Dickens of a Blog

(December 2008)

If you want to comment, then you can contact me. I will post comments to the journal as soon as possible, unless you ask me not to share them.

December 31, 2008. Wednesday.

(09:29:40 AM CST)

Before I clean...LINKS!

I'm about to spend a couple of hours preparing for the party tonight, but just wanted to stop off and wish everyone a happy and safe New Year's Eve. I have a half dozen projects I wanted to finish on my website and post (photos, some fun cipher toys, reviews of things like Wanted and Death Race, and some reading updates) but I doubt I will have time until sometime this weekend at the soonest (depends on whether or not I work Sunday). Instead, I am going to leave you with a handful of links that I have accumulated, most with little fanfare, and post the other stuff sometime early in the new year.

First off, from Criggo (a site that collects news misprints, odd sounding headlines, and weirdly worded advertisements), you have this fun one: How soon should you start your child on soda-pop?

I love that the text claims that studies have proven that the sooner babies are given soda, the sooner they will fit in with the crowd. Either they could just lie on old advertisements, or science used to be fun.

If you would rather watch Border Patrol chase men to Benny Hill music: you can visit FailBlog's "Border Patrol Fail". If you would like to see how Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal answers the question "Why do bad things happen, God?", you can be sad, be offended, and chuckle all at the same time.

CNN's Best and Worst Movies of the Year. I think I have seen just two of them, Let the Right One In and The X-Files, but I liked both (the latter was assigned one of the worst-of spots). Strangely, neither Death Race nor Wanted make the worst-of spots, looks the writer is going for movies that had a chance to be good but failed. In a similarly formatted vein: Cracked.com's 7 (Stupid) People Who Sued the Scientific Method, which is the funniest they have posted in a while.

PETA's snowfight game that includes Sarah Palin that created a minor controversy (partially because said controversy may have been made up).

Emilie Simon's "Fleur de Saison", my favorite French Language act at the moment (at least until Wormfood finally releases their follow-up to France). Thanks to Alicia for the original nod in Simon's direction. And, also from the halls of Youtube: The Original Dancing Little Indian Boy and that HSBC Lumberjack ad with Joanna Newsom singing.

Two wikipedia articles that I found interesting: Asemic (or meaningless) Writing, the Japanese Ganguro "fashion", and Lizzie Borden. Not Wiki, but useful, is the Domestic Box Office Adjusted by Inflation (Gone with the Wind is the hands down winner). Neither Wiki nor particularly useful, just beautiful, is the Top [50] Nasa Photos of all time.

Up for discussion: Governor of NY is behind an obesity tax (technically a tax on sugar, it seems).

These seem less "real-time" and more statistical, but here is the constantly updating meter of world statistics. Also, a listing of how many taxes were paid in versus paid out by state. One last bit of information, here, is Howto Slim Down Your PDFs, if you are into that sort of thing.

I'll end this with one final link, one that I've had stored to share with everyone for so long I don't remember why I stored it, but here it is: How to make better decisions. Warning, the article probably doesn't say anything outside of common sense, but why not read it anyhow?

Si Vales, Valeo

December 30, 2008. Tuesday.

(12:53:03 PM CST)

Habits are funny things...

Since early October or so, maybe even late September, I have been getting up at various reasonable times (circa 7-8am at the latest) and getting ready and going down and catching the bus. I take the bus to work (which is to say, I take the bus to the mall) and then wait for my shift to start, work my shift, and then wait until the x:35xm bus to come back by the mall to ride it back here to Julia street. I usually get to work about 30 minutes early, and stay about an hour after work because of the bus schedules. If, by chance, I get off work at the hour, it works out better, but most times I bring a book to read and a CD player with some custom made disks and I just chill out and relax. No big deal. I would repeat this three or four times a week, sometimes five times, and it wasn't bad at all.

Then, the Christmas season hit in full, hours got extended, traffic got worse, and other factors meant I would be at the mall for greater than six hours at a shot and that sometimes the bus wasn't enough. The last week prior to Christmas especially featured hours long enough to mean that I came home, slept, and then got up to go back to work. Now, however, I am back to the pre-December-11th style hours, when the mall was just a business open for certain times. Back to the scenario in the opening paragraph. It feels weird. I have time to make lunch, to eat a full breakfast, to enjoy walking to and from the bus-stop, to do a little light shopping before or after my shift. I have time to cook supper for Sarah and myself, to watch TV shows with her, to read books when I get home. Sure, it is 100% undeniably better, but it feels odd to me.

That just made me think: aren't habits weird? I spent two months building up something, two weeks breaking it down, and the latter two are stronger. It's like people who quit smoking for a decade and then stop off to buy a single pack and end up getting back to two packs a day over the next few weeks. Or who fall off their diet or their exercise routine and never return. Or the way we think about a particular person all the time, crush on them week after week, and then it just stops.

There was one habit that came to a welcome end, though. At first, I didn't realize what was going on. I was humming along to the Lenny Kravitz playing as muzak (the tune, and words, currently escape me even though I knew all the words while it was currently playing); and then it occurred to me, they had ended the Christmas music. One year, they kept it going until sometime in January. Maybe this is current policy now, I don't know, but I was amazed. I have never been so happy to hear generical vapid Top-40 radio in my life.

One habit that will never cease is customers assuming retail workers are the enemy. My first customer yesterday was a grumpy old man who came in talking about not getting his free calendar a couple of weeks ago. I looked at his receipt, and pointed out the free calendar clearly marked. He asked me why the total was $XX.XX. I told him that he had three calendars that were $YY.YY, each, with tax, and that it came out to be $XX.XX. He told me that wasn't nice and then pivoted right back out of the store. Now, did he overlook the free calendar, or did he assume he could get something else free? Who knows? I've seen both scenarios. I'm just glad he didn't try the whole "I'll shout until I get something, gosh-darnit!" I've seen that, too. No one wins, then.

Si Vales, Valeo

December 28, 2008. Sunday.

(05:41:40 PM CST)

The Long Week Comes to and End: Christmas Trip, Christmas Gifts, and So Forth.

Sarah and I are back in town. To sum up where we have been, it goes like this. First, on Christmas Eve, I got off of work slightly after lunch time and then we did a few errands and headed out to Grant, AL (technically, Preston Island on the other side of Grant) to visit Sarah's parents and her sister. We stayed there and exhanged some gifts and came back to Huntsville right about midnight. The next day involved a handful of things, but most of them were of the "watch movie and cook dinner" category. We had planned to do things like put together a puzzle and play some games together, but overall was just too washed out to do anything much. We, unexpectedly, ended up watching Club Dread, which I surprisingly found enjoyable, and some of the Monty Python box set, and Hogfather, which is a British miniseries set in Discworld that I recommend to most anyone (Wiki link, IMDB.com link). It makes fun of Christmas, while also sort of promoting the spirit of the thing, and stars my favorite version of Death to ever be put to film. Yes, that includes the Family Guy version.

Friday involved a random sackload of early morning errands (trip to the post office to mail off payments and pick up my H.P. Lovecraft's Historical Society boxset of radioplays, which I haven't had much of a chance to play with, yet). After getting good and flustered with the run around, we set off down I-65 to visit my family. I usually only get to visit once or twice a year, and rarely for more than about 48 hours, so I was looking forward to it. The trip down was uneventful, more or less, with the exception of a few hasty idiots, a Penske truck that kept swerving really hard, and stopping off at the New China Buffet at exit 205. It is over to the west of the interstate, and shows a strange resemblance to the NCB up here in Huntsville, except that it is about one-quarter the size. The upshot of which is that the serving trays are smaller and the food tends to be a little bit tastier overall.

Friday and Friday night was largely just rest and relax and visit my mom and brothers Danny and Shawn time. I can't remember anything much besides eating my mom's baked chicken and watching Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? (Wiki link). My mom apparently loves the show and was amazed that I could get everything right on it (the fact that I retain micro-knowledge from grade school could either be good or bad, your call).

Saturday, Sarah and I headed up to Evergreen to visit the old town. There are some new businesses opening up, and old ones closing down. Since belated Christmas dinner was going to be about 1:30pm as opposed to my assumed 3-4pm, we had to cut the trip around town short and only got to visit Front Street, the old library spot, the cemetary, and the park. I also wanted to walk around where the post office was, and go by the old feed store, and maybe head over to Factory street and see how it is holding up (my guess, not well). We got back to my mom's house after taking some pictures and then waited for the crowd to arrive.

I have one sister (one brother-in-law attached to my sister), three brothers (and three sisters-in-law, though one of them is currently estranged), four nieces, two grand-nieces, and five nephews. I got to see most of them (my oldest niece and her two daughters were not there, and the estranged sister-in-law only made a micro-visit that I missed). Very crowded house situation. Dinner was too much food, as well as sweets, and it was nice to visit with Donna and David and Shawn (Danny, the other sibling, is the only one I talk to on the phone regularly).

After family broke up and went their separate ways, and visits were dying down, Danny and I took a sunset walk down across my mom's land to see the old fish pond. Originally an artificial pond, it had essentially reached a point were it maintains itself (whatever fish it contains and it's water level are no longer controlled, but are just natural products) though I don't think anyone ever fishes out of it. For a while, it was one of the main cash crops of my family. We were fish farmers and sold catfish (as well as a few other breeds) to people or allowed them, for a fee, to come and fish themselves. I was very sad to see that the family land has been, with small exception, clear-cutted. My mom needed money to repair her house and to get a new car and some other things, but in the part of the world if you sell your lumber the company usually just comes in, knocks over everything, and then takes the lumber (say, about 60-70%) that they want. The end-result is a shattered landscape, with lots of dead trees and a few scraggly survivors clinging to the edge of ravines and stuff. My mom pretty much had no options to get the money she needed, without debt or pressing her children for it (and most of us simply couldn't), so I'm not that upset, but it does suck to see the landscape so trashed, and no that it probably won't be restored in her lifetime (it takes about 20 years to grow back, minimum).

The trip back was done early this morning (as in, we were here and asleep before the sun came up). It was largely uneventful until we passed about the 275 milemarker on I-65. We had stopped over at exit 257 to get "lunch" (whatever you eat at 1:30am halfway through your trip) and then headed north. Soon, a lot of rain and wind started coming down. After a few minutes, road conditions were horrific, but nearly no one else was going north so we could take our time. Someone would show up, pass us, and then we would be alone on the Interstate again. Sarah's knuckles were literally white from gripping the steering wheel just in case hydroplaning broke out (which it did a few times) and there was enough going on to keep her awake. I ended up falling asleep about the Tennessee River Bridge (I remember getting to the top of the bridge, looking both ways at the blowing rain, and then that was about it). Outside of the scary weather, the only other thing was me playing Mario Kart DS to stay awake, and going through severe vertigo when I turned in the game as Sarah turned in real life, and the visual/physical match-up freaked my brain out.

