Friday, March 30, 2007

Cherokee Font Mystery

cherokee font
The Tetrast and I are trying to solve a puzzle here. Yesterday I posted in a comment some material written in Cherokee, which I copied from the Cherokee version of Wikipedia. It ought to look like the screen capture above: at least, that's how it looks on my computer. But the Tetrast reports that on his computer he can't get it to display properly. Not even after downloading and installing a Cherokee font.

I'm just scratching my head here. There are several free Cherokee fonts available out there. Some time in this past year I downloaded and installed one of these fonts, can't remember which one. And ever since, I've been able to see Cherokee just fine in my browser.

I look in the two places on my system (Linux, to make matters worse) where most of my fonts are located, can't find that Cherokee font. It probably has some utterly nonobvious filename. In the Opera browser, under International Fonts, I find Cherokee set to "Automatic." I even went into the font controller in the Mandriva Control Center, can't find that Cherokee font. It's there somewhere on my computer, but I can't track it down.

Does anyone out there have any ideas? After sleeping on it, the only other idea that occurs to me is to change encoding selection in one's browser from "Automatic" to "Unicode."

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Illustrated Guide to Breaking Your Computer

Seriously. "Activity 1: Keyboard and power drill."


Blog Categories Revisited

I finally discovered how to overcome that limitation in New Blogger under which only the 20 most recent posts in a category are displayed. And all without having to abandon my old and highly customized blog template. Turns out all it takes is appending ?max-results=n to the category-search URL, where n is the maximum number of posts you want to allow on a page.

I set n to 40, which is more posts than I've got in any category at present, and now if you scroll down my left sidebar to surface tension, you will find links which will display every item in the category going all the way back. (Click on the "Labels" link underneath an individual blog post, though, and you'll still see only the 20 most recent posts in that category.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


The Internet brings to light quirks of typing which might otherwise escape our notice.In particular,I've noticed that some individuals are in the habit of not leaving a space after the period when they type.It looks rather odd.I notice these same individuals often don't leave a space after the comma,either.

Most people type period,space.Once in a while you'll notice someone who types two spaces after a period.Either way,it looks literate.It looks as though they were paying attention in English class.Whereas to be frank,no space after the period looks borderline illiterate.Have they honestly never noticed?Can it be that they've been typing this way for years,or even decades,and never noticed how period without a space sticks out like a sore thumb?

Period without a space following doesn't even look cool or trendy,like other typographical variants such as all small letters,or 1337 5p34k,or CamelCaps,or nonstandard punctuation such as the interrobang.Period without a space simply looks clunky.Annoying.Like the kind of person who writes definately for definitely,or choldren for children,or formally known as for formerly known as,or midas well for might as well.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Fruits of a Day Off

true american matches
So, yesterday being such a nice day, and yesterday being my day off, I got out and wandered down to Marquette and McGregor. Many of the antique stores down there were closed for the season, or at least operating on that odd seasonal antique schedule where they're open maybe three days late in the week but not on a Monday. But there were enough places open that I managed to entertain myself for the day.

River Junction Trade Co. looks like a store from the days of the Wild West. Step inside, and you'll see old-fashioned shirts, top hats, long johns, and more for sale. I came away with a box of True American matches, complete with an Indian on the box— note, matches are struck on sand glued to the side of the box. I sort of suspect this box is new old stock; surprisingly, the matches still work quite well.

I also got a deck of playing cards, modern day reproduction of some ancient style allegedly from "the Arizona Territory."

dragonfly pillow
At one antique and crafts shop, I found a pillow on sale for half price. A dragonfly pillow! Note the green pillow with purple cord around the edge, and just covered with iridescent embroidered dragonflies which shimmer in multicolor when the light strikes them right.

And at the used book store I ran across a copy of Foxfire 3: "Animal care, banjos and dulcimers, hide tanning, summer and fall wild plant foods, butter churns, ginseng, and still more affairs of plain living." I love the Foxfire series, with all their funky articles on old-fashioned living down South. I've been picking up the Foxfire volumes one at a time as I've run across them over the years, and this now leaves Foxfire 5 as the only volume I'm still missing.

Also stopped off at the Marquette Bar & Cafe and had a bison burger for lunch. Buffalo burger with fries.

All in all, a good way to spend a day.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Spring Fever

Today is my day off. And it's supposed to get up almost to 80° again today. I think I'm going to get out and go somewhere for the day.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The 1807 British Slave Trade Act

It was 200 years ago today— March 25, 1807— that the British Parliament passed the Slave Trade Act, which abolished the slave trade in the British Empire.

