Friday, June 30, 2006

Crunchy Cons

Rod Dreher's book Crunchy Cons arrived yesterday by UPS, and I read about half of it in the evening hours.

Crunchy Cons. You know, granola conservatives. Or as Dreher puts it in his book's subtitle, "Birkenstocked Burkeans, Gun-Loving Organic Gardeners, Evangelical Free-Range Farmers, Hip Homeschooling Mamas, Right-Wing Nature Lovers, and Their Diverse Tribe of Countercultural Conservatives."

Interesting. I can resonate with where Dreher's coming from. I consider myself a lifelong conservative, but increasingly in the past few years I find that the various strands of mainstream conservatism smell more and more like an ideology. You know, "ideology" as in "a smokescreen to cover and render unmentionable the assorted bad attitudes and hangups of its adherents." "Ideology" as in "an apologetic for shoddiness, lack of quality, harsh rigidity, arid rationalism, and general lack of soul."

Increasingly the best that can be said of mainstream conservatism is that at least it's not liberalism (which is 35 or 40 years further gone down the pathway of ideology), at least it retains some checkered respect for individual liberty, at least it pays lip service (though increasingly only lip service) to tradition, and at least the free market (unlike the command-economy alternatives) basically does work.

I've been reading National Review and other conservative publications regularly for more than 30 years now, and I can remember a time when conservatism in this country stood for something more, something higher, something better than unbridled domestic spending, "total information awareness," and one sterile strip mall after another. I can remember a time when conservatism was a sensibility, a nuanced cultural outlook, a way of conserving and interpreting and perpetuating the profound wisdom of deep-rooted tradition— and not just an armored, carapaced, rationalistic ideology for the "suits" and their flunkies.

I will inflict a full book review on you once I've finished the book and my busy schedule of early July lets up.


Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Quiet Evening

Don't know why I never thought of this before, but recent evenings when the weather is decent, I've taken to retiring to the garage, which is attached right onto the house. Open both the automatic garage doors. Encourage air flow by opening the door over on the other side of the garage.

And then I settle down out there in a lawn chair, with another chair at my side as a sort of "coffee table." Equipped with a bottle of Spring Grove black cherry soda, and a magazine or two. And with the old boom box cranked up and tuned to 95.7 the Rock. Yeah, the old boom box from the early 90s, the one that looks as though it's lifted bodily from the control panels in the cockpit of an airliner.

And then I just sit there, relaxing and reading, and watching the occasional pickup truck or farm machinery going by.

Don't know why the idea of doing this never occurred to me before in all these years.

Say What?

On this radio station I often listen to during breakfast, there's this gal who reads the news, and I've gotten the impression that she's not very adept at it. Sudden unplanned pauses, long pauses, in the midst of a news story. Misreadings that make no sense.

Now this morning comes a classic. Or maybe she's just not very knowledgeable about computers. Or maybe the powers that be no longer care if we find out.

Here's how she led into one news story this morning: "Are you armed against hackers? If not, AOL is introducing new spyware..."

Gee, really? Sounds more like Sony to me...

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Senior Moment

Hoo boy, did I ever have a senior moment this morning. Ate breakfast while the computer was downloading a Linux security update. After breakfast, I took a cup of coffee into my study, set it on a coaster next to my computer, then retired for a few minutes to the bathroom.

Afterwards, I went to the kitchen, poured myself a cup of coffee, took it into my study... wait a minute, isn't that a cup of coffee already sitting on my desk next to my computer??!

I take it I can count on things like this happening more and more often, now that I've hit 50 and am eligible for membership in AARP?

Lions Club

Well, last night we had our big annual Lions Club dinner at the Community Center. Steak dinner, yes!

Plans are well in place for our impending annual Fourth of July event, which will draw many, many thousands of people to this small town of just over 200. Tractor pull, demolition derby, combine demolition derby, softball tournament, parade, flea market, food stands, beer tent, music, and of course fireworks.

Last night we also inducted our new Lions Club officers for the coming year. I must confess I'd been slightly nervous about this, though here I am the next morning, still in one piece. Still in one piece, and for the next year President of our local Lions Club.