I took a fair amount of pictures and will be working on getting galleries set up. Right now, the planned galleries are "Christmas Eve with the Ridouts", "Doug's Family", "The Bolden Pond and Landscape", "Evergreen", and "Evergreen Cemetary". All told, there should be an addition of about 120 or so new pictures to my website.

I'll end now with a brief shout out of thanks for all of my Christmas gifts. I always get awesome gifts (except that one time, 1997 or so, you know who you are). I got Star Munchkin and Star Munchkin 2. The Monty Python complete series boxset. Absolute Sandman volume 3. The new volumes of The Collector's P.G. Wodehouse. A new Dual-Shock 2 to replace my new dead one. Tales from the Crypt 7 (completing the DVD series, not including the movies, which I suppose are next). A knife set that has some some really nice knives (very much so needed). A small puzzle and some Christmas candy. A scarf that I love (and was not expecting). The Woman in Black, possibly the most unexpected gift for Christmas. It's not super rare or expensive or anything, I just didn't expect anyone to get a kind of obscure book off of my wishlist. There were also the hiking boots that I mentioned previously. Finally, the biggest gift Sarah and I got, together, was a deep freezer. That might sound a bit odd, but we have been needing one for awhile just because we tend to like storing whole foods and this will make that a lot easier. I guess that's it. I feel like I'm forgetting something. Anyhow, thanks to everyone. Now, on to the New Year's Eve party so that I can return part of the favor.

Bah humbug (for the last time until next year)!

December 25, 2008. Thursday.

(12:31:18 AM CST)

X Days to Christmas, where X is all numbers where X/3x is not 1/3.

I'm. Tired. Straight up, dead tired. I've been at work for six days in a row, including this past weekend, which is the highest traffic days of the year for the region. I went out of town (albeit the initial stage was brief) to see the inlaws. Pictures are forthcoming. In some of them, I wear a scarf. Be prepared, very prepared.

First round of gift giving is done, by the way. Just to brag, in brief, about my loot (more on this later): I now have Monty Python DVDs, a working PS2 controller, Tales from the Crypt (HBO series) 7, and other neat things. As said, more is coming about everything that happened tonight.

My topic of conversations today have went wide and long, from the singer Emilie Simon's awesomely excellent CD The Flowers Book to the question of why we don't have a usable code of car honks1, to my inability to not stop thinking of where things come from, and where they are going, as opposed to just thinking of them in the here and now. As with everything else in these post, I suppose I'm just saying: things are coming.

Anyhow, I will stop being a bah-humbug. For real, everyone. Have a safe and lovely one. Or don't have one. That's your options. Wonderful, or not at all. None of this crappy Christmas business. And if you can't have a wonderful one and you can't not have one, well, maybe it will be better soon. I don't believe it, and neither do you, but isn't hope what the season is all about?

I'll end it here with the following clip. Maybe it will keep you going all Christmas:

Because all I really do want for Christmas is you. And a Santa Dreidel.


1: I'm not suggesting anything of great articulation. I'm just saying, you know, why not six or seven distinct honk patterns that can convey some basic concepts using pretty much any horn.



I now have a handy-dandy decipher took over at http://www.wyrmis.com/random/cipher/autokeys.html. You'll need to know the keyphrase (and in the case of the above rant, pretty much everyone who does need to know it, probably does by now).

December 23, 2008. Tuesday.

(05:01:38 PM CST)

Two Days to Christmas...

After a week or two, looks like Perry Bible Fellowship is actually gone? According to the PBF Wikipedia entry, Dark Horse is releasing a book of all the strips early next year. Amazon's entry for the PBF Almanack [sic] is Feb 2009. I'm gonna pre-order me that. Maybe Dark Horse didn't want the site up if it is going to do the hardcover? Is this how these things work?

Or is there really no Santa Claus?

I get preached at while at work. Not by management. I mean, people who hold beliefs share them with me1. Sometimes loudly, as the guy who hated Abraham Lincoln. Sometimes apologetically, as the guy who once told me he just thought Ayn Rand had figured it out. Most of the times, it is Christianly, and mostly polite. Then, today, I got a new one. I got "preached" at about how orchids are the physical manifestation of the Holy Spirit and how a 2008 Orchid character had captured this fact. Now, there are two options. I'll even say there are three. First off, the man could be a nutso. Secondly, the man could be poetic (much like saying sunsets are proof of God or that daffodils are proof of botany). Third, this could be a commonly held new age belief2. Four (I know, I should stop at three, because never let the truth get in the way of a good joke), there is a type of orchid that is called the Holy Ghost Orchid. Now, before you say "Well, Doug, you just mocked a man for no reason" I want to clarify two things: he said orchids were the holy spirit, not "they were the holy ghost/spirit orchids", and he mentioned the calendar capturing an image of one with a special Polaroid lens, smacking of spirit-photography3.

What's the verdict? I think I figured it out. I imagine the 2008 Orchid Society calendar had a month dedicated to the HG orchid, that he saw and read more into the title than he should have. It would be similar to one of us reading about a "Chinese Butterfly" and assuming that it necessarily comes from China, then imagining that it came over in some shipment. It's gap-filling. I am now fairly sure that's what happened.

But, well, it gets marked as the weirdest preaching I have received on the job this year.

I, by the way, touched more calendars today than, hopefully, anyone else in existence ever has before. That is all.

Si vales, Valeo

1. I have been puzzling, throughout the day, what might inspire my fairly high ratio of being preached at. My natural heathenism may show in my eyes, but it may come down to my hard to ruffle demeanor. I'm not the sort to go "YOU BASTARD!" unless someone has far and crossed the line. Maybe they can sense that?

2. Due to the nature of new-agism, everything might be a subsect of new-agism, even those things are not new-age. I'm sure Hegel would both agree and not-agree. *rimshot*.

3. The photograph was his reason for coming in. He wondered if we could get permission for him to use the picture.

December 22, 2008. Monday.

(08:57:22 PM CST)

Three Days to Christmas. Girl's scientific toys. Direct, positive feedback.

While I do not want to engage in base speculation, I feel better today for some reason. Honestly better. More energetic, within reason. I it not quite 9pm and I feel exhausted and ready to sleep, but I don't feel drained and sick on top of that. One possible reason might have to do with a virus I didn't know I had. Another might have to do with the Bolden Curse (problems with regulating water). I've taken steps assuming the latter. They may have started helping now. The medicine said it would take about four days to start having a noticeable effect, and I started on Saturday or Friday, so that is about right. Any other number of factors might also be at play. Saturday and Friday were bitch-heavy days, with lots of confusion, customers, long hours, register "mishaps" (one of which including a config.sys file going corrupt), and so on. Today involved a lot of polite customers, some downtime, and the such.

There have been some ups. A couple of friends have stopped to by to visit. Sure, they were technically in the mall for other reasons, but it was nice to see them. There was the guy who described Edward (from Twilight, while looking at a poster) as "about as bent as hitting a football with a baseball bat!" To which I replied "WHAT???" and started laughing. This caught the guy off guard, and so I changed it to "...can I help you find?" in a fairly swift motion, with only a moment of confusion. There was also the guy who asked me which goes through faster, debit or credit? I told him debit. He turned to his wife and went "I TOLD YOU!" and then she looked at me and went "Fine, thanks DOUG!" The dangers of wearing a name tag, eh?

Somewhat unwork related, I posted about the doll that poops realistically earlier today. I asked, along the lines of, anyhow, why is it that a girl's toy has to teach her the horrors of cleaning up after her family? I mean, sure, parents are going to have to deal with that, but a boy playing with that doll would be considered stupid while the girl is considered cute. Then I thought about it, why don't we make a line of chemistry sets and telescopes and so on and market it them subtly to young girls, say 5-10. Safe things, but kind of usable.

I also think that someone like Sarah, who is a woman who likes real beer (strong and beer flavored), should design real beers for women. There was an interesting moment at the unveiling of Chocalate Stout at The Nook where Sarah and I were talking about her designing her own beer. She was talking about "beer for women who don't like beer" and I said "No, that's like making a game for people who don't play games." My suggestion was that you make a beer line whose whole dressing is "a beer for a woman who likes beer". Stronger, thicker, but maybe not quite so strong and flavored as Rogue's Brutal Bitter or even their Shakespeare Stout. Rather than push the "female variety" as a weaker, sweeter version of the men's, push a female variety that takes advantage of women's slightly different tastebuds and the like.

To round this post off, a conversation Sarah and I had tonight was about positive, direct feedback. It was about Atlanta Bread Company's pickles, which were garlicy and salty and not sweet at all. She said they needed to keep that up and I said "Let them know," because usually people either (a) give direct but negative feedback or (b) give positive but indirect feedback. While a company's most direct feedback will always been word-of-mouth generated business, companies need to hear from people "We like that you are doing this!" Not just "We like you!" but "We like that you don't use high-fructose corn syrup ruined pickles!" Groups like the AFA take advantage of the lack of direct, positive feedback and generated lots of direct, negative feedback to control television stations and companies. Shows have been cancelled, or greatly hurt, due to networks responding to the only feedback they are getting outside of Nielsen numbers. However, if more people said "You should keep this show, I will boycott your station if you don't" then it would even the playing field. I'm not saying say that, I'm saying, just let companies know exactly how and when they are doing good, so they can do better. I've done it a couple of times, and it has worked out well. I've gotten neat coupons and stuff.

Si Vales, Valeo

(06:32:55 AM CST)

Does it poop too real?

Perhaps the strangest thing I have read in a legimate news article while waking up in a while: "This battle over whether pooping dolls are an appropriate toy is only the latest skirmish in a long war between child development experts and toymakers." Toys are meant to encourage the imagination, argue some, not realistically portray biological function. I guess "Big Debby Slut Doll" is out, too. Party poopers (pun intended, I guess).

The second best quote (on the first page, at least) is a tie between "One mother was so distraught that the pooping dolls were sold out online just after Thanksgiving that she prepared to rise at 5 a.m. to scour stores in a 100-mile radius of her house," and "Does a toilet— and what one uses it for—make a good toy?" I mean, let's ask biting, penetrating questions: does it? If, say, I'm either (a) broke or (b) a bastard, and I sit my kid down in the bathroom and I tell him that Ceramo is the only dog he is ever getting, does this make me a bad parent? I mean, technically, it looks like I am encouraging the imagination. It takes a lot of imagination to figure out what Ceramo did to get peed on so much and why his bark is a sort of "wooshing sound" (and where all the spit comes from).

You can read the article over at Washington Post: Baby Dolls Raise a Stink In More Ways Than One. You learn details. Like, sometimes the pooing doll can't hold it. And sometimes the stuff that comes out of her makes stains. And, with this warning, parents are going in that whole hundred mile radius thing. There are some legitimate notes of interest, a discussion between one expert who says that "peeing and pooping" is a big deal to toy people, while a child psychologist says that a good toy needs to be 10% toy, 90% child (she admits that toys that obey this rule aren't best-sellers).

