Friday, March 31, 2006

Mna Chothracatho Yothov Chalol

Ridapavlimor yol "Icchizrogis Mna Gaiirico" im ir (Anghliig: "Let the Finder Beware") somiamisor omsipris mna chothracathot dhnampath cvadro ghji pantho spdhaji jondirr-saptho... Dhalmthinol Thalsthilamthino i, omzaníghj Sitavisamthinor ghri Solmthinor. Sfago sghwaoro ghty'omcamanis, mna chothracathoth somiamisor cai omchochilaris. Cai vorthor somchothracisor omsovis omFananthig.

Yothov chalol voist, cai thlichasos mna chali.



Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Future, It Is Here

Headline: Drone aircraft may prowl U.S. skies.

Sounds like the Department of Fatherland Security is pushing for this one, "to ensure more effective monitoring of United States territory." Like for instance: North Carolina county is using a UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] equipped with low-light and infrared cameras to keep watch on its citizens. The aircraft has been dispatched to monitor gatherings of motorcycle riders at the Gaston County fairgrounds from just a few hundred feet in the air— close enough to identify faces...
Put enough of them UAVs up there in the air— gee, why not design them as hovering metal "saturn" globes while you're at it?— beef up their surveillance capabilities by a few orders of magnitude, and route all the data gathered by them all over the country to a central AI for cataloging and analysis... and you've got pretty much the hyper-Orwellian situation I envisioned in my recent story about the "Sadrins."

("Sadrin" was how my brother and I used to pronounce "Saturn" when we were kids.)

A "Sadrin" over every neighborhood and district in the country. Won't you feel safe then? Looks like the day may be coming.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Charities That Shoot Themselves in the Foot

There's a well-known charity that I've supported now for several years. I'm tempted to name them, but I won't, because I think they're a worthy cause, and I think they do good work. But their approach to fundraising reeks.

I dunno, maybe a lot of charities use the same approach. Maybe a lot of charities use fundraising approaches that reek. But this is the one that intersects my daily routine repeatedly, until I could just scream.

In the first place, they solicit donations by mail something like six or eight times a year. Maybe more, I'm not exactly keeping track. They could hit me up once or twice a year and save themselves the postage. They could hit me up a hundred times per annum, and I'd still only give to them once or twice a year. Honestly. And it seems that whenever I do give to them, I receive a follow-up solicitation from them, requesting yet another donation, within two or three weeks. Like clockwork.

But that's not the worst of it. Within the past year or so, they've started soliciting me by phone. Repeatedly. Not requesting a donation from me— indeed, not requesting anything at all— but instead simply informing me that I will now help them in a new way, by addressing and mailing a stack of solicitation envelopes to my neighbors. They have phoned me with this little piece of news now at least four times in the past year, and twice within the past month. Most recently yesterday.

Each time they phone me, I have courteously informed them that I'm sorry, I'd be glad to continue making donations to them, but I'm simply too busy to take on any additional tasks of envelope mailing. And each time, they refuse to take an answer for an answer, and try to argue me into doing what I've just said I'm not able to do.

At least four times in the past year. And twice within the past month. I mean, hello, don't they keep records, or anything? Or are they simply trying to wear down my sales resistance? Has it ever occurred to them that their approach very likely alienates more people than it recruits?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Moonstick: A Moon Phase "Slide Rule"

I ran across the moonstick several years ago, and with my interest in slides rules, I was hooked. Actually the moonstick isn't exactly a slide rule, but it sure is a soul brother to slide rules.

Hexagonal in cross section, with six "slides": five of them can slide back and forth, the sixth is fixed. With the aid of the moonstick you can calculate the phase of the moon for dates up to 8000 years into the past or future. It takes leap years and all that into account.

What was the phase of the moon on the day you were born? On December 7, 1941? On July 4, 1776? On October 14, 1066? The moonstick can also be used to answer questions such as, when is the next time there will be a full moon on April 1?

Like I say, it's a soul brother to the slide rule. The moonstick is funky. You look at it and you wonder why somebody didn't invent it ages ago. It's that cool, and that ingenious.

You can get a moonstick of your own right here. Check it out!


Monday, March 27, 2006

Ankle Wrench

I'm hobbling around here this morning. Left ankle stabs me like a knife with every step. I negotiate stairs only very carefully, and with difficulty. I can get around, more or less, long as I take it slow and easy.

Yesterday afternoon I slipped and fell on a mix of wet, slick grass and mud. Went right down, wrenched my ankle. First thought was, I hope I didn't break it— my mom fell and broke her ankle something over a year ago, it's not anything you want to deal with. Nope, my ankle was still intact. I could walk on it, support weight on it, bend it in every which direction. But painful.

Now I get up this morning, and it's painful and stiff. Oh well. Fortunately today is my day off, so I can just lay around. I suppose give it several days, and it'll be good as new. Or good as it was before— my left ankle is my bad ankle, I wrenched it up royally back when I was 15 and it's never been the same since. At least it can't get bunged up much worse than it was already.

