June 21st, 2003
Two notable things about today:
It's my birthday. I'm now slightly older than thirty-three. Thirty-three years and eight days, if you count leap years. Woo. Same message from last year applies to this.
It's also Harry Potter day. Woo again. Kids are finally learning to read. That's surely worth something. Too bad it's cookie-cutter literature and not something real. I don't wish to begrudge the kiddies too much here; I think it's great that they're reading. The current educational system seems determined to trivialize the importance of reading, so anything in the opposite direction is very Martha.
But I don't get the adults. They are gobbling this stuff up. I bought two of the Harry Potter books back when they were just starting to make their big splash. I read the first one. I chose not to read the second one. There's nothing special going on here. There are dozens of books far more applicable towards the adult reading level and far more enjoyable. Why adults are reading something that is so far below them is somewhat of a mystery to me, although I have a hunch that it has to do with media-influenced mass brainwashing.
I have lost count of how many times an adult has told me that Harry Potter is their favorite book. Given all the great works of literature in the world, I find this to be tragic and sad.
June 17th, 2003
The creator of the Drug Lord trainer has had a change of heart and removed it from his web site. A huge thanks to him!
I've been reading The Da Vinci Code. It's uncommonly good, which undoubtedly accounts for its numerous and favorable reviews on Amazon.
I came about this book in a rather unusual way; I read an article on CNN that explained that the author was being sued by another author for plagiarism. It also went into some brief details about the book itself and I realized that it contained in it may of the things that I liked about Focault's Pendulum. I went ahead and ordered the electronic version for reading on my Palm device (yes, I actually prefer this to paper).
It's the rich detail, clever puzzles, and extraordinary description of history that make the book such an enjoyable read. The description of history is so appealing and compelling that it makes me wonder why all of the history teachers I had were able to make the very same subjects so boring and uninteresting. I think the answer is that the author, Dan Brown, genuinely enjoys not only the material, but also talking about it. I can't recall the last time I've seen a history teacher enjoy much of anything.
The book is not without its faults, however. The level of writing is lower than what it should be. Someone called it eighth grade, and that seems about right to me. It seems purposely dumbed down to appeal to most readers, and I find this to be a shame. Because the book is scholarly in nature, the writing should reflect this. It's sort of like going out to a $1000-a-plate dinner and seeing someone wearing baggy jeans and a stained t-shirt; they're there, but the presentation isn't at its best.
The characters are also kind of flat, but not to an extent that is overly bothersome. There is a side character who is indeed bothersome, however. A hulking albino who kills people. He seems oddly inappropriate and awkward for the story.
So someone went ahead and created a so-called trainer for Drug Lord. I say so-called because in reality these tools aren't meant for training as much as they are for cheating. Back in my day, cheating at anything was considered poor sportsmanship and, in general, a really lousy thing to do when you're in competition with others.
I guess it's safe to say that this concept of fair play has vanished. No longer are people willing to strive for what they want through hard work, dedication, and skill, but instead they want to be presented with a task that is no more difficult than eating chocolate cake. In many ways I can understand this. After all, life is very short, and if there are ways to abbreviate mundane tasks, it is surely in our best interest to adopt them.
But voluntary competition against others isn't what I'd call a mundane task. Rather, it's an agreement among people to participate in an enjoyable activity to see who can better the other. Such as checkers, chess, Monopoly, and yes, even Drug Lord. While no one with a modicum of scruples would think of cheating at checkers, chess, or Monopoly, these same people, when placed on the internet and given a challenge, begin to look for the easy win. This is what I don't understand.
In the case of Drug Lord, these cheaters completely diminish the game for others. It no longer holds any enjoyment to achieve a high score through a combination of skill and luck when others through effort no more significant than a few mouse clicks can achieve an impossibly high score.
There is a more personal effect related to these trainers. They steal money right out of my pocket. The High Score Board is (was) a big draw to the game. People are much less inclined to register without it. I witnessed this a year or so ago when the board was down for similar reasons. The players of Drug Lord feel this effect too because without people registering, I am much less motivated to continue my work on Drug Lord 3.
June 16th, 2003
The Screen Machine has arrived! It works like a champ!
June 12th, 2003
Finally having reached my limit with telemarketers, I went ahead and ordered a Screen Machine. I don't have it yet, but it seems like it's a pretty cool little gadget. What it does is this: When there's a phone call, the Screen Machine answers it. It plays a recorded message that sounds something like, "If you are a scum-sucking telemarketer hang up now and place this number on your do not call list. If you are a normal person, please press 5 now." I'm paraphrasing slightly, but you get the idea.
While this message is being played to the calller, the phone is silent. It is only when the caller presses 5 that the phone actually rings. Telemarketers will never press 5 because to do so would be illegal and they would be subject to some very stiff fines. Secretly, I'm hoping that one goes ahead and tries it.
I don't see how this product can not work. Most of the telemarketer calls I get are simple hang-ups. This happens because telemarketers call several numbers at the same time and upon having one number answer, they hang up on the rest. I'm very slow to answer my phone. It requires standing up and walking, which is always a chore when I'm nestled deep into the folds of my couch. By the time I do get to the phone, it's usually just dead air. Once the Screen Machine is installed, I'll never hear the phone ring to begin with, so I can remain nestled.
Thought of the moment:
On many boats the driver pilots the boat standing up. Why not make a car where the driver is standing up? It would be greatly amusing to see. Sure, it might be a tad dangerous, but hey, that wouldn't make it less amusing.
Oh yay, the protection on my cgi-bin directory managed to disappear, resulting in the contents of that directory becoming visible. Some stupid little twerp thought it would be a good idea to poke around in there. The problem has been fixed.
I rewrote my Web Link Log display program in C and it's now much much faster. Before the rewrite, it was a shell script and somewhat slow.
On the Drug Lord side of things, I've started work on it again, evident by the 2.2 release. I've fixed a bunch of bugs and have re-started to work on version 3.
You'd think after years of using Vim that I'd have been making use of the ctags command to navigate source code efficiently. But no. And now that I've finally sat down and read through the docs, I can't believe that I went so long without using it.
I have noticed that the older I get, the less cooked I like my meat. I used to be a well-done steak person. A few years ago this changed and I am now a medium rare type person. Medium rare is pretty much one step above raw. You take a steak, run it by a fire, and plop it on the plate. Very bloody. Very primal, but also very good. Really.
Rare beef isn't all that exciting, but get this; I like my bacon barely cooked. Really. I grew up in a house where the definition of good bacon is crisp bacon. I never cared for that much. Crispy, dry, meatless, tasteless, burnt. While my parents might enjoy it, It's just not my thing. Lately I have cooking bacon so it can't even support its own weight. This isn't bacon you can pick up with your fingers and snack on. Nope. Far too flimsy and greasy for that sort of thing. Which isn't to say that bacon I cook is abnormally greasy.
Tape worms? Nah. Make no mistake here, I do cook my bacon, I just cook it far less than most people like.
Today's entry is pretty geeky and pretty long. Unless you live in Austin and are wondering why Sendmail won't work with your RoadRunner account, you can probably safely bypass this.
Sendmail, that old workhorse, stole a considerable amount of my life yesterday. I wish to document my experiences here for two reasons. The first reason is that my memory is absolutely terrible. If I don't write down my findings, I'm liable to forget them should the need arise in the future. The second reason is that someone else may be have the same problems I did and search the web for resolution. Hopefully that search will land them here.
It started in the morning. I had received an email on my home server and I wrote a reply and sent to it. Moments later, it was shot back to me with an error message stating that it had been rejected because my IP address was on the mail-abuse.org's DUL list. DUL is short for dial-up user. Many ISPs block dial-up users from sending email to their network because often that email is spam. After all, how many legitimate users have their own mail server?
I'm on RoadRunner high-speed internet, which isn't really dial-up, of course, but it's the same as far as an ISP is concered; I'm just some dodo on the internet doing something weird and therefor I should be blocked. It's a good policy, really, and I have no complaints about it even if it did mean I needed to do some work to circumvent it.
The good folks at mail-abuse.org have a helpful page on how to make a home server use the customer's ISP's SMTP server as a relay for outgoing email. I had done this in the past with qmail on a different incarnation of my home server. It worked well and life was good.
Mail-abuse.org's Sendmail information is helpful, but there more as a courtesy and isn't a true discussion of what's going on. Their advice covers what needs to be done but it gets a bit excessive with the changes that need to be made in order to get Sendmail to play nice with the ISP's SMPT server. Here is the important part:
define(`SMART_HOST',`mail.yourisp.net')dnl <--- Your ISP's
mail server name goes here
MASQUERADE_AS(yourisp.net)dnl <--- Your ISP's domain name
Makes pretty decent sense. These are intended to go into Sendmail's .mc file, which through the magic of m4 gets built into a .cf file. An ugly step, and frankly a good reason not to use Sendmail. I'll talk a little bit more about my near falling out with Sendmail in a bit.
Only the first line is needed for my setup. RoadRunner doesn't care what the "from" domain is. As long as you're on their network and you're trying to send out mail using their server, that's good enough for them. What the SMART_HOST define does is tells Sendmail that all outgoing mail (that is to say mail which isn't intended for my own internal network) is to be sent to mail.yourisp.net for processing.
Based upon the above advice, I added this line to my .mc file:
smtp-server.austin.rr.com is, of course, the SMTP server that RoadRunner in the Austin area wants you to use.
After I added it, I built the .cf file, copied it to /etc/mail and HUPed sendmail to restart its sendmailing. This was by no means the last time I'd perform these activities.
I tested out my brand new configuration and promptly received an error in /var/log/maillog:
Apr 8 13:36:37 oscar sendmail: h38Iabu1014051: from=<email@example.com>
size=262, class=0, nrcpts=1, msgid=<Pine.BSO.4.53.0304081336280.23657@oscar>,
Apr 8 13:36:38 oscar sm-mta: h38IabJT007462: from=<firstname.lastname@example.org>,
size=447, class=0, nrcpts=1, msgid=<Pine.BSO.4.53.0304081336280.23657@oscar>,
proto=ESMTP, daemon=MTA, relay=fred@localhost [127.0.0.1]
Apr 8 13:36:38 oscar sm-mta: h38IabJT007462: to=<email@example.com>,
ctladdr=<firstname.lastname@example.org> (1000/1000), delay=00:00:00, xdelay=00:00:00,
mailer=smtp, pri=30447, relay=texlog.texas.rr.com. [126.96.36.199], dsn=4.0.0,
stat=Deferred: Connection refused by texlog.texas.rr.com.
Apr 8 13:36:38 oscar sendmail: h38Iabu1014051: to=<email@example.com>,
ctladdr=<firstname.lastname@example.org> (1000/1000), delay=00:00:01, xdelay=00:00:01,
mailer=relay, pri=30262, relay=localhost.linuxchips.com. [127.0.0.1], dsn=2.0.0,
stat=Sent (h38IabJT007462 Message accepted for delivery)
Note the second to last line above. It states "stat=Deferred: Connection
refused by texlog.texas.rr.com", which means that RoadRunner doesn't want to play ball with me. Aside from the info in the log files, no other error was given. No mail stating that delivery couldn't be made or anything of that sort. If I hadn't tested everything out first I'd be blissfully unaware that my outgoing emails were silently being vaporized.
Vaporization isn't good, and is, in fact, the exact opposite of what I was trying to achieve. I decided to do a sanity test:
# telnet smtp-server.austin.rr.com 25
Connected to smtp-server.austin.rr.com.
Escape character is '^]'.
220 ms-smtp-02.texas.rr.com ESMTP *** FOR AUTHORIZED USE ONLY! ***
250 ms-smtp-02.texas.rr.com Hello cs2417548-170.austin.rr.com [188.8.131.52],
pleased to meet you
mail from: email@example.com
250 2.1.0 firstname.lastname@example.org... Sender ok
250 2.1.5 email@example.com... Recipient ok
354 Enter mail, end with "." on a line by itself
250 2.0.0 h38IXmkP013288 Message accepted for delivery
221 2.0.0 ms-smtp-02.texas.rr.com closing connection
Connection closed by foreign host.
What this does is it allows me to talk to the SMTP server directly. By doing this, I'm able to simulate a conversation that my server would have with RoadRunner's server, albeit simpler. My test succeeded and the mail went through.
Had I been paying attention here, a would have noticed a vital clue. But I hadn't. The test worked so I figured my .mc file was to blame in some weird way, so I started adding options, deleting options, and moving options around. Nothing worked, although I did get to see some really interesting errors.
