Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Splendiferous Rain Gauge

rain gauge
Hey, check out my new rain gauge! How's that for a rain gauge guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of man and beast alike?!

Actually this all got started when I set up my first rain gauge this year late spring, early summer. And someone ran over it and cracked it to smithereens. So I went to the hardware store and got another rain gauge, and set it up in the same spot, with a guardian bird-on-a-wire alongside.

Then I went away on vacation for a couple of weeks, just got home a few days ago. And what should I find but that rain gauge number two had also been run over and cracked into three or four pieces?! Plastic remnants and wooden stake had been carefully laid on my driveway next to the garage, a good ten feet away from where they'd been run over.

So I went back to the hardware store and got what I needed. And yesterday evening I went out and set up the third rain gauge of the year, as pictured above.

Bee-HOLD the splendiferous rain gauge, in tasteful designer shades of translucent yellow plastic.

Bee-HOLD the wooden stake, hand cut to be eight inches taller than the old wooden stake. Nail driven into stake to hang rain gauge on, offending sharp end of nail protruding out the backside of the stake carefully removed via hacksaw.

Bee-HOLD the surroundingly brilliant white wire fence, giving ample visual warning to one and all.

And Bee-HOLD the mystic guardian birds-on-a-wire. Guardian Cardinal to the left. Guardian Redwing Blackbird to the right. (Or maybe that's a Guardian Baltimore Oriole, I'm not particular.)

Now, that is one wicked rain gauge! If it's possible for a rain gauge to have mojo, this is it!


Higher Gas Prices

This morning I was listening to the radio, as I am wont to do while eating breakfast. They were having listeners call in with explanations for our higher gas prices. And this one guy calls in...

Gas is headed toward $3.00 a gallon, this fellow explained, "because they went around years back buying up all the carburetors." Yes, "they." "They" knew that with carburetors, our cars could "get 30 or 40 miles a gallon." Therefore "they" decided to head this off at the pass by "buying up all the carburetors" to drive down our gas mileage, and "that is why higher gas prices now."

The host said, "So you're saying it's a conspiracy?"

This caller insisted that damn right it's a conspiracy. We have higher gas prices now because cars don't have carburetors any more. Because "they" plotted to go around and buy up all the carburetors.

Well, makes sense to me. Now excuse me while I go hunt up my tinfoil hat around here...

Oh, and coming next: why your gasoline is secretly fluoridated. ;-)

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Summer Draws to a Close

This morning I head back to work, and I find that another busy fall season is about to begin. Summer is often a slow time of the year for me, as this summer has been. Now I have to get confirmation class rolling again; other church programs are also cranking back up to speed. A week from Sunday is Missionfest, with a special celebration of the 125th anniversary of St. John's, and our big Missionfest dinner. Then come five weddings between now and mid-October. And, of course, our main St. John's 125th anniversary celebration with three worship services the weekend of October 1-2.

I repeat, another busy fall season is about to begin.

Today I'm mostly going to be catching up on paperwork; sorting through two weeks of mail; writing a newsletter article; writing up a couple of other items; getting a head start on next Sunday; catching up with several people by e-mail or by phone; possibly running in to town to take care of a couple of items.

I have this evening free, and I intend to set up a new rain gauge, the third one I've had to put up this season. Got back from vacation to find that the last one (like the one before it) had been run over and crunched. Oh, well. This rain gauge is going to have white wire fencing around it, with two plastic birds-on-a-wire to stand guard. :-)

Having spent much of my life in either an academic setting or an ecclesiastical setting, I've become very much accustomed to the rhythm of summertime slower, the rest of the year faster. According to my calendration, summer runs from the beginning of June through the end of August, or from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. More or less. Whatever. God sometimes works through the rhythms and cycles of our life, and I find myself serving God by shifting gear up or down, and adjusting to the rhythms and cycles of the year.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Home from Vacation

I got back from vacation yesterday without incident. Now today is my weekly day off, but I've got to shift into high gear, including some high speed early morning housecleaning (in advance of some windowcleaners who are coming today) which I really should've taken care of when I got back yesterday.

Then tomorrow starts the rush of the busy fall season. Thus another summer comes to an end.


