left a package on my front porch. Within which was the last Christmas present I'd been waiting for. Now all that's left is to wrap everything— that is, once I get more wrapping paper: ran out yesterday while wrapping boxes of candy for the confirmands.

And I realize that most of my Christmas shopping this year was done online. Really, except for those boxes of candy (on sale cheap at Alco up in Caledonia) the only Christmas shopping I did out here in meatspace was at the Katmandu Trading Company up in Hokah.

Apart from that, I relied on Amazon. Garrett Wade. And the wondrous Deep Discount DVD: they may not have everything you're looking for, but if they've got it, you'll get it at a bargain price. My friend Greg turned me on to them, and that box yesterday was from them. Only problem was, every DVD I got as a Christmas present, I had to get a second copy for myself; then I noticed another several DVDs that I just had to get; and, well, you know how it goes...

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Portal of Evil

Warning, Portal of Evil is not kid-safe, and many of the sites it leads to are definitely not work-safe either. But I must confess, I'm a longtime fan of POE. It's a veritable catalog of the most bizarre websites on the Internet. New sites listed daily, the weirdest of the weird, the farthest out of the far out.

A few recently listed highlights: Snape MPREG Archive: "Snape (from Harry Potter) male pregnancy fan-fiction and fan-art." Living in Cars. And Cybershaman, "the most advanced integrated Psionics software ever released. It'll help you with remote viewing, astrological readings, prophecy, and it's even a higher-consciousness screensaver at the same time!"

And this is to say nothing of the thousands upon thousands of bizarre sites in the POE archives.

Portal of Evil. Go ahead, you know you wanna check it out!


Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Uma Thurman's Huge Hands

Let's get one thing straight: I always thought Uma Thurman was one hot chick. Slightly odd looking, but hot.

Let's get another thing straight: I've never been much of a moviegoer, so the first time I ever really focused on more than just a flitting passing image of Uma Thurman was when I got the DVD of Kill Bill, Volume 1. I've watched that movie countless times since, especially the wondrously bloody sword fight sequence. (I also liked Kill Bill, Volume 2, though to steal one of Winston Churchill's less felicitous lines, it's more jaw-jaw than war-war.)

Anyhow. When I first sat down and watched Kill Bill, Volume 1, about three times in two days, I had the most curious reaction: Oh my God, I never realized that Uma Thurman has such huge hands!

I mean, not just big, but huge!

And not just ordinary huge, but freakishly huge.

I mean, huge like cartoon-character hands.

This is evidently nothing new. I mean, if you go look at pictures from earlier films, Uma Thurman has always had the most implausibly large hands you've ever seen.

It's no special effect, either. No, that woman simply has... well, huge hands. In real life. She simply has way big hands.

I don't know quite what to make of it. I mean, I still think Uma Thurman is one hot woman. Albeit slightly odd looking. But fer cryin' out loud, them hands...




I Mean, Just Huge.


Monday, December 13, 2004

One Month Ago This Evening

Yes, it was one month ago this evening that I somehow accidentally acquired a blog, whilst registering to post a comment on Caltechgirl's blog. Still don't know quite how it happened. But one month later, here I am, still blogging.

I find that many of the misgivings I originally had about blogging are still with me. Nevertheless, here I am, still at it, posting five or six days a week, and pretty much enjoying it. My thanks to those who've shown interest and given encouragement, especially blogmom Caltechgirl; Dean; Jay and Deb; Dowingba; IB Bill; and of course my brother Steven. To say nothing of a number of regular lurkers whose IP addresses have become familiar in my stats. Thank you!

In celebration of this one-month blogiversary, I'll have a special extended pictorial feature up tomorrow. You know it's gonna be quirky, and twisted, and like we say around here, "Let the Finder Beware"!


The other day I stopped off at the Katmandu Trading Company up in Hokah, Minnesota. (I hear they've also got a store now in downtown La Crosse.) It's a very nice little import shop, with items from all over the world, and an interest in fair trade. I feel like I'm stepping back almost 30 years, to a store on State Street in Madison back in the 1970s.