I started to question the MX records in my DNS setup. That was a path of distraction that led nowhere, although I do have a far better understanding of MX records now.
I posted a message to bsdforums.org and one to usenet. Had I been patient, the answer to my problems would be revealed on usenet only a few hours later. Patience, however, is for those who are lazy.
It was about this point that I was questioning sendmail's importance in my life. There are other excellent packages out there, like qmail and postfix, which many people claim from a standpoint of security are actually better. They are certainly simpler to use. Switching to either might have resolved the problem I was having, but it would ultimately be a defeat because I would be trading my lack of understanding for an entirely different solution. I don't like the sound of that very much.
I went over my previous steps. And I took note of that vital clue I had overlooked. Sendmail said that it was trying to send the email through texlog.texas.rr.com. But my sanity test said something else entirely:
220 ms-smtp-02.texas.rr.com ESMTP *** FOR AUTHORIZED USE ONLY! ***
It was connecting to ms-smtp-02.texas.rr.com! Well, that's interesting, I thought to myself. I plugged this address into SMART_HOST and gave it a try. Bingo! The mail went through. Well, it went through sometimes. Othertimes it delayed and then went through. Not a big problem, mind you, because just a few moments ago the mail wasn't going through at all. It seems that whenever a connection is made to smtp-server.austin.rr.com, it redirects the connection to one of at least two servers. It's transparent to the end user, unless that user happens to be using sendmail.
So why was Sendmail was picking up the wrong address? Like the programmer I am, I chose the brute-force approach to figure this out. I started to trace through sendmail's source code.
I can see why sendmail has had so many security problems in the past. The source code is needlessly complex and it is apparent that new functionality has been added in non-attractive ways. The code is a bit too terse, although there are some excellent comments scattered throughout. I traced my problem into a function that was in excess of 1000 lines of code. Now, where I come from you don't write functions that are that long. They are ridiculously hard to understand and even more difficult to maintain.
I did find what I was looking for, however. Sendmail, instead of accepting the SMART_HOST parameter at face value decides to be cute. It looks up the MX records at the SMART_HOST address and tries to use those. That just doesn't jive for smtp-server.austin.rr.com. Check this out:
# host -a smtp-server.austin.rr.com
smtp-server.austin.rr.com A 184.108.40.206
smtp-server.austin.rr.com MX 10 texlog.texas.rr.com
The MX record clearly points to our old friend texlog.texas.rr.com, which we know isn't a valid SMTP server. So just what is it? Nmap has this to say:
Port State Service
22/tcp open ssh
80/tcp open http
111/tcp open sunrpc
137/tcp filtered netbios-ns
138/tcp filtered netbios-dgm
139/tcp filtered netbios-ssn
13722/tcp open VeritasNetbackup
13782/tcp open VeritasNetbackup
13783/tcp open VeritasNetbackup
32771/tcp open sometimes-rpc5
Remote operating system guess: Solaris 8 early access beta through
Uptime 163.684 days (since Sun Oct 27 15:04:02 2002)
Solaris 8 early beta? Funky! Decent uptime though. Port 80, that's http, so let's see what's there. I fired up my web browser, typed in http://texlog.texas.rr.com and was greeted with a username/password box. It states: Enter username and password for "Road Runner Abuse Lookup" at texlog.texas.rr.com. This is sort of ingenious on their part and some mild golf applause is in order, unless, of course, this was just a random accident with no realy forethought to it.
Assuming it wasn't a random accident, however, it would seem that in order to thwart the casual sendmail user, RoadRunner redirects them to a machine which has the sole purpose of logging abuse attempts. An interesting aside, but not too useful in actually thwarting my ability to use sendmail.
I wasn't fond of the idea of using just one of RoadRunner's servers when everyone else had a server auto-selected for them. You'd think I could leave well enough alone and just be pleased that I had something that worked. But no, not me.
I continued to explore sendmail's source code and discovered what I needed to know from the beginning. Something that I'm sure appears in every single Sendmail book ever published:
To make Sendmail not look up MX records, enclose the server address in square brackets.
What this means is that my SMART_HOST line now looks like:
I tried it out. It worked. Case closed. It took waaay too long to figure this out.
I glance down and look at my pants. It occurs to me that they wrinkle far too easily. I don't care for that very much.
I can do without daylight saving. It sucks away my energy. It forces me to reset clocks. And numerous watches. It confuses my body. I can't wake up on time. Yes, I can do without it.
I think I pushed myself too hard on my bike yesterday. My left leg is telling me not to use it. It's also telling me it also doesn't care for the wrinkly pants very much.
The cable man came on Saturday. The performance on my cable modem took a nose dive Friday morning, resulting in a call to Time Warner that evening. They remotely probed the modem and reported significant packet loss, which explained the sub-dial-up performance.
So the guy came out. He tested the lines and replaced my 4-way splitter with one of their own. Of course, he didn't return my splitter. They never do. I guess the feel that I should be so pleased to have one of their super-high quality splitters that I won't care that they steal something I had purchased. And in truth, I don't. Not really. But it does bother me that I wasn't asked if he could keep it.
The splitter had nothing to do with the actual problem, of course. It was just busy-work. A way to delay. A way to keep other people waiting for the cable man. He finally checked the cable modem itself. It's old, he commented, stating that they hadn't used that particular model in years. More than three years old, I confirmed his statement.
He pulled out a new, shiny, and streamlined modem. It looked like in its previous life it could have been used for stealth aerial surveillance. He said it was USB compatible, and handed me a bag containing a USB cable and a CD-ROM. He said that should I ever want to switch over to USB that it would be easy to do so. Maybe so, but lets examine the facts here. First of all, if you follow the end of my cable modem to my computer, you will find that it doesn't terminate at a nasty little Windows box, or even a Mac. It terminates at a five year old (sigh, lister) PC that runs OpenBSD and doesn't even have USB. But OK, there was no way for him to know this. But seriously, why would I want to switch over to a slower protocol that is at the mercy of whatever sort of drivers they chose to write for it? Sounds like a performance-sucking crash-city to me. But enough about this.
He set up the modem and after a mishap or two with calling in its serial number to activate it, it was up and running.
I loaded their flying pig test page. Golly, the flying pig loaded in a couple of seconds. I was pleased. Just an hour before, that pig wouldn't load at all.
I have a theory. I think they purposely degraded the performance of older modems because they lost track of who had what and by having a complaining customer call them they could fill in the blanks.
But whatever. My cable modem is working once again and I am pleased.
I've been delving deep into the OpenBSD kernel. I'm having a great deal of fun (yes, really) and learning quite a bit. Currently, I'm working on a super-groovy device driver. The good folks on the tech mailing list have been most helpful.
The BSD driver model is a bit antiquated and it would be nice to have hot-swapable kernel modules much like those in Linux, or better yet, like those in QNX.
The reason I've been fooling around at the kernel level is because I need something resembling real-time usability, another area where QNX excels. I was hoping I could squeak out enough performance at the user level, but unfortunately I wasn't able to. Even when I run my critical section of code with the highest priority, it gets interrupted in an unfortunate manner, destroying any critical timing that might have been going on. Of course there's no guarantees in user land anyhow, so it's not too much of a surprise that it didn't work out the way I want to. Here's a surprise, though--I'm able to this real-time trickery on Windows NT/2000/XP without having to resort to a kernel mode driver. Better scheduling? Worse scheduling?
I think it is perhaps safe to say that the exploded capacitor that you see here is responsible for my SV-24 woes.
March 28th, 2003
My shiny new Celeron arrived. Although this should have been a happy occasion, and indeed it was initially, it turned out to be one of those bummer sitiuations. The motherboard of the SV24 should have be able to handle 1.2GHz, but in reality it wasn't able to. Or, the motherboard is to ultimately blame for all my woes and this is the final proof of that; I'm just not sure. This has kind of put me at a stand-still right now. I don't really want to invest any more time or money at this point.
I'm going to let the hardware sit for a while. Perhaps one day I will become enthusiastic and resurrect it from its useless state. For the moment, however, I'm content with what I have.
In the above picture are three computers. On the right at the bottom is fredhp, which if you browses my computers web page you will know that it is my main Win2K machine. I use it mostly for games.
Sitting on top of fredhp is lister, the OpenBSD box that the replacement Celeron was intended for.
On the left of the picture is a computer that predates the other two by a couple of years. A K6-300 that I recently loaded up with OpenBSD 3.2 and configured to replace lister, at which I must say it's doing an admirable job. Compile times are a lot slower as are disk transfers, but it's a very capable machine otherwise. If it had disappointed me in this regard you could be sure that I would still be working on restoring lister to its previous glory.
The K6, named oscar although not to be confused with another box I had named oscar, is no longer in the willy-nilly state you see it above. The hard drives have been placed inside the box and the cables tidied up. It's very respectable looking now. The cover is still off; I'm going to install an additional hard drive or two in it.
What I'm probably going to do in the long run, say when OpenBSD 3.3 or 3.4 is released is buy a barebones box that will work with the new Celeron. One that has a larger case so I can stick all sorts of groovy hard driveage in it. You can never have enough storage space! Besides, I've become charmed by the lures of RAID.
I'm thinking of doing RAID entirely in software. Shocking, yes, particularily when RAID controllers are now common place on motherboards. But I do have my reasons. Software raid is considerably more flexible than its hardware counterpart; hard drives need not be the same size because partitions are used in the array rather than an entire hard drive, and complex configurations are possible. What I'm thinking of doing is getting two largish hard drives, say 120MB each, and break divide each one up into an 80MB partition and a 40MB partition. The two 80MB partitions I will join with RAID 0, effectively creating a 160MB storage space. I will RAID 1 the two remaining 40MB partitions for stuff that I would be upset to lose. The performance hit won't be too bad because the RAID 1 array will be used infrequently, which will leave the drives largely available for the large RAID 1 array, which due to the nature of RAID 1 should have increased performance over the drive itself.
In other news, I began work on a top secret project. The only thing I will reveal right now is its name: Green Gate One. You can probably deduce something from the name alone, but your deduction is wrong; my project has nothing to do with firewalls or routing or gateways. Nor does it have anything to do with this although the name was indeed inspired by Robert Arthur.
March 25th, 2003
It started innocently enough about six months ago. My home server, a Shuttle SV24 that runs OpenBSD, was running out of hard drive space. You'd think that it would take some doing to fill up a 30GB drive, but I somehow managed to do it and the thing was used beyond capacity.
Beyond capacity? Sure. The odd thing about OpenBSD is that you can use a hard drive beyond the 100% mark. No laws of physics are being violated, however. The full size of the hard drive is calculated to be 105% and when usage hits 100%, OpenBSD starts to get worried and flashes warning messages.
With the hard drive used beyond capacity, I decided that instead of deleting things I no longer needed that I'd instead keep those things and get an additional and larger hard drive for the new things that I want to keep and never look at again. Faster than you could say watermelon salad, I was surfing pricewatch.com looking for what I needed.
I should say that this was one of the first times in recent memory that I bought a hard drive because I wanted to rather than because I needed to due to some horrible failure. I'm not sure what's up with hard drives these days, but they seem to die if you so much think about them dying or if for one second you think about how reliable they have become. But they do die, make no mistake about it. I've gone through several in the past few years. Without getting too much ahead myself here, the older computer I chose to replace the SV24 temporarily had a defective hard drive upon power up. This is despite it sitting unpowered on a shelf for two years. Two years ago the drive was fine.
I selected a tasty 90GB hard drive and waited. That's the problem with ordering things online; the wait. I'm not a waiter. I don't like waiting. I like instant gratification. I could have had that gratification, of course, if I went to Fry's or somwhere else like one of the big office supply stores. The problem with these places is that you pay much more than if you get the same thing online. Although I'm impatient, I'm not too keen on throwing money out the window.
My wait was soon over and I had the OEM hard drive in my hands. OEM, if you're not up on the lingo, means that this hard drive came with absolutely nothing except itself. No cables, no screws, no brackets, no manuals, nothing of that sort. No big deal, I've been handling hard drives for decades. It did come with an anti-static bag to protect its vitals from all the static that lurks about.
