Friday, July 29, 2005

Altay Tuman Say What?

altay tuman
Ran across this picture a couple of weeks ago on some blog I've now lost track of. The blog was entirely in Russian.

But I got the name of the locale. Altay? Tuman? Isn't that out in central Asia or Siberia somewhere? I bet it's an 18 hour drive to the nearest grocery store...


Thursday, July 28, 2005

Computer Geek Quiz

My computer geek score is greater than 88% of all people in the world! How do you compare? Click here to find out!

I only regret I can't honestly say I took this quiz via the Lynx browser. Oh, and they should've had a "Notepad vs. vi vs. emacs" question. :-)

(Co hat tip: Jay Solo and Caltechgirl)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

100 Things About Me

Eh, this is the meme that catches up with every blogger sooner or later. I've dodged it long enough, so here we go...
  1. I was born in Madison, Wisconsin.
  2. I grew up in a small town north of Madison.
  3. I've lived in Wisconsin, Iowa, Washington, Illinois, and North Carolina.
  4. I am hopelessly left-handed.
  5. Except when I'm using a phone, calculator, or baseball bat.
  6. I have one brother, three years younger than me.
  7. My brother and I have almost never fought or argued.
  8. I'm a mix of English, Welsh, Norwegian, German, and Scottish.
  9. Starting at age 13, I created a complete and detailed language of my own.
  10. At age 17, I wrote a book in my language.
  11. I grew to 5 foot 7 by age 14; then, in my early 20s, I grew another half inch.
  12. My right little finger is a quarter of an inch longer than my left little finger.
  13. I was thin on into my 20s; since then, my weight has been up and down.
  14. I could easily stand to lose 50 or 60 pounds.
  15. My eyes are smoky blue with a sunburst of brown around the pupil.
  16. I've had a beard most of my adult life.
  17. I've always been pleased that I don't have one of the Twenty Standard Faces.
  18. My favorite color is red.
  19. Talk about synaesthesia, I've always known which color each day of the week is.
  20. I will not eat bananas. Never, since age 8.
  21. Pineapple and coconut are close behind.
  22. I'm about as musical as a fencepost.
  23. I'm known to listen to rock music, from the mid 60s up through the early to mid 80s.
  24. My favorite rock group is the Beatles.
  25. When I was a kid, I used to get north and south mixed up in my head.
  26. When I was a kid, I knew all about the planets and moons in the solar system, the way some people know baseball statistics.
  27. My favorite dinosaur is either Ankylosaurus or Triceratops.
  28. I collect slide rules, and in many ways I prefer them to calculators.
  29. My first exposure to computers came in the late 1970s.
  30. When I bought my first home computer in 1989, I considered the DOS command line a marvel of responsiveness and user-friendliness.
  31. At one time, I was quite good at coding in Borland Turbo PASCAL.
  32. Nowadays my computer is a Lenovo ThinkPad T61.
  33. I use Linux on my computer: Mandriva 2010.0 Mageia 1, to be exact.
  34. "Linux? So is your desktop KDE or GNOME?" Neither: I use Fluxbox.
  35. I originally set out to be a mathematician.
  36. I spent three years as a teaching assistant in the math department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  37. But a long-standing fascination with theology and the Church Fathers kept growing upon me.
  38. So I snatched my master's degree on the way out the door, and went off to seminary.
  39. I am an ordained Presbyterian minister.
  40. I also have dual standing in the United Church of Christ.
  41. Over the years, I've served in seven congregations in five different parishes.
  42. I did my Ph.D. in the Graduate Program in Religion at Duke University.
  43. I think I might make a good perpetual graduate student.
  44. I spent my 20s and 30s like Huck Finn, avoiding anything that smacked of long-term personal or professional commitment.
  45. In my first 25 years out of high school, I moved 25 times, only twice staying at an address for longer than two years.
  46. I have always been single.
  47. When I was younger, being in the singular number used to bother me.
  48. At this late date, I'm not unalterably opposed to marriage, if I should meet the right woman.
  49. But I'm also quite aware of how accustomed I am to living my day-to-day life at my own independent pace.
  50. I am incurably religious: you would never succeed in making an atheist, agnostic, or secularist out of me: I simply don't have that in my temperament.
  51. Mysticism and I have a joint history going back more than 20 years, but I'm reluctant to discuss it publicly.
  52. If people do ask me about mysticism and meditation, I've been known to recommend a book entitled The Cloud of Unknowing.
  53. In philosophical terms, I'm a critical realist and a Peircean pragmaticist; not that I've ever met anyone outside of a philosophy department who knows what the hell that means. ;-)
  54. I think the Cartesian subject/object split has been an unqualified disaster for modern Western culture.
  55. At one time in my life, I neither owned nor could afford a bed; so for nearly a year I slept on a rubber mat on the floor.
  56. I never owned a color TV until age 43.
  57. I hardly ever watch TV.
  58. I own about 3000 books.
  59. I've always had a lot of books, though as recently as 10 years ago I could still fit them all in one room.
  60. Until the past several years, my "non-jettisonable" non-book possessions could have been fit into the space beneath a kitchen table.
  61. It sometimes bothers me when I see the quantity of things I've acquired in recent years.
  62. It sometimes bothers me that I don't have time to read more books.
  63. Listening to the radio has always felt to me somehow like tapping into some alternate dimension of reality.
  64. I'm especially fascinated with listening to shortwave radio.
  65. Classical board games and card games too have always felt to me like being in contact with some alternate level of reality.
  66. In my high school years I turned out my own homemade Shogi (Japanese chess) set.
  67. I also turned out sets for Tamerlane's chess, the Courier game, Chinese chess, Edgar Rice Burroughs' game of Jetan, etc.
  68. In my college years, I created a board game called the Quintuple Arcana, which was extremely complex and quite unlike any game you've ever heard of.
  69. When I was a kid, I was afraid of thunderstorms; nowadays I usually sleep right through them.
  70. I snore. Loudly.
  71. Since I reached voting age, I've voted in every Presidential election.
  72. I've always considered myself a political conservative of some sort.
  73. Running into the political Left in college transformed me from an Eisenhower conservative into a more hard-nosed National Review conservative.
  74. I agree with the remark, "Libertarianism sounds like a cool idea, until you meet some actual libertarians."
  75. I'd almost say the same about social conservatism, especially in its more unctuously religious manifestations.
  76. I think the free market is the greatest epistemic instrument ever devised, though it's no measure of what's good or beautiful.
  77. To me, conservatism is all about the complexity, the intractability, the more-than-just-rational depths of culture and polis; that, plus a Burkean attachment to fertile, adaptable tradition.
  78. I'm a great fan of individualism, long as the individual is rooted and not rootless.
  79. When I was in my early 20s, I had hair down to the bottom of my shoulder blades.
  80. My great-great-grandfather jumped ship in Virginia in 1840, and immediately changed his last name from Chamberlain to Burgess.
  81. The tradition handed down is that he was an illegitimate son of an English nobleman.
  82. I once owned a bright red 1970 Ford Torino.
  83. I've read Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn countless times.
  84. Another of my favorite books is Boswell's Life of Johnson.
  85. In first grade, a friend and I invented a 27th letter of the alphabet.
  86. I live far out into the countryside, on a gravel road.
  87. When people get too pushy, a circuit breaker trips inside me, and I just stop taking them seriously.
  88. I laugh whenever I hear anyone call something a "makeover": talk about overused idea of the decade!
  89. In high school I ran in track and crosscountry.
  90. The summer I turned 40, I suffered a midlife crisis and ran away 2000 miles to Seattle for six weeks.
  91. Crazy thing to do, but it did lead circuitously to long-term personal change for the better.
  92. I never saw the world in 3D until I had eye surgery at age 7.
  93. I have glasses, but I never wear them except behind the wheel or in the movie theater.
  94. I wear blue jeans seven days a week— yes, including under my robe on Sunday morning.
  95. House plants or garden, I do not have a green thumb.
  96. There have been a dozen or so incidents in my life which were so mortifying, that even decades later they still pop into my mind at least once a week.
  97. My mind has always been a kaleidoscopic torrent of surreal imagery: think Salvador Dali music video on fast forward.
  98. Pepsi or Coke? Neither, my favorite pop is RC Cola.
  99. My favorite beer is either Point Special or Leinenkugel's.
  100. Once in high school a friend flipped a nickel and told me to call it in the air, "heads" or "tails." Just to be contrary, I called "rims." The nickel landed and came to rest, standing upright on its rim. Most implausible thing that ever happened to me.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Green Evening