"Discursive reason makes a good servant, but a poor master." —George Santayana

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Horror of Finding Yourself on TV

Here's one that used to bother me, way back 30 years ago. Back in those days one of my favorite TV shows was All in the Family, and so the paradox happened to center on Archie Bunker.

Here's what bugged me. Suppose Archie Bunker were to turn on his TV, on whichever night of the week All in the Family was on the air. Suppose that, in fact, it was the very time of the evening when All in the Family was on. And suppose that he turned to whichever network carried All in the Family (30 years later, I believe it was CBS).

What would Archie Bunker see on his TV screen, if he tuned in "same time, same channel" as All in the Family? Would he see himself on TV? Would he see that very same TV show in which he himself was but a fictional character?

"What the... Hey Edith, come here and take a look! It's us on TV!"

For some reason, this scenario evoked in me a sense of almost Lovecraftian horror. I imagined that this was the one thing the characters on All in the Family must be careful never to do. They must never tune their TV to CBS on the same evening and time when (in the real world) All in the Family was on the air. Because to do so would be to show themselves up as nothing but shams and puppets, mouthing lines already written for them; sitting in a living room which, by some impossible Cthulhuesque geometry, had only three walls.

Archie Bunker and family inhabited a world in which there was no Norman Lear, there was no top-rated TV show called All in the Family, there was no nationwide debate on whether Archie was a lovable bigot or just plain a bigot. All these aspects of our reality had to be gingerly tiptoed past, avoided, and never ever mentioned or alluded to in any way— and in particular, Archie must never tune the TV to CBS when All in the Family was on the air— lest the veil be ripped away, and their whole existence be shown up as an unreal and paltry fiction.

There's a line I ran across the other day which sums it up just perfectly: Archie would learn, much to his horror, that "The clothes have no emperor."


Vacation in the Home Stretch

Well, my vacation time is winding down. The other day I went over to see my friends David and Mary (David and I were in college together 30 years ago), and we spent a very pleasant evening out on their back deck, visiting and eating grilled chicken and talking beneath the stars till late, late into the night.

Also went out the other day to some second-hand joints, and found some old slide rules, including an aluminum log-log Pickett with a leather case in very fine condition, and leather belt loop still attached. Very rare to find a slide rule case with leather belt loop still attached.

Went back to the dentist to get the stitches out of my gums from that tooth extraction last week. He tells me it looks good. Next step: bridgework in September.

And yesterday I went out with my folks and my brother to the restaurant. Afterwards I slept most of the afternoon.

Now comes the weekend. Tomorrow afternoon I'll be heading back home to Iowa. Then, next week, the busy fall season begins for me.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A Biker? Who, Me?!

me on a harley 4
Yesterday I visited my friend Greg, and somehow I ended up transforming into a biker. Yes, that's me, sitting on Greg's new Harley.

Greg and I used to work together, lo many years ago, in the world of wholesale sports merchandise. (That's a story for another day.) He's a maestro of the warehouse, and these days his forte is games. If you're into games, Gen Con, and the like, odds are you're playing games that have passed through Greg's hands.

me on a harley 2

Anyhow, we visited and caught up on news as Greg filled orders and whatnot around the warehouse. Into the evening, we had a cookout, brats and chips and pickles and Wisconsin's own Spotted Cow Ale. Then watched an old episode of The Avengers.

Greg was also showing me his new Harley, and he decided I'd make a natural biker. Hence the pictures.

BTW, here's Greg, in his usual haunts:



Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Dream of a Return Journey

Last night I had a dream, that for the past year I had been living in this city out West, city of the old West beneath the bright blue sunlit sky, high narrow wooden storefronts lining either side of the dusty dirt street. Living there over a thousand miles from home. Several of us had been living in this city, "as if on exchange." But now the time had come to pack and return home to the Midwest. And it was not extraordinarily clear to me, our itinerary and the schedule of our packing and departure.

So, bright sunlit blue of the late afternoon getting on toward evening, I'm standing out there in the street alongside my old blue Blazer, which is parked up along the wooden railroad tie curb. I'm standing there, drinking out of a Mason jar, and not taking our impending departure too seriously.