The SV24 is tiny, which is exactly the reason I bought it. Tiny is cute. Tiny is sexy. Really. If you don't know what I mean, then you just don't get it. The SV24 is easy enough to get into; three thumb screws and the case slides right off revealing all the compactness within. I already had a hard drive in the box, of course, and a floppy drive. No CD-ROM drive though, so the new hard drive would go in that space. The reason there's a floppy drive in the box and not a CDROM drive involves the instant gratification I just mentioned. OpenBSD CD-ROM images have to be bought, unless you're brave enough to try one that someone created, or dishonest enough to use an illegal image of the real thing. I have no problem buying something that I actually use, and if I could buy the OpenBSD CD-ROM set and have it the moment I needed it, I would do so. But life never seems to work out that way. When I need something, or better yet, when I'm motivated, I need that thing right that instant. Waiting for a hard drive is something that I can handle. Waiting for an OS is not. It's a show-stopper when you're waiting for something to be delivered from Canada (the home country of OpenBSD) via snailmail.
The alternative to stopping the show is to not stop it at all by. Often what you really want isn't an option, but there are alternatives. Sort of like when I go to the Chinese buffet and they don't have chow mein. They never have chow mein, which is sad because I absolutely adore it. But the lack of chow mein doesn't stop the show. It doesn't stop me from eating all the other tasty things. Nor does the lack of an OpenBSD CD-ROM stop the installation show. There is an alternative: downloading a boot floppy, booting from it and then installing the rest via FTP. Sure, it's slow, but it's faster than waiting around for a CD-ROM from the great white north. That's why my SV24 has a floppy drive and no CD-ROM drive.
The gaping hole where the CD-ROM drive goes was the perfect (and lets be honest here, the only) location for the new hard drive. So I proceeded to remove some screwsand do other vaguely mechanical-looking things when it happened. One of those things that makes you instantly upset and also causes you to try to find an escape route from the problem you just created.
My hand slipped and I knocked a blade off the fan that is used to cool the CPU.
So it's not all that devestating of an event, I'll grant you that. No trees were killed and no one was forced into servitude. But, it was an annoying problem nonetheless because this fan was extra small due to the SV24's compact size, which meant that it was virtually unreplacable by mortal man. I do have my immortal moments when I'm able to locate very obscure parts, but doing so generally involves an afternoon on the phone and negotiating minimum quantities or trying to request free samples. Doable, but let's face it, not very fun. Not for a fan, at least.
For grins, I turned on the computer and my fears were confirmed. The fan spun up, but because it was missing a blade, the whole computer vibrated and buzzed in a manner that, while intimidating in a my-computer-is-more-badass than yours sort of way, just didn't really cut it on a practical level. Practical meaning a lifetime that extended beyond a couple of vibrationally intense hours.
The fan was a no-go. I had a choice. I could drive for an hour to Fry's and get a new heatsink/fan assembly and then drive an hour back, or I could just run the thing fanless.
Fanless, you know, like how computers used to be before they ran faster than 20MHz. Could this 900Mhz Celeron live up to the challenge? I was going to find out. I unplugged the fan from the motherboard and powered the SV24. I let it chug away for a while and then I touched the heatsink. It was hot, but I could hold my finger on it without crying. I've tried similar things in the past. I assure you they were quite exciting: "Hey, look at that 2N3055 in the TO3 package, with 15 amps flowing through it and dropping 10 volts. Do you think it's hot? I think I'll touch it and find out!" The smell of seared flesh and the instant removal of my fingerprint was a true testament to just how hot 150 watts really is. You'd think I'd know better to try this sort of thing anymore.
I became reasonably confident that the temperature of the CPU was tolerable and I promised myself that then next time I went to Fry's that I'd get a new heatsink/fan combo and make the situation all better. In the mean time, I went ahead and added the full 90GB of storage delight, closed everything up and proceeded to fill the thing beyond capacity. Yes, I really did. It took a couple of months, but I had no problem doing so.
During those couple of months I did indeed go to Fry's, and I did indeed buy a nice compact heatsink/fan assembly. I was so satisfied that I actually remembered to buy something that I genuinely needed that I put it on a shelf for the following six months.
A couple of weeks ago, the SV24 started acting kind of funky. Not funky in a musical having a good time sort of way, but funky in the random crash and lockup sort of way. OpenBSD isn't know for just randomly crashing unless you have done things to it, which I had not. The crash wasn't graceful either. Normally OpenBSD will catch a crash and either reboot the machine or drop you out to the debugger prompt. Neither was happening. The machine was locked up tight.
I thought about this for a while. I went to the SV24's BIOS information and looked at the health of the system. Hmm, the CPU is 68 degrees C. Hot, certainly, but hot to the point of self-destruction? Hard to say.
I rememberd that new fan I had sitting on the shelf. I installed it and hoped the problem would go away. For a few hours I was under the illusion that it had, but my illusion was shattered when the SV24 once again froze hard. This would take some more thought.
For a while I thought it might be a hard drive. Nope.
For another while I thought it might be the RAM. Nope.
Motherboard? Possibly. One symptom of the crash was that the display, when there was one, would go all screwy with random characters. The problem with the SV24's motherboard is it's now hard to track down. You used to be able to find it everywhere 2 years ago, but it's now obsolete. Not impossible to find, but its obsoleteness makes it somewhat pricey. Pricey to the point that I could be on my way to getting a more modern system if I really had to replace it.
Back to the CPU. They're cheap enough. Pricewatch.com told me that the 900MHz Celeron I was using was only 30 bucks now. I decided to up the ante a bit and ordered a 1.2GHz version. It hasn't arrived yet. I'm hoping it does today. If it turns out not to be the CPU then I'll probably go ahead and get a new motherboard. The way I see it is that I already spent $40 on a new 1.2GHz Celeron and it won't have a home if the motherboard is screwed, and that just seems sort of wasteful. I've been looking at new Celeron ready bare-bones kinds and I discovered something: there aren't any. All the new kits are for the P4 and above. Kind of sad, really; the Celeron is still a nice chip and more than capable of meeting consumer's needs. The problem is that all the new hardware is so incredibly inexpensive that it doesn't make sense to support the older hardware.
While all of this SV24 unpleasentness was going on, I needed a solution for my home-routing needs. For a while I plugged the cable modem directly into my Apple Airport base station. I was at least able to use my iBook. But I wasn't able to print, or back up valuable data, or do any of the dozen things that I did on my OpenBSD server. I needed a replacement. I mean, come on, I'd have to wait several days for the replacement Celeron. A couple of days! That's far too much to bear.
Well, not really, but I've been meaning to play around with OpenBSD 3.2 anyhow. I was going to wait for 3.3, but this seemed like a good opportunity to try out 3.2. I chose one of my old unused computers, you know, the one with the bad hard drive that I mentioned above. I put in a spare 2GB hard drive that I had and proceeded to install 3.2. The installation went reasonably fast. The configuring took forever. Easily 12 hours from start to finish. There's a whole list of things that I had to do just to get the box to useful state.
The machine I installed it on is pretty low-end by today's standards. A K6-300 and 64MB of RAM. It's a comfortable amount for an OpenBSD machine, but I was used to the speed and power of My Celeron 900 and its 512MB. I had to cut back some things. Like instead of using Squid for a proxy, I'm using tinyproxy, which is pretty good, but it doesn't proxy FTP connections. An for the terminal emulator "screen" I had to change the default buffer size from 20000 lines per window to just 5000. With 12 open windows screen was eating nearly 20MB of the 64MB that the system had.
I also discovered something about CenterICQ. It has a bad memory leak. It eats about 1MB per hour, which isn't all that tolerable for a system that has only 64MB. I have to keep shutting it down and restarting it just to free up memory. If I was half-inclined, I'd poke around in the CenterICQ source to see if I could locate the leak. But since I'm not inclined, I'm just hoping it gets fixed soon.
Although the box is slower, it can still keep up with ingoing and outgoing internet activity. I'm pleased about that. So pleased that I've been thinking that I might keep this underpowered box as my OpenBSD home server. There's additional motivation behind this. I've been wanting to install three hard drives into something so I can do RAID. I'm really becoming paranoid about data loss and RAID would be the way to go. The SV24, bless its little heart, just can't accomodate three additional hard drives into its already cramped case.
I'll wait for my replacement Celeron processor to show up and then I'll make a decision.
February 17th, 2003
I did 30 miles on the bike on Saturday and 20 on Sunday. My leg muscles are starting to get nice and firm again. Whee!
I had my hummus and my gnocchi. And a pork loin. Lots of that pork loin left, let me tell you. I will be having pork loin sandwiches for weeks.
I also watched three movies this weekend. The original Odd Couple, followed up by the Odd Couple 2 and Out to Sea. I never saw the original Odd Couple before and while it was quite good, it felt too long. The Odd Couple 2 was a highly disposable film, but it was good for a laugh or two. Same with Out to Sea.
So it was very much a Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau weekend. I miss those guys.
February 13th, 2003
I have been having a hankering for gnocchi lately. I think that will be one of my weekend projects. The preperation time is a killer, but the results are completely worth it. I wish there were a decent restaurant around here that served it, I keep looking, but so far I haven't been able to find one.
I've also been hankering hummus; a much more readily curable situation because it involves only a trip to the grocery store.
February 12th, 2003
I'm starting to get into bicycling again.
Several years ago I was into it in a big way, cycling 50-70 miles per day. But then I moved and found that I didn't enjoy the traffic all that much. In fact, it scared me to death. So I switched to running. The muscles used for running are completely different than those used for cycling and I was completely dismayed that I wore out after only a mile or so. I did stick with it, gradually increasing my distance and speed. When I broke five miles, it a major personal victory. When I broken ten miles, I found myself ten miles away from home, with a ten mile walk ahead of me. Still, I was thrilled that I was able to do it. Then came 15 miles and finally 17 miles. One interesting side-effect of all this running is that I became vegetarian; I just had no cravings for meat whatsoever.
It was my intention to enter the Boston Marathon. I watched it the year previous and it captured my imagination. Not that I had any grand dellusions about being able to win it, mind you; that wasn't the goal. Running it and completing it was the goal. alas, that was a goal that I was never to reach. I moved from Massachusetts to Texas and after a few attempts, I realized the running had to stop.
The thing about Texas is that it's hot. Quite hot. The winters are hot. The summers are extra hot. It's hot all around. I quickly realized that I couldn't handle the heat. It might have been a question of needing to be properly acclimatized, but I didn't stick it out to see if that was the case. I abruptly stopped running, except for the random occasion when the weather permitted. Unfortunately, those random occasions were so sparse that my leg muscles diminished considerably and each outing became more and more difficult.
I was sitting here a couple of months back, thinking to myself that I'm getting old and that I should really start another activity. The thing about me and activities is that I like them to be solo and I like them to be vigorous, both of which immediately rule out many things. Hiking, which I find highly enjoyable, isn't particularily vigorous. Tennis, while vigorous is extraordinarily difficult to play by oneself. Besides, I don't like tennis.
I toyed with the idea of joining a gym. Toyed with it, but I never went beyond toying. The last time I looked into being a gym-person, I lived in Boston. Membership was like $70/month which granted access to all the nasty sweat-coated equipment. Oh sure, you're supposed to wipe of the sweat, but the way I see it is that you're not so much wiping it off as you are wiping it in. The appeal here is minimal. Besides, I think there are some serious problems with joining a gym anyhow. You become one of those people. You know what I'm talking about. A gym person.
Gym people are people who believe that they are absolutely better than everyone else. This is a general rule, of course. They exercise, so they must be better. They pay for their sweat, so they must be better. They gleam and shine, and wipe themselves on clean white towels, so, yes, again, they must be better. Again, a generalization, but one that I found largely true as I was given the tour of the gym in Boston. I think gyms are mostly about networking and one night stands. Maybe. I'm willing to admit that I might be somewhat too cynical.
But anyhow, I am not a gym-person. I am a me person.
So I have taken up the cycling again. Initially my legs had forgotten what they once knew so well. The muscles had dwindled as did my endurance level. Patience and persistance, as always, was the key. I'm now doing about 25 miles on a daily basis, which isn't all that bad. I'd like to do more, but there's only so much time in the day where I can squeeze bicycling in.
At least I'm doing it. I'm not going to die young. No siree.
February 6th, 2003
Down with Samantha Williams!
Wait, you say, just who is Samantha Williams? That's a good question, and one that's hard to put my finger on. It could be it's a person who is actually named Samantha Williams, or it could be someone pretending to be someone named Samantha Williams. I can't really say, and to be honest, I just don't care about the specifics.