Eh, it's a great Lions Club, I have Robert's Rules of Order down to an automatic reflex, we'll do fine. :-)

Monday, June 26, 2006

Acidman, RIP

I've just learned that Rob Smith, alias Acidman, has passed away. And the blogosphere will be a poorer place without him.

I first stumbled across the blogosphere back in the fall of 2002. At first I didn't range very far afield. The entire 'sphere was, for me, just a handful of blogs. And one of those blogs was Rob's Gut Rumbles.

Rob was one of a kind. A Georgia cracker, a crusty curmudgeon, who spoke his mind and never pulled any punches. A highly talented writer, too— one of the very best I've ever read online. At one point I exchanged a few emails with Rob, and he was just as crusty and quick on the trigger there as he was on his blog. I commented at Gut Rumbles on occasion, especially in those earlier days; later, I mostly just lurked, sometimes less frequently and sometimes more often. But always I returned knowing that Acidman would have something to say that would rock me back on my heels, clear out my sinuses, and make me chuckle.

Rest in peace, Rob. I'm gonna miss you.

How I Got Rid of Fox News Comment Spam

Jay Solo has written more than once (as also has Ed Cone) about the problem of Fox News comment spam: that is, completely off-topic brief comments which include a link to a Fox News story.

It seems a lot of blogs— including Accidental Verbosity, including Let the Finder Beware— have been receiving Fox News comment spam in recent months. I started receiving it in early March; it arrived pretty much like clockwork, once a week, Wednesday night or Thursday morning. I mean, on a thread which had nothing to do with either The Donald or babies, I would receive a comment like this:
Talking about babies did you see this...

Donald, Melania Trump Have Baby <link to Fox News story>
At first the Fox News comment spam was posted by someone called "Luther"; then it simply came from "Anonymous." I'd always delete it as soon as I received notice of it. The next week, another different snippet would appear— at first, always in the same thread from back in early March. After a couple of months of this, I closed that thread to new comments; and the next week new Fox News comment spam began arriving in another, newer thread.

This was a post about a dream I had, a dream about swimming around out in the water. It drew off-topic comments like this:
Rove Blames Bush's Job Approval Ratings on War in Iraq <link to Fox News story>

worth reading
Again, I'd delete the comment spam ASAP; and again, every Wednesday or Thursday "Anonymous" would be back, in that swimming-dream thread, with more Fox News comment spam.

Finally I got a bright idea. Around the beginning of June I left the following comment in that thread:

fox news comment spam no more
And voilà! Here we are, coming up toward the end of June, and I haven't seen any Fox news comment spam on my blog in weeks. Though I'm not sure how well it would work if all of us started doing this on our blogs... ;-)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Today I Turn 50

Yes, today is my 50th birthday. I was born in Madison, Wisconsin, on June 24, 1956, at 4:49 in the anti-matter, at what was then known as Madison General Hospital. I am told it was hot all that June until the day I was born, when the heat broke and it was never so unreasonably hot again the rest of the summer.

Fifty years ago. Five decades. Half a century.

Turning 50 I feel at ease, almost serene. Of course it helps that in recent years I find myself living a quiet and usually tranquil life; I'm doing work I love, living among people I love; I'm in good health; and I live on a gravel road far out into the countryside, far from the madding crowd of city life.

Turning 40, by contrast, was for me quite an ordeal. Several months into being flat broke, massively in debt, radically underemployed, and with no light at the end of the tunnel. It's a long story, let me tell you. I did that midlife crisis thing: pulled a Kerouac, ran away 2000 miles across the continent to Seattle for six weeks, and when that predictably failed, I plunged back to earth like Icarus who had flown too close to the sun. Hopeless. Months of quiet hopelessness ensued. And in the midst of that quiet hopelessness, I became a very different person than I had always been— slower, mellower, more easygoing: a lasting transformation that has stood me in good stead these past ten years.

Turning 50 feels easy by comparison. Like I say, almost serene.

Saturday is usually my most reliably busy day of the week, in some ways even more of a marathon than Sunday morning. But this week I got things done early, and so I plan to spend today quietly relaxing. May head out somewhere, may just sit around.