I go inside the building, and it may be where I've been living the past year and more. And inside are the woodsawn plank walls, and a sort of central bar or counter with rounded darkwood edge, and stairs leading up to an open loft above. There are also many pineboard bookcases, as if roughly improvised, lining the walls.

And I'm standing there looking at the bookcases, looking at all my books lining the walls. And then a thought nudges me, as if almost forgotten, that oh yeah, the day is moving along, and here we're going to be departing back for the Midwest, if not tonight then early tomorrow morning at the very latest. And it strikes me, in a dim and hazy frame of mind, that I might not do too badly to begin packing my books for the return trip.

But how? And how? Where will I find all the boxes to pack things in? Then I realize I have some cardboard boxes sitting right there on the pine plank floor, though I doubt they'll be enough to pack all my stuff. So I climb up (ladder to the upper shelves of the bookcases, as if in an old library) and begin hauling my books down and packing them in the boxes. At first I think as if to pack my books by category, but then I give up, and just start packing them into the boxes any old way they'll fit.

And I'm thinking that I'll hardly have time to pack now, and why didn't I plan sooner? Especially if we're going to be departing Eastward in the dim haze of twilight this evening. But maybe I could delay, and take off after breakfast tomorrow. Either which way, my mind is a blur.

Now I abandon packing the books, part way through. The new challenge, just recognized, is, even once I get these things packed, how do I fit them all into my old Chevy Blazer? Then I see a cardboard box with only a single stuffed animal inside it, and I realize that I can save a lot of room if I pack several stuffed animals to a box, so there won't be so much empty waste space inside the box.

And then I woke up.


A Sad Delinking

And that's all I'm going to say.

Monday, August 22, 2005

They Still Owe Me

There are several people out there who are in debt to me. I have no idea how to collect from them, but just for the record, here they are:
  • In fourth grade, I lent a friend of mine a dime for a bottle of orange pop out of the pop machine down at the Co-op. (Which was sort of a gas station with some farm supplies.) Ten cents for a bottle of pop, and I haven't seen it out of him yet.

  • There was another friend of mine in junior high who ended up owing me 37¢ (or maybe it was 57¢) from a game of penny-ante poker which several of us played one evening down in my basement. Last I heard, he was living in Indiana. Don't you know what they do to guys who welsh on gambling debts?!

  • When I was a teaching assistant in the math department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a good 25 years ago, the TA at the desk right next to mine borrowed my copy of The PASCAL Report, which was a thin but dense book of interest to a computer geek like him. Nowadays, I learn, he is a senior researcher with the Microsoft Corporation, "in the land of Mordor where the shadows lie." And he still hasn't returned The PASCAL Report to me.
People think I don't remember. People think I don't have a memory like an elephant. People think I'll forget a dime from forty years ago. People think I won't turn up at their door one day, like a Cosmic Avenger, to take back what is mine.

Now, if only I could remember where I laid down my ballpoint pen ten minutes ago...

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Paulburgess.Org Is Four Years Old

my personal website
Well, my personal website,, is four years old today.

Yes, the oldest entry in my personal site's guestbook is dated August 20, 2001. That was back long before I had a blog, long before I'd ever even heard of the blogosphere. I spent some of my spare time in the summer of 2001, teaching myself HTML and cobbling together a personal website. I'm afraid my personal website looked rather retro, even back in those days. Which today makes it like a coelecanth dredged up out of the ocean depths.

The original URL of my site was, which I think may still work. My site was hosted (and still is) with my small local ISP. I registered the domain name a few months later.

At first the pictures on were limited to screenshots, digital photos taken and emailed to me by friends, and a few pictures I borrowed from elsewhere. (I actually went to the trouble of getting permission from a site over in Japan to use some of their Japanese anime pictures.) I divided the website into a briefer introductory section "above the fold," where I showcased several of my hobbies and interests for quick and easy perusal. "Below the fold" was a much more extensive collection of stories I'd written over the years, and philosophical ramblings drawn from my journal on my hard drive, as well as from letters to two longtime friends who were kind enough to grant me permission to spread our joint insanity before the world.