The reason I bring this person to everyone's attention is because he or she or it (it could be an automated bot of some sort) has decided to take it upon herself (I'll stick with the female pronouns for simplicity) to spam my guestbook with ads for her business. I deleted one such ad this morning. I didn't think much of it, such things do happen from time to time, but shortly thereafter another one appeared. I deleted that one also and then sent an email to the address provided. We'll see if I get a response.
Out of curiosity, I decided to poke around and see if this ad-placing was limited to just me, or if I was merely one of many. The Google search reveals the answer.
Samantha has been busy, it seems. Lots of different guestbooks, with either generic entries, or downright blatant ads. I can't say that I approve of this. If guestbooks are for guests, then this is the sort of guest who abuses her visit. I seriously can't believe the nerve of some people.
January 31st, 2003
Annoying phrase of the week: fit and finish
In a lapse of sanity I just ate two donuts. My mouth is coated with grease now. Fun stuff, let me tell you.
Shortly before six am this morning my cat decided to knock down the bedroom tv, tv stand, and vcr. The cat is safe but everything else has ceased to work. A year or so ago, this cat knocked a full dresser over, slightly damaging it in the process.
January 22nd, 2003
Insanely busy is a good start to describe my life lately. With many different things going on it seems I don't have much time for myself. Toss into the mix two colds since December 27th (one of which had complications), and you're likely to see why I need a rest.
The usual assortment of things hasn't been able to hold my attention lately. I've been ho-hum about watches, reading, writing, and, well, everything. I'm not sure if this is because I've been working so much that I don't feel justified in other pursuits or if I just don't care. My interests have shifted many times in my life, but never before have they all abandoned me at the same time without a replacement looming. Indeed, most of the time that an interest shifted into nothingness, it was because there was something new that captured my imagination. Not this time.
This poverty of interests puts me in the sort of mood that makes me think about Tim Allen's, book, "I'm Not Really Here". I can sense your reaction; you're making the "yeah, right" face while blowing air through your lips in Mr. Ed fashion. But no, it's true.
When people think of Tim Allen, they think of the guy who grunted on national TV on a weekly basis. They think funny and slapstick. They don't think serious and deep. Despite its occasional foray into humor, "I'm Not Really Here" is actually a serious book, and a candid view into not just Tim Allen's innermost thoughts, but everyone's. He likes to toss around the word malaise a lot. When I read the book years ago, I was going through a malaise of my own. I think this is perhaps why the book comes to my mind just as I'm realizing that my interests have abandoned me (or I have abandoned them).
After all, without any interests, what does a person do with his or her life?
I've been seeing a lot of misuse of the hyphen lately and it's really been bothering me. I know one fellow who drops hyphens into every sentence he writes. There are two problems here. The first is that he should be using a dash and not a hyphen. The second is he uses them like they were commas, the frequency of which waters their importance down.
Go here to learn more about the humble dash and hyphen.
January 14th, 2003
Never give up. Churchill, right? Well, not so fast. What Churchill really said was:
Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.
Churchill was a smart man, there's no question about that, and he really hit the nail on the head here: Never give up unless standing your ground opposes your beliefs or puts you in a situation where you're clearly in the wrong.
Let's focus on that last one. Being clearly in the wrong. I've known and continue to know people who, when obviously wrong or without any evidence to support their position, hold their ground with all their might to the point where they start making up information. That's right, they start lying just because they don't want to admit that they were wrong or made an error in judgement.
I find this sort of thing amazing. There's no shame in being wrong. When we're wrong and we correct it, it's called learning. The last time I checked, learning was an honorable pursuit.
I guess what the real problem is is that people who never admit to being wrong don't like others to think for even a moment that they might not be 100% in the know. Instead of taking the time to learn things, perhaps gaining a few battle scars in the process, they try to bluff their way through.
When their position is finally challenged, they become huffy and indignant. They may also attempt to clarify by saying that they misunderstood you or thought you meant something else. Or, worse yet, that they were told the incorrect information. It's always someone else, because, of course, they are never wrong.
January 10th, 2003
Twenty years ago when I just turned thirteen and entered junior high, I made the mistake of participating in a prank. I helped lock a teacher into her classroom. This promptly got me sent to the principal's office. I waited in uncertainty and fear and eventually I was asked to enter his office. He asked me why I did what I did. Not knowing what to say, I responded that I did it because I didn't like the teacher. It was at this moment in my life when some of the most important wisdom in my life was imparted to me.
The principal, not angry or upset, looked at me and told me that in my life I am going to meet many people whom I don't like or agree with. To get angry or upset with them is to give them power over me. This advice instantly made sense and something inside of me clicked.
December 23th, 2002
Something new: The Paperboy
December 20th, 2002
I hesitate to admit this. I worry that my admission will cleave me from the rest of humanity. But here it is anyhow: I found the Two Towers to be largely boring and at least an hour too long. The war scenes were too long, Frodo's internal struggle was really starting to annoy me, the lovey-dovey stuff seemed oddly inappropriate and pointless, the dwarf jokes were embarrassing, and some of the over-the-top stunts like skateboarding down stairs were absolutely corny. But this doesn't mean I didn't like the movie. No, the things that I did like, I liked considerably. All the scenes with Gandalf, the Ents--especially the Ents when they kicked bottom at the end, Frodo's and Sam's journey. Yes, there was a lot of cool stuff but having to sit through the bad left me full of more complaints than praises.
December 19th, 2002
I love this.
December 17th, 2002
Sigh, not again. I am starting to become discouraged with Amazon Marketplace.
December 12th, 2002
I've been too busy to write here lately. I have a side project going on that demands much of my time and there have also been little things that have eaten the rest.
Some of these little things actually weren't that little, such as a stray dog that I took in for four or so days. It was a great dog. Very well behaved for the most part, but there were times when he caused chaos with my cats. Such as non-stop barking at them and when he chased one 25-feet up an oak tree. The dog was a big enough chore on its own, but having a strictly indoor cat up a tree for 31 hours totally destroyed my weekend.
I didn't get much sleep while the cat was up there; I checked on it every half an hour or so. I built a couple of bridge type things with the hope that it would use them to get to lower branches, but the cat never warmed up to it. In the end, a tree service was called and for $20, the cat was down.
Incidentally, everything you hear about the fire department rescuing cats is, for the most part, hooey. I'm sure they will do it, but it's next to impossible to actually get them on the phone during the weekend. The administrative numbers keep ringing without answer and no one is at the stations. The only way that I'm certain that I could get ahold of them is to call 911, but I really doubt the 911 people would take kindly to being called for a cat.
The Humane Society also does this sort of thing, but in a very useless way. The will climb a ladder to a height of only five feet. That's not much, not by a long shot. The cat was 25-feet up, and thus totally out of their reach. Besides, five feet is lame. My own trips up the ladder were in the 20-foot zone.
The tree service was the first $20 the dog was responsible for. Add in a collar, food, a visit to the vet, a destroyed rug, and a sheltering fee, the dog managed to run up a bill of around $250. Yes, I am a big softy when it comes to animals.
The dog is gone. It was placed into a no-kill shelter and the ladies there insist that he has an excellent chance of being adopted. I believe them too. He's the sweetest dog in the world. Letting him go was much harder than I thought it would be.
On the watch front, I have a couple making their way from the other side of the world. Hopefully I'll see them next week. To tide me over, I did buy a cheap-o Timex which I really like. You can read about it here.
December 2nd, 2002
A couple of days ago I was about to plug another tire in my car. I jacked up the car, removed the tire, and proceeded to examine it. After inspecting it several times, I simply couldn't find the leak. With the other tire that I had plugged, the leak was incredibly easy to find due to the huge nail that was in it. But with this tire I just couldn't find where air was escaping.
Not being one to give up, I started inflating my tire with my noisy but effective portable pump. While the tire was filling I went and fetched a spray bottle full of water. After the tire had reached a decent pressure, I started squirting it with water, and looked eagerly for the anticipated bubbles. I thought it was odd when none appeared. Sitting there and thinking what to do next I started to hear sputtering. Ah ha! I thought. I then let my ear seek out the source.
What I found was surprising. The tire was fine. No punctures whatsover. However, what wasn't fine was my rim. There was a crack in it that was nearly an inch long and the water was bubbling and sputtering around it. Obviously this was not something that I could fix on my own.
As luck would have it, I have a couple of spare wheels. I needed two so I could replace both front wheels because my spares are a different size than my normal front wheels and I didn't want to be driving around lopsided. When I say spares, I don't mean spares in the emergency sense, but rather in the extra wheel sense.
I got the spare on the side with the cracked rim and then went over to the other side. I jacked up the car and removed the wheel. Well well. That rim had an identical crack in it. Fun stuff, I thought.
I loaded the wheels into my car and zoomed over to Discount Tires, the place where I bought them from. Discount Tires is great at the talk. They completely assure you that everything is covered by warranty and that you'll never have to outlay cash ever again. Of course, talk is talk, but the walk is quite different. Despite me waving the warranty under their noses, talking to the manager, and causing a small scene, they stuck firm to their decision that this would be a repair that I would be paying for myself.
Although the warranty says material and workmanship, apparently it doesn't cover either if they believe the damage is a result of what they call a road hazzard. This, quite simply, means that they believe that I caused the damage myself. They pointed to how the rims were bent around the cracks and showed me the tell-tale transfer of rubber onto the rim. It was hard to argue effectively that I was innocent at this point. The fact is that I do indeed recall going over a particularily nasty bump that could have resulted in damage although I wouldn't have thought a rim would crack like that. But then again, what do I really know about such things? Not much.
I now had a decision to make: entirely new rims for $160 a piece, or get my current ones fixed for $120 a piece. They assured me that if I were to get the rims repaired they would look exactly like brand new rims. Sounded good to me, so that's the route I went.
I also cautioned them that one of the wheels was full of explosive tire inflatant. They didn't seem concerned or surprised by this. I suspect no one from my local branch of Discount Tires has had the displeasure of having a tire explode in their face.
November 25th, 2002
The number of bad things outweighed the number of good this weekend, but even so, my weekend wasn't all that bad.
I went to see the new James Bond movie on Friday. I've been waiting patiently for it for quite some time now. I was tremendously let down by what I saw, although it is difficult to say that I was surprised. The screen version of James Bond has become nothing more than an action hero with near super human powers. The movie was loud and in your face with its countless explosions. Doubtlessly, many people like this sort of thing. I, however, do not. It's all gone to heck in a hand basket since Lazenby walked off the screen.
On Saturday, I went to see a new mother and her baby. I held a four-day-old baby in my arms, which was pretty cool. This was the highlight of the weekend.
On Sunday, I noticed that my rear passenger side tire was low. I went to the gas station and picked up a can of sealant, the kind that also inflates the tire. Like the lazy person that I am, I often fill a leaky tire with this stuff and if it works, cool, I'm all set. No need to get it professionally taken care of.
The curious thing about the stuff that you get from the gas station is that it's cheap. Very cheap. Unlike the brand Fix-A-Flat, which no longer uses flammable chemicals, the cheap stuff still does. No worries, I thought.
I removed the nail from my tire, producing a lovely hissing sound. I then filled it up with the sealant and drove for a couple of miles. Still the hiss. That just wouldn't do. I filled the tire up again and headed off to the Wal-mart with the intention of buying some higher-grade sealant that I hoped would actually work. However, upon getting there and reading the cans, I learned that you're not supposed to mix brands. Ok, so no sealant. I have momentary flashes of having to wait for hours while Wal-mart fixed my tire. Bah, I thought, as I continued to walk around.
Then my eye caught something interesting. A tire plug kit. I've had service stations plug tires before, but for some reason it never occurred to me that it was something that a normal person could do, let alone buy. The kit includes three items: A rasp for enlargening and cleaning out the puncture. A large sewing needle type thing, for inserting the plug. And, the plug itself, which is a strip of sticky rubber with cement already on it.
The procedure is pretty easy: rasp out the puncture, thread the plug through the needle, stick the needle into the puncture, and then remove the needle. The plug is left behind because there is a thin slot in the needle. Once all that has been done, the only thing left to do is trim the plug with scissors. Easy enough, no?
And it was easy. Everything worked fine and the tire held air. It wasn't until much later that I learned something interesting:
I could have blown myself up!