Sometimes on a summer afternoon, or on into the evening, everything outdoors will take on this overpowering and unearthly greenish cast. It's almost like seeing the world around you through a colored filter. Often it happens after it's been raining. But not always: sometimes it just happens.

Uncanny, almost eerie. Not just a slight green tinge, but a very strong shift in the lighting, as if everything around you has been transposed into another key.

I've noticed this phenomenon ever since I was a kid. We used to call it a "green evening." (In my own Hermetic language, mna cvano.) More rarely I've also seen yellow evenings, and even the exceedingly rare pink evening. But usually it's a green evening.


Hey Santa!

Odd but true fact: my brother and I often call each other "Santa."

I recall reading that the novelist Walker Percy and a friend of his used to call each other "Rollo"; apart from that, I've never heard of two people calling each other by the same nickname.

Origin of the practice: back when I was a twenty-something, we went to a theater in Madison, and it must've been shortly before Christmas, because there was a commercial before the movie where these elves were saying to Santa Claus, "Hey Santa, want a Coke?" Somehow we twisted this to, "Hey Santa, want some Jonestown punch?" And from there to calling each other "Santa."



When I was a kid, I had this notion— don't know how it came to me, but I think it may have been in a dream— that God had created the world, because God lay down beneath a tree and took a nap, and dreamed the entire world, and so decided to create everything in the dream.

Variant telling: God dreamed about a tree, and so decided to create an entire universe in which for there to be a tree.

Of course, in a mediaeval morality play, this would have been the tree on Golgotha.


Monday, July 25, 2005

Telemarketers Again

Back when the Federal Do Not Call list first became available, I signed up immediately. And I remember when it went into effect— all of a sudden, blessed peace. No more damn telemarketers phoning while I was taking a nap, or right as I was taking a pizza out of the oven for dinner.

For a long time, I had surcease from telemarketers, with the allowed exceptions of politicians, pollsters, and charities. For well over a year, I virtually never received a call from a telemarketer who shouldn't be phoning me.

But now, just within the past few months, the telemarketers have been creeping back in, as if they're so hellbent on violating our private space that they just can't resist, law or no law. Indeed, lately it's gotten so I've been receiving an illegal telemarketing call almost every day.