Is it gross or are parents too trained by anti-germ and anti-mess adds to see the delight? Is it too real or does it inspire imagination? And, I'm sure several of you are asking, why does the best-selling toy for girls have to reaffirm the stereotype that girls are bound to the biological functions of their families?

For those who aren't asking the questions, and are mostly just wondering when Doug will stop talking about poop, you are in for a treat. I give you little Indian dancing "boy" (the script says something about him being older than the other guy, but I have no idea what the movie is about) dancing to "My Dougie":

Si Vales, Poopies...

December 21, 2008. Sunday.

(10:19:34 PM CST)

Four Days to Christmas...

Let me just say, I am really glad that Myspace spammers have figured out how to get past the system, again. That's awesome. Right now, the only reason I use Myspace is about three family members and keeping track of a couple of writers who primarily use it, as well as to see some user pics and the like. I don't think I am going to delete my profile or anything, but I am seriously thinking of turning off all notifications and putting it in my "check weekly" folder. There are only three Myspace Blogs I check regularly. One of them has been moved over to Facebook and one doesn't seem to update anymore. The other I could probably entice into using Facebook or LJ. I don't know.

Today began with me getting called into work early. This always makes me nervous, but it turned out to be an otherwise good day. Did in the range of as much business as Black Friday, but very little stress, and I had time to make a fair lunch. Overall, I am exhausted. I can't say this for sure, since life has a way of kicking you when you are down, but I'm pretty sure this is the last Christmas I will work retail without some sort of limitations on my hours. If I work anywhere next year, I will just have to take a couple days off a week. I'm too old, it seems, to do the grunt sort of work. While I'm pretty good a paperwork and organization (if I need be), I don't want to do management. The end result is pretty much "I have to never do this again". And that is ok with me.

I...don't suppose I have much else to say. I'm pretty sure I did, but I can't recall it. I did have a different sort of Walgreen's beggar experience. The man (and his wife) asked for some small food item. I said "sure". I went in, bought them some lunch meat and a loaf of bread, and took it outside. They were gone. I went and looked around, and hoped if they had gotten in their car they might see me. But nothing. Maybe someone asked them to leave. Maybe someone called the cops. Maybe it was some sort of scam. One of them goes with me while the other goes with Sarah. We feel rushed and give them money because they seemed really honest. I don't know. I hope they were lying, and are perfectly ok, because if their story is true (essentially out of food and not able to get anymore) then that sucks.

With that, I will end. Good night. And good luck.

Si Vales, Valeo

BONUS ENCRYPTED RANT. What follows is something I had to get off my chance, and had to do it "publically", but it is probably for the best that no one can read it.


December 20, 2008. Saturday.

(10:09:58 PM CST)

Another day in the life of retail...

My days at the store are winding down, probably less than a month to go (the end to seasonal work can't be further off than that). How much less will depend mostly on how strong business is after Christmas. I have turned in my school schedule, and there are probably some other days that I will have to take trips to talk to advisors, or to pick up some book or some computer thingie, but I can work a few days a week until I'm not needed anymore. Kind of see a couple of posts back about my grad school fears. I'm not sure if working a few part time hours at the beginning will make it better or worse. Time will tell.

Today was a massive day at work. When I left, which was about 5 hours before closing, we had already eclipsed the entirety of Black Friday sales (we were at something like 150% of BF). At it's peak, there was a line that took something like 45 minutes to finish. That meant my coworker and myself spent most of an hour continously checking out customers. I'm exhausted, and I'll get to do it again tomorrow (history has shown that Saturday is the big day of the weekend, tomorrow will be busy but not as bad). Most of this without a hitch. There was an issue with one sale. I won't go into much detail because (a) why would I? It just frustrated me, and so I am sort of mulling over it in my head (in keeping with recent post, I won't say "It's no big deal," when it has taken up several moments of my thought process).

Enough of that. I picked up a copy of Marvel Zombies verus the Army of Darkness today and enjoyed it alot. I don't quite like the Dynamite Entertainment version of Ash, but it was a lot of fun because there is enough of the original Bruce Campbell to keep it going. My favorite bit would have to be the panel I put at the bottom of this post. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, but wish you did, then you can get some idea from the Wikipedia entry for Marvel Zombies. Basically, the Marvel universe (what with it's Spidermen and Iron Man and et cetera) gets infected by the zombie virus. In the case of most normal humans, this creates a relatively normal zombies. In the case of superhumans (which somehow includes people like Tony Stark) you get a case of sentient zombies with immense power and the ability to absorb some of the powers of people they devour. They tend to ignore the rules of the Marvel Universe (see Tony Stark and the Iron Man teeth) as much as ignore the rules of zombies, but they are fun little microtales that pack gore, some light philosophy about being a hero in trying times, and make you root for the badguy as the world comes to an end. The ending of ...versus the Army of Darkness was particularly a clap worthy end.

Outside of that, I picked up a copy of SUPER SCRABBLE for Sarah and myself to play, watched Mythbusters explode a water heater, and stared blankly ahead. Oh, and the person who checked me out at Burger King tonight had bleeding gums. That's...a bad thing?

I am going to make it...

(09:24:19 AM CST)

Not that I quite believe in horoscopes, but...

I have a collection of links I look at pretty much every morning, and several times during the day. They are grouped into four large families: News, Personal (this ranges from e-mail to social sites), Comics, and Fun. The last is a catch-all category for all those random sites, some of which aren't actually fun, that update about one good time a day and I like keeping track of but I don't like keeping track of them via RSS for some reason.

Under News (because, in my mind, it is something that I would read in a newspaper) I have a link to Shine/Yahoo's Daily Horoscope. I don't really live my day by it or anything, I just enjoy reading it. It provides, usually, about ten seconds of distraction. The obvious reason why I don't truck by it is, at its core, a thing that my skeptical mind doesn't agree with (I have seen interesting anecdotal evidence of the general truths of astrology, but specific truths are hard to find, and most hits are equally- or out-numbered by misses), and also because the horoscopes seem written for young, single people who are vaguely desperate and are worried about what their coworkers are going to do to them every day. I am guessing this is the target audience, based on Shine/Yahoo's insistence on focusing on brief romances, minor squabbles, and other temporary but nearly meaningful social bites that have little to do with a married person who is about as hermit-like as you can get and still has a job.

Again though, I look at these things for fun, and because it sort of inspires me to imagine an alternate world where I am 20, just starting some new job, and trying to get it off with a coworker. The past few days have rewarded me greatly by offering me some weird, weird advice. I have picked three days epecially, but most of the advice has tended to be a bit odd.

Today's (20th): "There may be a personality clash between people today, but it will be entertaining." Yay? I don't know if this is supposed to mean "involving you" or "involving people standing in front of you".

Yesterday's (19th): "A new kind of romance will come into your life today, but you may not recognize it." As I pointed out to Alicia, it was the term "new kind" that worried me. She suggested it might involve a man. I said I was more concerned that it involved knives and a tendency towards physical threats.

Last Tuesday's (16th): "Today, you'll become involved in an intellectual argument that isn't worth having." A philosophy major get in an intellectual argument that's not worth having? Say it ain't so, joe. By the way, I didn't, and that made me sad, but I did nearly post something along the lines of "I really thing electronics use batteries because men like touching penis shaped things" or something, and see if someone took the bait.

Si Vales, Valeo

December 19, 2008. Friday.

(11:29:01 PM CST)

Good Lord!

Just about everything I was going to write about has shot out of my brain like, um, cheese out of a cheese cannon. I assume. Since I recall pretty much 3% of what I was going to write about, the other 97% could have been "nothing", and so maybe I recall it all. "Nothing", or at least "nothing much" could kind of describe what is up, in specific terms. I go to work. I have a day off. I read. Mostly graphic novels for the past four days (I have read Walking Dead 8 and what would be collected in volume 9, Tales from the Crypt (EC Archives) 3, Wanted, and Marvel Zombies 2). I've been moving right on through Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch which has reborn my interest in Runworld, which is a cyber-pulp RPG dedicated to the works of Philip K. Dick. At it's core is a "church" who calls itself the Church of Run (also the Illuminated Congegration of Run and the New Church) which is based around a drug that if you take it, you can perform miracles. Except, only people who take another drug can see them. In the game world, reality is splitting between the church and non-church people. I made up one of three/four posters for the game, and maybe that will keep me going.

In other words, little geek things that aren't big things and those that are deserve a better post. Which hopefully I will be able to get to, soon, after the exhaustion starts wearing off.

Those that know me, know that I adore irony. In fact, irony is more than a literary device to me, it's basically the only emotion that I think can express the way the Universe feels about us. This explains my love of Modest Mouse. "I want to remember to remember to forget you forgot me" meets pretty much the entire lyrics of "Float On". The ironic lyric of the week award goes to The Mountain Goats for their song "This Year": "I'm going to make it through this year, if it kills me." The whole album is worth listening to (my only complaint being that it feels short, about the time you are getting into the mood of half the songs, they are gone) and is called Sunset Tree. Give it a whirl. Very Irish minded, life sucks so let's have a drink and that's ok. Very Doug minded, anyhow.

While humming those words (i will make it through this year, if it kills me) I figure "I've got a resolution for 2009!" and that's true. It's a fun and sad one. Awesome. That fits. But somehow, it has opened me up to thinking about something, one thing in particular. Why is it that we often say the things that bother us acutely (read: sharp, sudden) don't bother us? They don't bother us forever, and maybe not even for days, but they bother us so much at a particular time that we have to say they don't bother us to anyone who will listen. I guess we sometimes talk about how they do bothers us, but it seems like if we do, we play it off as "Ah, life...can't live with it, can't live without it!" humor.

For instance, I make fun of a certain couple of ex-bosses, but I realize I do it, in part, because they considered me without any value besides as a "budget manager" (meaning, a manager for a budget cost). I make fun of customers for being idiots but it honestly bothers me how stupid, pigheaded, and inhumane some customers are. I mean, it hurts my soul to see the way some people act. I act like people pointing out my weight doesn't bother me, and it doesn't bother me that much, but it does make me realize how many people have me mentally stored me away as "That big guy I know". I say that grad school doesn't bother me, but I keep getting these e-mails about how some meeting that I assumed was a meet-and-greet sort of thing is actually a whole day thing that will require this or that and some other bill comes up and I'm absolutely positive that I will do well in grad school and it scares the fuck out of me. I mean, planning for the future is supposed to scare you, it has to do with ready states and stuff, but I just...man.