A Family Heirloom

elgin natl. watch co.
Well, I've been fascinated lately with watches. In fact, fascinated this past year. So when I was over in Wisconsin visiting my folks earlier this week, I was astonished and overjoyed when my dad gave me, for my 50th birthday, the pocket watch which had belonged to my great-great-grandfather.

My Great-Great-Grandpa Roessler had a hotel and tavern in Hustisford, Wisconsin. He also had a stable where he kept some horses. He spoke with a German accent: his parents had come over to this country from Germany. Big mustache, full head of hair even in his nineties. He passed away in 1946, at the age of 96.

elgin natl. watch co.
His pocket watch is still in beautiful condition, and lo and behold, it still runs. My dad said it probably hasn't run in 60 years. I don't intend to run it any more than I can help, until if and when I get it cleaned. The case is decorated on the outside with stars. Inside, the porcelain dial is in very fine condition. The dial reads "Elgin Natl. Watch Co." Very long, thin Roman numerals. Blued steel hands, sunken subseconds dial. The watch measures almost 2¼" across.

I understand from a collectors' site that I could date the watch pretty precisely if I opened it up and read the serial number off the watch movement. Uh uh, not gonna try it on my own. From looking at other Elgin pocketwatches round about on the Internet, I think I'm safe in saying that my great-great-grandfather's watch dates from the late 1800s. I find watches with the same dial and similar case design from 1885, 1890, thereabouts.

At any rate, this pocketwatch is a real piece of family history. My great-great-grandfather no doubt was telling time with it when he turned 50, in 1900, before the Wright Brothers had flown at Kitty Hawk. Amazing to ponder that.

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Friday, June 23, 2006

The Quick Brown Fox Jumps

Yesterday morning I was sitting at the big table out on my back porch, assembling the latest issue of the newsletter for our local Lions Club. I looked to the left, out the window, and what should I see ghosting across the lawn but a quick trotting fox!

The fox paused, stood still, its tail sticking straight out behind it. Then it resumed its pace, all the way to the back of the property. There it turned to the right and trotted along the barbed wire fence, almost until it reached the cemetery. At that point, the fox jumped through the fence and into the cornfield beyond.

Damn, I love living out in the country!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Circus 3

circus 3
My brother informs me that Channel 3, in Madison, Wisconsin, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this week. Which means that Channel 3 must have gone on the air within a week of when I was born at Madison General Hospital. (As I got up this morning, I told myself: I'm still in my 40s for two more days yet...)

Actually, if I'd thought, I would've remembered this. Because I remember 25 years ago, back in June of 1981, I was living in an apartment in Madison— as I mentioned the other day, I'd just finished up my master's degree in math at the UW. And I remember at that time Channel 3 celebrating its 25th anniversary by broadcasting a week of old Surfside Six episodes.

When I was a youngster, growing up in a small town north of Madison, one of the big things on Channel 3 was a locally produced show called Circus 3. They had cartoons, they had kids sitting in little bleachers on camera, they had Howie Olson and the famous ventriloquist's dummy, Cowboy Eddie. My brother and I used to watch Circus 3 on TV after school. In fact, for my sixth birthday (this was 1962) I appeared on Circus 3, sitting there in the bleachers. I remember my folks were sort of nervous because, at the last moment, I'd gotten the idea that I was going to look for an opportunity to tell, live on the air, a joke I had made up which I was convinced was the funniest joke of all time:
Q: What did the high step say to the low step?

A: "You're too low to step on!"
Fortunately I somehow never got around to it.

When I was a kid, there were jokes at school about "Cowpie Eddie," and about Cowboy Eddie and termites, or Cowboy Eddie and sawdust. Now my brother tells me that Cowboy Eddie is back in town for Channel 3's 50th anniversary celebration.


The New Russian Watch: Update

Well, after a couple of weeks, it's looking as though my new Russian chronograph, with its 23-jewel mechanical movement, is in fact gaining only about two seconds a day, maybe a little less.