One feature all the new telemarketing calls have in common is that they're prerecorded messages. No live voice on the other end. I suppose that way you can't tell them to go take a hike. Also, these recordings cannot be cut off until they're finished. I keep trying to hang up on them, and I cannot sever the connection. The voice just keeps prattling on. Since some of these messages run a good 30 to 45 seconds, you tell me what would happen if someone suddenly suffered a heart attack and had to call 911.

These past few months, I keep getting one recording that opens, "Are you and everyone in your office lucky! You've just won an all expenses paid trip to Branson..." Another repeat offender is a recording telling me that I've just won a free trial period with a set of golf clubs. Since I'm not a golfer, I'm just like, yeah, will you get off the line already?!

This past week or two, the pace of these calls has really been stepping up. Now I've been getting a call from some credit foundation that wants to help me with my finances— ah, I remember they were one of the more egregious pests back in the days before the Do Not Call list. And just the other day, I got a— guess what?— prerecorded message trying to sell me on getting satellite TV.

What, do these outfits think that when they brazenly flout the law and call those of us who are on the federal Do Not Call list, we're going to slap our foreheads and say, "Gee, I never wanted to be bothered by a telemarketer again, but since you called me, I think I'll buy something from you anyway"?

No. Not on your life. What part of "Do Not Call" don't these telemarketers understand? (Answer: The word "Not".) I for one hope that the law gets on their case, and busts them but good.

Rain but Still Hot

Last week we finally got some rain around here— my rain gauge registered 2½ inches total Wednesday and Thursday, and then another 2.1 inches on Saturday. And I'm rather suspecting we're in for more rain today. Much needed, gracias.

Nonetheless, temperatures yesterday were in the 90s. As they've been most days now for, well, it seems like most of July. Saturday was cooler, things stayed in the 70s. But yesterday was a scorcher round here again, and I hear over in Chicago it hit 103°. In fact last night up at Rochester (Minnesota) it only got down to 72° overnight— warmest low on record for July 24.

Today, it's supposed to be hot and muggy once again.

Oh well, Mr. Radio Announcer Man was just saying the forecast is for "cooler later this week." We can hope.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Russian Watch! Russian Watch!

russian watch
Boy, this must be my week for buying things online.

See, I've had this watch, a Swiss Army watch, for several years now, and it served me okay, only it's getting so my sweat is tarnishing and corroding and almost rusting it away. (My sweat has a way of doing this to watches.) The leather watchband is also wearing out to the point where it's just absolutely falling apart— I could get the watchband replaced, done that before, but why bother when the watch itself is looking like something dredged up from a salvage operation?

So instead I got a Russian army watch from RussArmy, and Mr. UPS Man delivered it yesterday. Check out the easy-to-read numerals, with little glow-in-the-dark dots next to them. Check out the (glow-in-the-dark) hands. Check out the red star and army tank. Check out the inscription in Russian, "Komandirskie" (rough Roman alphabet transcript). Check out the date window. Check out the ring with minutes, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 or more, around the edge.

And this watch has a self-winding mechanical movement, 31 jewels. It ticks like a real watch should. None of that wimpy quartz movement crap.

Truth be told, this isn't the first mechanical Russian army watch I've had. Many years back I had one, face of the watch identical to this one, but without many of these cool newer features. Wore that watch to death till it wouldn't run no more. And only now do I find a worthy replacement.

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Thursday, July 21, 2005

From Floppy Disk to Flash Drive

The other day I received my new Corsair 1-Gigabyte USB Flash Drive via FedEx. One entire gigabyte of memory, in a little device the size and shape of a small jack knife handle!

We've come a long way since I got my first computer, a Leading Edge Model D, back in 1989. Actually by that time I'd already been tinkering with computers on and off, in one capacity or another, for about ten years. My Model D didn't even have a hard drive when I first bought it. Just two 5¼" floppy drives. I booted up off a floppy disk into MS-DOS 3.3. Kept two Rolodex-like plastic boxes next to my computer, one contained 5¼" disks of software, the other contained disks of data. I was constantly swapping different floppies in and out of drives A: and B:, depending on what I was doing with the computer at the moment.

I mean, what else could I do? A single 5¼" floppy disk held only 360 kilobytes. Most software you bought in the stores in those days came on 5¼" floppies, and I remember that some of those disks, for the sake of backward compatibility with computers even older than mine, held only 180 kilobytes.

At the Duke University computer center, they did eventually outfit some of their computers to handle both 5¼" and 3½" floppies. I remember experimenting with some 720 kilobyte 3½" disks; of course, I had no way to access them on my computer.

I did eventually get a hard drive for my computer, and it had the (to me) astonishing capacity of 42 megabytes. I had all my software, all of my years and years' accumulation of personal data, on that hard drive, and I never did come close to filling it up. Still using DOS 3.3; and I remember doing backups, with the DOS BACKUP command, to literally dozens and dozens of 5¼" floppies.

My brother at this time had a computer which could handle both 5¼" and 3½" floppies, and so I made archival backups of some of my data on 1.44 megabyte 3½" floppy disks. Of course, I still had no way to access them via my own computer.

In 1999, I finally got a new computer— an IBM ThinkPad. This had a floppy drive for 1.44 megabyte 3½" disks, and so now I was backing up my data to (get this) dozens and dozens of 1.44-meg 3½" floppies. I was discovering that data will expand to fill the space available to it.

The ThinkPad also had a CD drive, but it was read-only. So of no use for data backup.