I picked up several varieties of incense at the Katmandu Trading Company. Laxmi Pooja, from Nikhil Products ("No. 14/2, 2nd Cross, S.S.I. Area, 5th Block, Rajajinagar, Bangalore"). Super Hit ("Since 1964"— manufactured by Shrinivas Sugandhalaya, in Bangalore). Tulasi brand Patchouli, Tulasi brand Amber, and of course with Christmas drawing near, Tulasi brand Frankincense (all from Sarathi Perfumery Works, Jayanagar, Bangalore). And Dragon brand Naga— Durbar Bathi— "Each bathi burns three hours!"

I'd been running low on Amber incense, and had run out of Patchouli— my last incense bought from a shop on State Street in Madison. Those were Swagat Natural Incense Sticks by R-Expo India ("Estd. 1932"), in heavily decorated oval envelopes, tied shut at one end with a multicolored string: "They are free from any toxic substances. This mystic aroma is specially formulated to worship GOD, to destroy smoke and bad air and to create a fresh, pleasant and peaceful atmosphere for everyday activities."

I also got at Katmandu a new wooden incense burner box. Stained black. Lots of little holes cut into the top, for the smoke to waft up out of. Brass decorations, including brass sun and moon and stars set into the sides. Does this take you back to the 70s, or what?!

I've always been fascinated by how smells and odors can create a mood. There's also a powerful tie to memory— the right smell can evoke powerful memories like few sights or sounds can. On a more practical level, incense becomes a necessity around the house when they spread manure in the field across the road, or when a mouse dies inside the wall.

I remember when I was a kid my dad dug out some incense— probably dating back to when my folks were living in Chicago— "Originated by Dr. Satish Ghose of Calcutta, India." Incense always has to do with the East, doesn't it? India. Persia. Arabia. Myrrh. Frankincense.


It was windy around here yesterday. Then last night it got even windier. I could hear the wind roaring in the trees. Heard this morning on the radio that some areas got 65 mile an hour winds last night.

Hope it didn't cause any damage. Around the end of August we got some heavy wind with a storm that came through. It brought a large branch (over 15 feet) down in my front yard. When I went out the next morning, I discovered the wind had also brought down a large branch from a pine tree back by the cemetery; and another large branch on my roof, which in fact covered most of the roof of the house; as well as blowing the metal chimney cap off the chimney of the old German schoolhouse over on the other side of the church.

All through this fall, whenever we've gotten another storm or strong wind, it's brought down more branches that were broken off in August and lodged up in a couple of big trees around here. Now that the leaves are gone, you can see a big branch, over 10 feet, in a tree out in front of the house, which is bent the wrong way and still covered with dead leaves. I suppose that will have to be cut free and brought down.

Linux Update

Well, looks like I'm not going to get around to installing Mandrakelinux 10.1 today after all. I don't expect it to take too long, except for the initial download of security updates, which could well take the rest of the day over my dialup connection. I want to be here to keep an eye on that, but I've got to head out today on my day off and take care of a few things, so... maybe next Monday.

Meanwhile, I'll keep happily chugging along with Mandrake 9.1.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

The Abolition of Man

IB Bill has some sobering thoughts about currently ongoing research involving chimeras and trans-species transplants via human stem cells. Here's one excerpt from the news article:
The potential power of chimeras as research tools became clear about a decade ago in a series of dramatic experiments by Evan Balaban, now at McGill University in Montreal. Balaban took small sections of brain from developing quails and transplanted them into the developing brains of chickens.

The resulting chickens exhibited vocal trills and head bobs unique to quails, proving that the transplanted parts of the brain contained the neural circuitry for quail calls. It also offered astonishing proof that complex behaviors could be transferred across species.
Here's another cheery bit:
Now Weissman says he is thinking about making chimeric mice whose brains are 100 percent human. He proposes keeping tabs on the mice as they develop. If the brains look as if they are taking on a distinctly human architecture— a development that could hint at a glimmer of humanness— they could be killed, he said. If they look as if they are organizing themselves in a mouse brain architecture, they could be used for research.
I dunno, it's been over 30 years since I've read the H.G. Wells story, but somehow I'm reminded of The Island of Dr. Moreau.