Plus, winding it up every morning appeals to the Selective Luddite™ in me.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Like a Smoker in Search of His Next Cig

Back home from two and a half days on the road. Two and a half days over in Wisconsin, visiting family. Two and a half days without Internet access.

No email. No chat. No music over 3WK. No websurfing. No access to my blog, or to any of the other blogs out there.

15 years ago, 20 years ago, 25 years ago, I wouldn't have missed it, because I wouldn't have known what I was missing. Think of it.

25 years ago I was living in an apartment in Madison, where I had just finished my master's degree in math at the UW. I had taken several computer science courses, I had written programs in PASCAL and FORTRAN and C and whatnot, I had worked turning out punched cards at a keypunch machine, I had gotten occasional precious access to a terminal where I used the exceedingly primitive ed line editor. Not a text editor, not a screen editor, but a one-line-at-a-time line editor.

20 years ago I was living in a small river town in northwest Illinois. I had seen and played with a friend's exceedingly primitive and exceedingly expensive IBM PC XT. But if only for the sheer expense of it, I couldn't at that time see getting a computer of my own.

15 years ago, I had a computer, with a glowing green monochrome monitor, and two 5¼" floppy drives and no hard drive, running under MS-DOS 3.3. But get online? Get real, living under the poverty of student life I couldn't afford it. And for what? To access some stone-knives-and-bearskins bulletin boards out there?!

I never would've guessed how dependent, like a smoker in search of his next cig, I would one day become on email and on the blogosphere and on all the once-unforeseeable rest of it.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Zenith Trans-Oceanic

zenith trans-oceanic
It was 1968. I was 12 years old, starting out in 7th grade. I was over at my friend Kelly's house, and he just had to show me his dad's cool radio.

The radio was a portable. Well, if you were a weightlifter, that is. It did have a carrying handle, even if it was the size of a small suitcase. It was a Zenith Trans-Oceanic H500, of early 1950s vintage.

And it had I don't know how many shortwave bands on its dial. I was just absolutely entranced.

You could pick up radio stations from around the world on this radio. The Voice of America. Radio Moscow. Radio Nederland. Deutsche Welle. Radio RSA from South Africa. WNYW, Radio New York Worldwide. The time signal from WWV, Fort Collins, Colorado. And of course the BBC...

Listening to radio felt to me then— it still feels to me today— like entering some strange new dimension, like connecting with some alternate level of reality.

I got a shortwave radio of my own that Christmas. It was out of some Sears or Monkey Ward catalog, and it served me for many years. Then in the early Nineties my brother gave me a Realistic DX-440. And a few years later I got a Grundig Satellit 700, which is still my "main" shortwave radio today.

My shortwave listening post today is in an upstairs room in my house, high atop Wheatland Ridge. There's nothing quite like listening to Radio Tezulutlán, on 4835 kilocycles in the 60 meter band, from Cobán, Guatemala. Or one of the hundreds of other shortwave stations you can receive when the time and propagation conditions are right.

Along with shortwave, I also have an interest in mediumwave (AM) radio. I remember sitting there in a darkened room on winter nights as a boy, listening to an old bakelite Stewart-Warner tube radio, and pulling in KOA 850 Denver, WBZ 1030 Boston, WWL 870 New Orleans, CFCN 1060 Calgary, and dozens of stations in between.

And I've always regretted that, in this part of the world, we don't have broadcast stations on longwave...


Thursday, June 15, 2006

"My Name Is Lloyd Vacuum"

"I'd like to purchase these books, please."

Terry looked up from the cash register at the customer, a tall elderly man who looked to be in his 70s, long lined face with a leonine shock of white hair. Terry rang up the books. "Cash, check, or credit card?"

The man was fishing in a loose, oversized billfold. "My name... is Lloyd Vacuum. Double L, Double U."

"Ummmm, credit card? Master Card or Visa?"

The man repeated more loudly, now in a somewhat imperious tone of voice: "My name is Lloyd Vacuum. Double L, Double U."

Terry didn't know quite what to say. There was something subtly wrong about the cut of the man's sweater vest, the weave of his shirt. At last the man triumphantly produced a card and handed it to Terry. With an air of assurance: "My name is Lloyd Vacuum. Double L, Double U."

