Do you remember Molly, the green '93 Mazda I used to drive? The state of Oklahoma remembers, all too well; it wants $65 for a new registration, despite the fact that I traded in the car last October. Don't these people read?
And there are some things easier than shopping with a two-year-old. Carrying hod comes immediately to mind.
We men, it would appear, are an insecure lot.
A small gathering last night in one of the neater neighborhoods in town. In attendance: yours truly, my former spouse, our daughter, her child, an old friend (who played host and put together a damned nice dinner), and another old friend from way across town. In the waning hours, a phone call comes in from the ex's current boyfriend, and she is amused to report a hint, maybe more than a hint, of jealousy in BF's tone once he is informed that no fewer than three adult males are on the premises. And this perplexes me. I mean, what's going to happen? Both of the old friends have known her since childhood, and they wouldn't have put the move on her, separately or together. (And this doesn't even take into consideration the fact that these fellows do not put the move on women at all; their orientation points them in, um, other directions.) As for myself, while a casually-dismissive "Been there, done her" might have been just a bit too crass, there haven't been any sparks, or even residual static electricity, for a decade and a half. So BF has nothing whatever to worry about not that this will stop him. And I regret to admit that, were I walking around in his Weejuns, I'd probably react much the same way. We are, indeed, an insecure lot.
Life Lessons Dept.: When you're installing a CD-R drive on the secondary IDE connection, it is neither necessary nor desirable to disconnect the power cable on the hard drive. (Now all I have to do is to avoid explaining to the sysadmin how come the same drive that fails on his 500-MHz Celeron with 128 mb runs just fine on my 266-MHz K6-2 with 32.)
On balance, it was a pretty decent weekend, though I will probably wonder for some time what possessed me to blow $6.50 on a fairly-indifferent New York strip and then submit it to the tenderized mercies of a George Foreman grill. Curiously enough, I don't flinch at spending three times that sum for professional preparation, so it can't be a matter of mere money.
If you have a weird name, you might as well inspire a weird visual. The wise guys at stickybuffalo swiped a BASF tag and incorporated it into their rotating list of slogans: "We don't make the buffalo. We make the buffalo stickier." Yum.
As promised, three hundred simoleons landed on my desk today with Dubya's best wishes. My first instinct was to stash it in the bank, but the bank's service fees are cunningly designed to eat up any and all interest accrued, so maybe I'm better off applying it to debt service. And if I do so, I will be able to move up my Finally Out Of Debt ceremony, currently projected for 20 October 2041 at 12 noon, to about a quarter to nine.
It's been about 15 years since I subscribed to Cinemax, and the one thing I remembered most about them was a tendency to fill up late-evening hours with bad skin flicks. Today, it seems to me that the most conspicious characteristic of the network is a tendency to fill up late-evening hours with really bad skin flicks. I'm not taking any kind of moral position here you (by which I mean I) can never get enough scantily-clad babes but most of the time, it's a toss-up which will be flimsier: the lingerie or the plots.
In the best of all possible worlds, I could say goodbye to everything here, hire a really large truck to pick up all my worldly (and occasional other-worldly) goods, and start over again within sight of the Right Coast. Or the Wrong Coast, depending on your point of view. However, this isn't the best of all possible worlds, only one of the more expensive ones, so for the time being, I remain landlocked and/or deadlocked.
A few years ago, a chap from an Ohio newspaper, on the basis of the stuff I had posted on message boards here and there, suggested I fly up and try my hand on the editorial side of things. While northeastern Ohio is indubitably a charming sort of place, I wasn't aware of this at the time, so I graciously declined. I wish I made enough money here to hire someone to kick me for not taking him up on the offer. And while Ohio winters are reputedly scary The Weather Channel just loves to harp on those lake-effect snows I survived two winters in central New England with only two wheels, and once walked from Leominster to Shirley Center, Massachusetts in the freezing rain, so any residual fears I may have must surely be the result of spending two decades among Oklahoma drivers, who are hopeless even when it's dry.
You'd think that after working a 15-hour day, I would actually be caught up. I wouldn't think that; I know better. So all I get is one more item to file in the "Paybacks Are A Bitch Like You Wouldn't Believe" folder.