my personal website ca. 2002
I eventually got a digital camera, which made it easy to add to my site all the pictures I wanted. The photo album on my site contains zillions of photos (a few video clips, too) of me and my parishioners. I've also added "below the fold" some digitally-oriented material (such as an audio clip of me speaking in that language I created), and some rather technical research papers. In short, over these past four years has just kept growing and growing. gets a modest but steady stream of traffic. Not much overlap with the visitors to my blog, who are mostly fellow bloggers. I've gotten quite a pile of email correspondence over the years from visitors to folks interested in some of my semi-technical and sesqui-technical writings on mysticism; inquiries about Jack Kerouac; remarks on my hippy-dippy Sixties tendencies; questions about how to set certain things up in Linux; and recently someone who wanted to query me in extensive detail about an old science-fiction story I'd written. The visitors to a personal website tend to be a wild, wooly, diverse lot.

So is four years old. The Internet is not quite the same place today that it was four years ago. Sets a body to pondering on how different cyberspace will be, four years, or fourteen years, or forty years from now.


Friday, August 19, 2005

Meditation on a Tooth

Yesterday's dental work, including the extraction of what was left of one ex-tooth, went pretty well. I go back to the dentist in a week to have the stitches out. Still ahead, bridgework where once a tooth stood.

Since yesterday afternoon I've been living on pudding, jello, and 7-Up. But I'm surprised at how little pain I've had from this extraction. That may be due in part to the glories of Tylenol with codeine. But even without that, I doubt I'd be in much pain. Strange. I'd expected worse.

Nonetheless, a procedure like this is something of a shock to the system. I expect I'm pretty much just going to be lying around today— thank God I'm on vacation! I feel just vaguely wiped out, and I slept very little last night.

Getting the remains of a tooth pulled is also a shock to the psyche, at least for me. I've made it to age 49 with all my members intact, and no parts missing. Well, okay, back in my college years I did get my wisdom teeth pulled; but you know, everybody gets their wisdom teeth pulled. (And it laid me up for purner a week, too, it did.) Getting a bicuspid, lower left side, pulled is another matter. In a small but real way, it's a reminder of my mortality— that tooth is gone, it ain't coming back, and so this earthly frame takes one small shuffling step toward entropy and dissolution, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, tooth to whatever medical-waste graveyard yanked teeth end up in.

I've always viewed myself as pretty much self-sustaining and bulletproof. This loss of a tooth gives the lie to that little conceit: if a tooth can go, so can a hipbone, a kidney, or a heart. So the sin of pride is shown up for what it is: "Ye shall be as gods, knowing incisors and molars." No, in truth my teeth will get the better of me at last. I may get that bicuspid back in the last day, when the final trump sounds and the dead are raised. But this side of the eschaton, I shall henceforth have to make do with bridgework.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Green Office

I grew up in a gigantic house. Upstairs was a bathroom, hallway, three bedrooms, and a room (unpainted, just sizing on the walls) which served as a storeroom, filled with boxes. Downstairs was the kitchen, the living room, a hallway with a large foyer, my dad's office, and also a room in the back which we called "the green office."

The green office was so called because its walls were green, and when my folks had first moved in, my dad had briefly used it as his office before moving up to the room in front instead. From as far back as I could remember, the green office was filled with toys. Metal racks filled with boxes of toys. There was a reclining armchair in one corner. My mom's sewing machine stood between the back windows. There was a large oak desk. In later years, there was also an upright piano in the green office.

The green office was sort of an odd place, a playroom and omnium gatherum for other items and activities that didn't quite fit in anywhere else around the house.

What strikes me is, there are certain categories of room that seem "standard" in a house. These change over time: the other day I was glancing over some real estate listings, and I was noticing how many newer houses nowadays have a "great room," something I never heard of back when I was a kid. Never quite got used to the idea of a house with 3½ baths, either: that big old house of ours had one small bathroom upstairs, plus a cobweb-covered toilet down in the basement that we almost never used.

The green office was in a category of its own, though. It wasn't a den, it wasn't a family room. It was simply "the green office."



My grandmother is coming home from the hospital today, and she's doing much better.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Vacation has been unrolling along some rather unexpected curves. We spent yesterday up in central Wisconsin, getting my grandmother to the hospital. She's doing fine, and will probably be getting out of the hospital today or tomorrow. The doctors and nurses kept remarking that they couldn't believe that my grandmother is 100 years old, they wondered for a minute if they had the wrong person's medical records— they would've guessed she was more like 80.