My own take is, if such hubristic tinkering is the shape of things to come, look for a push to "cure" human beings of their innate aggression, violence, and inconvenient anti-social tendencies. Including the inconvenient tendency to question authority. No doubt the frantic push will stem from some "caring," "progressive" ideological frenzy not unlike those which have torn like wildfire through Western culture over these past 30 or 40 years.

Imagine having the entire human race (except, no doubt, for our ruling elite) on the built-in equivalent of Ritalin.

My Favorite Color Is Red

Yes, my favorite color is red. Can't really tell you why; it just is. Once a number of years back, I had a bright red 1970 Torino that I just loved. But red has been my favorite color going way, way back before that. Back to age five, at least.

In my very earliest years, my favorite color was "green and yellow and white." I have no idea what that was about. For over forty years now, my favorite color has been red.

My brother's favorite color is blue. I guess that makes sense.

Knew a fellow once who told me he'd been going with this gal, and he knew their relationship was in trouble when he learned that her favorite color was grey. I dunno, favorite color of grey, that does sound a bit unsettling.

Every once in a while I run across someone who just doesn't get the concept of a favorite color. I just don't get them. Seems to me the idea of a favorite color is a fairly basic notion. Not getting it is tantamount, in my mind, to not having a middle name, or not having a favorite sports team.

There's something exalted, and at the same time strong and comforting to me, about red. Once when I was six years old I had a dream that I got an infected tooth, and I died and went to heaven. Everything in heaven was red, a bright luminous red lit up from within. At the time I had that dream, red was already my favorite color. I cannot read paragraph 919 of Goethe's Theory of Colors without thinking of that dream:
When we see them bring forth green below and red above, it will be hard to resist the thought that the green is connected with the earthly creation of the Elohim, and the red with their heavenly creation.
Oddly enough, my favorite two-color combination is yellow and black. When I see something colored yellow and black, it often sends a tingle up my spine, particularly if it is something at all artistic or aesthetic. But my favorite color is red.


Friday, December 10, 2004

State Street in Madison, Wisconsin

And I went stalking down State Street through the abating rain, only then the rain got real heavy. And I took refuge under an awning, outside the Triangle Market. And wait a while, and along comes a man, wire glasses, baldshaven head, designer nylon rainjacket. He's carrying a bronze urn, has a kryptonite bike lock shackled round his neck, more bronze hardware ancient and awkward shackled severally round his waist. And on right bicep, worn out over nylon, a big wide bronze armband. He looks like a Buddhist monk, like somebody from Foucault's Future.

"What time do you have?" He asks one of the girls dodging rain beneath the awning with me, and she tells him. And he asks the girl beside her, as if he's polling several time zones; and is very pleased (though earnest) when she gives him much the same time. Then he asks me, as if now comes our report from the Atlantic Standard Time Zone (old time zone wall clocks from around the world behind Dave Garroway on the Today show in its early days). But I won't be taken in, and so off he goes, bronze urn in crook of elbow.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Blocking Central

Ever notice how a car will pull out in front of you in traffic at the most inconvenient moment, and then block you and slow you down until you're about to go crazy? Well, for years I've entertained a paranoid little fantasy about what's really going on.

The hidden truth is, such traffic snafus are part of a vast conspiracy by a secret organization called Blocking Central.

Blocking Central
I envision the headquarters of Blocking Central as looking sort of like the tracking center in the old 1960s Patrick McGoohan TV series, The Prisoner. People seated at control panels, maps projected on wall screens, two dudes riding a rotating videocam teeter-totter; and the commander of Blocking Central, standing there and dictating orders into his retro-60s cordless phone:

—"Yes, we're tracking the motorist on Highway 76. Have a vehicle ready to pull out in front of him at the intersection with county road A26. Estimated time of arrival, 30 seconds..."

Sure enough, just in the nick of time, that car (driven by an agent of Blocking Central) pulls right out in front of you. You have to slow down because he sure... isn't... going very fast. In fact, he's going pretty damn slow for a state highway.

—"Now, have our vehicle maintain a speed of no more than 43 miles an hour. I repeat, no more than 43 miles an hour. This is critical, we must slow the motorist down. And under no circumstances permit the motorist to pass!"

Damn! Why is that car ahead of you moving so slow?! It's doing just barely over forty! On an open highway, yet. And there's no way to get past that idiot. But wait... coming up is a passing zone...