In fact this act didn't entirely extirpate the slave trade overnight; but it did outlaw and prohibit it, and it was definitely the beginning of the end.

I confess to some family pride in this matter, since my own great-great-great-grandfather was one of the members of Parliament who led the move to pass this act.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Marble Game

marble board game
Someone around here recently gave me a classic old board game. The marble game! I think he made several of these from lumber which had been stored in his barn for decades. Very cool, natural wood grain and distressed hardwood, a classic piece of Americana.

The marble game belongs to a family of race games played on a cross-shaped board, including Ludo, parcheesi, pachisi, the old Aztec game of patolli, and many more. The rules of the marble game are similar to Ludo, except that a roll of 1 has the same privileges as a roll of 6. Around the track you go, and you can be almost home when an opponent's marble lands on yours and sends it back to the start.

A very nice addition to my collection of board games.


More on Telemarketers

More evidence yet that in the past couple of months the national Do Not Call list is no longer working very well: last night I got my third telemarketing call in less than 24 hours. Yes, despite the fact that I'm on the Do Not Call list.

Well, this one I guess slips through a loophole by being a call from a pollster. Though I have a patented line I use to get rid of pollsters:
I'm sorry, but it is my policy not to participate in polls or surveys.
Then I hang up. In my experience, it works. As well as any anti-unsolicited-phone-call tactic has been working lately. Even, I repeat, for those of us who are on the Do Not Call list.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Look, It's a Luddite PDA!

luddite pda
Here's an item that arrived from Levenger yesterday, and it's an item that's just designed to warm my Selective Luddite™ heart. Levenger calls it a "pocket briefcase," but I call it a Luddite PDA.

Look at that thing! Made of fine leather. Powered by an operating system which is commonly known as 3x5 cards. Yes, you just slip some 3x5 cards in the front, and you're ready to go. No batteries required. As you fill up a card, you peel it off and file it away in one of several pockets in the device. Thus the pockets can be used to organize your finished cards. Or you can even use one pocket to hold an extra supply of blank 3x5 cards. I tell you, this handy-dandy device just can't be beat!

But wait, there's more! The big pocket in the middle also carries... a 2007/2008 calendar, and a flat plastic Fresnel magnifying lens! What marvels of technology will they think of next?!

In all seriousness, this "Luddite PDA" will come in handy in meetings where I've formerly had to tote a full-sized clipboard with me just for the sake of jotting down a few notes.

Of course, I'm going to write on this thing with my fountain pen. And it's going to find a place of honor on my desk right alongside my slide rule and rocker blotter.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Blog Categories at Last

If you'll scroll down a ways on my left sidebar, you'll see a new section entitled surface tension, where you'll find a list of categories for my blog, Fiction and Games and Dreams and Linux and Rants and whatnot. This is something I've had on my mind for a long time now: pulling together a list of categories for my blog.

Turns out New Blogger is good for something after all. Yesterday afternoon I worked my way through all 760-plus posts on this blog, dating back to November 2004. Wherever I found a likely post, I assigned a label to it, from a working list of 20 or so labels that I've been developing for some time now. Then I added to my sidebar links to searches on those labels. And voilà!

These categories are still very much a work in progress. I'll be adding, subtracting, moving items for some time to come. Probably adding or subtracting categories, too: "Links" could go. I could add a category entitled either "Privacy" or "Freedom" or "Fatherland Security." I have so much on computers that I split it into Linux, and Computers (which is just anything computer related that doesn't pertain to Linux). I tried not to assign a post to more than one category, though in some instances I couldn't avoid it. Much of my Fiction could also have gone in "Best Of." And many of the posts under Games could also have fit under Pictorial. Early on in my blogging I made a number of posts about my Gear, though looking at the category now it seems rather sparse.

And Doors of Perception is, with apologies to Aldous Huxley, a catchall category for anything related to my "radioactive core meltdown of the imagination." You may not see the connections between all the posts in that category, but I do.

One technical problem, these category lists will display only the 20 most recent entries. There's supposed to be a link to "Next 20" at the bottom of the page, but there isn't, because I'm still using my painstakingly customized old template under New Blogger. Seems my choices are (1) go to a New Blogger template, and lose all my customizations; (2) figure some way to work around it; or (3) go back to square one and adopt a completely different approach, such as links to dummy blog posts for Games, Dreams, Rants, etc. Time will tell.

BTW, before anyone asks... surface tension is taken, like most of the other headings on this blog, from the science fiction writings of James Blish.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Smash the Metric System NOW!