Yes, as in boom. As in the tire exploding in my hands and taking my head off. It would be the sealant's fault, of course. Or rather mine, I guess, for not reading the instructions and warnings on the can. I knew that it warned that you should always tell a mechanic that you have flammable sealant in your tires, in case they want to do something interesting like weld onto your rim. But, it never occurred to me that the act of rasping the tire could have caused an explosion. The way such an explosion works is that as you are rasping, the metal rasp strikes part of a metal belt, producing a spark. Now, of course, there aren't always going to be sparks produced, and I would wager that actually producing one is a pretty rare occurrance. Nevertheless, it can happen.
The second requirement for an explosion is having the right ratio of sealant and air. Had the tire held the sealant, everything would have been ok; the mixture in the tire would be too rich to ignite. But, remember, the tire didn't hold the sealant; it deflated and I had to fill it up with air. If what I read can be believed, this created the perfect mixture for exploding.
So yes, there you go. I had a tire that was perfect for exploding and I was essentially flicking sparks inside of it. It would seem, however, that I'm still here. I suspect that actually blowing yourself up this way is pretty rare and unlikely, but it has happened. I did some research and there is a small handful of people who were, at worst, decapitated, and, at best, thrown twenty feet across the room resulting in broken bones and reduced hearing.
I now believe that sealants are evil. Fortunately, I have discovered tire plugs, so I will never have to muck about with the evilness again. Of course, there are those who believe tire plugs aren't all that good of a thing, but, while researching this, I didn't come up with any evidence to support it. The worst I read is that as the tire wears away, the plug could decide to come out, but considerable wear would be needed for such a thing. Personally, I avoid driving on bald tires, so I should be safe. Anyhow, being nearly exploded was the weekend's bad thing number two.
Bad thing number three occurred slightly later. I was washing my car. I had my hose, a bucket of soapy water, and my scrub brush. I was making the big circle around my car when I discovered that some theiving weasel stole two of my rim caps. These aren't hub-caps, but rather little inserts, about the size of pancake, that fit into the center of the rim. They are purely decorative. But two of them were gone. I'm not sure how long they have been gone, or even where they were stolen. A parking lot, probably. Maybe the theater parking lot. But whatever. It doesn't matter where or when. They are gone and need to be replaced. It wouldn't be so bad if they were a couple of dollars and could be picked up locally, but life is never that easy. They are $20 each and have to be special ordered. Bah.
November 19th, 2002
I went to the Wal-mart late last night to buy some of this and some of that and ended up eating at the McDonalds that is inside of it. It was shortly before closing and it was apparent that nothing was fresh, or for that matter, even resembling fresh.
The fries were shrunken and a dark, oil-saturated brown. Except for the small ones, they were not crisp, but not soggy like under-cooked fries. They were wilted, like parsely. The small fries had the appearance and hardness of toothpicks, although larger in size.
The chicken McNuggets were also a dark brown from sitting under heating lamps for who knows how many hours.
Yes, I went to McDonalds at the Wal-mart right before closing and I survived to tell the tale.
Unfortunately cloud cover prevented me from seeing the Leonids with any great clarity.
Way back in 11th grade, my family moved across the country and I found myself plopped into an entirely different school with entirely different classmates and entirely different teachers. Although a few faces and names stand out in my memory, there is one teacher in particular who stands out a bit more than the others.
I was transplanted to this different school two-thirds of the way into the first semester. The first semester, or at least my remaining one-third of it, was, for the most part, an uneventful experience. Uneventful, well, almost. I had the misfortune of asking this girl her name several times in a row. I had no problem with her first name, but for some reason her second name just wouldn't register. Finally, after a few tries I heard it clearly. Her last name was Moan. Yep, really. I must have come off as quite the doofus, asking her to repeat it so many times. But anyhow, this has nothing to do with the tale that I'm about to relate.
The second semester was more interesting. Starting something at the beginning rather than the end tends to provide a more balanced experience that can be kept as a complete memory and not just a context-starved fragmented recollection. Although I was relatively new to the school, there was, in fact, a new arrival for the second semester. Not a student, but a teacher. A teacher of mathematics. An instructor of Algebra. A foreign exchange teacher from Australia.
A foreign exchange teacher from Australia undoubtedly conjurs several images. Legs that go all the way up, a tan that goes all the way down, and dream-filled eyes that smile when they look at you. I didn't have the good forture of being able to dwell on what would have otherwise been a wonderful preconcieved notion. Nor was I able to dwell on any notion for that matter. I didn't know of the teacher's nationality until I was in the class and sitting down. By then, thoughts of legs and tans and smiling eyes didn't surface. The teacher was a man.
A man by the name of Mr. Johnson. A not-tall man, with a balding head and a non-balding beard. I first met him standing outside of the classroom. I wasn't sure if his class was where I was supposed to be, so I asked a question. A question, the embarassment of which makes me screw up my eyes into an awkward position to this day. I asked the man who was not tall and was loosing hair on his head but not his face if this was algerbra 11.
Now, if you just read over that without really reading it, you probably didn't notice anything awry. And, in fact, you probably are starting to think that investing as much time as you already have into this meandering tale of mine has been, at best, a questionable investment. The truth of that thought is undeniable. After all, with such a large world and so many things to do and places to go and people to see, reading about a story from my past has to be something that is low on the list. But for whatever reason, you remain. Reading because you are either doubtedly fascinated or because you just want me to get to the point.
The point of this (but by no means the point of my story) is that I pronounced the word algebra incorrectly. I inserted an "r" in there. A very hickish "r" that I pronounced with great clearity. I didn't know until quite some time later that the "r" had no business being in the word algebra. What I did notice is that he pronounced the word differently than I did, and continued to pronounce it that way once I was behind his door and seated. I though it was quite odd, but then again, he was Australian and talked odd anyhow. Perphaps that's how they said it there.
And yes, that is how they say it there. And elsewhere. And everywhere. Reading the word, and hearing it spoken without really listening to it had poisoned my tongue far before the first time my tongue had ever made the effort to unleash my rendition unto the world.
But this, also, is not the point of my story.
My point begins one morning. Or afternoon, that had borrowed the morning's sun. The class had been given work to do and everyone was presenting the illusion of working on it earnestly, except those who were genuinely working on it earnestly, and those who made no attempt whatsoever to even appear to be working. The latter, it seems, had been a growing problem. For some reason the teacher had been unable to gain much respect. And to be fair, I would have to say that it wasn't a shortcoming on the part of the teacher, but instead a shortcoming on the part of the class. There was a feeling in the air that no one really cared about algebra without an "r". It was something that had to be done and as long as a barely passing grade was squeeked out, everything would be fine.
While the class was working, Mr. Johnson went to a black board at the side of the classroom and began writing something out in script:
I do one thing at a time. I do it very well, and then,
I move on
Profound, I thought, and good advice too. How many of us get absolutely nowhere because we are being pulled in so many directions at the same time?
The quote seemed familiar to me somehow. Clarification came when he credited it to the author: Charles Emerson Winchester III. The reference, obvious then, but perhaps not so obvious now, came from the show M*A*S*H. That somehow cheapened the reference. The profound seems less profound when it is attributed to a sitcom.
That having been said, if the intention was to make something stick in the minds of his pupils, he succeeded. At least for me. I can't say with any accuracy about anyone else. I'd like to think that one or two could also recall the experience, but I think that might be too generous on my part.
I fear that the point of my story is still unclear and could be easily misconstrued. The point is not about teaching. Or students who don't care. Or teachers who do. No, that point has been made many other times in many other places by many other people who, driven to frustration, have lectured, given detentions, sent home notes, and screamed at the top of their lungs in a classroom before their shocked, bewildered, and now-fearful students. My point isn't about any of those.
What my point, which has also been made several times by others, is about is doing only one task at a time and doing it well before moving on to something else. Life is complex. People can't multitask with any effectiveness, although some will swear up and down that they can. Doing several things at once just doesn't work, at least if you want make a decent job of each task and complete those tasks quickly.
November 18th, 2002
And I quote:
"Hey hey hey, I'm the eye."
I have a feeling of excitement in me but I'm not sure why exactly. I keep thinking back on everything I've done in the past couple of days, and on everything that I will be doing, but I just can't place my finger on the reason why. It's almost like I bought something that I'm eager to play with but I forgot about it.
Let's see... I bought some shaving cream, a couple of books, a sweater. Hmm, that's about it really. Nothing too exciting there.
It's a mystery, Charlie Brown.
November 15th, 2002
Note to self: Stay focused.
It's Friday. I've come to have a deep respect and admiration for Fridays. They are the gateway to relaxation and comfort, where the problems of the daily grind do not penetrate. Ah, Fridays.
I have to get my car inspected tomorrow. It's a couple of weeks overdue (shhh). I really dread the procedure because of all the waiting. Waiting isn't something that I'm terribly comforable with. Even if I occupy my time with a book, it doesn't alter the fact that I'm still waiting for someone or something else and that if it weren't for the wait that I'd be doing something much more interesting.
November 11th, 2002
I learned something about fire ants today. For the longest time I assumed that the pain they produced came solely from their bite. Turns out this is incorrect. When a fire ant attacks, it does two things: first, it grabs onto the skin with its jaws. Once it has a good hold, it leverages its abdomon into position so that a stinger on the tip of it can be driven into the flesh and release venom. By pivoting on its jaw, a fire ant is able to sting multiple times in a small area. Look at the picture; you'll see the stinger. Who ever heard of an ant with a stinger? These things are absolutely evil.
I also learned that a fire ant colony has not one queen as is common with conventional ants, but several. Should one die, the colony doesn't break out into chaos, but continues humming along as if nothing had happened.
Read all about fire ant stings here.
There's a partially abandoned grave yard near where I live. It is in a treed area next to a properly fenced in grave yard. It is impossible to read most of the grave markers, but there are a few that are legible, and they reveal that most of the people buried there died in the early 1900s and were of Mexican descent. It's kind of sad to see that these graves are are not being taken care of, and I don't think it's too large of a stretch of the imagination to say their sad state is directly related to who these people were.
It was fascinating to explore the area. Ancient graves, some fairly elaborate--there was one that had a hand-made "bubble" that covered it. The bubble was made of stones and mortar that ran the length and width of the grave. Other graves were barely noticeable. There was one that was nothing more than a wooden cross, the wood badly deteriorated over the past century, and the cross arm hanging at a skewed angle.
A few graves were just simple markers flat against the ground, the identification marks long since weathered away. Doubtlessly there were many other graves that were lacking identication completely, either because they never had any originally, or because the markers had been moved or weathered away entirely.
As abandonded grave yards go, this one gets full points for being very stereotypical in a delightfully creepy way. Everything is overgrown and dead. As I said before, the area is treed. Not trees that surround the place, but trees that are all over. A mini-forest of sorts, with graves scattered among them. The trees are large and old and grey. Their fallen branches crack loudly underfoot, breaking the silence uncomfortably. Even though it was sunny out, very little sun found its way to the ground--odd since the trees had few leaves on them.
I spent a good half hour poking around the grave yard. I wandered from grave to grave, trying to read the tomb stones, and scanning the ground carefully for signs of old and forgotten grave markers. It really surprised me to see one or two graves that were easily 80 years old with bright plastic flowers on them. I find it amazing that someone is still paying their respects after all these years. It also makes me wonder who these people were and what sort of lives they lead.
My explorations started in an obvious area. The trees weren't thick and there were semi-paths that lead in and from grave to grave. Doubtlessly these paths were kept alive by those visiting relatives, as well as those who were curious about these neglected tomb stones. The paths peetered out into nothingness not too far into the grave yard, but the graves continued nevertheless. I guess these ones were never visited. Naturally, this fascinated me even more and I started bush whacking to get to them.
Off in the distance, I saw one interesting grave. A huge stone, and the entire site was surrounded by a cast iron mini-fence. I started to make my way over to it. Between it and me were several other grave markers, including one that was a stone cross, curiously broken in half right before the cross section of the cross. I thought it was quite strange that there would be vandalism in an old abandoned grave yard, particularily when there was no other sign of vandalism anywhere. I reasoned that it might not have been vandalism at all, but perhaps water made its way into small fissures and through a process of freezing and thawing over the years, the tomb stone broke in half on its own.
I was just about at the broken tomb stone, and was going to spend a moment to look at it before I headed to the fenced-in grave. I was moving slower because the area was very interesting and I was taking it all in. Step by step I made my way closer to the broken tomb stone. And then it happened.
There was a noise. A familiar noise, though how it was familiar I could not say. It was nothing I had ever heard first hand before. On TV plenty of times, but never in real life. It was a rattling sound. A very loud rattling sound. I looked down in front of me.