—"All right, dispatch another vehicle up ahead, in oncoming traffic. We need a vehicle in oncoming traffic to prevent the motorist from passing in the upcoming passing zone. Yes, the computer will handle the timing on that one..."

At Blocking Central, a giant retro-60s mainframe computer with blinking lights and whirling tape reels calculates the precise timing. A roadmap projected on a large wall screen displays your location on the highway. Sure enough, just as you round the curve and sight the passing zone, you notice an oncoming car in the distance. Just at the wrong moment so that you won't be able to pass!

—"Motorist is now approaching a town, speed limit of 25. Have another vehicle ready to dispatch in front of him. Yes, at the corner of Elm Street. Good."

As you come up on the small town, the Blocking Central car ahead of you slows down, from 43 to 40. Yes, this is one of the weaknesses of Blocking Central drivers that I've never quite understood: if they dawdle along at 43 mph on a highway where the speed limit is 55, when they come to a town they'll only just barely slow down, and they'll go barreling right through a 25 mph residential area at about 40 miles an hour. "Slowgan on the highway is a speedster in town."

So the gap widens between you and the car ahead of you. But no problem, Blocking Central has another car ready to pull out in front of you, and this one is driven by a little old blue haired lady who drives all of 12 miles an hour, slowing down to less than 10 in reaction to any traffic, real or imagined. At the only stop light in town, she signals to make a left turn, and then when the light turns green, she inexplicably sits and waits ("Come on, lady, make the turn, already!!") until the light turns yellow again. Then slowly she turns, leaving you to wait through a second red light.

Now you're almost out of town, but Blocking Central isn't out of tricks yet.

"Okay, we need to position a stationary vehicle on the roadway, before the edge of town. Yes, a stationary vehicle, with an attendant pedestrian in conversation."

What's this?! A pickup truck, just sitting there on the road ahead of you. Oh, okay, the driver's talking out the window with some guy who's standing there. But why doesn't he move? Can't he see he's holding up traffic?

(Holding up traffic? But dear reader, that's precisely the point of Blocking Central...)

Finally the pickup tools off down the road. Right at the edge of town, another car almost turns out ahead of you, but you're already accelerating back up to highway speed, and you manage to slip by before he can pull out in front and block you.

"Status report! Our vehicle at the edge of town failed to intercept the motorist! Have backup vehicles ready at the intersection with South 298th Street. He will be there in less than a minute. He must not elude us again!"

In the distance, you see a procession of four cars turning onto the highway ahead of you. You soon close the gap. Now you're sunk: This knot of cars isn't going a bit over 50. No way you're going to get past them.

At Blocking Central, the commander speaks in clipped, authoritative tones into his phone:

"Very good. The motorist will now have no opportunity to get past our vehicles, anywhere this side of Cedar Falls. There is one extended passing zone on a straightaway, 23.6 miles ahead: if necessary to prevent him from passing, you may speed up to 60 or even 65 when you come to that stretch. But otherwise you are not to exceed 50 miles per hour. Blocking Central, out."

In recent years I've noticed that Blocking Central is diversifying its activities. It now also provides tailgaters to hang on your rear bumper for miles on end, even when you're doing 70. And I've also noticed agents of Blocking Central in the supermarket, spending a full ten minutes comparing packages of hamburger and blocking the meat department, or positioning a shopping cart sideways across the aisle like a roadblock.

Whilst out on the road, another car pulls out at the worst possible moment, and boxes you in. Thousands of vehicles at the ready. A vast computerized surveillance and tracking system. No, you cannot escape the insidious reach of Blocking Central...

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Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Code Name: Cherry Underwood

Once several years ago I had this dream, as is recorded in my Book of Dreams:

Last night I had a dream that I was living in an apartment, with a couple of rooms near the back where I hardly ever went. And then I turned on the TV, and there was a show on, Steven thought perhaps sort of an addendum to The X-Files, only it was already about twenty minutes into the show. But I had seen it advertised in the paper, and the name of the show was "Cherry Underwood," or some such.