I'd love to see the metric system abandoned. See the world return to all those wondrous old premodern units of measurement, rod and bushel and firkin and scruple and dram, Russian vershok and Chinese li. Leave the metric system for use by scientists and engineers and geeks. And for the rest of us, let a hundred flowers bloom!

The metric system is just one more way we drain the world of variety and color. Just one more way we banish and exile all those funky old units of measurement, pint and quart and gallon and hogshead, and in their place set up a drear universal mathesis. The metric system was the brainchild of utopian French revolutionaries, and it was like a blast of Brussels, European Union bureaucracy arrived 200 years early. Meter and liter and gram, kilometer and centimeter and millimeter. Death to the inch and foot! Off with their heads!

Thank God the French revolutionaries didn't succeed in displacing our calendar as well. They tried, to the tune of ten-day weeks, and the months of Brumaire and Thermidor and Floréal and Pluviôse. But they failed, thank God. Whenever utopians tinker with the calendar, that way lies madness.

However, in the realm of physical measurement, the revolutionaries have conquered, and the world has grown gray with their breath. I've always been thankful that the United States has resisted the metric system. Along with, what? Liberia and Burma? The United States has stood firm contra mundum in defense of foot and pound and ounce and inch and rod and yard.

Truth is, I'm quite familiar with the metric system. I began learning it around age 10 or 12, when every month I would receive an intriguing little box in the mail, a series called Things of Science. I rapidly learned the metric system, and even gained a feel for it. I have an intuitive feel for meter and centimeter, just as I do for yard and inch.

But let's face it. The metric system just doesn't have soul, like all those old traditional measurements. Cubit, the length from fingertip to elbow. Foot, the length of the king's foot. Rod, the length of so many men's left feet lined up heel to toe after church on a Sunday morning. Like so much else that is boring and modern, the metric system was designed to reduce a colorful world to greytones, like The Wizard of Oz in reverse, and banish color and poetry from your life and mine. The metric system is like that teacher in school who says don't laugh, don't smile, and don't chew gum in class.

Granted, in the pencil-and-paper world where it originated, the metric system did have one signal advantage: it was a purely decimal system, and thus you could convert from one unit to another simply by shifting your decimal point. 2.364 meters = 236.4 centimeters. A lot easier than figuring 11 feet 4 inches = 136 inches, or 3 gallons = 24 pints.

But in today's world this advantage has evaporated: it's a trivial matter for software or calculator to convert from one physical unit to another, be they decimal or be they not. It is no problem for calculators to have conversions built right in, from firkins to oxgates to vershoks. Not that most of today's younger generation is able to do much arithmetic by pencil-and-paper anymore: ask them what 2 times 3 is, and they'll reach for their calculator. So again, just what is the practical advantage of "100 centimeters to a meter" over "36 inches to a yard"?

And I can tell you, the way the metric system is actually taught more than obviates any advantages it might ever have had. I taught the metric system, back in my days as a teaching assistant in math. The way we were told to teach it, it wasn't just "one meter equals one hundred centimeters." It was more like "one meter times one hundred centimeters per meter equals one hundred centimeters." Or even "8.31 inches times 2.54 centimeters per inch equals 21.1074 centimeters." This is a good way to teach physical units, for those who are going on to study physics or chemistry; but not so good for those to whom this was their first exposure to the metric system.

I mean, the students were confused as all get-out, and that's on top of their more basic confusions, such as the persistent notion that "the metric system is more accurate than the English system." What? That might've held in the days when one dingleheimer was defined as the distance from tip of the nose to elbow; but nowadays one yard is legally defined as exactly 3600/3937 of a meter. How much less accurate is that? Oh well, elementary confusion always has its seven-league boots on (7 leagues = 21 miles) before clear thinking gets out of bed.

Meanwhile, in a world where one conversion unit is just as easy as another, and electronic gizmos do all the calculation anyhow, I'd much rather see us return to the funkiness, the soul, of 2 gills to a cup and 2 cups to a pint and 2 pints to a quart and 4 quarts to a gallon. 16½ feet to a rod and 4 rods to a chain. 1¼ yards to an ell. 100 pounds to a hundredweight, or 112 pounds to a long hundredweight. 12 ounces Troy to a pound Troy, or 16 ounces avoirdupois to a pound avoirdupois; where a pound avoirdupois weighs 7000 grains, and a pound Troy weighs 5760 grains. Not to mention a tower pound (5400 grains), a merchants' pound (6750 grains), a London pound (7200 grains), a Jersey pound (7561 grains, used on the Island of Jersey from the 14th century to the 19th century), and a wool pound (6992 grains).