Doctor? No, I'm not going to the doctor. I didn't go to the doctor for that ankle when I was 15, and I'm not going to the doctor now. Let's not get into the disconnect between me and doctors. I'd trust a doctor about as far as I could throw him. Or to be more precise, I'd trust a doctor about as far as I could throw Big Pharma and the health care industry, emphasis on assembly-line sausage-factory profit-turning industry. As Montaigne put it in his Essays:
I consult little about the alterations I feel; for these doctors take advantage; when they have you at their mercy, they cudgel your ears with their prognostics; and having once surprised me, weakened with sickness, injuriously handled me with their dogmas and magisterial fopperies— one while menacing me with great pains, and another with approaching death— by which threats I was indeed moved and shaken, but not subdued nor jostled from my place; and though my judgement was neither altered nor distracted, yet it was at least disturbed; 'tis always agitation and combat.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

"Ladies and Gentlemen, We Interrupt This Program to Bring You... Richelieu!"

It seems my brand of insanity runs in the family. My brother Steven relates a dream he had back in January 2001:

Had a very strange dream the other night. It concerned a long-established tradition on network TV that went back to the early days of television. Some character called Richelieu somehow got a toehold in broadcasting doing a type of vaudeville magician/pantomime act to the accompaniment of a tune that I remember from Captain Kangaroo. He never really did any tricks or spoke, just sort of a "nothing up my sleeve" posing and dance routine. He always dressed in a cheap tux, standing grinning (or, more accurately, leering) in the spotlight on a darkened stage. He looked like an especially seedy version of Salvador Dali, wore white gloves and carried a dandy's cane. Richelieu removed his silk tophat before every performance, setting it on a small round table draped with velvet.

The thing is, he became such a great hit in the early 50's, when even test patterns were considered entertainment, that, eventually, he was able to spontaneously go live on the air at his whim, even if it meant interrupting regular programming. He was something of a Svengali personality, so had managed to get an almost cult following. What Richelieu wanted, Richelieu got. As TV progressed, he remained sort of an archaic holdover from the "good old days," garnering appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, The Red Skelton Show, The Tonight Show, and, later on, the David Letterman Show (albeit unaware that he was only booked for comedic effect). His breaks into live programming became less and less in the late eighties, and there was a time during the nineties when most people that even remembered him thought that he had died (he somehow never seemed to appear much older, though, than he had in the fifties). No network had ever refused him live air time, though. Anyone making so much as a disparaging remark disappeared without a trace from the broadcast world. Such was the power of Richelieu.

Then, just recently [January 2001], during the Presidential inauguration preliminaries, the old familiar backboard appeared on the screen. Still the same one used fifty years ago. A fuzzy gray-toned air brushed affair that showed a velvet covered table, with top hat, gloves and cane illuminated by a soft light, with the word "Richelieu" superimposed in the same script font as the old Desilu "I Love Lucy." Grainy audio of the announcer that used to introduce the Andy Griffith Show: "Ladies and Gentlemen... Richelieu!!!" And there he was, as greasy and unsavory as always, leering to the cameras as he pulled at his sleeves, did a bit of softshoe, brandished his cane, and did a few feints of almost performing a trick or two. Richelieu was in command again. His "performances," if you could call them that, went on anywhere from almost half an hour to an hour. And the same inane music kept playing in the background. Always soft lighting, and looking as if the whole affair was shot through muslin, giving a nondescript appearance to the scene.

At the end of his performance--Richelieu simply performed until he decided to end it with a bow--a modern interrupt screen and announcer came on saying, "We now return you to our regular programming." This happened to be CBS in the dream, so the next shot was of a disgruntled Dan Rather shaking his head as he quipped to a White House reporter, "Scott Pelley, I thought we had seen the last of Richelieu during Eisenhower's administration!" Switch to camera shot of Scott Pelley standing in front of the White House frozen in horror, not uttering a word. When the studio shot returned, the camera pulled back to reveal, impossibly, an enraged Richelieu, inexplicably drenched, looking as if he had just climbed out of a swimming pool, standing at Dan Rather's side. His face was contorted with a greasy, maniacal snarl. For once, Rather seemed at a total loss for words, and began stammering. Richelieu slowly turned his head to the camera, almost willing it to zoom to a close-up of himself. The camera obeyed. He slowly brought one hand up in front of his face, dramatically tugged at the sleeve with his other gloved hand, and gave a dirty little laugh. Sound of a stunned Dan Rather as the camera showed him now drenched. Rather just sat there sobbing, then staggered to his feet, visibly shaken, and stumbled off camera -- he was never seen nor mentioned again at CBS.

(Interesting "alternate history" end to the career of Dan Rather. The "1950s Richelieu TV screen" picture is a joint effort of my brother and myself.)

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Friday, March 24, 2006

A Big Thank-You to Lucy for Her Generosity!

Well, I just received a large surprise package in the mail this morning. A big shipment of boxes of crayons, magic markers, thin-tipped magic marker pens, and kaleidoscope dealies from none other than Lucy! She said she thought our Sunday School kids could use them here in this corner of Iowa.

Which, indeed they can! Thanks to Lucy, on behalf of the Sunday Schools here at St. John's and Mt. Hope! (I'm also going to hold a few boxes out for my Confirmation classes.)

The Happy Hollisters

Back when we were kids, somehow my brother had a subscription to a series of childen's books about the Happy Hollisters. I don't even recall what the books were about, except that a new volume (or, horrors, was it two new volumes?) would arrive in the mail every month. And there was no end to them. Dozens of titles in this series. I eventually took to joking that the alleged author of the series, one "Jerry West," was actually a computer programmed to churn out an infinite sequence of books.

(Computer programmed to write books? This was back about 1967. But I had a weird imagination.)