Bob Dylan puts out his first genuinely-classic album in years, and who's on the cover of the Rolling Stone? Jennifer Aniston. Did I miss something?
Not Necessarily Heard On The Way Back From Durban To Zimbabwe:
"So how did you like the UN Conference on Racism?"
"It was a very important step towards establishing the true equality of all the peoples of the world. But we didn't get reparations, so it was kind of a waste of time."
"A whole week? We could have expelled two or three dozen white farmers in that time."
Who would have thought that the management style at 42nd and Treadmill would actually inspire emulation?
The ants crawl up, the ants crawl down, the ants have pretty much taken over the entire courtyard; if I'm inclined to avoid their encampments (and I generally am, unless they've inflitrated my personal premises, in which case I am happy to stomp the little bastards), I have to walk as though I were checking for land mines. Not an easy task when the box often fits better than the shoes.
Big storms last night, though nothing particularly damaging. And you'd think three-quarters of an inch of rain in a matter of minutes would be quite enough water to loosen up and wash away all the avian residue on the car. No wonder the ants are so busy.
Randomly spinning through MP3s can produce some weird juxtapositions. Today, it was Phil Spector's alleged kiss-off to former partner Lester Sill, the Crystals' immortal "(Let's Dance) The Screw", followed immediately by Brook Benton's analysis of what goes into a "Hit Record".
Lately I haven't been inclined to cut the record industry much slack their most recent attempt to copy-protect Compact Discs will unravel as quickly as the last one, and the botch they've made of copyright law will almost certainly come back to bite them where they sit but I am starting to understand how it is they seem to be spending far more time on minutiae than on music. Burning four audio CDs at a modest 2X speed has taken a couple of hours; producing what I consider acceptable jewel-case graphics has taken about ten. (However, the logo for my, um, "custom label" took shape in a matter of seconds, and no, I didn't draw any of the pictures.)
Some spammer using a Chinese server managed to send me one of those damned "Internet Spy" mailings without an entry in the "From:" section of the header. There is, however, a "Reply-To:" entry, <CDnow4378@Flashmail.com>, which I mention here in case you'd like an additional text string to add to your mail filters.
The good thing about SBC, which operates the local Bell entity, is that when they call you to sell you a lot of crap you don't want, they show up on your Caller ID box as exactly what they are (and, if you know area code 210, also where they are).
The bad thing about SBC is that they don't give up easily. With the exception of Sunday, they've called here every day since last Wednesday. I suppose they have quotas to meet, but geez, guys, I pay you $71 a month for enough junk as it is.
Car Talk's Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, having previously surveyed their Web site readers on the dodgy (sorry) subject of Guy Cars and Chick Cars, have now refined their research (conducted presumably by Paul Murky of Murky Research, assisted by Marge Innovera) even further and have announced the Ultimate Gay and Lesbian Cars.
There weren't too many surprises in the list the girls gravitated towards SUVs in general and Subarus in particular, while the boys' hearts beat for almost anything Volkswagen but it did strike me as interesting that both camps had high praise for the Jeep Wrangler, a vehicle with nothing that even slightly resembles closet space; you can't be inconspicuous in one of those contraptions, and maybe that's the whole point.
What I'm waiting for, of course, is a bitter denunciation of the survey by some horribly-insecure straight guy (women, I'm guessing, have more sense than this), followed by a loud announcement that he, as a straight guy, is compelled to dump his Jetta. Shouldn't take too long.
Blessed are the doubters; though they be thought indecisive and wishy, washy even, it would never occur to them to settle a petty grudge by mass murder.
Donald Rumsfeld was saying that the Pentagon bureaucracy needed to be shaken up, but this isn't what he meant at all. So far, I've remained just as calm as can be going through the Oklahoma City bombing perhaps has taken some of the fright out of me, and gallows humor will take care of some of the rest. But somehow I can still see myself tumbling from bed at the stroke of midnight, sweating to beat the band and screaming my fear into the night sky.