And let all the other myriad traditional units of measurement, Russian and Dutch and Japanese and Burmese, return to their customary use as well. Like I say, let a hundred flowers bloom! Leave the metric system as a Masonic handshake amongst scientists and engineers. And let us live our lives in full blooming pretechnicolor. Smash the metric system NOW!


Saturday, March 17, 2007

St. Patrick's Day

Have a good St. Patrick's Day!
An' 'ither de hither de gither de skuy,
In de augghhtermauthe o' S'int Padraig's Duuy!
And watch out for that "augghhtermauthe." To this day, more than 30 years later, I can't stand green beer...

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Pope's Website

Yes, the Pope's website. Pope Michael I, that is. Over in Kansas, though I understand he's moving to Colorado.

You didn't know? Well, now you do.


Paisley Paramecia

Am I the only person who's noticed that paisley looks more or less like paramecia? Or something you'd see under a microscope.

For Whatever Reason

I'm sort of scratching my head here. I've recently been told that the following statement is controversial, if not indeed "judgmental":
In a setting where brand names are, for whatever reason, no longer as highly valued as they once were, people will tend to operate with less regard for brand names than they used to, and thus will tend to buy more non-brand-name products.
Controversial? Judgmental? I'm wondering what I'm missing here. I mean, it seems to me as though it's pretty close to a truism: As people value A less, they will tend to buy more of not-A.

Unless we're just not supposed to notice: Pay no attention to that non-brand-name behind the curtain. As if noticing before it's too late might perhaps motivate us to reverse the trend.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Anagram You

Have you ever tried to form anagrams by rearranging the letters in your name? Well, now it's easy, thanks to's anagram server.

Some years back, I was idly struck with this cool idea: what if someone wrote a series of novels, with the title of each novel an anagram of the author's name? Let's see, "Paul Burgess"... Well, if I knew anything about music and musicians (which I don't) I might attempt a trilogy about the life and career of a bluegrass musician...

First volume would trace the musician's rise from humble beginnings... it could be titled (anagram of "Paul Burgess") Bluegrass Up.

Second volume would follow his meteoric flight through the stratosphere of fame... title (anagram of "Paul Burgess"), Pegasus Blur.

And the third volume would chronicle the musician's messy affair with a barmaid, and his ensuing sad decline and fall. It would have the Clintonian title of (anagram of "Paul Burgess") Pub Lass Urge.

Try it out. Anagram yourself. Anagram your friends. Anagram your enemies. Do you have any novels, or trilogies, in you?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

TV Commercial, Circa 1960

cities service logo
I remember this ancient TV commercial, I must have been only 3 or 4 or 5 when it was on. It was on Channel 3 from Madison— somehow, I remember seeing it right after we got home from visiting my grandparents one evening, with the ceiling light on (as it rarely was) in our living room.
It's service
It's service
It's service
It's Cities Service

It's service
It's service
It's service
It's Cities Service

Call EMpire-5 4639
Right now!
On the screen: a still shot of a fabric background, a trefoil "Cities Service" logo, and some writing along the side. I remember Channel 3 sometimes used to air "budget" TV commercials in this still-shot fabric-background format.


Monday, March 12, 2007

I Can Make That Crossword Puzzle Bend to My Will!

crossword puzzle
I never met a crossword puzzle I couldn't solve. I can make that crossword be solved! You've just got to take it by the horns and make it do your bidding. It's a question of who's to be master, that's all.

See, 1 Across is "Self-denying individual": that's ABNEGID, as in "self-abnegation." Fits nicely in the squares provided. Now 1 Down is "Chasing." Ah, AFTER, as in "chasing after"! And 2 Down is "Video effect," which is BLEED.

Next comes a slightly harder one: 3 Down, "Terra _____." I'd like to put in terra cotta but it won't fit, so I'll have to use TERRA NOTTA instead. It works, and I think it makes a witty pun, at that: "Terra Notta, and Notta Terra Cotta!"

crossword puzzle
4 Down, "Stretch of time," EON, no problem. By this time we have the first four letters of 20 Across, FLOO___, allowing us to fill in the rest, to wit, 20 Across, FLOORED. Clue is "U.S. Peninsula": well, yes, the Floored Peninsula. Or Florida Peninsula. "Floored": like they say, close enough for government work.

Now, 23 Across, TETN..., looks to me like "Tet Offensive" ought to fit in there. With N inserted as a spacer or shim between the words, TETNOFFENSIVE. Ummmm, that leaves a couple of blank spaces at the end, but whaddaya expect, perfection?!