Anyhow. As my brother and I got a bit older we... uhhh... found various diverting ways to dispose of his Happy Hollister books. I remember a book in the vise on our dad's workbench, as we cut through the book with a handsaw, laughing like maniacs. I remember drilling a hole through a book with an old-fashioned hand-cranked drill. I believe we lit at least one of the books on fire and burned it to ashes.

Oh, and then there was the Happy Hollister book we tied by a length of rope to the back of a bicycle. The idea was to drag the book behind the bicycle down the gravel alley out in back of our house, and then simultaneously slide around sideways and slam on the brakes so as to grind the book beneath the rear tire of the bike.

To say nothing of the book we used for... well, there's a reason why my brother and I to this day sometimes refer to toilet paper as "page 80."

Wouldn't you guess, turns out nowadays there's a website devoted to the Happy Hollisters.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Faster than Light

"Hail, boatman of Ra, strong are thy guyropes in the wind as thou sailest over the Lake of Fire in Neter-Khert. Behold, thou collectest this charm from every place in which it is, from every person with whom it is, swifter than greyhounds, faster than light..."

Egyptian Book of the Dead, chapter XXIV

Leave it to someone who has 25 bookcases full of books in his house to come up with an ancient reference to "faster than light"! :-) Yes, I'm still running faster than light today.

Follow-up trivia question: Can anyone cite an older literary reference to "faster than light"?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

At the Speed of Light

Let's see. I've got to pay a couple of bills. Get a birthday card off in the mail to my mom.

Make substantial further progress on pulling together and collating the monthly newsletter of our local Lions Club, which has to be in the mail no later than tomorrow.

Get ready for confirmation class at Mt. Hope this evening. Teach confirmation class at Mt. Hope this evening.

Get started on the sermon for the Midweek Lenten service at St. John's this evening. Then the Midweek Lenten service at St. John's this evening.

Make several phone calls related to nailing down schedule over these next several weeks.

Is there anything else I've forgotten? Probably. It gets like this sometimes during Lent.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Clack-Clack Bird

The Clack-Clack Bird
Several years ago I had this nightmare, and it was one of the most terrifying dreams I've ever had. It was the nightmare about... the Clack-Clack Bird.

I was sitting in this room with a bunch of people, on a Thursday afternoon. It seemed like a classroom of some sort. And we were going to watch a movie. The film projector had been set up behind us, and in front of us, up on a stage, was the movie screen.

And then the projector started up. And there was some problem adjusting it, and there was harsh buzz of static over the sound system, and random flitting shapes and snow (like a dead TV channel) being projected up onto the screen.

And that was when it happened.

Because suddenly, up there on the movie screen, we could see this image of a horrible angry cartoon bird pacing back and forth. A surreal, patchwork cartoon bird, impatiently walking back and forth on the screen, in front of the flickering, shifting shadow-shapes and the random TV snow. The bird was puffing on a cigar. And it was mad. Mad! And the bird was making angry clicking and clacking noises, like wooden blocks being struck together; and the bird was making angry electric static buzzing noises, amidst the clicks and clacks.

And the room was filled with fear. We were all struck with horror, at this angry cartoon bird which had suddenly appeared up there on the movie screen.

The Clack-Clack Bird was pacing back and forth, jerky and quick, up on the screen, bzzzzzt, kzz'szzzzz! clack-clack-clack! And then suddenly, with a loud pop, the bird was no longer on the screen. No, now all of a sudden the Clack-Clack Bird was angrily pacing back and forth, back and forth, right there in the room with us, up on the stage. And the zzzzzzz, click-clack was no longer coming from the movie sound system, now the sound was live, right there in the room.

And we were all panicking at this angry cartoon bird which was now right there in the room with us, puffing away, buzzing, clacking, back and forth, jerky, quick, angry, filled with mad random rage. And some people were getting up out of their seats like they were going to flee. Only then the Clack-Clack Bird commanded us, amidst its random electric static buzz and clacking, that no one would leave the room.

And now our horror was redoubled, because we realized that none of us had the power to disobey. If the Clack-Clack Bird commanded us to stay in the room, we would stay in the room, no matter what.

No matter what! Now, pacing back and forth, back and forth, furious, clack, zzzzzzt, clack, the Clack-Clack Bird was telling us in its harsh radio-static voice that it was going to eat one of us. The Clack-Clack Bird was going to select one of us to eat.

And I was filled with fear. Not me! Not me!

And now the Clack-Clack Bird was commanding us, that every Thursday afternoon from now on, all of us would come back to this room. And the Clack-Clack Bird would be there, and each Thursday afternoon, it would select another one of us to devour.

And the horror of it was, I knew, I just knew, that I was going to obey. We were all going to obey. We had to. We had no choice. Each week, we would come back to this room, willy-nilly, in spite of ourselves. Drawn by the irresistible command of this angry pacing cartoon bird. Drawn back to the room, knowing that the Clack-Clack Bird was going to eat one of us. Drawn back, helpless and drenched in fear.

And then it came to me, as if in a word of knowledge, that this horrific bird was more ancient than we could imagine. For it was the Clack-Clack Bird which had wiped out the Swiss Lake Dwellers, many long thousands of years ago in neolithic Europe. The Swiss Lake Dwellers, gathered around the fire at night, had played at casting finger-shadows in the dark. And, forming just the right finger-shadow combinations, they had accidentally unleashed the Clack-Clack Bird, which then devoured the Swiss Lake Dwellers, one by one.