Then, a year ago last September, I got a newer ThinkPad, and was so foolhardy as to install Linux on it. For data backup I decided to go to a Zip drive, mostly because it was Linux-compatible (though, par for the course with Linux, it took me a while to figure how to make it work). Beautiful external Zip drive, translucent blue plastic. Plug it into my USB port. Insert a 100 megabyte Zip disk (looks like a big, sturdy, beefed-up version of a 3½" floppy). Mount the Zip disk as /mnt/zip (this is, after all, Linux). Archive all my data in a tarball. And split the tarball up into chunks, each small enough to fit on a 100 megabyte Zip disk.

This time I was down to a handful of Zip disks for backup, forget that "dozens and dozens" crap. Still, it was a pain.

So, like I said, the other day I ordered this 1 gigabyte flash drive. One whole gigabyte. It arrives via FedEx, and I'm astounded. Size and shape of a small jack knife handle. Rubber coated, waterproof, almost indestructible. I plug it into the USB port on my computer, it's plug-and-play. It's mounted as /mnt/removable. I decide I don't need to back up my music, if I ever had to I could easily enough re-rip it all from my CDs. Everything else can now be backed up with the following single command:

tar --exclude ~/mp3 -cvpf /mnt/removable/backup.tar ~

(Yes, that's from the command line. What did you expect? I cut my teeth on DOS. Heck, I cut my teeth, back circa 1979, on a good old-fashioned keypunch machine.)

I'll confess, I haven't yet gotten the flash drive to do that USB 2.0 thing. It's more like USB 1.1, which is slower. But for data backup purposes that's fine, I just let it run in the background while I do something else. Hey, this is Linux, what did you expect?! ;-)


Harry Potteritis

There's a fascinating discussion going on over at Dean's World, about Harry Potter, good literature, bad literature, literary snobbery, the classics, popular culture, books kids love to read, the Beatles, Shakespeare, music, movies, cartoons, and the Herculoids...

Welcome to the Blogroll...

...Eric Ashley's Tales of Tadeusz! I still don't quite get this whole storyblogging thing, but Eric is quite the storyblogger, and we've been having an interesting discussion about storyblogging over on Dean's World. Turns out that, without quite knowing what I was up to, I've been doing some storyblogging myself.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Thy Lurid Crimson Majesty

Yourex Silver Saver
Now, that is cool.

I picked this little item up last week. It's a tube, about 10 inches tall, with a roll of something like cotton batting inside. It's for storing silverware, anti-tarnish, that sort of thing.

But what's so cool about it is simply that design. I mean, a bright silver Statue of Liberty, with lurid crimson lightning bolts shooting out from around the torch!!!

Like Strong Bad would say, check out all her majesty! Them lightning bolts are drawn with consummate Z's!


Summer Rain

We haven't had rain around here in weeks. Day after day, it's been "sunny, high near 90°." Except for yesterday, which was more like "sunny, high of 98°."

Things were getting to look mighty parched. Lawn was brown. Cornfield across the road from me was not looking so great.

Then last night, rain came from the west. I watched it online, on the weather radar. Now reaching Mason City... Now halfway over toward Decorah... Coming our way...

Oddly enough, when the rain finally got here, I slept right through it. This morning in my rain gauge out front, I find something over four tenths of an inch. We could use more, but I'll take what we got.

And this morning I have the windows in the house open, temperature of 73°. Through the windows I can hear the birds: "T-CHEEEK! Tzivitee, tzivitee, tzivitee, tzivitee, tzit!"

Always thought that was one of the coolest things about living out in the countryside— hearing all those birds singing out your window. "Cheep... cheep... cheep..." "T-CHEEEK! T-CHEEEK! Tzivitee, tzivitee, tzivitee, tzivitee, tzit!"

Friday, July 15, 2005

The Midpoint of Summer

Well, here we are, and the summer is halfway gone already. Sure, you can talk about summer beginning on the summer solstice, or whatever. But by my calendration, summer begins on June 1 (or maybe on Memorial Day weekend). And summer ends on August 31 (or maybe on Labor Day weekend). By that yardstick, half of the summer has already fled away.

Last night some of us went over to Spring Grove, where a local theater group put on an outdoor performance of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. An enjoyable evening, with dinner beforehand and clear skies throughout.

Now I'd like to see some rain in these parts. The corn could use some rain. And I'm getting tired of one day after another of "sunny, with highs near 90°." Fortunately it's been cooling off at night, and as for the days, I'm so fortunate as to live in the era of air conditioning.

Dean Esmay Is 39

Yes, today is Dean's 39th birthday. Happy birthday, sir!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

My Bum Ankle

Yesterday I was out and around, and my bum ankle started acting up. Pain in the left ankle, stabbing pain on the outward side of the ankle joint. All I could do to walk without limping.

Over the years I've just learned to live with my bum ankle.

Back when I was 15 going on 16, I was out one evening in early June running with my dog. She came to a halt right in front of me all of a sudden with no warning, and I tripped over her and went flying. Landed on my left ankle, pain like fire. My dog was just standing there with her tongue hanging out, like nothing had happened. I got up with great difficulty and (God only knows how) managed to hop back home on my other foot.

The ankle felt like someone had skewered it with a red-hot poker. No, I didn't go to the doctor; this was 1972, and today's obsessive-compulsive hangup with "doctoring" over every last item hadn't yet taken hold of our culture. No blood, no bone fragments poking out through the skin? Fine, let it go.