No more than three feet ahead of me, on the grave with the broken tomb stone, was a massive rattlesnake. It was easily as thick as a soft drink can and several feet long. It's most menacing feature, apart from the non-stop rattling, however, was that it was in a a striking position, much like this one:
Except, picture it being a bit larger, the head a bit flatter (I learned later that rattlesnakes are actually pit vipers), on top of a grave, rattling loudly, and its head swaying. Also picture me being three feet away from in, in shorts and shoes. I didn't know it until later, but the chances were very very high that if it wanted to strike me from three feet that it probably could.
I stopped moving the moment I saw it. A moment after that, I yelled out "HOLY CRAP," and backed away slowly. Upon reflection, yelling anything probably wasn't a good idea. To go back the way I came would move me closer to the snake, which wasn't something I really wanted, so I made my way through very thick bush, getting several scrapes and nettle stings in the process. And, of course, I was now also afraid that there were other rattlesnakes laying in wait for me. Every step I took was carefuly placed, the area surrounding it carefully surveyed first. Even though I passed the fenced-in grave, my eagerness to explore it had vanished.
After getting back to the car, I had exactly one regret concerning this adventure: I didn't have a camera. Not just for the snake, mind you, it would have been cool to get pictures of the grave yard itself. But yes, the snake would have been a definite plus. I can imagine the caption: "A rattlesnake, poised to strike me."
There have been a couple of other snakes in my life lately. Since all the flooding lately, my front yard has become a great snake hideout. The first one was a little baby something-or-other that was hanging out on my sidewalk. It's tiny little tongue would bloop out happily. The second snake was a red/yellowish-green/black striped snake. Striped length-wise, and not banded. I didn't know what it was at first, but a bit of digging revealed that it was most likely a garter snake. I never knew garter snakes came in colors other than grey/brown. Now I know.
November 9th, 2002
Petal died today.
October 28th, 2002
Go and play this game!
October 24rd, 2002
I like readabook.com (I checked this on 01/24/03 and it was gone. Oh well).
October 23rd, 2002
Yes, my children, Freaky #6 has been found.
October 22st, 2002
MEN WANTED: FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY. SMALL WAGES, BITTER COLD, LONG MONTHS OF COMPLETE DARKNESS, CONSTANT DANGER, SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL. HONOUR AND RECOGNITION IN CASE OF SUCCESS.
SIR ERNEST SHACKLETON
October 21st, 2002
I think it was around two and a half years ago that I bought Petal, a small grey rat. She was very affectionate and although I gave her all I could, it became apparent that she needed more than I could offer.
I went to the same pet store where she was purchased from with the intention of buying another rat. As luck would have it, one of the store rats had recently had babies and I was given one free. This rat had wild whiskers that didn't stick out straight but rather curled. I gave her the appropriate name of Fizz.
Petal and Fizz got along together famously. Petal fully enjoyed my company, and would run over to my hand and lick it. Fizz, however, was more standoffish towards me. She would hide in the PVC tubing that was in her cage whenever I came near. It didn't bother me too much because she was there mostly to keep Petal company, and I was confident that I could win her over with my charms.
Unfortunately, winning her over never became an option. Shortly after getting Fizz, I started to have very bad asthma attacks, something that I never had before in my life. For a while I believed them to be wheat-related, so I cut wheat out of my diet completely. Then one day, shortly after handling the rats, and being off of wheat for months, I had the worst asthma attack that I had ever had. Right then and there I knew that I was allergic to the rats, or most likely their feces.
So they were moved into a little-used room, and the door was kept closed. In my bedroom I had a powerful air filter that cleaned whatever remnants of feces that happened to be in the air. Life was good. Even without much company from me, the rats were in good spirits and happy.
About four months ago a lump started forming on Petal. Rats are notorious for getting tumors, and a trip to the vet revealed that it was a indeed a fatty tumor. Although the vet said they could operate to remove it, there wasn't a very good chance that Petal would survive the operation. They added that rats can live a very long time after the onset of a fatty tumor. I elected to not to have surgery.
Over the months, the tumor kept growing and growing, and continues to grow. It's coming off of her hind section, which makes her rear legs nearly useless. Other than this mass that weighs more than she does, she's very happy and active. Certainly, having Fizz around kept her happy.
Two weeks ago, Fizz's body started growing large. I suspect there was a tumor, perhaps genuine cancer, growing beneath her rib cage. A couple of days ago she was swollen up like a balloon. And, for the first time in her life, she allowed me to pick her up without a fight. When left on her own, she would sit in one spot and just bob her head up and down. Any creature that swollen and displaying these symptoms has to be in pain. I made the decision on Saturday to put her down.
I called the vet. I explained that I had a very sick rat that was in a lot of pain and that I'd like to come in and have her put to sleep. The receptionist informed me that they were booked solid for the day. I asked if she could make an exception and squeeze me in. She asked me to hold for a moment and she'd talk to a vet. When she came back on the phone, she said the best she could do was call me if someone canceled an appointment. I don't like being the victim of such whims, so I schedued and appointment for 3:30 pm today.
Fizz never made it that long.
When I checked on her last night, she was slowly and carefully nibbling on a rat pellet.
I didn't check on her this morning.
At noon today, she was dead. Mouth wide open, feces half-emerging from her backside. Petal was laying on top of her.
I buried her outside beneath a rose bush.
Petal seems sad and confused. I can't help wondering if her time is also near. I will be giving her a lot more attention now, despite my allergies. I thought carefully about having her put to sleep, but I can tell just by looking at her that it's not her time yet. Her eyes sparkle with life and she is still quick to greet me, even though it must be a considerable chore to do so because she has to lug around her huge tumorous mass.
I'm more mad than sad. I knew Fizz's time had come, so I was emotionally prepared for it. The whole vet experience has left me angry. I called them a short time ago and told them I needed to cancel my 3:30 appointment. They asked me if I'd like to reschedule. No, I said, the patient has passed away. There was a moment of silence. I then let them have it. Words like poor taste and unethical were used. All I was offered was an "I'm sorry." Of course, it wasn't the fault of the fellow who answered the phone, or even the fault of the girl who answered the phone on Saturday. It was the fault of the vets. They were the ones who made the decision that my rat, a rat that I described as being in extreme pain, could not be slipped into their schedule. After all, there were routine examinations that needed to be kept and toenails of poodles that needed to be clipped. Nope, it was impossible to take fifteen minutes from one of their lunch breaks to attend to my rat.
I suspect I will get a card in the mail saying how sorry they are for my loss.
I've been pricing trips to Antarctica. I've been wanting to go for quite some time, nearly a decade, in fact. I am drawn to it for some reason; not really sure why.
Over the years, I have noted that there are two kinds of people: those who really want to go to Antarctica, and those who think it is an insane notion. I've never talked to someone who waffled between wanting to go and not wanting to do; either the motivation was there, or they didn't care in the slightest.
What I find appealing about Antarctica are the things that most people probably find uninviting. The cold, the ice, the snow, the isolation, the lack of modern convenience. It's a place that isn't forgiving; either you come prepared or you die (of course, when you sign up for a tour they kind of ensure that you leave prepared).
I see that a trip to the South Pole (the pole, mind you, not just Antarctica) can be had for $25,000. That's a lot of dough. It's the dough that puts me off going. Well, the dough and the fact that no one wants to go with me (which would double the dough). Oh well.
October 17th, 2002
So I'm at the Half-Price bookstore looking for Clive Cussler books. I've never read one before, so I wanted to get the first one or two. However, for some reason, publishers never want you to know the order in which books are published. If you look a few pages into a book, you will see other books in the series, but never does this list have anything to do with the order that the books were originally published in.
I ended up spending ten minutes hunched over (much to the distress of my knees) looking at first printing dates, trying to determine which book was first. And, of course, when doing this, it's impossible to be absolutely positive that the book was first; it can merely be the first book that the bookstore has.
October 16th, 2002
Every so often I will have a Diet Coke. Whenever I do, I am reminded that it is truly the definition of swill.
October 15th, 2002
I have the Logical Song, by Supertramp, stuck in my head.
Summer has ended and we are now in that other season called Not Summer. This occurs when the temperature stops being in the 80s every day and is suddenly in the 60s. Such a sudden change is very noticable, and very jarring to the system.
When I was growing up in the north, winter snuck up gradually, giving a person time to adjust. Even when it was -40, it wouldn't feel so cold because the previous days weren't that much different. But here, in Texas, when it drops 20 degrees in a day and that drop is from warm to cold, it makes a person sit up and take notice.
I find myself running like a little girl when going to and from my car. Today I wisely wore a jacket, so there won't be any such running.
October 11th, 2002
I once had a dog. His name was Rover (really) and I loved him with all my heart. I grew up with him and he was my companion for many years; sharing in the good times and the bad. He was always there when I needed him, never judging my actions, never telling me I couldn't do something, even though I surely couldn't. His big brown eyes were quick to instill confidence and bring a smile to my face. A friend to the end.
In his fourteenth year, Rover started to get sick. Inoperable, of course; he was an old dog and it was his time to move on. The heart-wrenching decision was made to put him to sleep. How can you say goodbye to a friend of so many years and feel it is for the best? How can you be the one to say, "Goodbye old friend, I love you very much, and will love you in my heart forever. But we have part ways now. Please forgive me." Those trusting brown eyes, still full of love, looking back at you, assuring you that everything will be OK. But it's not OK. Not even twelve years later.
October 4th, 2002
I'm home, sick. I'm torturing a watch.
October 1st, 2002
Yay! October! Halloween and candy. Old television specials and scary movies. Leaves turning and falling. Bare grey tree branches. Sweaters and light jackets. Cold mornings. This is what October is all about.
I'm sick. Started last Monday, which means today is the one-week mark. Bad headaches, mucus, low body temperature, dizzines, and weakness. These are the joys which I am experiencing.
September 26th, 2002
Yet another watch review, the Invicta GMT
So I was sitting at work, doing my thing, when from the corner of my eye I see movement on the floor. Normally when this happens it's either a cricket or a large spider. Not today though. Today it was a scorpion.
I had never seen a scorpion before (I once thought I had, but it turned out to be a small gecko) and I was mildly alarmed. After all, you can kill a man by putting a scorpion in his boot, right?
The guy I work for is right next door to me. I got up and went over to his office, giving the scorpion a wide berth. I then proclaim, "there is totally a scorpion out here."
He sits up in his chair a bit and looks at it. "Yes, there sure is," he says.
I say, "I think I should shmoosh it." Shmoosh is a technical word, by the way. It meants to jump up and down on it as if I were a little girl.
He says that it's probably a good idea.
So I smoosh it. And then I scoop it up on a piece of paper and dump it in the trash.
It smooshed kind of easisly and without a fight. I'm not sure smooshing it was the most humane action. Sure it was a scorpion and all, but it really seemed sort of benign. I probably could have scooped it up in a container and set it free.
People are probably tittering at me for wanting to do that.
I ended up talking to another chap and he said these scorpions aren't all that poisonous really. Much like getting a couple of fire ant bites (fire ant bites are the standard unit of pain measurement in Texas). However, there's always the possibility of being allergic to a scorpion sting, in which case the outcome could be much more severe.
Anyhow, the scorpion is gone. I'm now paranoid that it has brothers and sisters lurking about. Waiting to extract revenge.
September 18th, 2002
Oh joy. I am unable to access my home server from work. This happened yesterday also. Has never happened in the past, making me suspect that there is evil afoot.
September 17th, 2002
Frogs! There are currently two bullfrogs on my front step.
Don't let appearances fool you! These are two different frogs!
I did another watch review: The Invicta Speedway
With much anticipation (which had been building for eight years or so) I watched the little robot peer behind the door. I suspect I was not the only person who was disappointed to find that behind it was another door. Let's hope it doesn't take another eight years to find out what's behind that one.
September 16th, 2002
Went to the jewelry store this weekend to look at watches. Ended up trying on an Omega Seamaster Professional, and a few Rolexes; the Submariner, the Explorer II, and the Daytona. I'm really quite fond of the Seamaster Pro, much moreso than I am the Rolexes. Its finish and weight give the impression of better quality. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the Seamaster costs nearly $2,500 less than than the lowest-priced Rolex that I looked at, the Submariner.