Now, thousands of years later, our movie projector had accidentally projected the correct sequence of flitting images to unleash the Clack-Clack Bird once again. And now we were under its power, and we could not disobey, and this horrible striding cartoon-image bird was going to eat us, one at a time...

(Picture of the Clack-Clack Bird, courtesy of my brother Steven)


Fatigued. And it's my day off. So for today I thought I'd just leave you with a rerun of my old nightmare about the Clack-Clack Bird.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


I see I've been haiku'd by Dean Esmay. LOL!

BTW, those leather-soled wool-sock slippers of mine are striped blue, red, yellow, and green on white, just like my Hudson's Bay Point Blanket. (Which is also wool, if you hadn't guessed.)

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Friday, March 17, 2006

St. Patrick's Day

It dawned on me as I got up this morning that today is St. Patrick's Day. Hunh. I'm part Welsh, and I've got some Scottish blood in me, too. But not a drop of Irish blood.

Which reminds me of a scrap of insanity from my younger years, when my brother and I somehow came up with a routine (in William S. Burroughs' sense of the word "routine") which included the following bit of doggerel:
An' 'ither de hither de gither de skuy,
In de augghhtermauthe o' S'int Padraig's Duuy!
Enunciated in an industrial-strength Irish brogue, with the gghh in "augghhtermauthe" pronounced as a grand throat-clearing Celtic "chhhh," sort of like a "kh" but worse. Awwchhhhtermawthe!!! And somehow (in an aspect of the routine which now escapes me) these lines were attributed to our father. My brother and I had zillions of routines like this one.

And, St. Patrick's Day being what it is, I imagine there will be plenty of people suffering the "augghhtermauthe" of it tomorrow. I could go into the St. Patrick's Day of my freshman year in college— actually, the day after St. Patrick's Day, when they were disposing of green beer down at the Copper Grid for a dime a pint— but it still makes my stomach turn just to remember it. I mean, I can't drink green beer to this day.

That was the evening when I recall stumbling into the men's room, falling to my knees as I opened the men's room door, and surprised to see a piece of wood about the shape and size of a chair leg skittering in across the men's room floor ahead of me. Now, what was that about? Afterwards, when I came out of the men's room, there was Craig the bartender, lifting the shattered remains of a wooden chair up off the floor. (It seems I had tripped over the chair, without even realizing it, on the way to the men's room.) He said, "Well, the least you could've done was to pick it up!"

Oh, and then there was the next morning. "Augghhtermauthe" indeed!

I think I'm going to stay home this evening, and play Shogi against myself instead.


Have I mentioned? My slippers are like wool socks. Double-thick wool socks, with leather soles. Extremely comfortable. And knowing me and wool, I'll probably keep on wearing them clear on through the spring and summer. No kidding.


Snowstorm Fizzled

It didn't amount to much. Oh, 3 inches maybe, enough that I'm glad I wasn't out on the roads yesterday. But it sure warn't no "7 or 8 inches." Further confirmation for my rule of thumb: Expect slightly less than half the minimum snowfall predicted.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Sun and Moon

If the sun is gold, then the moon is silver. That's obvious. But if the sun is bronze, then what is the moon? Don't tell me aluminum, they didn't have aluminum back then. Maybe if the sun is bronze, then the moon is tin? Or quicksilver, yeah, maybe the moon is quicksilver.

Admit it, you know what I'm talking about. Moreover, in your more lucid moments you know that much if not most of our human knowledge is of a piece with bronze suns and quicksilver moons. And it is meaningful and valid and truthful, for all that. Without it we would be blind and deaf and dumb.

Now ponder for a minute how many of our modern philosophies have been designed with the express purpose of barring the gate against such suns and moons, as if against a marauding criminal horde. As if to say, "You shall come in through the front gate only, single file, no jostling; and then only when we deign to admit you. No crawling in over the back fence, please!"

Of course, the deep-seated need to be a gatekeeper (and such a stringent and authoritarian gatekeeper, at that) must never be spoken of: if one were a psychologist, one would suspect there are "control issues" in play here.

Metaphor and symbol and sign are the Morpheus and the Trinity and the Neo in this Matrix. But what of they who have appointed themselves the Agents?

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Another March Blizzard

I see snow coming down outside. Our second March blizzard, after a winter that overall was unusually mild.

I've heard we're supposed to get "7 inches," or "7 to 9 inches," or "6 to 8 inches," or even "a foot." Whatever, if we get any reasonable fraction, this is going to be a day to stay home.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Stomach Bug

I was down yesterday with a minor stomach bug.

Actually I should've guessed something was coming over me Monday, my day off, when I felt sort of wiped out, and took four long naps during the day. Even after that I slept like a log Monday night, insomniac though I usually be; though I woke up at one point during the night, not feeling altogether well.

Up Tuesday morning with a queasy stomach, and no appetite at all. I tried to get down some breakfast, managed some orange juice, a little milk, half a slice of toast, a bite of ham, and less than half a hardboiled egg. Queasy. Then suddenly rushing to the bathroom, and it all came right back up again. Vomiting and vomiting. I went back to bed.