It's just, it seems like the things we try hardest to brush away as being small, are the things we really wish were small because they are not. They are small, perspective-wise. In a century from now, most everyone alive will be dead and all those petty squabbles will have done very little. A day from now, though, and we are still the injured party. We try to deny them power over us, but they have power over us. If you are defending yourself from a personal attack, you have accepted the attack can hurt if it hits and even if it seems that the attack has no chance of hitting, we realize deep down that it has a chance of hurting. And that just sounds whiny and arm-chair philosopher and that bothers me, but maybe I'm making sense.

To sum up: the economy scares me; people act like pricks to each other; Christmas music makes me honestly want to strangle someone, that's not just an act; I get it, I look like the dude from Blues Traveler (at least remember his name!) because I am a chubby guy who wears a hat; grad school is a huge unknown that I should be good at, I just don't know quite what I want to do with it yet; and there are people who were once in my life that straight up used me to get by. I don't think anyone is currently doing that, but there once was. And, for whatever reason, I don't think I'm ready to forgive that just yet.

But, lookie here, I made it through another year, even if it killed me.

Si Vales, Valeo

December 18, 2008. Thursday.

(02:16:23 AM CST)

Poem: "Santa Claus"

I think this one would go better without introduction, but I will explain bits if you guys want. Because I wanted to be lazy and eschew HTML formatting (one of those things that is easy on my own page, but hardish on LJ with any efficacy; I did a quick little *png via GIMP. If you would prefer to see non-PNG version (i.e. HTML version), you can spot it on my page at http://www.wyrmis.com/poetry/santaclaus.html. And yes, the poem has nothing to do with Santa Claus.

poem 'Santa Claus'

Merry Christmas

December 17, 2008. Wednesday.

(07:36:00 PM CST)

3rd Annual Masque of the Black Death

When: New Year's Eve (December 31, 2008). 7pm through 2am.

Where: Doug and Sarah's Apartment (you all know where that is).

What: New Year's party, Doug and Sarah style. Featuring Doug's very own cocktail—The Black Death (gin, sloe gin, vodka, grenadine, grape juice, cranberry juice, et cetera)—BYOB, snacks, games, and other random things. This year might involve a keg assuming Doug has enough money left over this week and it's not too late to order one (I would say 50/50).

Who: You know who you are.

Si Vales, Valeo

December 16, 2008. Tuesday.

(04:19:41 PM CST)

Have a Thoughtful Dick Day!

Philip K. Dick was born December 16, 1928. He would have been 80 years old today. He still sort of rests in this uncomfortable position between those that think he is a genius versus those that think he is a hack, and that's ok. I think her personally earned both labels; his novels tend to have such groundbreak and beautiful ideas mixed right in with questionable execution and odd bouts of sexism and repetitiveness. I adore his writings, as you guys know, but I understand that not everyone does.

In celebration, I am doing a couple of things. First off, any one in the Huntsville area is welcome to attend, but starting at 6-6:30pm, I'm going to watch at least Blade Runner and A Scanner Darkly. I might also do Total Recall. There is no way in Heaven that I will be able to stay up much past 11pm-12am, but if you want to BYOB, feel free to.

I also am re-reading The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, one of the "main novels" of PKD's writings. I'll post about it some more tomorrow, after I have had some sleep.

Si Vales, Valeo

December 15, 2008. Monday.

(08:47:34 PM CST)

13 Things I Didn't Do the Past Couple of Days

I've done a lot of things the past few days, some of them biggish, most of them smallish. I figure it would be easier to point out the things that I didn't do.

One. I didn't lose my credit cards on Friday night. This did not stop me from going to two locations and contemplating calling a third before I found this out.1

Two. I didn't expect to find high-fructose corn syrup to be found in my Campbell's tomato soup. Companies are adding it to pickles, now, and to bread. Soup is almost the last straw (the real last straw will probably be milk). I'm ready to say "fuck all that!" and head for scratch.

Three. I didn't disagree with Bonnie Robert's article in Valley Planet about Christmas-retail-addiction and ways to break it.

Four. Really didn't mind getting back from a long work day, and a mid-length Christmas party, on Saturday to sit back with a small bottle of mid-shelf Tequila and the Unrated [by adding unnecessary scenes] DVD of Dumb and Dumber.

Five. Didn't realize that those micro-shocks that you get from static and your car in the winter are caused by the car, not by the cloting you are wearing.

Six. Didn't spend that much on books, despite getting a good number (couple of Discworld, some older used X-Files novels, Battle Royale Ultimate Volume 4, and the newest Walking Dead.

Seven. Didn't laugh, though wanted to, when an older, male customer verbally chastised a young, frazzled woman for holding up line while talking on her cell phone and ignoring everyone around her. Realized the uncaring tongue of old men, especially veterans, to speak their mind is a double edged sword, but chuckled nevertheless (after both of them were out of earshot).

Eight. Didn't find Sarah any low-backed shirts at Victoria's Secret, which is a shame since their website has several really nice ones. Was amused by the sign outside of the store, though: "Free, Limited Edition Panty with Pink Purchase". While "free" "with" "purchase" all mean pretty much what they are supposed to, amazing drift in the language there. "Edition" generally refers directly to something printed. "Pink" is a color. "Limited" can apply to any clothing currently marketed, since the whole point nowadays is to make styles that you will supersede in a few months. "Panty" is proper enough, but is usually spelled "pantie" and is almost always in plural. Done being a smartass now.

Nine. Didn't put off watch Dark Knight any longer2. Did enjoy it, but am now fully convinced that Ledger's death is the main cause of it's box office explosion, at least the initial one.

Ten. Didn't not fix the vacuum cleaner at work.

Eleven. Didn't read any of the books on the New York Times Top 10 Books of 2008. But they look alright.

Twelve. Didn't take offense at the guy who tried to act insulting because I asked a relatively simple question. The question was "Are all these together?" after the guy's friend tossed a calendar up on the counter and said "Put this up there." Not only does that not necessarily mean what it seems to mean, but guy friends are known to pull bullshit stunts like that. Because the party of the second part hands the party of the third part an object which he claims to be chargeable to the party of the first part, does not mean the party of the second part isn't just having a laugh3. That, and I didn't clean up that woman's mess who spilled a good sized cup of liquid about twenty foot from the store surface and then acted like she should get immediate service from the first mall employee she came across (immediate service = I come out to clean it up).

Thirteen. Didn't mind spending twelve dollars to try a couple of cold glasses of Olde Towne's new (and Nook exclusive) Chocolate stout, which is like drinking an alcoholic 86% Cacao Bar. To me, this is a good thing.

Si Vales, Valeo

1: The mystery of the missing credit cards is easily accountable by the fact that they fell out of my wallet while I was doing some budget stuff and, in the middle, got up to fix my chair with wallet in hand. They fell out at this time, and became wedged down in the chair.

2: I didn't put off to begin with, I tend to wait until things come out on DVD to try them out.

3: Speaking of the Devil, there is a scene in Dumb and Dumber that illustrates my point. For those curious to my reaction, I started laughing at the guy and this seemed to fluster him.

December 12, 2008. Friday.

(12:28:52 AM CST)

Autokey Ciphers and Other Random Day Bits of the 11th

My brother David, the oldest, is 46 yesterday. That seems to be a contradiction of tenses, but I started to write this earlier (a few hours) that would have made all the difference. He informed me that he is not 46, but 25 for the 21st time, and I told him it is amazing that his 25th birthday is now old enough to buy it's own alcohol.

I've had a headache most of the day. I've also watched Indiana Jones and the Crystal Wossname. Not to whinge on about things, but one hurt my head and the other was a movie. That, for those keeping score, is meta-irony. You expected me to say "and the other was a headache" but you expectations were dashed. Surprise.

Bettie Page died [sense tense note, above] today (link to Bettie Page's Wikipedia entry). This has little to do with me besides it opens up a chance for me to say that is odd to learn that someone who thought was dead was alive by hearing news of their death. Phildickian, almost comes to mind.

I also laughed/cried at the Cracked.com article: 7 Bullshit Rumors That Caused Real World Catastrophes. I appreciated the one on Proctor and Gamble the most. Remember when there were the flyers and the e-mails going around about how they were supporting the Church of Satan? Remember when we fell for it, with no more proof than an anonymous letter that was passed around out our parent's workplace? Ever get the feeling that this promised bad things to come with the Internet in general? I do.

With those odds and ends out of the way, I can get on to talk a little about autokey ciphers, which was something I was playing with today. I usually play with some sort of mindgame while at work, in between customer-bursts, because it keeps me occupied and it makes a good gap-fill. One of the biggest problems with any sort of cipher is the need of a legend. It does you no good to come up with a legend, and then hide it, because it must be retained in order to return the c[ipher]-text to p[lain]-text. If the cipher is simple enough to be cracked without the legend, in the sort of speed that would make it useful as information transfer, then it's junk. One alternative is to take the letters of the alphabet, and make them into numbers. A = 1. B = 2. N = 14. [Note: the Wikipedia entry sets A to 0 and Z to 25. As far as I know, there is no difference between the systems, outside of differing values and sums, as long as you agree upon one or the other initially. For purposes of this explanation, I am using the A = 1. When I play around with tools, though, and programming, I often use A = 0] You know the drill. Rather than have one letter simply equal another (P = Q, for instance), you can take a "key" and add it, bit by bit, to the initial p-text to generate a c-text. In other words, you can add L [12] to D [4] and get P [16]. If the sum of the p-bit and the k-bit are greater than 26, simply loop back to A [1] and start again. In other words, modulus 26. In more layman's term, "if c-bit is greater than 26, subtract 26 to find a new c-bit".

Of course, even though the legend is a simply alogrithm, the problem is the key. Ideally, your key should be as long or longer than your plain-text to begin with. Assuming your plain-text is more than a few words in length, keys get hard to retain. You could choose some ready-made text (say, the first page of the second chapter of Moby Dick for the first missive, the second page of the third chapter for the second, etc) but this leads to some issues. For one, once the first key is broken, the others are easier to track down. Secondly, it requires something else that must be stored, assuming you simply haven't memorized the entire book.

The Vigénere autokey system is a solution to this. You use the text to key itself. The simplest version of this, adding the text to itself with no interruption, doesn't work. You end up with the fact that every letter added to itself generates an even number, and so you would have no way to tell when the letter is I + I [9 + 9 = 18, R] or when it is V + V [22 + 22 = 44 - 26 = 18, R]. More esoteric versions, such as skipping the first five letters in the autokey, fail because you don't know where to start, unless you know the first few words of the message to begin with. The system he proposed was to insert a keyword or phrase into the beginning, and then to autokey afterwards. If your message is, junior high as it may be, "Do you think the short girl over there likes me?" then you might start keying it with the word "awesome". Your key would then be "awesomedoyouthink..." A would add to D to form an E. W would add to O to form an L. And so forth. Then, you and your friend could agree on a month of keywords at the onset through some little phrase, such as "Awesome Trussles Explode Derivative Questions".