And the idea of this show, "Cherry Underwood," was that back during World War II there had been this secret biological project, code named "Cherry Underwood." And the project was to develop a technique of altering genetic structures so as to promote life forms whose survival strategies were far more flexible, and went far, far beyond, anything that could arise under ordinary processes of Darwinian evolution. And the project was horribly successful, it produced organisms whose biochemistry had been altered so that they could shift their phenotype and turn it on a dime, and the results were so horrible that it was said they should never be let out of the most strict laboratory security, and over the years not only the organisms, but the very structure of the processes they embodied, grew and evolved at a geometric rate. And then finally one day they grew too powerful to be contained, and they escaped out into the environment. And by now they had grown so advanced, that they were able to spread the contagion of "Cherry Underwood" as a fifth-order meta-genetic rewrite of the DNA material of other organisms and species.

And the results were so horrific that it went beyond even anybody's worst nightmares of a biological disaster. And it showed on the screen this monkey, in the heart of the jungle, who had been infected and his ordinary biomolecular structure subjected to a meta-genetic overwrite. And he moved amid the foliage by a flowing stream, and you could see that his form, his build, the structure of his skeleton, was in continual flux from moment to moment in reaction to impinging cues, so that he was always changing to become the monkey best adapted to survival in the snapshot of that passing moment.

And then the monkey sensed some predator stalking him, and all of a sudden, as the monkey turned around, his fur was in a split second absorbed back into his body so that he was now hairless, with an unearthly smooth grey-green skin, and the dome of his skull flowed and mounded up like quicksilver, and the front of his forehead parted and opened like a window, and the monkey grimaced and opened his mouth, and the inside of his mouth was filled with protuberances like little S-shaped pieces of macaroni, and one of them grew and shifted as if it was going to be shot out at the predator like some awful snake's tongue, some frog's tongue, only with deadly effect, poisonous, or some effect so horrible it would make even poison seem like a blessing.

And the horror of it was, this monkey was now an instantiation of patterns and structures so far beyond those of ordinary biology and selective adaptation, that they were entirely unintelligible, you could watch what the monkey was doing and you couldn't understand what was happening, you couldn't even compare it to anything you could understand.

And then next time there were fast skimming camera shots, as if low-flying over the wooden floors of a large, airy, spacious house, only the house was empty, and where was everyone? And then, in one of the shots, there was this pair of infant diaper pants, empty, skimming and levitating across the room. And the camera tracked, at an odd angle, following the floating diaper pants, and zooming in on them, the camera shot rose up over the edge of the pants, and now looking down in.

And inside the levitating diaper pants was a scene of horror, now we saw what had happened to the family that lived in this house, they were all reduced to the size of insects and running around inside the floating diaper pants, the father pushing a tiny lawn mower, every one running around frantically as if trying to carry out some fragmented, disjointed bit of ordinary everyday activity in a scene which was just as horrifying to them as it was to us, the TV viewers.

And then zoom in on this miniaturized family, and it became clear that one daughter, a young girl, was in control over all the rest, she was floating in the air above them inside the diaper pants, and they were in fear of her. And it became clear that the "Cherry Underwood" contagion had infected her so that she was able to manipulate and change not only herself, but her entire family, at a moment's whim. And so she had shrunk them all down to insect size and put them inside these levitating diaper pants.

And the diaper pants flew on above the sunlit hardwood floors.

And all over the world, scenes of unimaginable horror like this were taking place, and multiplying, and going beyond anything humanly comprehensible, as a result of the horrible spreading metamorphosis transmogrification contagion.


Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Switch to Linux

Here's a flash cartoon about Linux which pretty well sums up my mood right now. Maybe you should switch to Linux, too? :-)

(Tip of the hat to Dean Esmay)


Mandrakelinux 10.1 Has Arrived!

Yesterday afternoon Mr. UPS Man pulled up out front in his van and delivered a package. Yes, my Mandrakelinux 10.1 PowerPack is here at last!

I'm not going to have time to do more than glance at it for the rest of the week, as today I launch into yet another busy work week. Maybe next Monday— Monday being my day off. I expect installing MDK 10.1 on my computer, in place of my present MDK 9.1, is going to be an all-day task.