By early afternoon, I was able to keep down some cream of chicken soup. By late afternoon, jello. And on into the evening I had some bland food like applesauce, and peas. But skipped out of the Lions board meeting last night; I still wasn't feeling any too chipper.

And slept again last night like a log. Now up this morning, and feeling a lot better, though still this sensation around the edges like, "Don't angrify that stomach."

Monday, March 13, 2006

The New Japanese Chess Set Is Here!

Well, the new Shogi set is here. The Shogi (or "Japanese Chess") pieces arrived in the mail Thursday from Japan, and the board arrived Saturday.

shogi closeup
As I was remarking recently, Shogi has been a fascination of mine for 35 years— though only now have I managed at long last to lay my hands on a good Shogi set. This set really is a thing of beauty— Japanese characters carved into the boxwood pieces, big thick sturdy wooden board.

Today is my day off, so I'll probably be sitting around and working through games out of Fairbairn.

And if you're looking for high quality Japanese Chess pieces, board, whatever— check out the Shogi items at Hirohurl, that's where I got mine from. Excellent service, and everything arrived here in Iowa, all the way from Japan, carefully packed and quickly. In fact, Hirohurl has an entire shop of cool Japanese stuff. Check it out!

Update, 9/07: is now Japanese Games Shop.

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Friday, March 10, 2006

Life without a Bed

True fact: once upon a time, for about a year, I went without a bed. Instead I slept on a rubber mat on the floor.

The year was 1987. I was returning to school, which meant moving from Illinois to North Carolina. I was pulling all this off on a shoestring, so after sending my stereo speakers by UPS and my books book rate via the Post Office, I loaded the remainder of my earthly belongings, including such furniture as I owned, into my old Ford Fairmont station wagon. If it couldn't fit in that station wagon, it didn't go with me.

A few days later, I arrived in Durham, North Carolina, where I picked up the keys to the one-bedroom apartment which I had rented, sight unseen, on the recommendation of a Duke alumna. Nice little apartment, if you could keep up with the cockroaches. Nice hardwood floors. I unpacked things out of my station wagon. My stereo speakers were delivered. I hauled boxes of books from the Post Office. I began to unpack.

Furniture? Well, I went out to Hechinger's, where I picked up pine boards and cinder blocks for bookcases. I went to a cheapy furniture outlet (you can buy furniture cheap in North Carolina) where I picked up a flimsy kitchen table and flimsy chairs, "some assembly required." I stumbled into a furniture store where I found a nice, solid, heavy wood endtable for only $12: I set up my stereo amplifier and turntable on it.

And there my furniture budget came to an end. As I was already understanding quite well, I was heading into a stretch of years when I would live on rice and dried beans and potatoes and ramen noodles and oatmeal; when splurging on entertainment meant dropping a dollar or two on old paperbacks from the used book store; and even that would be a stretch of my budget.

So... bed? No, no bed. There had been no room in my station wagon to bring a bed along with me. And I had no money left to buy a bed once I got to North Carolina.

So I laid out a rubber mat on the hardwood floor of my bedroom. And for the next year, I slept on the floor. On that rubber mat.

For that matter, I had no chairs in my living room. Sitting in my living room meant sitting on an old orange cushion on the floor. Surrounded by board-and-cinder-block bookcases full of books, my old stereo system on a $12 endtable, and a 12-inch black-and-white TV.

Life with no chairs in my living room. Life with no bed in my bedroom.

And I thought nothing of it. I dunno, back in my younger adult years I was monastic. Ascetic. That was simply the way I lived. Year after year. I took it for granted. All the usual bourgeois middle-class comforts were alien to me.

I didn't "join" the middle class until I was past forty. To this day, it somewhat amazes me that I have furniture in my living room. A bed to sleep in. A microwave. A portable dishwasher. A small but nice old oak desk at which I sit, typing this up on an old used laptop computer. Believe me, I don't take such things for granted.

And I still sometimes wonder about having so many "things." I mean, it is perfectly possible to live a good, full life without a bed. I know. I've been there.


Penguin's Progress

(Yes, I know, I recycle images shamelessly... so sue me! :-)

The tidying up of my Mandriva 2006 installation proceeds apace. Last night I restored the Windows True Type Fonts— last remaining vestigial trace of the "alas poor Yorick" Windows 98SE which was on this IBM ThinkPad when I bought it. (No, my computer is not dual boot. No Windows anymore. Linux-only.)

Took care of the disconcerting tendency of the cursor to change size, depending on which window it was hovering over. This called for adding to my .Xdefaults file the line:
Xcursor.size: 24
And I found out how to deactivate that dang resource-hog desktop-search-tool "Kat"— not documented anywhere, except in the Google cache of a single website; here it is, add the appropriate empty file to your home directory by running the following command from the command line:
touch ~/.mdv-no_kat
And so it goes. Step by step I pull the loose ends together.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Laundromat Books

Back in the days when I had to take my laundry to a laundromat, I'd often take a book along with me to read. One of my favorite "laundromat books" was Blue Highways, by William Least Heat Moon. The story of how he took off in his old creaky van, and drove all around the United States. I just loved browsing in that book endlessly.

It seems that many of my favorite books are eminently browseable. Boswell's Life of Johnson. Montaigne's Essays. Thoreau's Walden. Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy. Or the beautifully written three-volume autobiography of philosopher George Santayana: Persons and Places, The Middle Span, and My Host the World. Browseable books you read like a bee buzzing from one flower to another, in search of nectar. In contrast with the kind of book that is best read through from cover to cover, like an arrow flying straight toward its target.