If you want a little bit more security, you would use entire phrases (see the one above, for instance). This makes it harder to remember precisely, but if you and some friends happened to learn the verses to various Psalms, that might be a start.

It is, of course, well and breakable, but does take some crunching to crack. The longer the key, and the more nonsensical the key, the harder it is to break (also the harder to remember the key without some sort of written note that can compromise it). Also, the less the initial phrases conforms to statistical probability, the better. Cut down on "e" and "s" and "t", et cetera. Words like "the" can be assumed and guessed at to generate histograms that crack them (that being a method to crack longer ones, especially). A solution to this is to use a few creative misspellings (such as "da", "dha", "teh", and "dhe") that might be understandable to a friend, but would clog up the decoding. Another solution is to chunk the initial message into bits (three or five letters, for instance) and then reverse each individual bit so that the chance of "the" showing up is greatly reduced. Still breakable, but all you are talking about is that short little girl with the big dimples anyhow. Whose going to try and crack that? Remember, kiddies, all codes fall, you are simply trying to obscure the plain-text long enough for it to serve it's function. Obfuscation need not outlast viability of data.

Si vales, Valeo

December 10, 2008. Wednesday.

(10:09:53 PM CST)

Today, in all it's glory (Christmas tree up, late for work, preached at, misc)

Sarah and I have only two holidays that we tend to decorate for. In both, we prefer the traditional vibe. Kind of. It is not that we embrace old school conservatism of decoration, not that we consider ourselves purists. We simply just like the way old school Halloween and Christmas decorations look. The new style? It's fangled. I think that's the technical term.

This year, as far as the old yuletide goes, we went for a few sensible wall decorations in the living room and then moved the tree into the library. There are several reasons for this. The first is that it looks nice in there.

The second is that it enables us to have something of a safeguard as far as pets go. While they only eat a sensible amount of plastic leaves, and rarely chew much in the way of electrical thingamabobs, there is no need to take risks that they won't, some day, develop an even greater urge to do such things. The library gives us the option to watch them more, and to shut them out when the tree isn't on. When it is on, it is spinning, and that helps to deter. They mostly just stand in the door now, and look wistfully. You can feel pity for them, but I assure you, it's a trap. They mostly just want to gunk up their insides with plastic bits because, secretly, all cats suffer from Munschausen Syndrome. Especially if they think there is money in your bank account.

On to the day at large. I was woken up by the phone ringing. I am not 100% sure why myself and my schedule were at odds, namely in that I thought my schedule was free and my schedule thought I was at the calendar store, but it turned out that a compromise needed to be made. In this case, I went to work, albeit a bit late. It is a dangerous thing to go to work on a day that you are absolutely sure that you are not meant to be there, because you haven't build up the mental defenses for it, and the world knows this. It can sense your weakness, and will pounce. The most drastic case of this, for me, was some random day at Book Gallery. I don't remember when, precisely, but it was back when the checks were mailed to us. Kathy was still there. I remember these two facts because the checks were a day late getting to us, and Kathy called the home office to complain, prompting the owners to come down and investigate. I had to come in on my day off, and it went from being a Saturday at home to being a 10 hour work day with lots of issues to handle and a fair amount of people being upset at one another. Had I been scheduled to be there, not only would the call never happened, but I would have been able to marshal psychic powers to prevent all the other weird and bad stuff. This is why managers hate being called at home, not because they are trying to rest, but because the mall comes through the telephone and haunts them in their afternoon naps. I just made that up, but just think, wow, what if that were true?

Today's weird index was mild. Far, far more mild than it should have been, but that's ok. The number one weird thing for today was the proselytizer. She came in, a woman in her late-30s, a light brunette or maybe dark blonde. Curls. She came in, and when I asked her how she was doing, she responded "I am doing well," and then stopped and acted confused for a second, and then said "I am blessed." I smiled and said "Ok," and then moved back towards the counter when she added "I am blessed by Jesus, He has been so good to me." The conversation, so far, was neither out of bounds nor exceptionally strange in Alabama, but it did grow worse. Skipping towards the end, I learned the following facts: she was once a sinner, on the brink of suicide with a wrecked marriage (I am unsure cause and effect, here, but I'll say in it's the vice versa of the order I listed them in), in a bad state, and the Holy Spirit had told her to come into the store because she normally wouldn't have done that. These facts were followed and augmented by the revelation that The United Methodist Church does not have the Holy Spirit, or possibly the fact that she was unaware that Methodists are a Christian church and make a big deal about the Holy Spirit. This of course ended with the fact that I should come out to Athens and see her church because it would do me some good. Her church being The First Church of Athens. I have no idea if it is the actual first church of Athens (Alabama, for those not from around this area and think I am referring to Georgia or, maybe, Greece), or that is indicative of a "We are the true faith, unlike those pretend Christians" snark. Considering her quick dig at the Methodists, I'm almost going to have to lean towards the latter.

I know the website, in case you are curious, because there was a card involved. This card included her phone number, her signature—I am cynical enough to think that the act of signing the back of a card to a church you do not run is indicative of an organized effort for members to go out and bring in sinners to be saved, as opposed to either happenstance or the Holy Spirit, as she claimed—and the website. I figured I would look at the website because, you know, why not? There is some information on the church, some sermons to listen to (which I will try to, sometime, but not sure when I'll have the time right this second) and some pictures.

If you are wondering how I took all this, I smiled and nodded and laughed lightly, with as little feedback as possible. I'm sure some of you will think "Why not give it to her good!?". The answer to this is three-fold. (1) I was in no mood to discuss Bertrand Russell nor Spinoza. (2) If she was of the sort that did not find the Methodists to have any Holy Spirit, there was little middle ground to be reached, and the only real resort might have been to imply that blathering in random syllables is about as useful to the Christian Church as bobsledding. (3) NAWF. An amazingly useful principle. What does it mean? Never. Argue. With a Fundamentalist. You will not win. You will waste time. You will get upset. The only reason to ever violate NAWF is if you, yourself, is looking to be changed because they will not budge. I mean, they may budge, but you will have to spend hours and hours and hours to get any effect. For the most part, smile and nod and keep the confrontation down to five minutes of instead of five hours.

Outside of her, the day went mostly smoothly. It drizzled a little as I was walking back from the busstop. That's my main complaint about the day, I guess.

Ok, some random links and then I am out. If you want to see what might be the worst remake I have seen, to date, you can see the Dragonball: Evolution trailer. I have no idea what they think they are doing, but they seem to be doing it wrong.

However, if you would like to have fun on the Internet, then I recommend the game Fluid as an excellent time waster. You have to fill these little liquid balls before spikes, that are flying around and bouncing off, pop them. Once you build them, they are there to stay, and you have to build enough to cover roughly half of the current game board. The game's strategy quickly changes as the number of spikes increase. At first, you are trying to wait for strategic openings to drop larger balls of liquid. Later, you are trying to use smaller balls to block the spikes. Finally, you are just making a bunch of smaller balls in hopes that you don't get popped.

Si Vales, Valeo

December 09, 2008. Tuesday.

(10:39:09 PM CST)

The UnChristmas Album

While it would be incorrect to say that I hate Christmas, I do think that it is a surprisingly usurped holiday. I also hate many of the trappings of it, with the cloyingly convivial Christmas music being the primary source of disdain (I kind of like the quiet decorations; for they do not, with some rare exceptions, blare any bullshit about White Christmases or how happy Michael Jackson is about Santa Claus doing any stupid thing). Listening to not one, not two, but three renditions of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer this afternoon drove a point home: I need immunization. In single doses, these songs represent hope and happiness and simple joys of life and family and precipitation in all it's frozen forms. In continued repetitions, these songs become a mockery of all that is good in human. It is not that they are any different from when you heard them as a child, it is simply that they have become an indoctrination tool to spread the consumerist message.

Rather than slap just any old songs on my list, I wanted to follow a series of rules. I also wanted to break them in a couple of places, on purpose, because rules are best when furry at the edges. The rules are as follows: (1) the song must be peppy and of a good beat, meaning that no "harder" music would be allowed, (2) the song must be of the type that gets stuck in your head, (3) the song must address darker themes, (4) no more than one song per one artist, and (5) all the songs together must fit on a single CD-R. With the necessity of the last one (since I am taking it on a CD-R), all the rules are broken at least once.

Here is the playlist, in the order they occur. Feel free, by the way, to give me suggestions if you have any. I'd be willing to hear enough to make a part 2:

  1. Tom Lehrer - "So Long, Mom"
  2. The BPA with David Byrne and Dizzie Rascal - "Toe Jam"1
  3. Amanda Palmer - "Runs in the Family"
  4. The Pillows - "Carnival"2
  5. MC Frontalot w/ Brad Sucks - "Livin' at the Corner of Dude and Catastrophe"
  6. Iron Horse - "Polar Opposites"3
  7. Conor Oberst - "I Don't Want to Die (in a hospital)"
  8. Pixies - "Where Is My Mind?"
  9. They Might Be Giants - "Boss of Me"
  10. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - "Red Right Hand"
  11. Flobots - "Same Thing"
  12. Flogging Molly - "What's Left of the Flag"
  13. Iggy Pop - "The Passenger"4
  14. Brad Sucks - "Dirtbag"5
  15. Soul Couging - "So Far I Have Not Found the Science"
  16. Modest Mouse - "Float On"
  17. Darkest of the Hillside Thickets - "The Innsmouth Look"
  18. Tool - "Aenima"6
  19. The Pogues - "The Sunnyside of the Street"
  20. Randy Newman - "Mr President, Have Pity on a Working Man"

Si Vales, Valeo

1: This breaks the "darker lyric" reasoning, but does have some awfully weird lines that help to keep it viable.

2: The catchiest part of this song is its opening riff, but the lyrics tend to fit the mood of the CD perfectly, if you ever translate them.

3: Since this is technically a remake of a Modest Mouse song (I say technically like it isn't obviously a remake) it violates the one song per artist rule, except I feel that Iron Horse's sound actually conveys this song's lyrics better, somehow, and tend to think of the song in their style.

4: Doesn't even have the "weird lyric" edge going of footnote 1, but it has a certain darker kind of beat to it, and it is very catchy.

5: The other violation of the one song per artist rule, but "Dirtbag" was one of the reasons I made the CD, while "Dude and Catastrophe" is very catchy.

6: Definitely a harder song, but the lyrics and themes will drive out even the peskiest of Christmas music.

(07:43:51 AM CST)

Six Random Webbits and Brief Commentary

I feel strangely drained this morning. I know, partially, it is because this is the first time in years where I have closed up, got home around 10, and then left home around 8:30 to reopen a store (the extra bit this morning due to taking the bus to work). Overall, I actually kind of prefer that system, because it implies (or used to) that I would then get to sleep late the next day, and it means that a lot of the morning tasks are easy to pre-prep for and all that, but this time it's making me feel like a 31-year-old man. In lieu of anything important, I will share five links I've been saving up (for what, who knows?).