Next comes 8 Across, "Hurt, as a toe." That's easy, STUBBED. Which allows us to fill in the words running down, from STUBBED through TETNOFFENSIVE: SON, TOSS, UNIQU, BIVOT, BLETTS... What are the clues for those, 8 Down, 9 Down, etc.? To be honest, I don't know and I don't care. I'm on a roll, the words fit, do you think I'm gonna be a wimp and be deterred by mere crossword puzzle clues?

crossword puzzle
Now, 39 Across, that looks like NREVIEW, which could be an abbreviation for "National Review." 32 Down, ENOUGHT; 33 Down, "Pursuit of the Graf ____", we can make that GRAF as in "Pursuit of the Graf Graf." TERO and WAIL and UNDO, looks like that makes 44 Across HAHOAH!KRAUT, and if the clue isn't "Laughing at a German," well, it ought to be.

71 Across, "Laugh-track users," looks to me like a perfect place to put TRIPLET. Hey, you think triplets don't watch situation comedies on TV, just like anyone? Then 54 Across, OIN___, I think that must be OINKER. And 62 Across is most likely LDSUTA. As in LDS-Utah, "Latter Day Saints Utah," get it?

A few rough spots here and there: 26 Across, EET; 31 Across, RDAEG, perhaps an anagram; 24 Down, EHRIK. Oh well, can't expect absolute perfection from a mere crossword puzzle. Actually I rather like 21 Across, OONILOA: looks vaguely Hawaiian.

By now you can see I'm well on my way to bending this crossword puzzle to my will, and making it get solved. I can solve any crossword puzzle this way; so can you. Don't be a wimp, just open up your Sunday paper to the puzzle page, take that pencil to the newsprint, and make that crossword bend to your will!


My Computer Is Switched to Daylight Savings Time, Is Yours?

So I managed the transition to daylight savings time. Three weeks early this year, thanks to a meddlesome Congress. I even got my computer adjusted for DST, despite the fact that my usual Mandriva 2006 repository out there somehow neglected to post the update in time.

Really, setting your computer to work with the new DST dates is simple, and amazingly cool, if like me you're something of a Linux propellerhead. All you need to do is go to the BASH command line (not to be confused with the DOS command line) and use wget to download from a government FTP site a tarball which contains the latest DST settings:

$ wget

Then create a temporary directory and untar the tarball in it:

$ mkdir test; mv tzdata2007c.tar.gz test; cd test
$ tar -zxvf tzdata2007c.tar.gz

At this point you will have to use zic to format the data properly, then log in as root user and copy it to /usr/share/zoneinfo:

$ zic -d zoneinfo northamerica
$ su
# cd zoneinfo
# cp -r * /usr/share/zoneinfo/

Then you will have to set /etc/localtime to the values for your timezone, in my case Central Time. There are a couple of ways to do this, I found it simplest to force a symlink:

# ln -fs /usr/share/zoneinfo/CST6CDT /etc/localtime

And voilà! You can run zdump to verify that DST now begins on your system on the correct new date:

$ zdump -v /etc/localtime | grep 2007
/etc/localtime Sun Mar 11 07:59:59 2007 UTC = Sun Mar 11 01:59:59 2007 CST isdst=0 gmtoff=-21600
/etc/localtime Sun Mar 11 08:00:00 2007 UTC = Sun Mar 11 03:00:00 2007 CDT isdst=1 gmtoff=-18000
/etc/localtime Sun Nov 4 06:59:59 2007 UTC = Sun Nov 4 01:59:59 2007 CDT isdst=1 gmtoff=-18000
/etc/localtime Sun Nov 4 07:00:00 2007 UTC = Sun Nov 4 01:00:00 2007 CST isdst=0 gmtoff=-21600

Certain items running on your system will have to be restarted to use the new time data, may be simplest just to reboot.

And that's all there is to it.

Ummm, your computer uses Windows instead of Linux? Sorry, I haven't a clue...


Friday, March 09, 2007

My Name Is Labor Cottony

The other night I had a dream, and in it I was returning to the university library, to the extensive stacks within the library where I now lived and spent most of my time. And I was returning to the stacks up on fifth floor, to where all my vast personal collection of books now took up endless shelf space at one end, several large semi-enclosed cubicles with shelves ceiling to floor all around, cubicles covering one entire end of the fifth floor.

Only my books weren't there right now, because I had boxed them up and wheeled them out to some other location for two or three weeks, as if "on vacation." And I knew at the end of the two or three weeks, I would wheel all my books back here, and put them back on these shelves at one end of the fifth floor, up in the library stacks in the university library.

And in the meanwhile I wandered through those three or four large shelf-lined cubicles, thinking of how actually anyone using this library might wander into these cubicles, and not realize that my books didn't belong to the libary, they belonged to me. And so they might take my books off the shelf, and even try to borrow them or check them out. Though I also had the benefit of being able to wander beyond my cubicles through the rest of the library, and read any books in the library that caught my interest.