Terry looked down at the card, couldn't make heads nor tails of whatever odd font it was printed in. For that matter, he couldn't identify the card. There... the man's name... but it was hard to read... it looked like... "W... That's 'Vacuum,' V-A-C-W-M?"

Now the elderly man seemed agitated. "No, my name is Lloyd Vacuum. Double L, Double U."

"Oh." Terry suddenly noticed with unease that Lloyd Vacuum was growing. Initially he had been about six feet tall. Now he was standing nearly seven feet. "Say, I can't help but notice. It seems as if every time you say your name, you grow a couple of inches."

Lloyd Vacuum drew himself up to his full height. A good seven feet. "As the moon hath its phases, so hath Lloyd Vacuum his changes in height." Now at least seven foot two. "You will see me another time in ever so variant a guise."

Terry looked down at the man's... credit card? But how do you ring up a card you can't even read?

Then Terry looked up again... to see a young fellow, college age, standing there in place of Lloyd Vacuum. Dressed in an odd outfit of yellow wool trimmed with red, and a yellow wool hat like some Sherpa guide's hat. And with something like tribal tattoos up the left side of his face. The young fellow spoke, in that same voice, younger, less rough, but definitely the same voice: "Yes, my name is Lloyd Vacuum. Double L, Double U."

As the young man said this, no mistaking it, he grew at least two inches.

"You're... Lloyd Vacuum? But... you..." Terry glanced down at the card, and when he looked back up, young Lloyd Vacuum was gone. Vanished into thin air.

Terry inspected the card. No, that font, was that even our alphabet? Something like it, but maybe more like Russian... or Cherokee? Then Terry somehow tripped a catch on one edge of the card, and it opened up and unfolded like the covers of a book. Revealing more unreadable printing within. More unreadable printing, and no fewer than a dozen photo IDs. There was the old man, and there was the young tattooed fellow. Some of the photos were of recognizable transforms of Lloyd Vacuum. Some looked radically different. One didn't even look human.

"Well, if that don't beat all. 'Lloyd Vacuum. Double L. Double U.'"

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Comrades! Watch, Ride, and Report!

stalinesque poster
This strangely Stalinesque poster comes to us courtesy of Fred Reed, who sighted it on the MARC train which runs between Washington DC and Baltimore. Reed is an American expatriate who resides in Mexico. He was back in the US recently for the first time in quite a while, and his impressions from his trip are worth reading.

"Report any unusual activities or packages to the nearest conductor... Watch, Ride, and REPORT!" Yeah, yeah, I get what they're up to. And I hope they apprehend any train-riding terrorists, and send them the same way as the Big Z. Only, don't you think we could steel ourselves against terrorism without going all Stalinesque "1930s socialist realism," "boy meets tractor," "saga of the hydroelectric power dam," "watch your neighbor with fear and loathing," and "report the gibbering train riding homeless person to OGPU"?

Honestly. Whoever dreamed up that poster deserves a position in the Department of Fatherland Security. And I don't mean that as a compliment. Why is it that whenever this country begins to slide in a Stalinesque direction, they do it with either or both of the following two excuses:
  • "Won't somebody please think of the children?!"

  • "It's needed to help us catch the terrorists."
'Nuff said.

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Monday, June 12, 2006

Singularity Chess

singularity chess
I originally ran across this chess variation back when I was a graduate student in mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We're talking late 70s or early 80s. I found this game described on a calendar in the math department library. Thinking back, I'm not sure just what the name of the game was. I call it "singularity chess," or "whirlpool chess," for reasons that will become evident.

singularity chess
I made a board for myself on a piece of leather. Any small set of chessmen will do. You'll notice that the "squares" on the board are not really square— they range from more or less square to semicircular. Even though the "squares" differ in shape, each "square" has four sides and four corners.

singularity chess
Even the two semicircular "squares" at the center of the board have four sides and four corners. (Corners indicated above in red.) These two "squares" share two sides and three corners in common. The corner between them which lies at the very center of the board is the singularity from which this chess variation takes its name.