Rules for Writing Numbers, because I tried to look it up when writing 31-year-old. I still don't know the right way of doing that. 31-year old. 31 year-old. 31-year-old. The latter is the most used that I found, glancing around, but that doesn't seem right.

Judge declares Simpson's rip-off actual child porn. I hope this is the last time I write about anything pedophilic for a bit1, but this one has one interesting twist: "The mere fact that they were not realistic representations of human beings did not mean that they could not be considered people". I personally think the fact that they are not, you know, people, means they shouldn't be considered people. I also understand that the judge isn't an idiot and didn't mean it like it sounded (he actually gave the guy a greatly reduced sentence) but it still brings up random questions. I mean, is there a statute of limitations on attempted murder? Is it about time to really investigate who shot Mr. Burns?

The Well-tended Bookshelf, for all of those out there with too many books and facing the question of how many is too many. I have too many books, and you can just shut the hell up, Sarah (HAHAH). [Thanks to Becca for the link!]

Random House is going through layoffs. The article goes on to say "The book industry isn't recession proof," which just caused me to stare blankly at it for a few minutes. Bookstores were having trouble when the economy was good, what magical unicorn laced world are you living in to think that books are going to make a rebound when the economy is bad? We are in a world in which a fair number of folk don't understand (1) how you can read a book more than once, (2) why you would ever pay more than $10 for a book unless it's for school, and (3) why you would want to read if you have something else to do2. No, The Dark Knight is recession proof. Us booklovers are going to probably have a kind of poor time of it, as the industry removes the "chaff" (read: small-run titles that made reading books worthwhile).

Cracked.com's 7 Dumbest Things Ever Done by Airport Security. I know several of my friends hate the TSA. I've never met anyone who actually likes the TSA that has ever had to deal with them. Well, these are some of the cream of the rancid cream stories when it comes to their biggest gaffes and moments or largest assholery. What do you know, you give a para-governmental agency indefinite power and no well established rules of conduct that have to be obeyed as long as the situation warrants it, and high school bullies have women removing nipple rings with pliers, threatening mothers who get close to their children (because the children were being searched), and telling pilots they aren't allowed to board a plane. Sur. Prise. I'm actually convinced that most TSA agents are fairly good people, but the assholes are assholes.

Finally, Farewell, Polaroid. This is the final month of it's last production year. Digital cameras have essentially wiped the market of the need of instant-film. I'm not going to miss it, I've not used Polaroids in years, but it does feel weird to think of it as a thing of the past. As Sarah says: "Oh, now I feel dated". That's right, young'uns, there is now an icon from your youth that is disappearing. Now you know how weird I felt when typewriters went mostly away. No one really used them, but they had always been there in school labs and offices and such.

Si Vales, Valeo

1: The fact that my life hates me, and makes me go against my hopes, scares me, now that I have uttered that sentence.

2: The quote, I think, was "Why would I read? I have a life."

December 08, 2008. Monday.

(02:17:21 PM CST)

Holy Crap, a FEED!

I should be doing dishes (I am technically, they are in soak stage) but I wanted to point out that I designed a simple, quick way to make an RSS feed for Dickens of a Blog. I use some of Vim's built in keystrokes and scripts to pop up a quick little template that I can fill in with basic information. The feed URL is http://www.wyrmis.com/journal/dickens.rss. As said, it is very simple, and there are several reasons for this. One, I take pride in certain formatting techniques, that a feed would be unable to convey without pulling tricks I don't feel like pulling. Also, I would rather be able to type in my own descriptions of each blog entry, that way people using the feed have a usuable summary as opposed to merely the first hundred or so words that they still have to come to my blog and look at anyhow.

You can now subscribe to my direct website blog, instead of having to use LJ or some secondary system (well, the only secondary system is the LJ, for now).

This was one of my goals for this blog, to set up the feed. I'm glad I was able to do it (and it was fairly easy, too).

Si Vales, Valeo

(11:34:03 AM CST)

Musings on Huck Finn

I finished The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn early this morning (late last night, whichever). It's a fascinating book that took me a bit finish, a week or two, which is kind of long for me. The reason is something I will get to in a moment, but first I want to talk about the edition I read. I have two editions. The first, and most recently purchased, is part of Library of America's complete set of Mark Twain, which seems reasonably complete but I've never checked the veracity of that statement. It is several volumes long (five or six, the exact number escapes me right this moment). The second, one of the oldest books in my collection, is a 1990 mass market edition by Aerie (ISBN: 1559029838)cover of Huck Finn, with a "Wal*mart 2 for $1 Wal*mart" stamp printed directly into the bookcover which features Huck and Jim being struck by the steamboat. The raft does not have it's oft mentioned "wigwam" pictured, the time of day is wrong (sunset, as opposed to night), and the steamboat is painted as though the crew has abandoned it, with no one in any of the windows or on any of the decks. I have no idea who the artist is, because this edition has no real information outside of the author's [pen-]name, a couple of essays by Keith Neilson, and the publisher imprint of Aerie Books Ltd1. There is a title page, but no copyright page. I have no idea who Keith Neilson is2, besides the fact that doing a search for "Keith Neilson Huckleberry Finn" on Google brings up a listing for a Tor Classics imprint mass-market edition of the novel, seemingly an exact copy of the one I have in my hand (however, due to inflation and other sundries, the price is now around $4).

The reason I bring the edition up is because Wal*mart used to have a good number of these editions stocked on the shelves. There were a few Mark Twains, and I remember Wuthering Heights, a couple Vernes, a couple of Wells, and the ubiquitious American young adult classic: White Fang. In the early 90s, I picked a fair sized stack of them. They were two for a dollar, unedited, and unabridged. This was amazing, especially for Wal*mart, who was then entering into the whole "We are a family store, we censor things" movement. You had new CDs forced to edit album covers and increasingly forced to edit lyrics, and then you have a fifty-cent book containing (assuming my methods of quick counting are correct) 212 uses of the word "nigger"3, slightly less than one per page. That is something of a side statement, besides to point out that books enjoy a level of non-censored freeness that movies and music would be shocked by. This is one of the reasons I consider reading my primary form of entertainment. I like that fact. It is also amazing because it demonstrates the relative cheapness which public domain books could be made available to our children, our poor, and whomever else. Sure, you have to adjust some for inflation, but I bet $2 books would be within grasp, and there are a lot of good and important books that money-poor schools could use. Each semester, a student could pay a $10 fee and get a stack of five books for their own4. Primary sources, at that.

On to the book itself, there isn't much to be said that hasn't been said time and time again. I enjoyed it, but found it to be a hard book to categorize. I would be unsure how to teach this book, if I were a teacher. This ties into the reason it took me so long to finish the last hundred pages or so. It goes like this: you can divide the book into three parts. The first part ends around (during, or slightly after) Jackson Island. The second part ends around the beginning of the Phelpses. The last part takes up the remainder. Huck Finn is actually two separate books, mashed together. The first book, which could be called Tom Sawyer II, takes up the first and last thirds. It is about two kids and a slave they are friendly toward getting in over their head with adventures and faking deaths and resisting their guardians' wishes to make them into better people. The second book, which would be The Thoughts and Times of Huck Finn, is made up of the first and second thirds. It is a book about a young boy who flees an abusive father and teams up with another outcast, an escaped slave. The book is all about their growing love and friendship, and how loyal they are to one another. The boy pulls several pranks on the slave only to find that the slave is a human, too, and a better role-model than the shifty, criminal white folk the boy is travelling with. What's more, the slave escaped because he was going to be split from the family he loved and this is the only way he has any chance of getting back to them, making the slave a far greater father than the boy's own.

The problem is that the second book is one of the greatest American novels ever written, while the first book is the most memorable. The second book is without conclusion, and requires the final third (the second half of the first book) to finish the story, and this destroys most of the emotional progress the second book makes. If you end the book around chapter 31, called in my edition "You can't pray a lie", you end with the climax that establishes the emotional growth of Huck Finn. You also end with the main problem of the novel, how to actually free Jim, unresolved in the worst possible way.

Several writers have apparently chimed in about how the ending ruins everything. I don't think it ruins everything, I just think it's better suited for another novel. It's actually kind of funny, because the basic theme of the last third is "Tom Sawyer's love of adventure fiction makes him a fool" and it plays it out perfectly, up to and including him telling people of his plans so that he will have better and more dangerous opposition (a secondary plan that ends the primary plan in a bad way). The ending would have made a great short novel. The main novel, though, just needed something a bit stronger. Since the whole point of the novel up to that last third is that Huck finds out that society's morals aren't always right, the ending should probably have been morally right above society's depiction of what right meant.

I would love to take a college class and discuss this book some, both its themes and what it shows us about the writing process and the dangerous of confronting a society headon in writing and what sort of allowances must be made. The concept of racism could also be a very interesting discussion to have, because Jim is played off in several scenes as a nigger-minstrel type, but his true actions are some of the msot noble in the entire book (his climactic sacrifice being more than any other character offers to give up in the rest of the novel). And then you have the depiction of white men as ranging from naive idiots unable to get anything done to idiotic drunks to intelligent thieves. The focus on Jim makes his portrayal harsher, but Twain seems to know what he is doing and sneaks nobility into the minstrel while taking it from the "good folk". It definitely is a fascinating book.

Si Vales, Valeo

1: A short search found little about this imprint, besides suggesting that it either became Tor Classics, was bought out by Tor Classics, or has been replaced to such a degree as to be nothing more than an early chapter of Tor Classics.

2: I found his essays (afterword and preface, as they are called) to be informative and nicely written, with simple and direct language. He confirmed a few of my own thoughts, and opened up the door to more musings. Whoever he is, I wish him luck and hope he is still enlightening young thinkers everywhere.

3: Twain uses the words for all sorts of reasons, it should be pointed out. Common parlance is one of them, but there is also a strong ironic usage in several places, when Huck's best friend Jim is discussed as a "nigger" to be "stolen" as opposed to a human.

4: In a recent Reading-Is-Fundamental mailing, I was informed that more and more kids don't own books of their own, which can lead to lowered self-esteem, illiteracy, and decreased educational prospects. I have to wonder if the good folks at R-I-F, who mean well, have ever heard of promotion of library usage or if they were simply going for the most devastating words their thesaurus could spit out.

(12:25:57 AM CST)

Babysoft Ad. Weekend (well, Saturday).