To be honest, it was three or four days before I was able to set weight on my left foot again. A week later, I was still only just barely able to walk, and that only with great pain. In fact, I walked with a gradually diminishing limp the entire summer. The limp didn't subside, nor did I run again, until the last week of August, when I began cross-country practice.

For years after that, I didn't think much about my ankle. Oh, there was the perpetual tendency of the shoelaces on my left shoe to come spontaneously untied any time I walked any great distance. My friends used to joke with me about my telekinetic shoelaces. It was only years later that I realized this was probably due to walking unevenly: at some point, I switched to wearing leather boots, and when the soles on my boots went through, it was always the sole on the left boot that wore out first.

Then, when I got past 40, I began to notice the pain in my left ankle. Sometimes when I woke up in the morning, that ankle would be throbbing. Or if I did much walking, there would be an aching, stabbing pain in my left ankle. Sometimes not too bad, sometimes bad enough that it was all I could do to walk without a limp.

I have to watch my feet as I'm walking down steps: that left foot has a way of "landing stupid," which has sent me tumbling more than once. And you can forget skiing, or anything that requires that ankle to do anything very clever or complicated.

Yesterday it was, like I say, all I could do to walk without a limp. Still, I'm just thankful that the ankle basically works, and that I can walk. I don't trust doctors, or the health care industry (emphasis on the word "industry"), and I have no intention of turning myself into a cash cow for their unending financial benefit. I come from an older generation which doesn't think in terms of designer clothing for all, or eating out four times a week, or dozens of channels on cable TV, or two snowmobiles in every garage, or expensive and dubious medical procedures for minor physical complaints.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Cat-a-Middle P

Back around age five or so, I thought I knew how the alphabet ran. It ran like this: A B C D E F G, H I J, Cat-a-Middle P, Q R S T U V, W X Y Z.

That's right, Cat-a-Middle P.

Don't ask me where I got this from. Actually, I could read quite well. My Mom taught me to read at age four, which was unusual back in those days. But somehow I picked up this weird idea about the alphabet.

I also had odd ideas about numbers. Here's how the numbers ran: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 15 20 40 55 75.

This I connect with playing cards. You had the spot cards. Then jack, queen, king were 11 12 15. The aces were 20, except the ace of spades was 40. The extra joker was 55. The joker was 75.

(The number 600 was also associated in my mind with the image of a brown cowboy hat. Don't ask me why.)

On the radio in the kitchen, I remember once hearing a warning. They were telling people over the radio to watch out for someone called "Mr. Kamper," who was driving around ramming people's cars and deliberately getting in accidents. Or at least that's how I took it.

Or there was the time (my folks tell me it must have been a dream, but that's not how I remember it) when we got up in the morning, and started eating breakfast, and all of a sudden it started getting dark out again. Seems the entire family had slept clear through the day into the evening. It wasn't morning after all, it was sunset. And so it was bedtime again before we had hardly even finished breakfast, which made me quite mad.

There was another dream where the Speedy Alka-Seltzer Man came out of a hole in the wall (he was about six inches tall), and he was going to take all my toys away.

I was under the impression my Dad had once told me that I was the inventor of the word "instead." I was quite amazed that I had invented a new word in the English language. I also connected this insight with a purple coffee mug we had in the kitchen, and also with a spot out by an oak tree that used to stand in front of our house along the street.

There was a chip in the paint on the kitchen wall. I always thought it looked like the outline of a cat sitting in a wicker basket. In fact not just looked like; almost more like was. When I was a bit older, the kitchen got repainted, and I was quite disappointed that the cat in the basket got painted over. But soon the paint settled, and there once again you could see that outline on the wall.

I used to have the idea that when I sat out in the sun, I turned soft like butter, and I was able to interchange my right and left legs. I insisted that I had sometimes actually done this.

I somehow knew that there were two orders of color for the rainbow. One was the seven colors you see in the sky: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. But there were also nine "colors of the rainbow," and they ran in this order: white, yellow, orange, red, green, blue, purple, brown, black.

I used to think it was "taken for granite" instead of "taken for granted." "Having a hard attack" instead of "having a heart attack." And the pit beneath that big concrete lid out beside the house was known as a "sister" rather than a "cistern."

Also, I remember what a big insight it was when I first realized that all houses had people living in them. I had always thought that only our house, and two houses across the street, had people in them. The other houses were empty. It never occurred to me to wonder where everyone else lived.

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Monday, July 11, 2005

Mrs. du Toit Is Back!

This must be the season for returning bloggers. I just found out that Mrs. du Toit, who closed down her blog some six months ago, has recently returned to blogging!

Go. Read her. Bookmark her blog. Blogroll it! Somewhere out there is a blogger who is surpassingly intelligent, and surpassingly thoughtful, and surpassingly well written— and when I say "surpassingly," I mean Mrs. du Toit.

3WK Underground Radio

3WK is an online radio station I first ran across way back in the neolithic era of the Internet. You know, like the days of Netscape 4?

3WK Underground Radio
I used to enjoy listening to them. Then I sort of lost track. When I ran across 3WK a few years later, my dial-up connection could no longer handle the requisite bandwidth.

Well. A couple of months ago, I finally got DSL. And now this morning, I just happened to wander onto the 3WK Underground Radio website once again. And voilà! I'm sitting here listening to 3WK as I type this.

3WK Underground Radio
3WK Classic Rock and Indie Rock streams are available in Windows Media, Real, Shoutcast, and Ogg Vorbis format. I've got the low-K Ogg Vorbis streams for Classic Rock and Indie Rock bookmarked in XMMS.