"Bee" books versus "arrow" books. The books I prefer are not so very seldom "bee" books. How about you?


My Computer Is Back Up to Speed

Well, everything's looking good with my recent Linux upgrade to Mandriva 2006.

Or I should say, after installing it once and getting it right on Monday, then blowing it, I reinstalled it and got everything back to normal yesterday. Now I'm just chasing down a few remaining loose ends.

That, and trying to figure out how to deactivate (or safely uninstall) that desktop search tool Kat, which is still a resource hog.

Those screenshots are actually from before the change, but same difference, as my screen's appearance is precisely the same now as it was before. If you want to see a full-sized screenshot (runs to about half a meg) it's right here.


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Linux Update: Mandriva 2006

Well, what with this unanticipated accession of free time, I gone and done it yesterday. Installed Mandriva Linux 2006 on my IBM ThinkPad.

And it worked very nicely, too: I was surprised, after some of the horror stories I'd read out there. It worked very nicely, until I tried to remove a resource hog desktop search tool called Kat. I removed it, all right; and messed up the system in the process.

So I got up early this morning, and reinstalled everything from scratch. Give me a few more hours here, and I'll be right back to the perfected Mandriva 2006 install I had yesterday evening. Right before I removed that desktop search tool.

In the meanwhile, a first: I am posting to my blog this morning from the Lynx browser. :-)


Monday, March 06, 2006

The Galaxy in My Mind

Back in my teenage years— 8th grade up through my first year or two in college— I wrote an astonishing pile of science fiction stories. Short stories, novellas, sketches, fragments, background pieces, and half an unfinished novel. They were all set in the same fictional universe, a future history where Man (this was back before "inclusive" language) went forth to conquer and colonize the galaxy. Tons of material, much of it never got written down, and to this day I could lay it forth for you out of my head in mindnumbing detail.

Let's see if I can briefly sketch out this future history...

Man (this was back before "inclusive" language) spread out and began to explore the Solar System by the late 20th & early 21st century. The Moon and Mars were colonized, space-based industry grew up in earth orbit, lunar orbit, at the L5 points, etc. At first freedom flourished on this new frontier. But eventually the economic leverage of space-based industry grew until Earth and its colonies were ruled by an authoritarian military-industrial complex.

Eventually the Moon, Mars, Venus, and Mercury were terraformed. The young heir to a major terraforming corporation led an unsuccessful revolt on Mars; this was the last open rebellion against the regime which ruled over the Solar System.

The moons of the outer planets were settled, but were never economically very profitable. The joker was the Asteroid Belt: vast, widely dispersed, resource-rich, and far too large to be effectively controlled or policed. Earth tried to maintain a grip on the asteroids; but much went on in the Asteroid Belt which was beyond any central control.

At long last, a rebel enclave among the asteroids constructed and dispatched a ship to the Alpha Centauri system. It took the ship many years to travel the four light-years to Alpha Centauri. There Man's first interstellar colony grew in freedom on the habitable planets of Alpha Centauri A, Alpha Centauri B, and Proxima Centauri.

Several centuries thereafter, ships from Earth arrived in the Alpha Centauri system, leading to the outbreak of the First Interstellar War, which continued fitfully for a couple of centuries. Not much you can do when it takes years to reach your enemy's territory. A peace was concluded, but it didn't hold, and the Second Interstellar War continued for another several hundred years. Then a hyperlight drive was discovered, cutting travel time between Earth and Alpha Centauri from years to mere days: in short order, the two star systems bombed each other back to the stone age.

Several thousand years later, Alpha Centauri climbed back up from barbarism to civilization, and back to the stars. They were equipped with the old hyperlight drive, which they had retrieved from the ancient wreckage of war: they learned how to duplicate and use the hyperlight tesseracts, but understood their inner workings no better than a headhunter understands an airplane engine. So Man went forth to his second and greater colonization of the stars.

Humans spread out across hundreds of light-years, colonizing thousands of worlds. The Hermetics grew up as interstellar traders, something like the Free Traders in Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy, and my Hermetic language became a lingua franca among the stars. For some reason, the interstellar economic system in my stories was neither capitalism nor socialism, but mercantilism. Many of the little craft items I turned out in those years were marked in Hermetic "Zinir," "For Export."

More than 100 light-years from home Men encountered the Camels, a race of intelligent creatures from the Gamma Geminorum system which had themselves been colonizing the stars for several millennia. Imagine talking deer standing upright on their hind legs. Men and Camels were vastly different physically, and they also had certain psychological differences, but overall they had far more in commmon than most alien races, and they hit it off well together. Men and Camels, for all their differences, eventually became culturally one race.

There were other alien races that appeared in my stories. The Esloniki were a more or less humanoid race, much engrossed with board games and card games. (!!!) The Esloniki (Slaun Ki, "People of the Game") were also masters of a surreal martial art known as the feng cra, pirouetting through the air, balancing on the edge of a knife blade, punching through stone without effort, walking through walls— something like in The Matrix, you know. The Uranai, inhabitants of smaller and colder gas giants like Uranus and Neptune, had been around in the galaxy far longer than we had; they had five sexes, and lived for tens of thousands of years. The Proyng, a silver-based life form from the intensely hot planet of a blue supergiant star, were (as in C.S. Lewis's Perelandra) unfallen.