And within one of my large cubicles, which was the size of a large room, sat my armchair, where I often sat reading a book.

And then just outside the cubicles, on another bookshelf, I noticed a leatherbound 19th century book on the game of euchre, and I wondered if that was one of my books which had somehow been misplaced. Because I had many, many books on card games and board games.

Then I went down in the elevator, and I was walking across the huge sunlit foyer of the university library, with panes of clear glass overhead and potted plants all around.

And I went off to another building, which I think was a monastery, where the real Paul Burgess now lived. Because it came to me that I was really just a doppelgänger, though I had made off with all of his books, and many of his other possessions, so that the real Paul Burgess (who was now 70 years old) was living in a small room with hardly any of his possessions left.

And I found the door to his room, and there was a large wooden dresser in front of the door, so I moved it to one side and opened the door and went in. And it was a very small room, and I noticed there were hardly any items or possessions there in the room. And Paul Burgess was in bed, covered with blankets, and I ripped the blankets off of him, and I announced in a triumphal voice, "My name is Labor Cottony!"

And Paul Burgess was lying there in bed, struggling to wake up. And I was thinking to myself how I now owned most of his things, and soon I would also be bringing all his books back up to my cubicles in the stacks on the fifth floor of the university library. And then I woke up.


DSL Back to Normal

I got up on this mild (34° F.) Friday morning, and discover that somehow overnight's DSL service has gone back to normal.

Six days of slower-than-dialup speeds, and 404 error messages about every third time you try to load a page. Pretty sorry, but better six days than (like last time) almost a month.

Update, Saturday morning: Oops, spoke too soon. At around 7:45 yesterday morning, my DSL connection cut out on me altogether. Completely dead. I had no Internet access at all for the rest of the day Friday. Though strangely enough, I still had email access. must've decided (untypically for them) to pay someone overtime. Because now I get up Saturday morning, and everything is working again. Working beautifully. That is, until next time.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


If you see this post— I may well just give up before it gets posted— you'll know I braved probably five or ten minutes of repeated " domain could not be found" error messages, and slow-as-molasses DSL. Yes, my small local mom 'n pop Internet Service Provider,, is on the fritz again. Has been since Saturday. No, I'm busy today, as I've been all week: I don't have time to wait endlessly on hold, listening to elevator music, trying to get this straightened out, only to be told by a customer disservice representative that, despite all appearances, actually I'm not having any problems.

You read that right. Last time this happened, back in November and December, the slowdown lasted for almost a month. Slower-than-dialup speeds on DSL, all them error messages. I called repeatedly then, for all the good it did. At first they refused to believe that I and my neighbors were even having any problems. I repeat, despite repeated calls the slowdown continued for almost a month.

This time it's only five days and counting. Oh well, I could always look into satellite...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Dog and the Bowling Ball

Well, I'll be. I've known dogs that will fetch a stick, or a tennis ball, or a slipper. But here's the true story of a dog that somehow got in the habit of fetching a bowling ball.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Color Club: Case Study No. 4

And now yet a fourth Dean's World co-blogger, Mary Madigan, steps down. Four co-bloggers gone from Dean's World in a matter of days, in the wake of Dean's ideological purity test new editorial policy.

Like I say, the decimation continues. Yet another step closer to the Color Club.

It makes me sad.

The Laughing Geysers of Ronicaldo

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

I am watching a program on Public TV about "The Laughing Geysers of Ronicaldo"...

Narrator: "The mud geysers in this remote region of the Amazon erupt with a sound virtually indistinguishable from that of human laughter. The scientist has no explanation for this phenomenon.

"But to the natives of Ronicaldo, the laughing geysers are no mystery.

"The native has long observed how the white man is able to detach his presence and make it appear, in motion, on a sheet of white cloth.

"The native has long observed how the white man is able to detach his voice and put it inside a small wooden box.

"So it seemed natural to the native to assume that the white man detached his individuality and his laughter, and sent them wandering off through the rain forest, until at long last they took up residence in these geysers.

"In recent years, scientists have begun to take these suggestions more and more seriously..."


Monday, March 05, 2007


On the radio this morning I heard them interviewing an athlete. And it went like, you know, every interview with a coach or athlete goes:
Well I just wanted to play my very best and give it everything I've got because we knew we were going up against a tough opponent and we've been playing well lately but we couldn't afford to slack off especially against a team like this they're a good team they've been doing well in the conference so we knew we had to be on our guard and be at the top of our game and we kept with it and I was out there and we made a team effort and kept at it until the final buzzer so now we're still alive for the playoffs.
Or something like that. It all begins to sound alike after a while, these sports interviews where the athlete or coach or waterboy or whoever sprays out a breathless stream of nonstop sports cliches like machine gun fire. Brain in neutral, 500 back-to-back words per minute.