You can find literally thousands of web radio stations to choose from at Live365, which I also listen to a lot. But 3WK is cool, and 3WK has been webcasting since 1997.

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Saturday, July 09, 2005

Admiral Quixote's Roundtable Is Back!

Every once in a while now for the past six months, I've been dropping by Admiral Quixote's Roundtable, hoping to see a new post. But always at the top of the page was that post dated January 17, and after some months my hopes began to recede...

So you can imagine my surprise when last night I dropped by and discovered that, within the past week or two, Admiral Quixote has returned! Intelligent, incisive, and unfailingly civil— it's good to have you back, sir!

Yes, Admiral Quixote's Roundtable is back!

Friday, July 08, 2005

When Karma Fails, Call for Rob

Terry Floyd, book department supervisor and asshole extraordinaire, was on break in the break room, meditating on how he had just publicly reamed out a worker right in front of customers in aisle seven: "Hey, Flash, don't put those books on the shelf like that! Flash, you hear me? Hey chief! Listen up! You stupid or something? Don't put the books on the shelf like that! Flash, you got wax in your ears? You stupid?"

Rob arrived in the year 1996 in the break room right behind Terry Floyd. Terry noticed a shadow suddenly cast in front of him, as if of a man standing behind his back. Terry Floyd turned around: "Oh, hey chief, you new here?"

Rob glared at the supervisor, then spoke in a deep bass voice. "Terry Floyd, I am here to Judge you for your crimes against humanity. Too long have you brutalized and mistreated your workers. Your evildoing comes to a stop now. No longer will you browbeat and humiliate workers in front of customers, as you did not ten minutes ago..."

"Oh, hey, I don't know what you're talking about, I've never done any such thing..."

Rob interrupted in a voice so loud that the walls of the room literally vibrated: "Stop lying! Your evil is manifest!" Suddenly a scene was projected on the wall of the break room, as if by an unseen movie projector: "Hey, Flash, don't put those books on the shelf like that! Flash, you hear me? Hey chief! Listen up! You stupid or something?..."

Terry fidgeted nervously. "Oh, well, chief, I didn't mean anything by it. I don't do anything like that often, anyhow..."

Again Rob interrupted in a 90-decibel roar: "Stop lying! You have behaved like that routinely toward your workers, day in and day out, for years now. Brutalizing them, abusing them, chewing them out for doing things the way you told them to do it 20 minutes ago, instead of doing it the new way you just made up in your head two seconds ago... Your habitual evil behavior has made this workplace a living hell for dozens of people. I am here to tell you that your wrongdoing is at an end."

Now Terry tried to assert his authority. "Look, I don't have to listen to crap like this..." Terry turned to leave the break room, only to discover that there was no longer any doorway out of the room.

There was no door. Where there had been a door, there was now only a blank, unbroken expanse of wall.

"Hey, chief! You let me out of here..."

"No." Rob stared grimly into the supervisor's eyes. "Your petty reign of terror is at an end. You have enough oxygen in this room for about half an hour. It would take jackhammers to break into this room, and just in case, I have now fortified the walls, ceiling, and floor with three-inch-thick steel plate. Good-bye, Terry Floyd. In the time left to you, you will experience personally the pain and the suffering you have inflicted on your employees."

Suddenly Terry Floyd screamed and howled like a cornered wild animal, as every psychological defense and means of self-deception was stripped away from him, and he experienced for himself, first-hand, what he had been inflicting on his workers all these years. The asshole of a supervisor sank to his knees in the sealed-off break room, screaming at the top of his lungs, as Rob disappeared into thin air.

* * * * * * * *

The four high school bullies sat on the swings in the public park. They were smirking at two younger boys, brothers, who were playing on a nearby teeter-totter. The two younger boys were wearing identical Batman T-shirts.

One of the bullies, clearly the ringleader, called out in a mocking voice: "Will the real Batman please stand up?"

His three lackeys laughed at this. The two younger boys ignored him. The bully called out even louder: "Will the real Batman please stand up?"

Again the lackeys chortled. This time, the younger boys glanced over, unable to conceal their unease. Smelling fear, the bully got up off the swing and began sauntering over toward the teeter-totters. "I said, will the real Batman please stand up?"

Rob arrived in the year 1967 behind an oak tree in the park. He rewound the time sequence 20 seconds so he could replay it in its entirety from the beginning.

Now the bully was laughing out loud. His three companions got up and began following him, striding slowly in the direction of the teeter-totters.

Rob felt of the timestream. In every possible future, this disgusting bully would only go on to more of the same. Time to intervene...

"Hey Batman! Hey Batman!" the bully called out in a mocking singsong.

Then, all of a sudden, with a loud crack like cannonfire, the bully's head exploded. Brains and blood and shards of bone sprayed all over. The headless body wobbled and collapsed to the ground, blood gouting in spurts out of the severed neck.

The two brothers on the teeter-totter laughed at the sudden display of Cosmic Justice. Rob stepped out of the shadows into full daylight. "Don't worry, you guys. That bully will never bother anyone again."

Rob turned to the three slackers, and glowered. "Let your friend's fate be a warning to you. The time when bullies were tolerated is coming to an end. I have Judged him. Now get out of here, and change your ways, before I Judge you."

Then Rob vanished in broad daylight. One instant he was there, the next he was gone.

* * * * * * * *

Rob arrived in the year 2008 on the front steps of the public school. He walked in the front door, and into the school office. He announced to the secretary, "I've come to see the Principal."