Human and Camel settlement came eventually to extend out to stars more than 6000 light years from Earth. Then a vast war broke out, between two human interstellar empires, the Cliton Confederation and Wolf 851. The Clitonian-Wolfite War continued for 3000 years, until finally a Clitonian physicist, Robert Ansel, unraveled the how and the why of the hyperlight tesseract, which yielded not only an improved hyperlight drive, but also weapons along the lines of the Star Wars Imperial Death Star.

In fact, Ansel had discovered far more than this: his "Unified Grid Theory" was something like a cross between a Unified Field Theory and the Kabbalah. He was called in to be examined before a session of the Clitonian High Council. The session dissolved in confusion when Ansel testified: "I am not saying that there are less than a dozen persons in the galaxy who understand my theory. I am saying that there are less than a dozen persons in the galaxy who are capable of understanding my theory. You cannot teach the calculus to a chimpanzee."

It later came out that Ansel had metaphysically "sealed" some of the more deadly portions of his Grid Theory, and had rendered himself metaphysically immune to having these portions of the theory extracted from him, even under torture. Meanwhile, the Clitonian military took those portions of Ansel's new technology which they already had in their possession, and reduced the Wolfite homeworlds to pea gravel. As an afterthought, they also slaughtered the Esloniki, for no apparent reason. The handful of surviving Esloniki were consigned to a reservation, where they played games, went into a moping decline, and went extinct within a few generations.

(These stories reflect the rather acid view of the human race which I had as a teenager... as if you hadn't already guessed?)

And then a future history which stretched on and on... after a long span of millennia, Men and Camels achieved the Zenith of the Sentients (Mna Thijad Pmopaninl), where they walked among the stars physically like ghosts of light, with vast powers, each individual capable of singlehandedly remaking the face of an entire world in beauty.

But then came an invading alien race, known only as the Enemy— think of intelligent cephalopods, octopuses, devious, nihilistic, and utterly without mercy. And Men and Camels gathered for the Council of Tau Ceti, where they debated and wrung their hands like relativist postmodern university professors, agonizing over whether they had any right to prevent the Enemy from exterminating them. The Council's final decision: We have no right to defend ourselves, we have no right to survive; let the Enemy come and wipe us out, for that is his truth, and we have no right to oppose it. (My high school English teacher hated this story, because she felt it impugned her sacred relativism. Wonder what she must think in today's post-9/11 world?)

Men and Camels were stripped of their powers, and became fugitive, hunted creatures, fleeing among the stars. Such was the Coming of the Darkness. A few, like the Camels of the Blue Nebula, or the Raldic Empire under Catherine the Wise, fought back against the Enemy, or preserved fragments of learning and culture through those Dark Ages. A few, like the giant redskinned human Tlanti, fled thousands of light-years out along our spiral arm of the galaxy, and settled on worlds far remote from the conflict.

But darkness held sway for long ages, until a warrior-king returned from the Galactic Rim, bringing with him a fleet of interstellar battleships. For from among the Tlanti arose a sometime warrior, a sometime interstellar merchant, a ruler among men, who declared war upon the Enemy, a war for the liberation of the Galaxy; and he came proclaiming: "Behold, I am Simon Athelstan, who is Emperor of the Seven Stars, and Lord of the Princes of the Vanmoor; let the record of my victories be set forth among every people in every star system, in Tlantic and in Hermetic and in Alhennan, on plates of violetized steel..."

Oh, and in these science-fiction stories, people engaged in hand-to-hand combat with swords. Also with "nimbic torches," a handheld device which generated an energy arc that could slice right through solid objects. Rather like an energy-field chainsaw. Or something like a light saber.

I was writing these stories, an endless pile of them, in my teenage years, late 60s through mid 70s. So you can see why I was just blown away when I walked into a movie theater one day in 1977 and saw a movie called Star Wars...

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Study Leave

Uh, no, I ain't going on study leave after all. As of this noon we've got several inches on the ground already (a neighbor tells me over the phone they've got 4½" at their place), and an afternoon of snow yet to come. And down to the south of us, they've got it worse than we do, "snow covered highways" and all. All the way to Dubuque, my would-have-been destination.

Can you believe, for once the weather forecasters underpredicted the snow we were going to get?! Like, way underpredicted it?!

Assuming the roads are passable by tomorrow, I'd get down there by the forenoon; that is to say, halfway through the event. So, made the requisite calls, canceled out, and will have a somewhat less hectic first full week of Lent. I can live with that. :-)

Study Leave

This afternoon I'll be heading out on a couple of days of study leave. No computer access for the duration, etc.

Of course, wouldn't you guess, any time I've got to travel in the winter, it snows. We got I'd guess purner an inch last night, and I hear there's more on the way today. The stormbottle wasn't acting up in the midst of a bright sunny day yesterday for nothing. Oh well, Jeep, four wheel drive, off I go...

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Fluorescent Follies

Mr. Fix-It, I am not. Here's the story: I've got three fluorescent lights in my kitchen, one up above the sink, and two in fluorescent light fixtures which are fastened underneath the cupboards. About a year ago— maybe more, maybe less— the light above the sink and one of the lights underneath the cupboards conked out on me. Fizzled out. Caput. Finito.

Do you think I went and replaced them?