The reason that Love's Baby Soft "Innocence Is Sexier than You Think" ad bothers me is not because I think it promotes pedophilia. I suppose it does promote pedophilia, but only in an indirect way. It might make you go "Oh, my, yes" if you already had the twinges. It bothers me, however, because I can't quite figure out what it's trying to accomplish1. The flavor text of the ad reads, in part, "It's soft-smelling. Pure and innocent. It may be the sexiest fragrance around." Who are they trying to reach out for? If they are after older women who are trying to recapture youth, but it seems wrong to go after moms by reminding them that there are sexual predators that are stalking their preteen daughters. If it is going for teenagers, then trying to tell them that they are already past their prime seems like a oor choice of words plus image to push: "You've already missed your chance to be a Lolita slut!" Then you have the hair cut and the eye make up, made to make the girl look 12. And the bear. And then the extra slutty lipstick. The only thing I can think of is that it is after late teenage girls, say 17-19, who are old enough to find the rules-breaking aspects of the ad to be inticing and yet young enough that they don't feel really threatened by it.

I found that image on this list of ads/products from the 1970s. I kind of just like looking at random images from the past like that. Half the reason I've watched a couple episodes of The Greatest American Hero is just to marvel at the early-80s themes and visual motifs. That's not even 30 years ago, but so many little things have changed (the big things, of course, are all the same).

Outside of creepy old adverts, I have gotten a lot of little things done, but nothing of the sort that will thrill and delight, here. Friday was something of a waste (or at least, I can only remember bits of it) and today (Sunday) has largely been about doing nothing besides staying warm, playing a bit of Kingdom Hearts and watching some X-files. Saturday, though, did have a few diversions.

I went to Dick's Sporting Goods with K—– in the early afternoon. After reading my journal post about off-trail hiking and several near misses she felt that it was in my best interest to not die due to my problematically treadless hiking boots (the tread has been worn off over the years of using them as a general heavy shoe). She kindly did me a favor by getting a nice pair of replacement boots and some awesome socks. Thanks for that, I promise it will see much use.

Later that night, I met up with Katie, Jason, Becca, David, Laura, and others to participate in an adopt-an-angel sort of thing. The idea is you get a child's card and then you buy gifts for them. We were, at one point, going to do "boys buy gifts for a boy, girls buy gifts for a girl" but found out that there was only one angel remaining. She wanted, amongst other things, a "mystery book" so I bought her The Graveyard Book which is probably the best written children's book I have seen in years. There is some mystery to it, and a lot of charm and good life lessons. I'm hoping she likes it and learns from it. After the shopping excursion, went back to J+K's place and hung out with friends in an informal Christmas get-together. It was fun to just hang out, and thanks to them for that.

That pretty much sums it up. About two weeks to Christmas. It's crunch time at the mall. I'll pretty much get a life in about three weeks. Until then, wish me luck.

Si Vales, Valeo

1: For a more unambigious example of using pedophilia to sell a product, you have the original cover from the Scorpions' album Virgin Killer (link to the Wikipedia article, including the pic; consider it most definitely not work safe and possibly in the category of "can't unsee what you've seen" unsafe). In this case, they are using cheap scandal (naked young girl in quasi-provacative pose) to sell a product to a demographic (jaded males slightly older than the model in question, but not by much) that would not be threatened by the image, though probably not really turned on all that much more than in a general, horny young male fashion.

December 05, 2008. Friday.

(02:54:33 PM CST)

Southern Comfort + Wanted. And other random commentary...

Inspired by the Amanda Palmer song, "Leeds United", I went out and bought a bottle of Southern Comfort last night1. I had intended to buy either (a) beer or (b) gin but I suppose new things are better than old things, some of the time. Not that Southern Comfort is new, it is just a drink that I rarely keep around.

My preferred way to drink Southern Comfort involves a good sweetened dark tea, a measure of lemonade, and some ice. Then you dash Southern Comfort in until you hit your, well, comfort level, and you drink it nice and slow. The challenge of this is drink is to not imagine you are on a makeshift raft-porch of a house boat, somewhere slightly north of a long, lazy bend of the old Mississippi, watching a lumber raft drifting down on a summer afternoon. The challenge is so great, mind you, that I have long given it up. God help me if I don't crave some gator tail just about now.

In a Southern Comfort induced bout of relaxation, I decided to sit down and watch the movie Wanted, that came out earlier this week. . Perhaps the best way to sum up my review is simply to quote the final phrase sent to a friend while I was watching it, namely: "I am flabbergasted." The movie is, quite unapologetically, the thoughts and dreams of a horny, irate fourteen year old surgically removed from his brain and then, with the exception of inserting Morgan Freeman in to take the place of that authoritarian uncle that you try and get to admire you anyhow, displayed unedited. It is silly, pompous, overblown, and immense fun. Most of the action is improbable, the plot is borderline impossible, and the character interaction unlikely; but the execution is full of great edits, fantasy-level action maneuvers, and a main character that kind of works as an everyman who also happens to be a killer (pun intended) assassin. The fight sequences are a dance as much as a blood bath, and several invite you to watch them a couple of times for the fun of it.

And, if you do have to turn your brain off to watch this3, I would say this is probably the most brain-off worthy movie to come out in the midst of this wide plethora of brainless action movies divers. In fact, this is going to be my de facto brain-off action movie, doing essentially what they want to do but are too afraid to do. Fuck stopping with Jason Statham driving a car through a wall and perfectly landing between floors of a building under construction, this is has a mostly nude Angelina Jolie and curving bullets and flipping a car over other cars and shooting through sunroofs. This is the logical conclusion of the genre, a complete lack of moral, physical, or rational consequence to the world the movie takes place in. Scenes happen because they look pretty happening.

The lobby scene? Good lord. The lobby scene is a classic of the hitman and action genre. How does our hero, or small band of heroes, navigate the lobby of a building full of body guards. In Leon, the killer uses calm attacks and his "one shot, one kill" skills. In The Matrix, the heroes cheat with a series of computer interrupts as weapons. In Wanted, the man runs the guantlet, stealing weapons from the guards he just shot, and scoots through hails of gunfire. It excited me. Not sexually. Just...excited.

To end on a brief note about something totally unrelated to the rest of my post, I had noticed people piling leaves out by the curb in these huge, pedestrian hating piles. Turns out that's just something that happens in Huntsville. There is a leaf collection that goes on. I read about it the article "Most wonderful time of year isn't for city leaf crew". There's lots of good readin' in that article, about how people will blow leaves in the street, or do things like blow leaves after the trucks have come by and then file a complaint claiming that a truck "missed their house". How they will sweep up trash in the leaves and cause delays with the trucks. And, funnily, how threatening they are for a service completely unique in this area. "We'll call the mayor!" type calls, for a service that most cities don't participate in and if the city was the drop it, would do absolutely nothing for anyone besides give a handful of men a more restful autumn and force homeowners to get their leaf blown piles off the damned sidewalk.

Si Vales, Valeo

1: Perhaps the most humorous SoCo/"Leeds United" connection I have experienced came from Alicia, who is 18 and likes the lyric "Who needs love when you've got Southern Comfort", though she does not, to the best of knowledge, drink the venerable liquor. She changed some status thingamabobby on her MSN Messenger client, her mother (my M-i-L) read it, and apparently struck up a line of inquiry2.

2: This of course demonstrates the danger of using beloved lyrics as status messages. Most beloved lyrics are so beloved because of their extremity of emotions: "Shot down in a blaze of glory", "I don't want to die in a Hospital", "Put your hand upon my hips, and then I dip, you dip, we dip", or "Sarah says love is watching someone die". Say, for instance, I had chosen Nine Inch Nail's "Closer" as a basis for a status message. Could you imagine the follow-up question from my mom? "You want to fuck whom like an animal?".

3: And you will. You will.

December 04, 2008. Thursday.

(10:04:10 PM CST)

The unsung heroes at Roadrunner Records...

Apparently, one of the peeps at Roadrunner Records stood up for the little man and said "no fat bellies in our music videos". Too bad the artist in question didn't take their advice, and the world was saddled with a gruesome display of human physiology. This one, to be precise:

Sorry, I should have given you warning, since I'm pretty sure that disgusted you greatly. Stamped a NSFW on it, or something. Of course, that's not from the video in question; this is the video in question. It's catchy, but you might be driven back in horror.

Yes, I'm being facetious. I feel sort of sad that I had to point it out, and I'm sure that most of my friends are more than well aware that I'm being facetious, but still, I get e-mails from time to time, about posts I have forgotten about.

Now, I'm not entirely sure what the hell did happen, but according to a blog by Amanda Palmer [Amanda Palmer = lady pictured above], she was told that she should take certain shots out of the video linked above, or have them digitally altered to be more flattering. To quote her: "the label i'm on (roadrunner records) had wanted to pull shots from the video so that my bare belly wasn't exposed. they thought i looked fat." The picture above, and the video above, may make you wonder if I'm pulling your chain. I don't know, if I'm pulling yours, she's pulling mine. The basic principle being that, in some shots, you can see like half an inch of pudge or something, if you squinted real hard, and imagined it. She didn't tone her stomach up until her ribs stuck out so we could have a go at images of her, later. That bitch.

Mostly, I laugh. While that might seem to be a wrong, or neutral, response, you have to keep in mind that I trust record companies about as far as I can avoid them and download music directly from the artist in question. In fact, had Neil Gaiman not mentioned her on his blog, and if I hadn't known about Dresden Dolls, then I probably would never have gotten the CD Who Killed Amanda Palmer? which is great fun to listen to. etc etc. And then I would not have known about the belly thing.

The belly thing, or The Rebellyon is a project where a lot of people are taking pictures of their bellies to show what women (and some men) look like in the wild. Meaning, undigitally altered. This is in support of Amanda Palmer, and it is interesting to look at the galleries of bellies galore. Most of them with some sort of marking. Some are not safe for work, but the vast majority are. Just FYI.

As said, the CD is a lot of fun, to me, and if you can sample it you might want to do so. I recommend "Astronaut", "Ampersand", and "Runs in the Family" as sample songs. Those are the first three, I think, songs on the album (maybe three of the first four, something like that).

I've begun to notice, by the way, that women that sing strong and personal lyrics tend to get forced into self-producing (Apple, DiFranco, Poe, and Mann come to mind) and have lots of fights with their record companies, while record companies fawn over stars like Spears and Perry (two named in one of the rants by Palmer herself). It might just be that sexism is most alive and well, there in the recording industry, in a misguided attempt to flesh peddle in exchange for one-hit wonderhood and scantily clad posters marketed to fourteen year old boys and impressionable, underage females who are confused and in dire need of a misplaced consumer driven role model. It also might be strong, independent women are a pain to work with. I'm sure it's one of those.

Si Vales, Valeo

December 03, 2008. Wednesday.

(10:45:16 PM CST)

Day off + Pain = Yay?