In the meantime, Oklahoma deals with this massacre in its own unique way. NewsOK.com, a joint venture of a crummy TV station and an even crummier newspaper, sent up mostly reprints of wire copy during the day, though they were quick to report that Garth Brooks, who was in New York for God knows what reason, was unharmed. And over at 42nd and Treadmill, the submissions deadline for the week was extended by 48 hours, declaring to the world that when our nation is attacked, by God, we'll be there to protect our revenue stream.
All things considered, I slept fairly well last night; I attribute the relative calm to having received confirmation that some people about whom I was concerned two in Manhattan proper, some others in Connecticut were still alive and kicking. (And if they're alive, trust me, they're kicking.)
The gas stations that bounced their prices up to three, four, five dollars a gallon yesterday meekly retreated to the buck-and-a-half range today. Expect attendants to be abused left and right by the folks who filled up for $100 last night. (Your humble narrator filled up Saturday for what he thought was a slightly-pricey $1.559, and was still sitting just this side of F. One of the few advantages of having no life, I suppose.)
And no, we don't have any proof yet that Osama bin Laden had anything to do with the incidents of the 11th. On the other hand, he's still wanted on that earlier indictment, so it's not like there are no grounds to pursue him.
Taste, of course, occasionally takes a holiday. Some joker managed to sneak a listing onto eBay for one of the towers of the World Trade Center "some assembly required". It's gone now. The listing, I mean.
For the past fifty-odd hours, I've been trying to come up with a Big Statement about the events of Tuesday morning, and basically, I've determined that I don't have one.
So it's late at night and you're bored out of your tiny little mind. What is it that possesses you to cover the trunk lid of someone's (that is to say, my) car with a thick layer of shaving cream?
And this isn't the cheap stuff that I use, either. We're talking about roughly two-thirds of a can of Skintimate, enough to defuzz half a dozen Rockettes, or maybe Allison Hayes from midcalf down. What is going through your head?
The correct answer, of course, is "Not a damn thing," followed by "Thank you for not waking up and attacking me with the toilet plunger."
Sometimes it's hard to know whether to cheer or to cry. The lovely and talented Spark has been laid off from the Job from Hell. I doubt I'm headed in this direction I turned in 99 hours and change for the last two weeks, which suggests that replacing me with a vacancy is not feasible but I do understand mixed emotions: mine are usually a jumble.
Eventually the debris will be cleared away and the streets will be opened and there will be this one empty block in the heart of the financial district. What to do with it? The sensible answer is simple: you rebuild and go on. What will most likely happen is the formation of some sort of Memorial Committee, which will then pick from a list of architectural eyesores.
But perhaps neither the arguably-sensible nor the presumably-inevitable should prevail; maybe we would be better served, in the long run, by preserving this one newly-opened space as open space, a place to remind us that after all our symbolism, all our posturing is stripped away, we are still a simple people, living in (and on) a simple world. It might even remind us that we spend far too much time trying to micromanage the rest of the planet.
Your humble narrator would like to thank those readers who wrote in regarding Vent #261. It might have been nice if someone had actually agreed with me, but c'est la vie.
This is what happens when you start thinking, "Geez, I haven't screwed around with the front page for months."
Even during events of high tragedy there are moments of low comedy, and one of the lowest came when Jerry Falwell, who apparently was incensed at not getting enough attention lately, spouted off some incredible bushwa about how this week's attacks were evidence that God was demonstrably pissed at the United States of America, citing still-legal abortions, the American Civil Liberties Union, and various other things God (or at least Falwell) hates. If he had said this to a rational person, there would be muffled laughter, followed by a ripple of guffaws, and then the entire set would break up, which is undoubtedly why he chose to say it to Pat Robertson, who basically sat there gravely and nodded. Of course, eventually this sort of delusional codswallop always finds its way back to the mainstream, and when it did, Dumb and Dumber were duly pilloried. In terms of sheer stupidity, this ranks with yelling "Hi, Jack!" as you approach the metal detector at BWI. Normally the Falwell/Robertson brand of codependency-in-lieu-of-Christianity (God is a sicko, and if you expect to be saved, you'd better be a sicko too) plays well here in the provinces, but not even Oklahoma will buy this sort of crap. Welcome to irrelevance, gentlemen, and enjoy the ride. Meanwhile, the actual Christians out there are busy doing God's work.