Back in the days of the Linotype, it would've been referred to as spitting out solid ingots of lead type.

Where, pray tell, do athletes, coaches, etc. learn this auctioneer-speed style of breathlessly saying nothing, and saying it faster than any human brain can possibly keep up? Could it be, as I seem to remember hearing once years ago, that they actually offer classes in SportSpeak to college athletes? I remember almost 20 years ago, a scene in Bull Durham where a couple of the baseball players were practicing their SportSpeak. It was hilarious, because even back then I recognized this peculiar athletic mode of going 100 mph in neutral.

Honestly. There's a certain mode of employing cliches, mangling the English language, vacuity gone hypersonic, groping for a new way to say the same old thing only you end up with the same old thing in rapidfire permutation shuffle for the thousandth time. When you hear it, you know it's gotta be a sports interview. Because it's the same old same old same old SportSpeak.

The Color Club: Case Study No. 3

So now yet a third co-blogger at Dean's World has quit, in response to Dean's ideological purity test loyalty oath litmus test new editorial policy. In her departing post, Jane Novak writes:
Hi, I just became aware of the kurfuffle with the rules and sorry, I'll have to go. I don't do rules; I blog about Yemen. Thats it; take it or leave it... when you invited me to post it was with the stipulation that I could post any content I wanted, and on that basis I accepted. To the extent that you now require that I affirm or dispute your propositions, I refuse to do either. As much as possible, I refuse to be bound by other people's boxes, only my own.
So the decimation continues. One step closer to the Color Club.

What Was I Saying about Telemarketing?

Amidst the spate of recent telemarketing calls I've been getting— despite the fact that I'm on the national Do Not Call list, ahem— last night I received a truly novel call. Phone rang, I answered, and it was a Jehovah's Witness, wanting to witness to me over the phone.

The Jehovah's Witnesses have rung my doorbell often enough, but this is the first time in my life that I've ever received a Jehovah's Witness telemarketing call. I was courteous to her, as I generally try to be toward people who are well-meaning, but I extricated myself from the call just as fast as I could.

I suppose technically this call slips through the "nonprofit organization" loophole in the Do Not Call law. I sure hope it doesn't become a regular occurrence.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Telemarketers Creeping Back In Again

You know, it's not often the federal government does something completely right. But I'd say the government came pretty close when they set up the national Do Not Call registry.

I registered both my home phone number and the church phone number just as soon as signup became available. And ever since, I have enjoyed surcease from what used to be an incessant daily bombardment of phone calls trying to sell me credit cards, cable TV, escape from debt, golf clubs, trips to Branson, newspaper subscriptions, and God knows what else.

Oh, maybe once every six months a telemarketing call would slip through anyhow. And there was a stretch summer before last when I started getting a spate of calls again, and it turned out that somehow the church number had slipped off the Do Not Call list: no problem, I just put it back on the list.

However. The past few months, the telemarketers have been creeping back in again. At first it was just the phone ringing, pick it up, no answer, every weekday in the forenoon and again in the late afternoon, for weeks on end. Finally after interrupting me like this a couple dozen times, the autodialing telemarketer got through to me, and I said, "Sorry, but I'm on the national Do Not Call list." Then the autodialed calls ceased for a while.

Well, in recent weeks the calls have started back up again, and this time much more often than not they get through to me. You know, when I first pick up the phone I hear all these random voices talking as if in a large room, and then after a few seconds' delay this voice asks me, "Hello, is this Mr. Burgh-ess?" Not "Burjess," but "Burgh-ess": that's usually a bad sign in itself. I say yes, then they brightly continue: "Mr. Burgh-ess, I'm glad I reached you, we have a special offer on a preapproved credit card..." At this point I interrupt: "I'm sorry, but I'm on the national Do Not Call list."

And then without further ado I hang up.

I've been getting telemarketing calls like these again in recent weeks. Once and twice a day, almost every day. Sometimes they're trying to peddle Sunday School curriculum. Sometimes it's a credit card. Sometimes it's some other gimcrack product they're hawking. It's getting so I'm receiving almost as many telemarketing calls again as I was back in the bad old days.

No, this time it's not that either phone number has fallen off the national Do Not Call registry. I visited and verified that both home and church numbers are on the registry, have been on the registry for a long time now, and will be on the registry for a long, long while to come. I am on the Do Not Call list; I repeat, I am on the list.