Today was the first day I have off in a while, if you include (as I am want to do) resting up from exhaustion an errand, and all errands as chores. The difference between passengers (in life) and shipsmen (in life), as Ishmael points out, is that passengers pay. Errands, as chores, are us being passengers in life1. Et cetera.

Life, being errandless today, and therefore not having me on any particular manifest, decided instead that I should spend the day in pain. I woke up with the worst crick in my neck that I have suffered from in the past decade. Crick, by the way, sounds like a hopelessly dialectal colloqilialism, but FreeDictionary.com assures me it, at least informally, is a word. The pain was so bad that I've spent the majority of the day trying to lay or recline in various positions, aiming for those few seconds where it doesn't hurt. Nearly everything I have tried, though, has been a temporary stop to the pain. A few minutes later, it would flair up and I would roll over or try bracing a pillow or something and would wade through the next four or five minute time segment.

The absolute worst things about cricks, for me, is that I take them personally. I always try to find the position that it tries to force me away from, and then assume it. The end result is even more pain and, since this is no way to treat a crick, an extended crick. It is pointless, but such the folly of man, I suppose. To err is human, to challenge pain for no purpose besides some sliver of pride, is white male.

I've done a bit of reading. Mostly Huckleberry Finn, which strikes me as an extraordinary book that would be hard as hell to teach nowadays. Despite the eponymous character being a child, I think the book ultimately requires you to be an adult to see what it is about, and that seems to be to take an absolute horrible series of circumstances and then show them through the tough and naive eyes of a child. Huck uses racist ideas because he is taught to use them, but time and time again he drops them when he gets excited or emotional. This is something of Twain's Candide and Finn is something of a Pangloss. Except, I think, rather than use "Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes possibles" as an irony, Finn demonstrates that a lot of human suffering is human caused, and questions of right and wrong are usually muddled because we try and overcomplicate them. If that makes sense.

Also, on another topic, if you get a chance, you should listen to World Cafe on NPR. It comes on from 9pm to 11pm through WLRH, and various other times at various other places, and just plays a good mix of low-key indie sort of music, the kind of stuff that is good in the background or good to actually listen to the lyrics without feeling like you are bleeding IQ points from your skull. It apparently replaces Echoes, which kind of saddens me, but I figure I'll just have to find a way to listen to Echoes online or something.

Anyhow, back to a reclining position and an attempt to not hurt.

Si Vales, Valeo

1. You can find more pearls of wisdom like this in my forthcoming book: Moving Is Punishment by God for Owning Possessions, and Other Sayings that Prove that Doug Can Be Bad on the Nerves.

December 02, 2008. Tuesday.

(11:06:47 PM CST)

After me last bitchy bit...

After my last bitchy bit about the rise and prominence of anti-intellectualism, let me share with you some things that make me smile. This is to prove I am truly a well rounded individual: both pissed off at the world and willing to mock it at the same time. Heh.

(6) Steampunk Sewing Machine. Just the visual, mostly. Made me smile. The commentators kind of hate it, but piff. I agree, though, that a non-electric one would have been a better start.

(5) Dinosaur Comics looks at Gravitons. Not only do Ah hates em, and hates em good, but the comic's crack about "pre-emptive plagiarism" makes me remember the time, in 10th grade, that I worked out a methodology for creathing fourth dimensional shapes and math based on second and third dimensional shapes and concepts, only to have my math teacher go "Yes, just like the Germans in the 19th". Fucking Germans. I was amazed, amazed, and the epiphany that showed to me how dimensions work together and it turned out it was totally unnecessary. My one and only boon is the fact that I have no problems mentally picturing higher dimensions in relation to one another.

(4) John Updike wins the bad sex award of all bad sex awards!. Still, though, Wolfe's "ballpeen hammer" taints my personal image of the penis to this day.

(3) Egyptian McDonald's commercial shows that women steal fries everywhere. Whores.

(2) Georgia senate run-off ends with the most hyperbolic statement of the entire 2008 campaign. "People all around the world truly had their eyes on Georgia, and you have delivered tonight a strong message to the world..." In other news, Georgia may not have any idea that it is only one step above Alabama in the category of "Things no one else cares about"

(1) Tom Lehrer sings "Smut". I so, so, so want that stuck in my head.

Si Vales, Valeo

(07:17:37 AM CST)

More than you wanted to know...

I feel bloated this morning, which is more than you wanted to know. I could give speculation as to the reasons behind such things, but I have no idea. Just wanted to get that off my chest.

Part of me made a long, long rant about things. One of those cathartic outpourings that would have made me feel better about the world. I realized that between the foul language, unsupported claims, rampant name calling, and overall foul temperment; maybe I should avoid such rants. Instead. I will sum up the general points in as politely and as pithy a way as possible.

I've seen a couple of friends post about this, but what's up with the anti-intellectualism? Really? It's pretty obvious it's a marketing technique, because of how rampantly it ignores statistics and how rampantly statistics ignore it. For instance, out on Redstone you will find thousands of intellectuals that are conservatives, yet a lot of neo-con pundits try to use phrases like "As the number of PhDs increase, the number of traitors to our great country increase" and "Americans, like you and me, who believe in simpler things." Of course, these same neo-con pundits will often interview the dumbest Democrats out there and mock the party for being uninformed. Which leads to a the phrase I heard last night that made me think about this entire rant: "You ignorant intellectual elitists!". Let me put it in more folkish terms: "You dumb-ass know-everythings!"

If I remember history correctly, there was a growing anti-intellectual movement in the years prior to World War II that was somewhat melted by the way intellectuals greatly aided in winning the war (Enigma, Manhattan Project, Diplomacy, etc). After the war, the anti-intellectualism returned by way of McCarthyism and the painting of socialist tendency as being a pampered college kid mindset. And surely, socialism had a definite presence on college campuses, but I've never seen anything like proof that shows it was majority decision or that it was the only source.

Since all arguments have two sides (else, they are just the truth), and most have several, why is it that we have fallen prey to the confirmation bias so much nowadays when it comes to picking a side? Pretty much as a nation, we have decided that we no longer want to use our brains when it comes to choosing information sources, we just want to choose the information source that most justifies our own life. Nietzsche talks about this, that philosophy is merely an attempt to justify yourself, that we will choose the philosophy that makes us feel most right. In cases of political news, this is so true. In this last election, people were trusting unsourced e-mails and youtube videos as legitimate because it said what they just knew had to be the truth. Here's an example that sure to come out soon, if not already. Car companies are losing money left and right. They are sure to blame environmentalists for this. I'd bet even money that you will hear how they are rich companies that squandered their fortune on one side and how they are victims of some unabashed Global Warming nuts on the other. And neither side will, say, research things. They will just take whichever numbers back them up to begin with.

Remember the "Palin doesn't know if Africa is a continent or country" statement? First off, it was from Fox News (for some reason, this fact has been dropped by several of her defenders). Secondly, it was from a source that did not name themselves and it seemed to have little information to back it up. Dude, I heard from this totally confidential source that Sarah Palin likes to smoke pot and go around town taunting black children. Spread that one around, if that's all it takes.

I guess that's it except for wanting to point out that you can't blast empty phrases like "Change we can believe in" and embrace empty phrases like "Most pro-abortion, left-leaning candidate in the history of this country" (or, if you prefer, you can't embrace "McSame" and then blast "Maverick"). Both are empty idiocies (old use of the term idiot, implying someone stuck in their own idiom, in this case a phrase that is little more than personal intepretation of what we think it means) that require qualification. Like I heard in a report on NPR yesterday, about dating sites, avoid adjectives because they don't mean anything. Show what you mean. Only in politics do we seem to be getting away with not showing any of our work, and just circling an answer we pulled out of thin air.

Oh, and phrases like "We'll see" just sound childish, especially when you make that little grin while saying them, and being all wild eyed when you describe how Obama will destroy this country and imply he's been doing it since the late-90s? Just take a breath. We survived Andrew Johnson, I think we'll be fine.

Well, there is 90% of my rant, culled down to simpler terms. I do feel better. Thanks for putting up with me.

Si Vales, Valeo

December 01, 2008. Monday.

(10:05:28 AM CST)

I've Been (December 1st, 2008)

I've been working on a poem. Nothing super-duper yet, just a poem. Once, when I was broken hearted and lonely, I could write them super fast. I didn't really have a journal then, and would spend better parts of full days just walking and thinking to myself. Also, my life kind of sucked. I wrote a lot. It was a therapy, essentially. Now, I talk to people too much (customers!!!) and I have a loving wife and my life doesn't so much suck as not-suck, and so I never sit down in good old funks like I used to sit down in and I just don't write much. Nine times out of ten, when I do get in the mood, the poetry is a lot cleaner and better, but I sort of miss the moods. I wouldn't give up my life for it, but I do miss the moods.

Here is a brief sample, with line breaks removed: "The words spoke then age the same as white haired men, in long grey suits, Reading yellowed newspapers, unable to not feel old in the waking, Another day and eveything's changed in pretty much the exact way everyone expected, Quite surprisingly, And not just one man died but he did die and one man stood aside and quietly wondered."

I've been reading "Stationary Bike" by Stephen King and I am of mixed emotions. I bought his newest short story collection—Just After Sunset—largely for a chance to read it. I had picked it up as an audiobook at one point in time and found I mostly can't do audiobooks. I miss too much. They read too slow. The intro got my attention, though. Man is found to be overweight, starts exercising downstairs on a stationary bike. Creates this fantasy world to work in: imagines going down the road on said bike. His fantasies get out of control, and a mural he has painted of an idyllic road scene begins growing dark, changing beyond his control. His fantasy world turns awry...and this is where I stopped the audiobook. Now that I know what the ending is, I'm hoping the other stories end better. The ending is ok, maybe a C or C-, but much of the story sets up for something different. I have a couple ideas about how I would have went about it, but I'm not Stephen King so what do I matter? The book did get second place on Brian Keene's top horror books of 2008, mind you.

I've been listening to the BBC adaptation of Phantom of the Opera. They are playing it on BBC7, and if you are interested in it at all (note: this is not a Weber version, very little singing outside of the play-within-the-play and the Phantom is not all sexy-dark-anti-hero): you can listen to it here. The first part (of four) is going to be available through Sunday when the second part plays. There you go.

I've been watching the third (and presumably final) series of The IT Crowd. I'm still hoping this makes it to DVD in the States because I would adore a chance to support it. The first episode was funny, but a little behind the chuckle meter as far as the second series goes, while the second episode was one of the funniest ones in a while. I recommend them both, as well as the previous twelve episodes. As I have mentioned before.

Lastly, I've been talking to my brother Danny. Looks like he is going back off shore after losing his last job and most of the jobs drying up around Evergreen. Just wanted to wish him luck and for anyone else reading this who feels like doing the same, going off shore this time of the year is rough, and I'm sure he might need it.

Si Vales, Valeo

Written by W Doug Bolden

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