Before I went to the jewelry store, I was smitten with the Explorer II. Upon examining it and wearing it on my wrist, I became less smitten. The watch is physically light--too light for the $3,800 they are asking for it. I like a watch with a bit of heft to it.
The Daytona didn't impress me much either. It was nice, but it looks far too much like the various department store watches that are out on the market, including my Invicta Speedway (which is nearly a dead-ringer for the Daytona, but cost 1/100th the price of the Daytona). No, that's $10,000 that I can keep in my pocket.
The Submariner met my expectations perfectly. And for that reason I was rather indifferent about the watch. The style is heavily copied by other watch manufacturers, and in many cases, improved upon for considerably less cash outlay. My $237 WCT-5513 does the job just fine.
But the Seamaster. My my, it is tasty:
It's not even that highly priced; slightly less than $1,000 for the quartz version (I have recently had an internal coming-to-terms with my quartz phobia).
Unfortunately, the IRS, car expenses, and other obligations prevent me from ownership right now. Maybe one day.
September 9th, 2002
I watched a couple of movies this weekend. I knew that the Royal Tenenbaums was going to be a safe bet. I had been wanting to see it for months, but Gene Hackman puts me off for some reason. It was a good movie, but didn't live up to they hype that surrounded it.
The other movie I watched was one I had never heard of, called Following. I picked it up specifically becahse I hand't heard of it--I like to be surprised on occasion. Shot completely in black and white, it tells the tale of a man who likes to follow other people around the streets, while remaining unseen, to see where they live, where they go, and what they do for a living. He gets caught by someone whom he is following and ends up getting mixed up in a world of burglary, deception, and murder. It's a fascinating watch, and a fast one also, being only 70 minutes long.
I also spent some time cleaning out my computer room. Gone are the piles of computers. Gone is the clutter of cables and unlabled CDs. Gone are the three desks that consumed half the room. It's not all gone though. No no. I still need some computers in that room. Like the computer I use as my server/router/firewall. It's sitting on a shelf I built in the closet. Beneath that shelf, and still in the closet, is my main Windows-based PC. When I grow tired of looking at it, I can simply close the closet doors and then it, as well as the server/router/firewall above it, will also be gone.
September 6th, 2002
During the past two days I read two separate, but related, books. They were written by a fellow who lived a block away from me while I was growing up. The books are Spirits of a Feather and Souls of a Feather. Extraordinarliy good. Shifted my personal paradigm ever so slightly, in a way similar to what Gibran's The Prophet did to me in the past.
September 4th, 2002
Hey, it's September! Time is really flying, it seems.
So I wasn't all that productive this weekend. My grand plans of cleaning and washing just didn't materialize. But that's ok. There's always next weekend. Or the weekend after that.
I did start to build some shelves, but I became disillusioned while doing so. The lumber I bought was cheap and not very straight; the various pieces that were carfully cut and drilled, just wouldn't line up because of the far out curving that some of the wood was doing. Time wasted on that project: about ten hours. Lesson learned: don't buy sub-par lumber if you want first class shelves.
American Idol. This isn't a show that I pay much attention to--I watched it at the beginning just so I could get a cheap laugh at the expense of those who were truly awful. But as time went on, there was less and less of such people, and only those who actually posessed some talent were left. And some of these people are extrordinarliy good.
The question is, why didn't they make an opportunity for themselves before American Idol? If American Idol never came along, would they still be struggling to get themselves noticed? I think they probably would be.
I suspect the problem here is that they weren't talking to the right people. Their plan of attack was wrong, which is just a tradgedy when it comes to someone who has a talent.
This reasoning can be extended into the lives of normal everyday people. We all have talents; things that we are good at doing, but yet how many of us really use those talents to their fullest potential? If you've ever thought about changing jobs, chances are you are such a person. Desire comes from a void--a need for something more.
If you don't have a job you like, you must ask yourself why this is. More often than not, the only thing between you and a dream job is you, specifically your inability to act and pursue something you really want.
The American Idols eventually seized an opportunity and went with it. They took the chance of exposing themselves to the entire world for scrutiny. Took some guts to do so, sure, but look at the outcome. Will any of them really walk away disappointed?
Amazon has issued me a refund for the book that I never received from one of their zShops! Yay for Amazon! I see the negative feedback is still pouring in for this seller.
August 30th 2002
It's the long weekend! Or it will be in a few hours. My plans for this weekend are simple: clean my computer room out, read some books, drink some lemonade while the weather still permits that sort of thing, wash some windows, and watch a movie or two.
I watched The Manchurian Candidate the other night. It was highly recommended to me, so I bought it on DVD from an Amazon marketplace (I love the marketplace, despite my recent mishap there). It's really an incredible movie. The first ten minutes are particularily fascinating because they were shot in a style that was very unusual for back then. See it, if you haven't, and you probably haven't.
I should really start calling my What's New section, Fred's Guide to Improving Your Life. I've been dispensing a lot of advice lately.
Decorating's easy, Rooms To Go easy. Decorating's easy at Rooms To Go!
Don't know if you've heard the above jingle on the radio, but if you have, I hope it has managed not do drive you insane from its constant repetition. There is a message to be had from it though, decorating is easy and what's more, whenever someone comes to visit your place, it sends them a strong message if it's clean and nicely decorated.
You never know when someone will stop by. Could be your landlord, a plumber, your gilrfriend, or even that cute girl from across the hall whom you've been wanting to talk to but haven't been able to find the courage to do so. But there's a problem.
Instead of opening the door and inviting the person in, you stand there with your head poking out from the mostly-closed door, your shoulder or foot preventing it from opening any further. Instead of being able to focus on your visitor, your attention mostly remains on the giant mess that is behind you--you aren't warm and inviting, but rather your behavior is awkward and it is obvious that you are trying to get rid of your visitor as soon as possible. Not very friendly, and visitors may wonder what exactly you are trying to hide. If your place is very bad, you may never open that door and choose to hide from whomever is knocking, out of fear that your colossal mess be discovered.
Consider the alternative. If your house or apartment is clean and ready to go, you have nothing to hide. You can open the door wide and not even give a thought to what can be seen behind you. Everything is tidy and neat and in its place. You can focus fully on your visitor and even invite them in. The message sent to visitors is that you are an organized individual, just not where your living space is concerned, but in every aspect. This equates to being a person of action who can make decisions and act upon them without hesitation (keeping your place clean is a constant decision making process, the decision being to clean up whatever you mess up as soon as possible.)
Cleaning up your place is easy. Just pick things up and put them where they belong. If they don't have a place, either find one, or toss those things away. Anything important enough not to be placed in the trash bin is important enough to have its own place. This is a major obstacle that many people have--they can't bring themselves to throw things away, because surely sometime in the future they will have a use for the object. Either toss it or sell it on eBay. There are people out there who will pay you for reducing your clutter.
Decorating is a bit more difficult than cleaning because it requires a bit of taste. While a plastic Elvis lamp, complete with swaying pelvis, might sound cool at first, the message it sends is that you are not all that complex of a person, and easily entertained. Even though you may be such a person (aren't we all, really?), you don't want others catching on to this. Put Elvis in a room designated for yourself, and not a main living area.
Go shopping and buy yourself some plants and a few pictures to hang on the wall. That old couch with the beer stains? Out it goes, or at minimum, slip-cover it. Jazz up the place by painting the walls. This will also give you an opportunity to finally get rid of those cob webs. Vacuum. Have mini-blinds? Buy curtains.
Once your place is clean at attractive, keep it that way. It is amazing how fast a clean house can deteriorate into chaos just because you put off doing the dishes or left a scrap of paper on the floor. By not acting immediately, you are sending yourself the negative message that it's ok to put things off. This message ends up infecting all your actions.
August 29th 2002
So if you haven't noticed, the color scheme has changed. Took a lot of work to change all the tiny graphics that I use, and I'm not sure I like the blue scheme all that much. I'll ponder on that for a few days. What I have done, in the meantime, is write myself a small utility that can modify the color table of the GIF images on the fly. This will make changing the color scheme of my site much much easier in the future. I'll be eventually making my utility to modify GIF tables available as a free download.
I've toyed around with the shades of blue and I think I like them how they are now.
Because I'm cool, I have made the source for my GIF color table replacer utility available.
August 28th 2002
What would you do-ooo-ooo for a Klondike bar?
Klondike bars are tasty in their own special way. I'd have to say that it's not a natural taste that you first experience when you bite into one though; the chocolate tastes a bit chemically and the ice cream seems to be a bit off as well. But after two or three bites, this weirdness disappears and the joy of the Klondike bar becomes apparent.
The Klondike bar parallels life in this sense. There is a lot of joy out there to be had, providing you can get past the initial barriers that may be in your way. Most offen, the barriers are entirely within you, manifesting themselves as laziness, self-doubt, procrastination, uncertainty, and fear.
If these things are a barrier to joy, why do we allow them to control our lives? I would suspect the answer lies in routine and practice. The only way to get rid of the barriers is to work on each one individually with little things, making a concsious effort to do so. Eventually the subconcsious will kick in and these practices will become automatic.
Laziness. It seems the more advanced we become, the more innovations there are to keep us lazy. This is, in fact, becoming so extreme, that it takes unusual effort not to be lazy! If believe yourself to be a lazy person, I have one single suggestion for you: Don't use the TV remote control. Decide what you want to watch, get up, walk over to the television, and manually change the channel. What this will do is re-enforce the idea that with effort there is reward.
Self-doubt. Am I good enough? Do other people like me? Are my clothes in style? And the list goes on. As a result of doubting yourself in these areas, your first instinct becomes lost and a milder and less effective personality results. Decisions need to be made and acted upon. By gauging the reactions of others and yourself to the decision you made, you train yourself to make better decisions.
Procrastination. This is a lot like laziness, but it's slightly different. Instead of being too lazy to get up and change the channel on the TV, you make yourself a small promise that you will change the channel. But not now. Maybe after this program I have no interest in. Maybe I will have a nap instead. Promising yourself something and not acting on it at the appropriate time is self-defeating behavior. You are telling yourself that you can blow anything off because you are going to do it later. In real life, this causes deals to turn sour, jobs to be lost, people to lose confidence in you, and opportunities to be missed. There is no time like the present. If it can be done now, do it now. Don't wait for it to go away on its own.
Uncertainty. Not uncertainty in yourself, but uncertainty in events external to you. Many people are paralyzed with life because the don't know what's going to happen next. When presented with multiple paths, they will often not move at all, prefering to stay in the saftey of where they are, because they don't know which path will lead to the best outcome. Nothing bad ever happens to those who stay put. No, nothing bad happens, but nothing good happens either. Rely on your insticts and decisively choose a path. Your instincts may be wrong, but you are moving on a decision. Any decision, wrong or right, leads to better decisions in the future because your instincts become more refined.
Fear. People who are uncertain choose to stay put. Those who are full of fear choose to retreat entirely. The only way to overcome this is by exercising your fear, which to many is a fear in itself. Start by facing small fears, and work yourself up to larger ones, a practice that becomes easier as you train yourself to not back down. The only time you will want to listen to your fear instinct is when there is a genuine physical risk involved.
So, what would you do for a Klondike bar?
The population around here has swelled by probably a good twenty-five thousand college kids, all of whom are stocking their apartments and dorm rooms from the few stores there are in town. Walmart and Target are the largest of these, and the heaviest hit by the swarm of college bees that have descended upon the town.
Two days ago I bought a single curtain rod. Even though I have two windows that I want to put curtains on, I bought only one because I wanted to see if it would stick out far enough so the curtains don't hit the inside ledge of the window. I noted when I picked it up that they had a good supply. With the idea in my head that I would buy this single rod and, if it fit, return the next day for another, I confidently left for home.
I tried the rod out and it fit perfectly. Next day I drove back to the store and went to the section where they keep the curtain rods. It was unbelievable. Except for super-small and super-large rods, the entire supply of curtain rods was gone. In a single day.
So now I will have to go elsewhere to find the same rod. The big home improvement store will probably be my best bet, but they seem to charge a bit more for common things than normal department stores do. Only a couple of bucks difference, probably, but it's still annoying.
What's more annoying is the new traffic situation. But I will refrain from discussing that right now.
This page was getting a wee bit long, so I decided to trim it down. My older What's New entries are available via a link at the bottom of this page.
I developed a thingy that places a random Link to one of the items in my link log in left hand menu bar under the Other section. The link changes every time you visit a different page on my site, or refresh the page you are on.