The secretary looked up from her desk. "I'm sorry, you'll need to make an appointment if you want to see Mr. Hanford."

"I don't make appointments." Rob strode past the flustered secretary toward the closed door to the Principal's office.

Rob reached out and, with his bare hands, he tore the door right off its hinges.

Rob cast the door aside, and walked into the office to confront the Principal: Mr. Hanford, who was sitting behind his desk, looked up in surprise.

Now Rob raised his right arm and pointed straight at the Principal, speaking in a bass voice so loud that the glass windowpanes behind the Principal literally cracked. "Reginald Hanford, I have come to Judge you. What is this I hear about you expelling a third-grader for the rest of the year, because she brought a plastic picnic knife to school for show-and-tell?"

The Principal chuckled, like a man who thinks he can jolly the Fates by wearing a suit and tie and faking a bland exterior. "I'm sorry, but our school system has instituted a policy of zero tolerance for any and all weapons. I'm afraid for legal reasons I can't really discuss the case beyond that..."

Rob roared in righteous fury, like an uncaged lion: "Genuine weapons, yes, that I could see; but a dull, blunt-ended plastic picnic knife, brought to school with perfectly innocent intent??! Don't hide behind your loathsome 'legalities' with me, Reginald Hanford! Zero tolerance is an abomination upon the face of the earth! And you, Mr. Hanford, are a willing tool of the system!"

The Principal drummed his fingers nervously on the desktop, and glanced aside. "Oh, well..."

Rob pounded his fist on the Principal's desk, and things went flying off the desktop in every which direction. "And this will go down permanently on the girl's school record, expelled for a weapons offense... Tell me, too, Mr. Hanford, about the first-grader expelled from your school for pointing his index finger at someone and saying 'Bang!' Tell me about the fourth-grader with the unexpungeable 'weapons offense' of shooting a rubber band across the room! Tell me about the so-called drug offense of a junior high student who had a headache and brought an aspirin to school in her bag lunch. Tell me about the innocent lives you have damaged..."

Mr. Hanford looked up. "I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to leave. The police have already been called."

"No, Reginald Hanford, don't think you can hide behind your respectability, your social position, your authority, your sang-froid, and your neatly tailored suit. You have willingly and gladly made yourself an accomplice in the evils of zero tolerance, and you are an evil man..."

At this, Mr. Hanford laughed out loud, but uneasily.

"...You are an evil man, and you are a blot on the escutcheon of humanity! You will not be suffered to continue your evildoing any longer! Mine is the power to access any and all school or legal records, written or electronic..."

Rob held out his hand, and suddenly like a conjuror's trick, several file folders appeared in his hand out of nowhere.

"These are the school records of some of the innocent students whose lives you have derailed." Rob threw the file folders down in front of the Principal. "But mine is also the power to correct the record. Look at them!"

Mr. Hanford's face turned white. He opened a folder, and was terrified to see the writing on the page changing and being altered before his very eyes. Then the folders suddenly disappeared off his desk.

Rob spoke softly, almost quietly: "Now, Reginald Hanford, it is time for me to Judge you."

Rob reached forth, and with a single hand, he picked up the Principal's 200-pound steel desk and flung it across the room. The desk caromed off the walls, scattering books and bookshelves as it shattered the plywood paneling.

The Principal looked up at Rob, pale as a ghost. "Who... who are you to judge me?"

Rob looked straight into the man's eyes. "Who am I to Judge you? Reginald Hanford, you vile piece of scum, I am the voice that laughs in the morning. I am the avenger of innocents wronged. I am the righteous hand that removes the thumb of evil from the balance-pan of Justice. I am the fury that burns against all bullies and oppressors. Reginald Hanford... I have been deputized as the Left Hand of God."

With that, Rob reached forth and effortlessly tore Mr. Hanford's left arm off. The Principal screamed. Then Rob tore the malefactor's legs off at the knees. "I'd say you should make a comeback as Darth Vader, Mr. Hanford. By your shameless embrace of zero tolerance, you've certainly gone over to the Dark Side of the Force. But unlike Obi-Wan Kenobi, I won't make that mistake..."

Rob clenched his fist and punched Mr. Hanford's heart out, right back through his spine, right through the back of the office chair. Blood sprayed everywhere.

When Rob walked out the front doors of the school, he found not only the police but also the National Guard waiting for him. But with them he had no quarrel; he walked calmly through their midst, as they opened fire on him. The bullets just bounced off Rob. They fired at him with bazookas, and he just laughed. Finally the tank fired at him, at point-blank range.

Rob wasn't even fazed; once, on the coast of Iceland in the year 2143, they tried to stop Rob by dropping an atomic bomb on him. It didn't work. Why then fear pea shooters like these?

Rob walked away unscathed through the streets of the city.

* * * * * * * *

In the Corridors of Justice, beyond space and time, Rob ran into Kathy. "So, how was your day?"

Kathy said, "I traveled back to 1712. Took out a two-bit tyrant in the Trans-Caucasus. And you?"

"Oh, just taking care of a few notorious bullies. What's on your list for tomorrow?"

"Mid 21st century. Deal with some activists who advocate involuntary organ donation. How about you?"

"The year 2403. Up against genetically modified post-humans."

"You take care! Those post-humans, they've got power."

"Nothing like the power that is mine." Rob looked pensive. "So many innocents to liberate, so many evildoers to put down. And so many quislings who blithely go along with evil, as long as they can color it respectable, or generate sympathy for the devil! When will Judgment Day ever come..."