Since the board layout is a "curved space," straight moves and diagonal moves have to be defined locally instead of globally. A straight move can be defined as a move which enters a "square" through one side, and may continue on to exit the "square" through the opposite (nonadjacent) side. A diagonal move can be defined as a move which enters a "square" through one corner, and may continue on to exit the "square" through the opposite (nonadjacent) corner.

singularity chess
This leads to some long-distance moves which are anything but straight as we think of straight. Notice how the rook's move can take it looping around the center of the board, and right back like a boomerang to the same side of the board it started from.

singularity chess
The bishop's move also loops around the singularity at the center of the board. Thus the same bishop can sometimes threaten a square from two different directions at once.

singularity chess
The knight's move likewise is distorted in an almost psychedelic fashion. (First knight's moves in white, second knight's moves in yellow.)

singularity chess
I don't recall exactly how the pawns moved. It seems to me that a rook's pawn could end up "curving" if it went two spaces on its first move— probably not wise for it to move that far while there are still enemy pieces in that vicinity.

singularity chess
As a pawn reaches the semicircular "squares" at the center of the board, it makes sense to me to have it continue to move toward the far side of the board, even though technically this amounts to having the pawn move "sideways" instead of "forward." (Move "forward" indicated in white.) It looks "forward" to us, and it's the only way the pawn will ever make it to the far end where it can be promoted.

It would also make sense to have the pawn's "forward" diagonals for capturing be through the two corners on either side of its next "forward" move. (Indicated in yellow.) Though this would mean that a rook's pawn still on its original square could capture the opposing rook's pawn on its original square— not sure whether that should be permitted or disallowed.

singularity chess
One odd feature of the singularity, or "corner" at the center of the board, is that a piece which moves "diagonally" through the singularity will come out on squares of the opposite color. Thus the bishop above starts on a white square, but if it moves through the singularity, it will end up on a black square.

Odd game. Back in those days you didn't find too much about strange chess variations like this. Though in today's world a hundred mutant flowers have bloomed: I wouldn't be surprised if there are websites out there nowadays about singularity chess.


Saturday, June 10, 2006

Split Second

Have been taking full advantage of the stopwatch function on my newly acquired Russian chronograph. Yesterday I was in town to have a new muffler installed in my Jeep, and while I was waiting I was sitting on a park bench down by the railroad tracks. Two trains went by. The first train went by in 1 minute and 47 seconds, and the second train took 2 minutes and 16 seconds.

Then I was down in Waukon, and stopped off at a restaurant for lunch. It took 22 minutes and 13 seconds for my order to arrive— well, okay, it was the noon hour, and I was in no hurry. At a couple of other area restaurants, my order has clocked in at right around 13 minutes.

So it is with a watch as it is with a computer: the device spurs you on to all sorts of tasks you never would've dreamed of otherwise. Think of all the things people didn't have to do, at least not with any promptness, back in the days before watches tamed time to the minute and the second. Back in the days when "mañana" meant "whenever."


Friday, June 09, 2006

The Decline and Fall of the Rooftop Aerial

Okay, this will show you how much attention I pay to such things, but it's only in the past several months that I've been noticing how scarce TV antennas have gotten. I drive around the area, and it's a rare house that has an antenna on its roof any more. What I see instead are satellite dishes. All over the place. Satellite dishes.

Not that I'd know, left to my own devices. I still have an antenna on my roof, and I get all of half a dozen TV stations— mostly from La Crosse, one from Rochester, and weather permitting, one from down around Cedar Falls or somewhere. When I bother to turn my TV set on at all, which often I don't for weeks or even months at a time.

What's this I hear, that in a couple of years they're going to discontinue our current mode of TV broadcasts, and old TV sets will have to get a converter box if you want to watch the "new TV"? Mebbe I'll catch up with that by around the year 2015. Or mebbe I won't catch up at all.

I must confess, television and the top-down world of the MSM long ago lost me to computers and the bazaar of cyberspace.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Pay No Attention to That World behind the Curtain

Back when I was maybe 8 or 10, I toyed with the idea that the world around me was an illusion, a mere dream. That the real world was completely different, concealed from me by a veil of misperception. I think this is a conceit that many of us have fiddled around with at one time or another. What set my childhood notion apart was that I had quite a vivid image of what the "real" world was like.