One thing I have never understood about credit-card issuers is their desire to set up a second account for me. I got another one of these letters today, offering me a MasterCard with such and such a limit as a reward for being such a good customer and all that. To me, this makes no sense. I have a Visa from this bank with five times the limit of this new card; wouldn't it be simpler just to bump up my existing limit by twenty percent? And besides, I have a perfectly good MasterCard from another bank, nowhere near maxed out, so it's not like I'm hard up for more credit. If anything, I probably need less.
If you read no other online eyewitness account of the World Trade Center bombing or, for that matter, if you've already read a dozen of them and you're sick of the whole thing you must read Sarah Bunting's at Tomato Nation. It will move you.
"We know it's been rough these last few days, what with having to deal with that...that incident back East, and we just wanted to show our appreciation to all of you in the most meaningful way we could. Want a napkin for that bagel?"
Barb of the Day: Doug Sheppard in Discoveries, at work demolishing rock icons:
"The Doors were a pretty good pop singles band, but that doesn't make them any more significant than, say, the Grass Roots."
Gee, Doug, where were you when I needed you?
Once burned, twice shy: I was bulleting down the road at a modest 25 mph on the way to pick up a prescription, when out of the firehouse comes Engine #2, headed in the general direction of my place. Now the chances that someone had set said place on fire were next to nil, inasmuch as the only resident was still bulleting down the road at the moment, but my heart caught in my throat just the same.
V. (not a Thomas Pynchon reference) informs me that the groundbreaking ceremony at the Pentagon was in September 1941. The eleventh of September 1941. It could be a coincidence, but who knows?
Regular readers will remember that four days ago I lambasted a nudnik from the conservative side of things for being, well, a nudnik; it's not that I'm interested in equal time, exactly, but it never takes all that long for some comparable stupidity to come oozing out of what's left of the left.
Firefighters all over the country have been affixing American flags to fire engines, in a show of solidarity with their three hundred brethren in the City of New York who are feared lost. This wasn't a problem anywhere but in California, where the brass at the fire department of the city of Berkeley told their crews to remove, or at least tone down, the flag display; apparently fire trucks serving as vexillaries might tend to vex the People's Republic's large number of strenuously-antiwar types. Mayor Shirley Dean complained, but she hasn't gone out of her way to overrule the department, either. (Thanks to Bitter Hag for the tip.) Perversity, it seems, knows no bounds.
First, the speech.
Not everything the President said rang quite true "They hate our freedoms" is, at best, an oversimplification, and the you're-with-us-or-you're-against-us bit always grates but by and large, this was a good speech, eloquent in its simplicity, direct in its approach, unflinching in its message. What's more, it was comparatively short, a concept utterly foreign to Mr Bush's immediate predecessor.
Perhaps more to the political point, the President is starting to look, well, presidential. For those of us who have been keeping our expectations low, this might have been the first real wake-up call. While Mr Bush is still not exactly overflowing with gravitas, he's learned how to play things by ear, and as fast as the world is changing these days, this may be far more useful a skill than, say, working up a Martin Sheen impression.
Should we still be scared? Probably so. There's really no reason to assume that the events of the 11th were the only tricks in the terrorists' bag. But letting fear eat away at the soul is no good, either. All we can do is get back to work and concentrate on the things we can change.
It is apparently the feeling at 42nd and Treadmill that it makes more sense to hire someone who has worked in The Industry and teach that someone the appropriate computer skills for the position than it is to hire someone who is computer-literate and teach that someone the ways of The Industry. And there is some small amount of logic to that: The Industry is utterly incomprehensible to outsiders and baffling even to insiders, and what's more, most of our applications are written in-house, which means that the likelihood of someone off the street being familiar with them is right down there with the probability of a 6,000 Nasdaq next week. However, it would be nice if we could get some people on board who understand the concept of shutting down one's workstation before going home.