First I'll have to back up my data onto zip disks— basically, back up my entire /home directory. Then note down necessary settings to configure for use with NTP servers out there; to set up an alternate config file for running the Tor Proxy with Privoxy; to set the "ShadowStatus" option in case XOrg has the same "scrolling hang" problem with my video card as XFree86; and all those other geeklike things beloved by anyone who likes running Linux.

The new Mandrakelinux 10.1 PowerPack comes with six CDs and two manuals. One of the manuals is on the order of "Why is Mozilla so great? And what is a spreadsheet?": sorry, I didn't need that last time around, and I don't need it now. But the second manual, which wasn't included with Mandrake 9.1, is a more technical reference manual on command-line utilities, managing mount points, installing a new kernel, etc. I doubt much of it will be news to me now, a year and some months after I first switched to Linux; but something like it would've smoothed my path back a year ago in September. It will probably be handy for quick reference.

I expect once I finally sit down to this project— next Monday or so— installing MDK 10.1 will take well under an hour. I'm going to repartition my hard drive, get rid of that rump 1.1 gig Win98 partition I never use: no more dual boot for me! Then restore my data, tinker with appropriate config files, install True Type fonts, and download security updates. That last step will probably take some hours over my dialup connection: I hope the UW-Madison computer science department FTP mirror is ready to go with 10.1, they didn't have everything in place yet when I checked yesterday afternoon.

I'd also like to install XOrg 6.8.1, so as to have true transparency on my transparent Aterm windows (that is, you'll be able to see one window behind another). And try out some of the transparent themes for Fluxbox, and so forth!

Ah yes, for one more-or-less computer geek out here in the Iowa countryside, it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas...


Monday, December 06, 2004

Not a Cough in a Carload!

Your first reaction may be, "What's this site up to, anyway?!" I mean, divide all obnoxious pushy remarks into 88 categories or "stargates," in order to generate some zenlike rejoinder?

Then you'll see it's humble deep wisdom for "non-escalating verbal self-defense— how to change the mood when people are mean": "You should comb your hair, Peter." —"Anything else? Either way you win."

"I don't know if I can trust you" —"Just don't!" (Backup: "Life is a two-way street, as they say in Chicago.")

That's Check it out.


Purner Hit a Deer

Well, yesterday morning I had a little bit of excitement I didn't really need. I was heading down the road to Mt. Hope, and about two miles south of here I was driving uphill— mind wandering a bit, I'll admit— when suddenly I became aware that there was a deer dashing across the road at high speed, right in front of me and about two feet in front of my bumper.

I swerved sharply to the left, and just missed the deer. If I hadn't swerved, I would've hit it. And believe me, swerving on a gravel road when you're going at least 40 is an adventure: like they say, "Don't try this at home."

It's one of Iowa's several cryptic deer seasons right now— bow season, shotgun season, muzzle loader season, spear season, I don't know which— you'll see hunters here and there in blaze orange out in the now-empty cornfields. The deer are riled up.

Though really in these parts you've just got to watch out for deer. I know lots of folks around here who've hit a deer (and generally totalled their vehicle, too). I've never hit a deer, but I've had a few close calls, and yesterday's was the closest ever.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Have You Forded a River Lately?

Okay, just so you understand what I mean when I say I live in a "remote rural area"...

Several miles from my place, there's a gravel road called Sunflower Drive. The road runs down steeply into a valley, twisting and turning as you go. Then it twists and turns some more as it runs through the valley. Off to one side of you, you'll see this creek running alongside the road. Sooner or later you've got to cross Silver Creek. And when you do...

You find there's no bridge. Never has been. Nope, instead you've got to ford Silver Creek.

Don't worry, it's not bad. You'll get your tires pretty thoroughly wet, but take it slow and you'll ford the creek just fine. It's less than a foot deep. Usually.

They do have some warning signs posted as you come up toward the ford.

But I wouldn't worry about them warnings. Much.

Long as you're driving a pickup, or an SUV like my old Chevy Blazer— and long as we haven't just had four inches of rain or anything— you'll do fine.


Thursday, December 02, 2004

Can You Help Me Identify This Picture?

Anyone out there have any idea when or where this print originated, or who the artist was? I'd guess the 1920s or 1930s; the artist's name as it appears in the print looks like "Cope." The print is on textured paper and it looks about the same consistency as Christmas wrapping paper or a paper placemat. It measures about 18"x10". The frame is badly worn and beat, though the print itself is in good condition.