In the "real" world, I had been suffering all my life from sleeping sickness, and so for years I had been dreaming our world as I lay there, sound asleep, on my silk-draped catafalque.

Indeed, in the "real" world I was not even human: none of us in the "real" world were remotely human. I lay there, huge, barrel-like body and big round head the size of a large medicine ball. Rough, knotted dark brown hide, with tufts of light brown fur sprouting in odd places. Arms and legs long, thin, and gnarled like tree roots. Eyes like twin radar dishes sunk back into my head. Mouth surrounded by crustacean-like tendrils, opening to reveal a tongue like the trunk of an elephant. Not even remotely human; we were all of us in the "real" world utterly alien creatures of this sort.

And so I was left there to sleep, dreaming of "our" world on my catafalque, amidst pillars and colonnades and porticos of marble all draped with huge fluttering sheets of gauzy dragonfly-wing fabric. Other barrel-like aliens would look in on me now and then, but they knew that my sleeping sickness had no cure, and that I had lain there sleeping for years. And yellow-brown light filtered in, a dusky light that shone down from the catseye-like sun in a striated dull yellow sky overhead. It was hot, like a perpetual summertime. And a buzzing, droning, lulling sound filled the air, a noise like the droning of a herd of distant vacuum cleaners.

This image of a strange and alien "real" world, hidden from me behind a veil of sleep, was tremendously vivid to me when I was in third, fourth, fifth grade. I knew even then (well, 99.8% of the way) that it was a flight of imagination. But it was a fantasy of a kind which I imagine many of us have entertained at one time or another.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Spock's Pad

All right, all right, I give in at last to the YouTube craze! Am I "Web 2.0" enough now? This be Spock, takin' you on a tour o' his pad...

(h/t Steven)



This being a slow news day heading into the summertime, let me be the 34,956th person in the blogosphere to point out that today is 6/6/06, alias 6/6/6, alias 666.

Note also, posted at 6:16 AM.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Russian Watch! Russian Watch!

russian chronograph
Yes! Yes! The Russian watch I've been waiting for is finally here. And it is a thing of wonder!!!

To be precise, it's a Russian chronograph. Complete with stopwatch function— that's what those extra buttons are for. And it's a good old fashioned mechanical chronograph— no effete quartz movement, thank you, this watch has a 23-jewel Poljot 3133 mechanical movement, and it ticks like a real watch should.

Note the retro design, based on watches produced during World War II for top officers in the Red Army. Note the second hand, at 9 o'clock. Note the chronograph second hand— what you'd ordinarily think of as the "regular" second hand— and the chronograph minute hand at 3 o'clock. Note the date window at 6 o'clock. Note the scratch-resistant mineral watch crystal. Note the Super-LumiNova glow-in-the-dark watch hands. Note the logo on watch face, "1МЧЗ им. Кирова," which stands for "Первый Московский Часовой Завод имени Кирова," "First Moscow Watch Factory called Kirova."

And big! This watch measures nearly 1¾ inches across, and about half an inch thick. My middle aged eyes can read it with ease.

On the back of the watch it reads, Полёт (Poljot) Заказ Министерства Обороны Российской Федерации (Order of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation) Водонепроницаемые 5 Атм (Water Resistant 5 Atmospheres) Нержавеющая Сталь (Stainless Steel). Numbered 192 out of a limited edition of 300.

(Hey, never know when that year of Russian I took in college will come in handy! ;-)

Back last summer I bought a nice but cheap Russian watch. I have to confess that the idea of buying a nice but not-so-cheap Russian chronograph hatched in my mind within weeks. After holding off for most of the past year, I finally gave in, and ordered via eBay from a dude over in St. Petersburg. Result: this morning I drove in to town, and picked up at the Post Office a registered package containing one Russian chronograph. Absolutely awesome!