Today I've got some shopping to do. I need more blue jeans. Then tomorrow it's dental work, including the extraction of the roots of an ex-tooth.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Vacation Is When You Vacate

Well, tomorrow morning I take off on vacation.

I've been told that I'll have an Internet connection at my destination, at least intermittently. If so, you'll see me blogging, though probably at a more leisurely vacation pace. If not, we'll have to wait till I get back home.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Spam Filters

About six months ago, I switched to Mozilla Thunderbird for e-mail. Up till then with my old e-mail client I'd been using SpamAssassin, a highly effective Bayesian spam filter. But Thunderbird had its own built-in Bayesian filter, so I thought I'd give it a try.

I trained Thunderbird's filter to recognize spam and non-spam— easy as clicking on a button— and over time it did learn. Very slowly. It got better, but it never got very aggressive: I'd say after six months, Thunderbird's built-in filter was catching about 80% of the spam I was receiving.

Fortunately Thunderbird also lets you define your own manual filters. I'd set up some of these early on, and I've been adding more along the way. But just over the past week or two, I've become very active at adding new manual spam filters. And so within these past couple of weeks, the percentage of spam I catch has risen to probably 98% or better. The rare piece of spam that now slips through into my inbox, I examine to see what additional manual filters would prevent it from slipping through again.

Of course one of the best ways to catch spam is to use the anti-spam headers that are added to your e-mail enroute. If X-IMAIL-SPAM-STATISTICS is 0.9 or greater, then into the spam bucket it goes— and likewise for a couple of other such anti-spam headers.

Spammers often send out email to a dozen or so addresses at my small local ISP, for some reason not explicitly including my e-mail address in the list. So I catch another large portion of my spam by setting up a manual filter for "To: or Cc: contains but not myemail."

To this I've been adding local email addresses to which I know neither I nor any of my regular correspondents would be sending e-mail. The rule "if To: or Cc: contains, then send to spam bucket" catches the occasional spam sent both to my address and to the otherwise unknown jimbob.

A few frequent spammers are foolhardy enough to use their own domain, or some easily recognizable variant of it. Thus "From: contains emsemail" or "From: contains somespecial" gets junked. And one spammer keeps changing "From:", but keeps sending to one of my e-mail addresses using a specific and very distinctive mailer: thus any e-mail sent to this particular address of mine, with X-Mailer equal to Apple Mail (2.728), gets tossed out.

Then there are the telltale words in the subject line: "invest," "rolex," "whore," "mortgage," "low cost," "specials," "medica" (catches variations such as "medical" or "medication"), etc.

And scanning the text of the e-mail for various combinations of the terms "confidential," "business," "proposal," and "risk," catches many e-mails from so-called Nigerian scams. You know, "Sir, please forgive my contacting you with this confidential business proposal, I am in receipt of $23.8 million in the Pyramid National Bank of Lagos, Nigeria, from estate of late Evangelist Lanson Purple who died in a plane crash leaving no heirs, and I need your assistance in transfering this money out of the country. Please send me your bank account number, no risk to you in this venture, and you will retain 25% of funds as your fee..."

Then there's the distant professional colleague who sends me (and also dozens if not hundreds of others) a cheery little weekly newsletter. I'm not sure how I got on her mailing list, since I doubt she would ever have been able to recognize me if she met me on the street. However, her weekly musings always have the same subject line, and so rather than embarrass her by telling her to take my name off her blasted mailing list, I've simply added a manual spam filter for any email from her with the usual subject line.

I'm about to give the same treatment to another monthly newsletter I receive, five or six pages of text which somehow manage to run to well over one megabyte. Not that this makes as much difference now that I've got DSL. But I can't for the life of me figure how this brief newsletter regularly manages to run to over a meg— I've tried resaving the document once I receive it, and my word processor has no trouble reducing it, in the very same document format, to less than 5% of the original size in which it is e-mailed out.