I bring this up because I decided to catch up on my sleep for once, and didn't actually emerge from the shower until 10 am or so, when I had one of those frightful twistings in the gut that says "Somebody screwed up your nightly backup-and-reorganize routine." And sure enough, I was right; someone who shall remain nameless abandoned a terminal and left just enough file-locks in place to wreak low-level havoc. While I was able to save the routine with minimal loss of data, anything that was done between the time it started and the time I arrived will have, um, results inconsistent with established procedures.
Surprisingly, there is an upside to all this: it's happening frequently enough that my ongoing (going on seven years now) request for an automatic timeout on inactive jobs may actually be granted. Now if we could just get some people on board who don't look at me blankly when I explain these things or, for that matter, when I come up with things like that hideous pun involving the Donner and Moberly projects I might actually find things semi-quasi-sort-of-bearable.
From the Spam Box: Some wisenheimer using the much-abused arabia.com domain as a FROM: address sent me a blurb about a service with "Uncensored, Anonymous Usenet Access," with the assurance that "We carry all the banned newsgroups," and a picture of what looks like a bored twenty-year-old in fourteen-year-old schoolgirl garb. The amusing thing here is not so much the link itself, which leads back to something called quasistupid.org truth in advertising is not dead after all, it seems but the last line of fine print, under the REMOVE instructions, which states "The reply address on this email was active at the time this email was sent." Whether it is active at the time one tries to respond to it, I am not about to try to find out. The quasistupid.org domain, incidentally, is registered to some guy with a bogus Australian address and a Hotmail account, which casts doubt on just how much he actually has in the way of Usenet resources, and actually going to www.quasistupid.org I recommend only to people who value fast page loading above all else.
Once partisan bickering resumes and it will, count on it expect the Democrats to point gleefully to the plummeting Dow and say "And you want Social Security tied to this?" Not to the Industrial Average, no, not really. On the other hand, I could do a fair amount of bargain hunting with this year's $4500 (so far) payroll tax. Alternatively, it would just about triple this year's 401(k) contributions. Am I worried? Maybe a little. But last year, stocks took a beating, and while most of our Serious Traders at the shop posted losses for the year on their 401(k) accounts, I squeezed out a 1.7-percent gain. I may not do so well this year, but I believe I'll still do better than they do. However, with the existing Social Security system, I have nothing to say about my, um, contributions at all; I am essentially at the mercy of some future Congress. Pardon me if I don't find that particularly reassuring.
Some kid around the corner is going to run headlong into one of Life's Little Lessons, specifically the one that says "Do not spend more money on your car stereo than you do on your car."
The Fall Crunch is here, a time when we do roughly a third of the season's business in a mere two weeks, a tribute to the eternal perversity and infinite capacity for self-delusion that seems to characterize our customers. If every store in the mall carries Veeblefetzer® brand widgets, it should be perfectly obvious that nobody is going to sell a whole hell of a lot of them; there's only so much demand for widgets, even brand-name widgets. People with more experience in the Industry than I have don't even try to explain this anymore they just shrug. I suppose I'll shrug too, if I get the time.
I now have my first Smart Card, which has some embedded chip that does, so far as I know, absolutely nothing except break up the pattern printed on the card. If it's so damned smart, let it figure out a way to pay itself off.
Memo to amazon.com: Yes, I appreciate the Marketplace and the zShops, and will continue to purchase from them as needed, but dammit, if you're going to continue to harp on the importance of posting feedback for the sellers, you ought to come up with a way to do so without having to go through ten or twelve pages and two or three sign-on screens.
In many ways, autumn is the most bearable of the eleven or twelve seasons that descend upon Soonerland in an average year, which is probably why it's the shortest: three or four weeks, if we're lucky, before we have to face the triple threat of Pre-Winter, Dead Of Winter, and Christ, When's It Gonna Warm Up Already. In the meantime, though, we get temperatures that are actually temperate, the occasional shower, and foliage that stubbornly holds on to as much green as it can, surrounded by the merest hint of orange. And it's one of the few times of the year when the tourism-industry ads aren't greeted by residents with hearty guffaws.
I hit the precinct's polling place at 6:44 am, sixteen minutes before opening, good enough for third in line; by the time I was through at 7:02 single referenda don't generally take much time, and I'd already made up my mind which way I was going to vote there were a dozen or so in line. There being no actual balloting for offices, this strikes me as a pretty impressive turnout.