(You can also see a larger version of the picture here.)

There's a story behind this print. I first encountered a print just like it in the fall of 1981. I was in seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. Some of us were over at the loft apartment of a fellow seminarian. He had all sorts of wonderful art objects in his apartment, including a copy of this print hanging on the wall. (Yes, in case you hadn't guessed, he was an Episcopalian. ;-)

I saw that print of his that once and that once only, but it stuck in my mind. It was one of the inspirations for my strange short story "Yellowstripes," which I was mentioning yesterday.

As the years went by, I could still picture that print in my head. I assumed I'd never see the likes of it again.

Until about ten years ago, when I was serving as an interim pastor in north central Illinois. One day I walked into an antique shop, and what should I sight but... another copy of that very same print!

It wasn't cheap, but I didn't hesitate for an instant. I snatched it up, and it's hung on my wall ever since. Though I'm still clueless as to its provenance.

Friends, friends, speak to me... any ideas about this print, who or what or when or where?


The New Math

Yes, it's The Prime Number Shitting Bear!


Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Second Person Narrative

I sat down at my old cast iron box of a manual typewriter, and I began writing a story:

"Aren't you dumb? Here it is past noon and you're still lying abed. Not that you can see the light, huddled here in the southwest corner of the basement on your bed with those blankets over the windows to block out every ray of light.

"Block out every ray of light: that's the important thing now. It's been the important thing for a long time."

Typing, typing, typing... the story grew and unfolded, unremitting and disparaging, addressed directly to the protagonist in the second person. It was entitled "Yellowstripes," and it simply rolled off my fingers onto the keyboard:

"...And your memory slips back to last fall, to the wind and the leaves and to how you met her and to how you became a yellowstripes... Aren't you dumb?"

More than twenty years ago, I sat down at my typewriter, and wrote a short story entirely in the second person. You discover it's not easy to write in the second person; it's something of a tour de force. It's certainly not anything they ever taught us in English class, where we learned about first person narrative and third person narrative. Second person narrative was passed over in silence; it was not so much as mentioned, not even to say that it can't or shouldn't be done.

Turns out it is done, once in a while. Though only very rarely.

I'm sure I'd read a few stories in the second person before I wrote that short story of mine. Chan Davis's science fiction story "Hexamnion" springs to mind. But they didn't make much of an impression on me. Fleeting oddities often don't.

Most stories you read are in the third person. The protagonist is referred to as "he," "she," "they." In English class, they may have taught you that there are third person stories, and then there are third person stories: back in Victorian times, the author could present a third person narrative from an omniscient perspective, taking you inside the mind of any and all of the characters; whereas nowadays, the author is expected to grant you that kind of access to the mind of only one of the characters, or at least only one character per story thread.

First person narrative is easier to write, especially for the beginning writer. "I did this, I did that, then I said..." But for that very reason, the English teachers were prone to warn us away from it, more or less as an older and more severe generation once admonished us wiseacres: "Laugh before seven, cry before eleven."

Second person stories are, like I said, almost unheard of. But in the writing of them, you learn something about how they tick. Second person narrative creates a very powerful and intense emotional connection for the reader. The author can grab the reader and shake him around violently by the metaphorical shirt collar. And at the very same time, second person holds the reader at a strange distance.

But in second person it's very difficult to maintain a consistent tone for any length of time, even over the length of a short story. There's a tension that builds up, and the tone of the story keeps wanting to veer off into the ditch, like a vehicle propelled by an overwound mainspring.

I also find (and maybe this is just me) that in a second person story, I can build a mood, and pile detail upon detail, without ever having to clarify or explain just exactly what's going on, or why. In that sense, it's something like writing down a dream. I'm not sure how much of that, though, is inherent in second person, and how much of it is just me as a writer.

My interest in second person narrative was piqued again recently when I stumbled across a site called in a second, which is largely a collection of Harry Potter fan fiction(!) all written in the second person. The site also has some interesting interviews with the authors.

So tell me, what is it about second person narrative that makes it so difficult or so rare or so just plain cutting-against-the-grain...?