Of course, anyone who's already in my address book will get through to me no matter what. As for the rest, with my manual filters Thunderbird is getting better and better at sorting out the wheat from the chaff. I hardly ever have a false positive. And the amount of my spam being routed straight into File 13 is rapidly approaching 100%.

By the way, overall I really like Mozilla Thunderbird. If you're looking for an e-mail alternative to that virus conduit known as Micro$oft Outlook Express, you might want to check out the secure and user-friendly Thunderbird.

Friday, August 12, 2005

That Yellow Line in the Middle of the Road

I heard yesterday about a teenager in a nearby town who started taking driver's ed, and was heard to remark to her parents, "I never knew before that the different kinds of yellow line in the middle of the road meant something. I thought they were just there for decoration."

Apparently the kid was serious.

Somehow this anecdote makes me feel better. It renders not quite so inexplicable those stories about college geography majors who can't find Great Britain on a map of Europe, and who think that India is located in South America.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Pre-Vacation Rush

Eh, what is this?! Here I got up at 5:30 this morning to start a load of laundry. I expect to be running all day long, from earlier than usual this morning till late this evening. Four-month-tax-form-extension August 15 is coming up, and I'm going to have to strain to find time to get those tax forms off by then. (Yes, I was originally planning to get them finished and in the mail Tuesday morning, but it's been one unexpected new development after another since then.)

I don't know why it is, but this always happens as I come up toward vacation. Schedule suddenly burgeoning without warning. All sorts of extra events and obligations popping up out of nowhere. Due to sudden sheer lack of time, things I was hoping to finish Tuesday morning may get finished by Friday evening, if I'm lucky.

And let's not even mention the inevitable backlog of things to catch up on, after one gets back from vacation.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

"Welcome to"

(h/t Dean)


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Sunburnt and Peeling

That's what I get for sitting out in the sun, riding on the Eitzen Lions float in the Nordic Fest parade over in Decorah, a week ago Saturday.

I'm molting! I'm molting!

Yes, It's a Watchblog

I was blogging recently about a new Russian watch I got. Well, turns out a fellow named Ed has an entire blog devoted to watches. Interesting pictures and reviews of numerous watches. I see Ed shares my liking for Russian watches with a mechanical movement.


Dealing with Difficult People

Alice in Texas has a very wise blog post on "the difference between a person seeking an honest debate, and a person trying to force their idea on you," and how to deal with the latter.

Basic tactic: "State your difference as clearly and concisely as possible. Don't state your position, just the difference." Then let go, and let it drop. Alice goes into further detail, worth checking out!

Here at Let the Finder Beware, we've been exceedingly fortunate in the commenters we've drawn, and we've virtually never had any problems in that department. (Knock on wood!) But anyone who's been around in the blogosphere for long has seen how the blogosphere seems to draw more than its share of the type of "difficult people" Alice discusses.

Monday, August 08, 2005

August 8 Is Pear Day

When I was a kid, I noticed that August is the only month that has no holiday in it. So I made up a holiday: I decided that August 8 is "Pear Day."

No idea what Pear Day was supposed to be about. A day to eat pears? Maybe I'll have a pear for lunch today.

W, X, Y, Zed

The ever inquisitive Andrew Cory asks, "Why do Americans say 'zee' when the rest of the world says 'zed'?"

Turns out at one time or another the letter Z has been called "zee," "zed," "ezed," "zad," "zard," "izzard," "ezod," "izod," and even "uzzard."

Friday, August 05, 2005

The Aweful Platonic Mystery That Burns at the Heart of All Games

I've always been a fanatic about games. What we might call classical table games— the games that grow up more or less spontaneously out of a culture, and are played sitting at a table with special equipment. Board games. Card games. Throw in various tile games and dice games, too.