The first cultural casualty of the No More Fun era has been announced: General Motors will discontinue the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird after the 2002 model year. Yeah, I know, this has been rumored for some time now, and sales of GM's pony cars have been in the toilet for years, but I cherish the idea of an automobile that has only two purposes, to go fast and to go damn fast, and a world with fewer such cars is a world that's that much less enjoyable. The Greens, of course, will be delighted, but I suppose they have to find their fun where they can.
Elsewhere on the automotive front, I seem to have quite unwittingly precipitated a semi-serious religious debate.
Much to my shock, my commute to work this morning wasn't at all delayed by new business construction, one of a fistful of fantasies loudly promoted by right-to-work advocates. Yesterday, their pet proposal garned more than enough votes for passage; as the sensible soul I am, I will be monitoring their progress toward delivering the promised New Valhalla. And frankly, anything beyond putting a Burger King on the Chickasaw Turnpike will surprise me.
Misery, n. Spending an evening downloading an obscure song from Usenet, and discovering the next day that an actual CD you ordered last week contains that very song.
Sometimes, though, I have to laugh, and way too often I find that I have to feign some other emotion in the midst of it. Today it was irritation. A project I had managed to get rid of the day before, in compliance with the rules, was dropped back in my lap today because of, they said, a "change of plans". Plans? These are the people for whom the phrase "totally reactive" was invented; they'd be hard-pressed to plan a fart after a Mexican dinner. However, giggling in front of the corporate gargoyles is seldom advisable, so I went into my standard full-bore Surly Mode, which is routinely ignored by the powers that be. The actual project itself added forty, maybe fifty minutes to my workload, which viewed in the context of my usual 53-hour week is trivial, but if I've learned anything over the years, it's that at 42nd and Treadmill, it does not pay to look like you're enjoying yourself; it will be assumed that you don't have enough to do.
I do hate to disappoint Dubya, but I'm not flying anywhere for a while. Then again, it's not like I've cancelled any plans; it's simply that I haven't made any plans for the next few months that specify the use of aircraft. And since my life as a traveler includes one instance of being ordered off a plane at gunpoint (in Rome, of all places), and one instance of being told that the plane was running out of fuel (somewhere over O'Hare), neither of which resulted in anything more than a medium-level anxiety attack (I was calmer in those days, I suppose), I don't feel as though I've acquired any substantial fear of flying.
Of course, no one is actually afraid of flying. Crashing, well, now, that's another matter.
There is a tendency to put your life on hold when disaster strikes. But after a decent interval I figure everyone's definition of "decent" is likely to vary, but mine has expired and then some the time comes to Get On With It. So I spent the day negotiating a new lease with the landlord and ordering a new computer from a reputable builder.
Regarding said computer, I'm looking at this itemized list of parts, and the remarkable thing about it is that the most expensive component therein isn't the CPU (AMD Duron, 850 MHz), the motherboard (by Gigabyte), the RAM (512 MB, no less), the hard drive (40 GB), or even the CD-RW (LG 16x10x40); it's Microsoft Windows 98, Second Edition.
This will be my fifth consecutive Inteloid platform without an actual Intel CPU; I started with a 10-MHz NEC processor in my first XT, circa 1991, moved to AMD's 386SX at 33 MHz a couple years later, jumped up to the 5x86 at 133 MHz, and currently run a K6-2 at 266 MHz. If I'm an apostate, at least I'm a consistent one.
It's way past lunchtime and I'm shifting into the second half of the classic hunter/gatherer mode, when I pull into the parking lot and spot an actual technological achievement, the Toyota Prius, a gas/electric hybrid that is far more suitable for Real Life than the overwrought golf carts some would have us drive.
Not that we're suddenly becoming Naderesque here in Soonerland. For this Prius was parked at a Del Rancho drive-in, home of the Steak Sandwich Supreme, an oversized, artery-clogging indelicacy for which the federally-approved nutrition information reads simply "Don't ask." And if you do, please be advised that I had them hold the mayo on mine.
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Copyright © 2001 by Charles G. Hill