Well, not for going on a year. I just got along without them. Then finally, maybe two or three months ago, I stopped off at a hardware store down in Waukon. Got the two replacement fluorescent light tubes. The one above the sink, fine, it worked. The one underneath the cupboards, no luck.

Not that there was anything wrong with that new fluorescent light. I tried it out in the other fixture underneath the cupboards, and it worked fine. So. By Sherlock Holmes process of elimination, the problem must be with the one fixture that wasn't working.

Now, do you think I went and got a new fluorescent light fixture?

You're catching on. The answer is, not for another two or three months. Until finally, about a week ago, finding myself in the vicinity of a hardware store way up in La Crescent with a few minutes to kill, I wandered in and started looking around for... a new fluorescent light fixture.

Of course, this is one of those annoying stores where you can't get ten feet down an aisle without a store employee accosting you, "May I help you find something?" I'm like, "No, just looking." I swear, I was in that store less than five minutes, and I was accosted in this manner three times, and I think twice by the same employee. I always hate it when they do that in a store, makes me feel like they're eyeing me as a potential shoplifter or something. Once more, and I think I would've walked out the door without buying anything.

But. I found the fluorescent light fixture, bought it, and within a few days here at home I got around to installing it. Which was almost beyond my abilities. I mean, the old fixture was mounted underneath the cupboards on two screws, 12" apart and 2" out from the wall. To mount the new fixture, I had to move the screws 15" apart and 2½" out from the wall. However, where there's a Phillips screwdriver, there's a way.

So, after something like a year— maybe more, maybe less— I once again have three functioning fluorescent lights in my kitchen.

Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam

Glancing just now at the subject headers of spam routed overnight into my spam folder, I noticed one that made me do a double-take: "Please have your name handy when you're ready to re-order."

Well, yeah, like, "Oh, my name, can you hold just a minute, let me go look it up..."

Friday, March 03, 2006

A Day of Fragments

Well. I survived the transition into Lent, after an entire pre-Ash-Wednesday week of preparatory rush. Got up Thursday morning with traces of a black smudge still on my forehead. And now, yesterday and today, my job is to rush some more, in the brief lull before the weekend and next week. I'm going to be away on study leave a few days next week, plus Confirmation class, plus Midweek Lenten service and launching the Midweek Lenten sermon series, plus launching the Lenten Bible study next Thursday... In short, any further prep work for this week or next either gets done today, or else not before next Friday at the very earliest.

Visions of the recently ordered Shogi set dance in my head.

A book I recently ordered from Amazon may arrive today. (This is getting altogether too easy, ordering books and whatnot over the Internet...)

Learned last night on the phone that my Mom has been down with the flu the past day or two, though now slowly on the mend.

Bank. Got to remember to visit the bank today. Got some checks to deposit. And I need cash, since I'll be heading out toward that study leave dealie Sunday afternoon already.

Humidifier in the living room. Refill it, it's almost empty.

What else am I forgetting?

Bits and pieces and fragments. So it goes sometimes.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

I've Got Japanese Chess on My Mind

japanese chess
Okay, you already know I'm a major fanatic about classical board games and card games. That includes the game of Shogi, or Japanese chess, which I first ran across when I was in high school, age 14 or 15— which is to say, back when Nixon was still in the White House.

I went nuts over Japanese chess. I think I may first have encountered it in a Dover reprint of Edward Falkener's Games Ancient and Oriental, and How to Play Them. I spent hours salivating over the brief Shogi article in the 1970 Encyclopedia Britannica in our high school library. I have memories even of methodically meditating on every minute detail of the rules of Shogi, while shooting baskets by our garage out back.

You understand, back in the early 70s we did not live in a "global" world. If you happened to live in a small town in Wisconsin, as I did, it was next to impossible to find anything much about some obscure board game from Japan. I managed to make my own Shogi set, board with lines woodburned into tan leather, five-sided pieces painstakingly cut from a length of lattice wood, by hand, with hacksaw and mitre box. I played Shogi against myself, I played Shogi against any poor soul I could collar. Usually I won.

By the time I was a senior in high school, I managed by mail order to latch onto the two or three books about Shogi in English which were then in print and available. In those days this meant ordering from the Charles E. Tuttle Company in Rutland, Vermont. I also obtained through Tuttle a genuine Japanese Shogi set: it was nothing much, a tiny portable set, but it was from Japan and the pieces were labeled with Japanese characters, unlike my homemade set where I had labeled the pieces with iconic glyphs of my own invention, which indicated how the pieces moved.

Well. Fast forward to our present era and our 21st century "global" world. Nowadays you can find more stuff online about Shogi than you can shake a stick at. Only, as I discovered several months ago, look around online for a real Shogi set from Japan, and you've got two choices. One, sites in English aimed at Shogi aficionados, which however offer for sale only sets of mediocre quality, on a par with the cheap plastic chess sets you see in your local discount store. Or two, sites which offer beautiful, exquisite, high-quality Shogi pieces, Japanese characters carved right into the wood, only the entire dang site is in Japanese, and if you and the Infoseek translation site can't decipher the Shogi folks' Japanese, fergit it.

Until yesterday. When I had the joy of discovering a site, in English, which offers beautiful, high-quality, hand-crafted Shogi pieces. I broke down. I gave in. As a last Mardi Gras fling before Lent, I ordered their thickest Shogi board, plus one of their more expensive sets of Shogi pieces.

After 35 years, at last....