I learned chess at an early age. Checkers too, of course. And backgammon. Chinese checkers. Parcheesi. Nine men's morris. All these board games fascinated— no, more than just fascinated me. They drew me. Drew me with a magnetic attraction toward some hidden, uncanny polar magnetic north.

playing cards
It was the same with playing cards. I started learning card games before I was in school. Then in grade school I discovered an edition of Hoyle's Rules of Card Games. Other Hoyles out of the public library. And I proceeded over the years to learn one card game after another, straight out of the book. Euchre. Cribbage. Pinochle. Five Hundred. Canasta. Poker. Rummy. Gin Rummy. Bezique. Cassino. Cinch. Pedro. Black Jack. Faro. Sheepshead. Skat. Piquet. Auction Pitch. Oh Hell. Seven-Up. California Jack. Hearts. Kalabriasz. Spoil Five. Napoleon. Whist. Gaigel. Boston Whist. Ombre. Calabrasella.

card decks
I remember when I was nine, sitting there and playing bezique with my dad, who was sick in bed. (Some version of bezique, I forget which, was the favorite card game of Winston Churchill.) There was something about playing cards which drew, almost mesmerized me. Yes, the bright colors, the curious designs. Yes, the thrill and the strategy and the Gemütlichkeit of a good game of cards. But there was something more to it than that. Some aweful, awesome, burning mystery which was glimmering through the cards and their play, like some whispered clue to a vast and hidden realm.

It almost felt to me, with card games and board games, like I was entering some alternate level of reality. To be immersed in a game of chess, sheepshead, nine men's morris, two-handed pinochle, was to be steeped in something like another world. A world bathed in an unearthly light. A world perfused with some ineffable secret.

I found the same in dice games as well. And in tile games like dominoes and Mah Jongg. I didn't find it in most proprietary games, like Monopoly or Stratego, even though I enjoyed playing these. And I had (and have) virtually no interest in sports. But classical board games and card games were another matter.

Then around age 14 or 15 I discovered a Dover reprint of Edward Falkener's Games Ancient and Oriental and How to Play Them (1892). And I absolutely went nuts. The game of Shogi, or Japanese chess! Siang K'i, or Chinese chess! Tamerlane's chess! Here were board games more alien and more wondrous than anything I had ever imagined!

There weren't many books like this available back in those days, but I hunted down what I could find. John Gollon's Chess Variations, Ancient, Regional, and Modern: I had correspondence with Mr. Gollon concerning a fine detail of the rules of the game of Jetan, or Barsoomian chess, out of Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Chessmen of Mars. Several books on Shogi, Mah Jongg, and the game of Go. And a hardcover reprint of H.J.R. Murray's classic A History of Chess (1913)— I can remember literally dancing for joy the day that book arrived in the mail!

In high school art class, I made sets for many of these exotic board games. Boards were generally leather (it helps to have an uncle who was a salesman for a leather company). Pieces were cannibalized, recombined, and spray painted from various store boughten Staunton chess sets, or in some instances hand made. Mike W. and I always used to play Tamerlane's chess (112-square board, 28 pieces on each side) in the high school commons.

I eventually did manage to find store boughten Go and Shogi sets. It was hard to find such things. It was hard to find anything on such games. Games like these were much further out of the cultural mainstream 30 years ago than they would be today.

quintuple arcana
From a certain age on up, I also started making up board games and card games of my own. Some, like my game of Blue Pinochle, were "in the ballpark." Some, like the Quintuple Arcana (in my own Hermetic language, Mna Jondir-Pantho Zinisa) were like nothing you've ever seen or heard of before— above is the Quintuple Arcana set I made in my college years.

From early on up, I collected playing cards. Ended up with a collection which today amounts to hundreds of card decks. I also haunted the used bookstores for books about board games and card games. These today fill two large bookcases, and include such curiosities as an old Hoyle printed in Philadelphia in 1838 by Thomas, Cowperthwait & Co.; H.J.R. Murray's A History of Board Games Other Than Chess; Foster's Skat Manual; Cavendish on Piquet; Fukumensi Mihori, Japanese Game of "Go" (Board of Tourist Industry, Japanese Government Railways, 1939); Von Leyden, Ganjifa: The Playing Cards of India; and a crumbling booklet on Four Chess, a four-handed chess variation, printed by the Senior University Chess Club, Cambridge University, 1892.

chinese chess
But the main thing is, that aweful Platonic mystery that burns at the heart of all games. I can set up one of my board games, and just sit there meditating on it, literally for hours. Or sit there imagining possible moves of unheard-of mutant chess pieces, or board games curious and unconceived.