"It's coming soon enough, Rob. They're gearing up. Meanwhile, it's up to us Left Hands to Judge the world in Geburah. Same as it's been, ever since the shattering of the vessels. But don't you fret, Judgment Day will come."

"Can't come soon enough to suit me."


Thursday, July 07, 2005


Yesterday we took the Youth Fellowship up to Valleyfair, an amusement park near the Twin Cities (or, as they simply say in these parts, "the Cities"). Left at 7 AM, got home at 11 PM. I hitched a ride, didn't have to drive, so didn't have to deal with that end of it. But nonetheless I find I'm dragging this morning.

There were all sorts of rides at the park, including Excalibur, High Roller, Power Tower, RipTide, Steel Venom, and Wild Thing. I had visions of leaving my lunch behind me, so I stuck to a few of the tamer rides— wildest one I rode was the Ferris wheel. I figure I first rode a Ferris wheel back about 1962, so that must be safe. I was fine as long as I didn't look down.

I actually spent most of the day sitting around in the shade and eating. For a place that is not basically an eating establishment, Valleyfair sure has enough eating places scattered around inside it. The highlight of the day for me was discovering something called a Double Lemon Ice Chill— imagine finely micro-crushed ice which tastes like lemonade concentrate. I had several of these in the course of the day (at only $4 apiece) and am surprised they didn't come back up. I could live on Double Lemon Ice Chills.

There were also some cool acrobats from Africa.

And of course no trip to an amusement park is complete without getting ripped off on buying souvenirs. Once again, there were more souvenir shops scattered around than you could shake a stick at, and for some reason they all carried pretty much the same merchandise. I settled for a deck of transparent playing cards, a deck of giant playing cards, and a T-shirt. They had all sorts of fancy T-shirts printed in a zillion colors, with a snake on the front (for Steel Venom), or "University of Wild Thing," or crowded multicolor designs about "220 feet straight up and nowhere to go but down" and "I survived Valleyfair!" Old fart that I am, I settled instead for the most old-fart-like T-shirt I could find, which could easily have been designed and printed and worn in gym class back about 1970:

Valleyfair T-Shirt
Long ride home afterwards. Between this and our Fourth of July doings, I'm just about ready to conclude that I should finally take a day off this week. Like, today.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Fourth of July

Spent the afternoon and evening yesterday in the nearby town of Eitzen, where I was helping out with the Eitzen Lions Fourth of July event, which runs every year on July 3-4. We're talking about a town of just over 200, drawing many thousands of people from all around.

In the afternoon a few of us set up the inflatable "bouncy houses," which I'm in charge of this year. I had some volunteers lined up to supervise them. I also worked a shift in the evening at food stand #2, down by the tractor pull track. The tractor pull was the big event of the evening.

Today I'll be involved in more activities— the Fourth of July parade, in which our Youth Fellowship has a float this year; setting up the bouncy houses again after the parade; heading over to someone's house for dinner; work another shift at food stand #1 in the evening, during the combine demolition derby; pull down the bouncy houses and store them away; and then at 10 PM, watch the fireworks.

Happy Fourth of July!

Sunday, July 03, 2005

"So, Shinji Ikari, We Meet at Last!"

Well, Caltechgirl and Grand Moff Trojan are on the road, moving across the country, and their route happened to bring them through my neck of the woods. So yesterday evening we got together up in La Crosse for dinner. It was a joy to meet them, and we had a blast!

If you'd been a mouse hiding in the corner at the restaurant, you would've heard the three of us us carrying on (to quote Jack Kerouac) "like excited nuts." ;-) This is the first time I've ever met face to face with folks I originally met and got to know over the Internet. And like I say, it was a blast! And a real privilege. You two have a safe journey, and enjoy Mt. Rushmore on the Fourth! I'll be thinking of you as I'm working at the food stand at the Eitzen Lions Fourth of July event. And I'll have to visit out in California some time.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Six Years Here

It was six years ago today that I started out as pastor of Mt. Hope and St. John's. July 1, 1999. I'd come over here to Iowa a couple of days before to drop off my car and a few other items. And actually it was July 2 that I arrived with the U-Haul truck. I remember it was incredibly hot. Folks helping me carry boxes out of the truck down the gangplank into the house.

Mt. Hope
Mt. Hope Presbyterian Church

July 3 and 4, the big Lions Fourth of July event in the neighboring town of Eitzen. I remember it was incredibly hot. Between the heat and the exhaustion of moving in, I came back to the house afterwards and slept for 18 hours straight.

St. John's
St. John's United Church of Christ

That was then. This is six years later. And these past six years have been a real blessing. The best six years of my life. God willing, I hope to be living here and ministering here for many years to come.

In addition to the pictures above, you can find plenty of pictures of the people of St. John's and Mt. Hope here.

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Older ThinkPad Redux

Oddly enough, my older IBM ThinkPad— the obsolete one, the one that's been demoted to a glorified typewriter— came back to life, after going out on me yesterday. Screen is working on it once again. For the time being. But if I'm smart, I'll back up anything on it that hasn't already been backed up. If it dies, it wouldn't be the first time a computer has conked out on me for good after giving advance warning.

And last time that happened to me (April 1998), no, I didn't think to do that backup thing between the first signs of trouble and the inevitable last gasp.

On other computer fronts, I just installed an updated Linux kernel on my newer ThinkPad. Which went fine, but so much for my uptime. ;-)