So what gives? Are the telemarketers really getting so desperate, so starved for customers— are they really finding it so impossible to make a go of it on the dwindling pool of people who are still willing to receive telemarketing calls— that they're just resorting to calling people indiscriminately, be they on the list or be they off the list?

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

I can't figure it. I'm on the list. And it worked like a charm, until just recently. So what gives? What part of "Do Not Call" don't these telemarketers understand? (Answer: The word "Not".) What makes them think they can get away with pestering us again, while the law still stands and we're still on the Do Not Call list?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Color Club

dean's color club
(Click here for full sized image)

There's been a major storm the past few days over at Dean's World. It started with my friend, blog proprietor Dean Esmay, drawing a line in the sand— or more like nailing his "5 Theses" to the door of Dean's World. A litmus test, an ideological purity test regarding Islam and Islamophobia, to which all DW commenters must henceforth subscribe, or else.

I like Dean. I like him a lot. I've been hanging out at Dean's World daily for a good four and a half years now. It's the first place I go after checking my own blog, when I sit down at my computer with a cup of coffee after breakfast every morning. I first discovered the blogosphere through Dean's World, which nowadays deservedly ranks up in the Top 30 Blogs on the Internet.

Nonetheless. As any of us who know and love Dean can attest, these, ummmm, storms break out on Dean's World every few months, and they are not entirely unrelated to the personality of the proprietor. The present tempest has raged more violently than most, and has left more wreckage in its wake than any DW storm I can remember. Two of Dean's co-bloggers have resigned. Dean's wife Rosemary has publicly posted her disagreement with him, in the strongest possible terms. And many, many of Dean's frequent and/or longtime commenters have bidden him farewell, stating that they will not be commenting at DW in the future. A lot of it has to do with the disinclination of many people to subscribe to a loyalty oath, an ideological purity test, even if they largely or wholly agree with its content— especially on a blog which has always stood stalwartly for "defending the liberal tradition."

I dunno. I'm not even a liberal like Dean, I'm a conservative, and I don't much care for loyalty oaths or litmus tests. Chalk it up to the softcore grassroots anarchist in me. Not that I'm about to hand in my DW commenter's account, though anyone who's known me over the years at DW has doubtless noticed that this past year and a half, I no longer comment there as often, or at as much length, as I used to back in the days when I was an active, nigh-daily DW commenter. There are reasons for this, which Dean knows, and which I also discuss over at IndustrialBlog where IB Bill explains why he's handing in his keys to DW after all these years. We love you, Dean, but as the old saying goes, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh can only take so much."

On the issue at hand— Islam and Islamophobia... my attitudes regarding Islam (and other world religions) were formed 30 years ago and more. Before the War on Terror. Before 9/11. Back even before the Ayatollah Khomeini. Back in the days when Vietnam was a recent memory, and a friend of mine in Air Force linguistics who was learning Arabic sent me a copy of the Qur'ān. My attitude regarding Islam and other world religions— which hasn't changed all that much in the intervening 30 years— is similar to C.S. Lewis's. Which is to say, among the Church Fathers, closer to Justin Martyr than to Tertullian. Thus it's hard for me even to find a seat at the table in today's blogospheric discussions, where it seems only two polar-opposite attitudes on Islam are recognized: (1) "Thou shalt not take the name of Islam in vain"; and (2) "Delenda est Carthago!"

When I was a youngster, there was a kid in our neighborhood who was often something of a stormy petrel in his relationships with others. At one point he invited all the neighbor kids to join his "Apollo Club" (this was back in the days of the Apollo moon missions). Many of them soon ended up alienated and disaffected from his Apollo Club, for the usual reasons. So after letting the dust settle, he came back to us all with a new offer: "Hey! Come on, I've got a new club! It's called the Color Club. Now you can come back and join my Color Club!"

We love you, Dean. Stand firm against Islamophobia! (Though I don't know about the idea of a litmus test.) And I don't know what I'd do over my first cup of coffee in the morning, without Dean's World. But please, please, please, beware the Color Club. Beware the route that leads to the Color Club!

(graphics courtesy of my brother Steven, who is a longtime DW lurker)

Winter Ain't Over Yet

Only days after the massive winter storm which pretty much brought this area to a standstill for the weekend, we get yet another blast of snow and ice. It arrived mid-afternoon yesterday, and it pretty much shut down Wednesday evening activities in the region, including the Midweek Lenten service next door at St. John's. What's more, it sounds like this latest round of weather may continue on through today and tomorrow. Oh well. Them's the breaks.