I often have dreams about strange unknown board games or card games, or finding unusual card decks in a heretofore undiscovered secret room in the house. Sometimes these dreams find their way into reality: when I was only seven, I had a dream about a chess variation where one chess piece enabled other pieces on the board to have special moves when they were in alignment. This feature later found its way into a chesslike game I invented.

Games aren't the only thing that can trigger that uncanny feeling within me, that sensation as if of being connected to some alternate reality. I've always found a similar experience in listening to the radio. I don't know quite what to make of it, I've never known anyone else who has such a reaction to such specific cues. It seems almost like an abstract form of synaesthesia.

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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Rockem Sockem Robots

Hey, lookit this— it's Rockem Sockem robots wallpaper!

Way back in the 1960s, my brother and I used to call them the Roxem Toxem robots. Yes, we had some Roxem Toxem robots. I loved the sound it made when you knocked their block off. And my favorite was always the red robot.

(h/t: Steven)

"Some People Are Never Happy Unless" Department

She: I'm just glad there's no smoking allowed in our house.

He: Well, since neither of us has ever smoked, and no guest in our home has ever been a smoker, what are you getting at?

She: (Looks vaguely wounded and martyred, like, "Well, you ought to know; and besides, it's your fault!")

Better Than a Root Beer Float

Even better than a root beer float is orange sherbet and 7-Up.

And you can quote me on that.

My Fame Spreads Abroad

Just this morning, I discovered that on another blog out there someone had left a comment about none other than yours truly. And I quote: "still. it makes me wonder how a guy who is so obviously intelligent can believe in the god of the bible. go figure."

A thought ran through my mind, once I was able to stop laughing: There are two kinds of people in the world: those who can understand how an intelligent person could think differently from them, and those who can't.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Juju Music on Radio Abeokuta

I happened to stumble across the website of Radio Abeokuta from Africa. "Yorùbá radio," coming to you from Abeokuta, Nigeria. More online audio and video streams than you can shake a stick at!

My favorite is their Shoutcast stream of Juju music. Hate to admit it, but I was up half the night listening to it— I'm getting too old to do stuff like that! You'll soon learn that one King Sunny Ade is a major figure in Juju music&mdash sort of like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones all in one. Also turning up frequently on the Radio Abeokuta playlist are Ebenezer Obey and Kayode Fashola.

I'm about as nonmusical as they come. But I rather like Juju music.

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Monday, August 01, 2005

Opening Lines of Books

I find that with certain books the opening line grabs me by the shirt collar. It demands my attention. It draws me on to read more. And moreover, often that opening line sticks with me.

It's odd how this works: not every classic book opens with a memorable line, and not every book that opens memorably is a great book. Sometimes we're talking just a few words, sometimes it runs on to paragraph length. And the writing of a lapidary opening seems to be much more an art than a science. Of course the prime example of a classic book which opens with an unforgettable line is Moby Dick: "Call me Ishmael."

Here are some opening lines which over the years have stuck with me. See if you can guess what books they come from— answers in the comments. Oh, and feel free to add examples of your own.
  1. Friday afternoon in the universe...

  2. Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can't be sure. The telegram from the Home says: YOUR MOTHER PASSED AWAY. FUNERAL TOMORROW. DEEP SYMPATHY. Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday.

  3. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

  4. The stone door slammed. It was Cleaver's trademark: there had never been a door too heavy, complex, or cleverly tracked to prevent him from closing it with a sound like a clap of doom.

  5. "Lot ninety-seven," the auctioneer announced. "A boy."

  6. In watermelon sugar the deeds were done and done again as my life is done in watermelon sugar. I'll tell you about it because I am here and you are distant.

  7. The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

  8. He was one hundred and seventy days dying and not yet dead. He fought for survival with the passion of a beast in a trap. He was delirious and rotting, but occasionally his primitive mind emerged from the burning nightmare of survival into something resembling sanity. Then he lifted his mute face to Eternity and muttered: "What's a matter, me? Help, you goddamn gods! Help, is all."

  9. Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.

  10. I am a very old man; how old I do not know. Possibly I am a hundred, possibly more; but I cannot tell because I have never aged as other men, nor do I remember any childhood. So far as I can recollect I have always been a man, a man of about thirty. I appear today as I did forty years and more ago...