August 27th 2002
In response to the Tuesday, August 27, 2002 entry at this guy's website, I made the following comment:
Remaining the same seems dreadfully scary to me. The passions, personality, and interests of the high school version of me have long since dissipated and vanished into the mists of time.
Sure, there are some interests that remain the same, but never anything that I was passionate about. If you were to ask me back then if I ever thought my passions would change, I would have said no way. Ask me today and I'll give a definite yes.
The me of today is a slightly more knowledgeable, educated, well-mannered, better read, and wiser, version of the me of yesterday.
Because I am always trying to feed my mind and educate myself, I discover new interests and passions. Things that I fiercely study and pursue until I feel I have gained all that I can or all that I want on the subject. If new interests get in the way of these studies, then so be it. Life is an adventure, not a path to be followed.
Surely, even James Bond, if he aged properly and didn't live at a perpetual 35-45, would discover new and exciting things to do with his short time and not obsess over the same things for the duration of his life.
Once you get to the top, there is nowhere to go, but down. Well, almost nowhere. There's sideways. Sideways to a new interest. A new career. A new hobby. A new passion. A new me.
August 26th 2002
It's a long read, but well worth it. Go now!
August 25th 2002
Go and see Freaky 5!
August 22nd 2002
Hello and welcome to side two of the album.
More that a month ago, I placed an order with one of Amazon's zShops. This, by the way, is how I do most of my book shopping. There are great savings to be had, often 50% or less of retail value.
I've been doing this for quite some time now, and have never had a single problem with a seller. Until now.
I ordered I'm Just Here for the Food: Food + Heat = Cooking, written by culinary funny-man Alton Brown. After sitting patiently for a couple of weeks, I started to grow concerned about the status of the order, so I contacted the seller, bibliopersuasion. While looking up her email address, I noticed her feedback. Dozens, if not hundreds, of people had left negative feedback about slow shipping, no shipping, and no responses to email. Surely I wasn't to be one of these poor souls, was I?
I sent bibliopersuasion an email expressing my concern. And I waited a day. No response. I sent another email, this time a bit more forceful, and accusing her of being less than professional (had it not been for all the negative feedback left for her, I probably would not have done this). No response.
I sent the final email, which contained the dire warning that if I did not hear back from her that I would contact Amazon and file a complaint against her. No response.
So it was complaint time. After much digging in Amazon's website, I found the form I needed. Filled it in with the details, clicked send, and waited. Couple of days later they contacted me and suggested that I contact the seller directly. I replied to them that I did contact her, as I had explained in my complaint. Clicked send and waited some more.
Again, they replied, and said that they would be investigating the matter but would not be able to tell me the outcome of the investigation. Big deal, I thought, I just want my money back. It's been ten days since their last email. No contact from them. No contact from the seller. And surprise, no book in my mailbox.
I hate this sort of crap.
I just poked Amazon again, to see what they have to say for themselves.
The peculiar thing about bibliopersuasion is that she had a rating of 4.9 when I placed the order. Over the past month, with all the negative comments she has been receiving, her rating has dropped to a 4.3. Maybe something happened to her. Although I see that the occasional book does indeed get through to buyers. Or maybe she has just bitten off more than she can chew with this whole zShop thing.
I have a theory on what happened, and a couple of others have suggested it through feedback as well: She doesn't have the books she's selling. Maybe she expects to be getting them, or maybe when an order is placed, she searches through her own sellers looking for the book to resell. If any of this is true, it's a questionable and misleading practice. Not professional in the slightest.
August 21st 2002
Crisp and clean with no caffeine.
Once you hit the age of 20, soda just isn't all that cool anymore. Request bottled spring water when dining at a restaurant. If they don't have bottled spring water, find a better restaurant.
Interestingly, McDonalds now has bottled water, though I'm not sure it's spring water. Probably that nasty distilled stuff. But then again, you shouldn't be eating at McDonalds. If you can't afford to eat somewhere nice, stay at home and cook a meal. This is a necessary skill anyhow.
If you just have no time and McDonalds is your only option, you need to stop for a moment and think about the implications of this. Why are you running your life so ragged? On the outside chance that this is a lifestyle you love, good for you, you corporate weenie. If, however, you detest always being on the go and never having a decent amount of time for family, friends, and yourself, it's clearly time to make a change.
August 19th, 2002
Dry and secure.
Raise your hand.
Raise your hand, if you're sure.
It seems that the new century is churning out more insecure and unconfident people than ever before. I don't understand it really. What's so hard about making a decision or expressing an opinion? The fear of being wrong?
Better to be wrong some of the time than to be ineffective 100% of the time.
Of course, if you are wrong too many times, you start to look foolish. This is why it is important to live life as a constant educational process. Shutting off the TV and reading a book a week is a good start. Researching any interest, no matter how small, is also an excellent practice.
And never, ever, be afraid to say I don't know. Suppose you are in a meeting, a question is raised, and you don't know the answer. You could sit silent and let others try to figure it out, or you could say something like, "I don't know, but I can quickly research it and get back to you." Suddenly, you are in the spotlight. A brave step, but an important one because it gets you recognition and places importance on your actions.
I have a story about saying I don't know that didn't work out for me. It was grade six and I was twelve. The teacher, Mr. Remple, had just woke me up from a daydream by asking a question. I had no idea what he had said, so I answered, "I don't know." This apparently angered him somewhat, and he told me to write I don't know down in my notebook. So I did. I suppose this was meant to humilate me, but it didn't. What it did do, however, was stick in my mind.
I didn't know, but I should have. If I had been paying attention I would have known the answer. A life lesson on many different levels. The I don't know I offered him wasn't real. It was more of an "I'm too stupid to pay attention to what you are saying."
August 15th, 2002
Had a moment of free time and added a guestbook.
August 5th, 2002
Greetings from the island, mon. Air is clean, sky is blue, sun says hello. Life is good.
August 1st, 2002
I come from a small town, which had exactly one movie theater, which showed exactly one movie at a time. When I was growing up, no one ever asked if you wanted to go to see a movie, they asked if you wanted to go see the show. Want to go to the show? Have you been to the show? Are you going to the show?.
The show. I had nearly forgotten that it was called this until recently, when I was speaking with someone who grew up with me, and still lives in the same town.
She was talking about her son and mentioned how they were going to go to the show. I had to pause in thought for a moment. The show, I asked myself. The BIG show, as in the circus? No, that was doubtful. Yet the phrase the show seemed familiar, but dream-like. Then, from the back of my mind, a memory gave way and I realized what she was talking about.
Still seems odd to me that as kids we once talked about the show and that it had somehow been forgotten over the years.
July 29th, 2002
Many, if not most, people have a misconception about the common wasp; they think it has only one form of attack, most frequently thinking they sting. Other people, still thinking that the wasp attacks in only one way, thinks they bite. The truth the the matter, my little internet friends, is that wasps do both.
It is probably thought that wasps are armed only with stingers because of what mom says. Stay away from those wasps, Johnny, or they will sting you. Their passing resemblence to a bee reenforces this. But unlike a bee, and even mom knows this, wasps can repeatedly sting you over and over until they have either grown bored with the activity, or you take note that you are being stung and ask the wasp politely to leave.
Wasps also bite. Make no mistake about it, those jaws that are so adept at pulverizing wood to turn into paper hives pack quite a punch. I had the misfortune of running into wasp teeth this past weekend.
I was out back, building a bookshelf. I designed it to hold paperbacks and only paperbacks. You can find a lot of generic shelves out there, but the shelf spacing is such that when they are loaded with paperbacks, the misuse of space is unappealing to the eye. So anyhow, I was building a bookshelf. I knew about the wasps that lived under the fence railing. A small hive of perhaps 20 or so. Never bothered me before, didn't see any reason to believe they'd bother me again. But I was oh so wrong.
I was using the railing to saw lumber on and I guess my hand got a little too close to their nest. Before I could say don't eat the daisies, I was being swarmed by the little beasts.
I don't know how they know what to attack, but they targeted me without any hesitation. Within seconds I had several of the little beasts on me. As any rational person would do, I started flipping out. I did the "hey, there's a bee near me" dance, except magnified several times. I started brushing them off me, but not before one of them managed to get in a good bite on my left little finger.
In the meantime, I was still being swarmed. In my right hand, I was still holding a saw. I started flapping it back and forth wildly, not like a sword, but more like a fly swatter. If anyone had been looking, they would have thought I had gone mad.
My saw-flapping seemed to do the trick, either that or they decided they had better things to do. I was left alone to deal with the bite.
The bite hurt, but not as much as I would have imagined it would. Getting bit by a wasp feels much like getting bit by a fire ant, perhaps not quite as bad though. I didn't really know what to expect from it. I was worried that my finger would swell up, turn black, and fall off. I ran cold water over it and then switched to an ice cube wrapped in a dish cloth.
When I became brave enough, I looked at what I thought must be a horrid disfiguration, but no, it was not. There was a tiny red dot that hurt when I pushed on it, but not badly.
It's about 24 hours later now, and the dot is still there. If I push on it, there's a tiny bit of pain, but it's hardly note-worthy. I suspect tomorrow everything will be back to normal.
July 26th, 2002
I was dining at a seafood restaurant yesterday, one which is built almost ontop of a waterfall. As waterfalls go, it's not particularily wide nor tall, but because it is fed by half a dozen or so high-yield natural springs about a mile away, it does have a considerable flow, which one can only assume packs quite a punch.
A somewhat large length of the river, of which the falls are part of, is designated as part of the city park, and as such, swimmers are welcome to dip in the clean spring waters. Indians used to believe these waters had healing properties, a belief that is carried by many others to this very day, but mostly people use the river for recreation.
Where I was seated in the restaurant, I had a very good view of the bottom of the falls and the river beyond. On either side of the falls are cement walls that direct the wild flow, and are presumably there to prevent environmental as well as structural damage. One wall is accessible to the public, and the other is not, being affixed to the restuarant. The accessible wall is a favorite among the younger crowd; they will clamber up its slickness, balance carefully on top of it, and then propel themselves with considerable force into the river below, slightly beyond the foot of the waterfall. A dangerous activity, no doubt, and an unsupervised one as well, at least as far as parents being present.
As I was waiting for the meal, I took note of an extrordinarily skinny fellow working his way towards the bank of the river, and then he disappeared from my field of vision. A short while later, two young adults appeared, a boy and a girl, each carrying an inner tube. Tubing is also a popular activity in the river.
For some reason, these young people decided to being their journey down the river directly at the base of the falls. The girl, who was curiously dressed in a t-shirt, jeans, and running shoes, lifted her inner tube high above her head and with a mighty effort, threw it into the river. It promptly got sucked into the falls.
Water falls are curious that way; the falling water no only wants to carry merrily down the stream, but it also wants to go every which way, including backwards. This sets up a powerful churning that can suck things in and not let the go. The inner tub was such a victim.
Now a reasonable person would probably leave the inner tube where it was. But this girl apparently wasn't reasonable. After several minutes of contemplation, she jumped--fully clothed--in the water, and was promptly sucked into the falls.
I thought to myself, hey, that doesn't look too safe. But her boyfriend, an assumption, but with his shaven head, how could a girl resist, did not seem concerned and, in fact, appeared at times to be laughing. Minutes passed and she was still stuck.
The meal had arrived, and I ate slowly as I watched the unfolding events. More minutes passed. Still no tube nor girl. The boyfriend walked away.
Now, recall the skinny guy I mentioned. He and the boyfriend showed up a few minutes later. The skinny guy was carrying a rope, and the boyfriend was pointing to the serious lapse of judgement that had occurred.
After some futzing around, they pulled together on the rope with a great force. Think tug-of-war-in-grade-school kind of effort here. They pulled and pulled and slowly the girl, who was clinging to the inner tube, was torn free from the power of the falls.
She appeared to be tired and worn out, but otherwise intact, both physically and emotionally. A real trooper, albeit one who can be outwitted by a particularily clever cat. She paddled her way to shore, untied the rope, and gave it back to the skinny guy. He coiled it up and went back to doing whatever it is skinny guys do.
Curiously, boyfriend and girlfriend were going to give it another try, this time not so close to the falls. The boy, complete with futuristic bald head, heaved the tube into the river. And it promptly rocketed away from him. Downstream thankfully, but rocketing nevertheless. He jumped in and swam frantically after it. His ordeal proved to be an easier task than his girlfriend had experienced; the tube stopped on its own in a sheltered part of the river, perhaps 30 yards away.
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