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Friday, June 02, 2006

Phillips Screwdriver?

phillips screwdriver
Oh dear. This is one of those items that makes me feel like my head is going to explode. Sort of like a Cretan who says that all Cretans are liars. Or a barber who shaves all men in the village who don't shave themselves.

I picked this little screwdriver up in an antique shop the other day. For only a dollar. I picked it up because I thought it looked cool, like something I might have expected to find in a kitchen drawer at my grandparents' farmhouse, back circa 1964.

It wasn't until after I'd bought it that I noticed the head-exploding properties of this screwdriver. I mean, take a close look at the tip on this screwdriver, and take a close look at the logo on this screwdriver, and then you tell me: Is this a Phillips screwdriver, or is this not a Phillips screwdriver?

Uh, oh. I'm afraid the only possible answer is: No, this is not a Phillips screwdriver, and yet at the very same time, yes, this is a Phillips screwdriver.

Aiieeeeee!! It's the Phillips screwdriver paradox!!!

<head goes ka-boom!!!>


Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Medium is the Massage

Excuse me, but I got a catalog in the mail yesterday, and I've just got to mock it and make fun of it.

I won't distract you with the name of the company, or even much about what they sell. In fact, I can strip their product descriptions down to the bare essentials by omitting such superfluities as content and context. All I need quote out of various product descriptions are a few key words and phrases. Over and over and over again.

Or as Marshall McLuhan put it in a lesser known variant of his famous saying: "The medium is the massage."

Day-into-Evening Watch sleek... elegant... for business or pleasure... handsome...

...stunning... luxurious...

Power— Prestige— Excellence...
...distinctive... impressive... professional... meticulously crafted... designed...

Leather Desk Chair designed... prestige... conveys the level of your status and success... premium... luxury...

...elegant... pleasure... easy access...

...of Genuine Leather
...executive desk... precision-crafted... sophisticated...

...convey the importance... luxurious... the level of success you have achieved... easy access...

...of Ostrich Leather
...meticulously crafted... ultimate in prestige...

...project a professional image... luxury... elegant attaché... crafted... sumptuous... for the demanding professional... sophistication...

King of Briefcases
...designed to serve demanding, committed professionals... crafted... soft... supple... sturdy...

Polished Italian Leather
...when you walk into a meeting or presentation, present an image... professional... exquisitely crafted...

Underarm Folio: Prestige Plus Power
...for high-stakes presentations and executive meetings... important... prestigious... meticulously fashioned... sophistication...

Chair: Solid Wood and Genuine Leather prestigious choice... executive suite... sumptuous...

Toiletry Kit
...when one reaches a certain pinnacle of achievement... luxuries... richness... deluxe... gorgeous leather...

Barrister's Briefbag
...this one says you mean business... meticulously crafted... fast access... important presentation...

A Case for... Watches..., sumptuous... embossed... tactile... most prestigious... It's [sic] usefulness... plush...

The Rich Allure of Crocodile
...deeply embossed... prestigious... for impact in important meetings...

Backpack, soft... executive status... fashioned of delectably...

European Sophistication
...exquisitely crafted... embossed... edgy, urban, and sophisticated... supple... designed... easy access... sophisticated gold-toned...

Cambridge Collection
...elegant... for both business and leisure... crafted... embossing... exclusivity... rich...

...Softness of Suede
...ultimate in sophistication...

Woven Leather Travel Gear
...luxurious... silky... richly... elegant...

Deluxe Printer Stand
...project an image of success... deluxe... crafted... rich...

Leather Envelope
...crafted... smart, stylish... handsome... implies importance...

Ashby Brief
...crafted... quick and secure access... soft, supple...

Pen Box Displays
...finest... a box that reflects their prestige... crafted... rich...

Gladstone Bag
...handsome... meticulously handcrafted... richer... expertise... superb...

Leather Day Bag
...sophisticated... deep, rich... successful...

Believe you me, I'd love to have about half of the items in this catalog, even if the catalog's relentless tone does remind me of "Gunfight at the OK Corral," only with BlackBerrys™ in place of six-shooters.

But Santa, can't you please bring the catalog copywriter a better thesaurus for Christmas??!