Friday, December 31

cornucopia is not onomatopoetic

I thought of titling this posting "onomatopoeia" but (after reading the dictionary definition) decided that I had the wrong connotation (I hate it when that happens!). Much of my life has been dictated by the precise use of the English language.

Like, maybe when I grow up I'll be like a writer or some junk?

I'm sure you're asking yourself "why did he think of onomatopoeia at all?" .. it's been bouncing around inside my head ever since one of Todd Rundgren's CDs arrived a few days ago. I've enjoyed his timeless music since the mid-70's, and I can only say that about a handful of artists. I wonder if he ever did a rendition of Auld Lang Syne?

[onomatopoeia] is one of Rundgren's many songs. It's also a word that I consistently misspell : that 4th [o] just doesn't belong!

Anyhoo, I'm planning to celebrate this last day of 2004 by raking the remaining front yard leaves (I did the backyard ones yesterday). Do I know how to party, or what?

Thursday, December 30

Texas farworks

Yesterday's Dallas Managed News contained an advertisement which just plowed my turnips. On page 15A, there is an Alamo Fireworks' ad, complete with a map and schedule ("Open Until Midnight!") of their stands (a common sight as you cross from one county to another).

It's not unusual for fireworks to be banned in populated metropolitan areas. There are too many people who'd use them irresponsibly (think of bottle rockets landing on your roof, and you'll get the idea).

Fireworks are a common sight (and sound) at midnight on the last day of the year. The merchants will sell to anyone with cash (as long as you're over 12 years old and not intoxicated - the Texas law concerning fireworks makes for entertaining reading). They're not required to ask for proof that you live where fireworks are legal. I suppose a subset of the Dallas population buys them and uses them outside Dallas county. I also believe in the Easter Bunny.

Context Switch

Speaking of New Year's Eve, I'm still amazed that some people think firing guns into the air in a populated area is a good idea. Until someone in Dallas is killed by the bullet that fell into someone's skull, well ...
Memo to the gun-shooting morons: (barring Earth-escaping rockets) what goes up, must come down.
When I lived in the Los Angeles basin, there were ad campaigns about this problem, but I haven't seen anything widespread here. Maybe they just don't want to remind people about the "tradition", but more likely, it's because some politician ran on a "cut taxes!" platform, so there's no money to spread the word. Duh!

Please, put down the mistletoe and slowly back away. The Sundry on Thursday blog is hereby updated (and it's a biggie).

Wednesday, December 29

yin and yang in the public sector

Today's DMN including an editorial titled "Are Texans Just Mean?", which babbles about people who are falling through the cracks in the state's public assistance program.

Everybody Knows™ that all government agencies complain of insufficient funds to do their work. In the public sector, money is always an issue. With more money, these agencies will/can always find more people to help (the low water line for qualification ebbs and flows). Assuming (never assume!) the agency isn't operating irresponsibly with the funds, they're either dependent on Somebody In Austin or their own fundraisers (frequently outsourced).
An unrelated article cites a report by Charity Navigator (which competes with the American Institute of Philanthrophy's Charity Watch) that Dallas is the least charitable among the USA's largest communities.
There's no Texas state income tax; politicians who suggest this as a funding source are often found dismembered at the bottom of a lake. Most of this fund gap is bridged by our larger-than-average real estate taxes.

Pete Sessions (Texas state senator) runs on his record of always voting for tax cuts (more precisely, never voting for a tax increase). While I'm all for lower taxes (just like The Next Guy), I recognize that comes at the price of fewer services. That logic (?) is lost on mental lightweights like Sessions (who will surely be re-elected in 2008) and the Editorial Board of The Managed News.

Like the bulk of politicians, $e$$ion$ is undoutededly spending the bulk of his time raising money for the next Republican primary (the winner of which automatically wins the general election), and ignoring We The People in the interim.

Everybody Knows is a trademark of Fox "News"; Rush Limbaugh Productions; and the Christian Fascist Republican Party.

Tuesday, December 28

Dia de los Inocentes

In Mexico, they don't celebrate April Fool's Day. Instead, "Day of the Innocents" (with a connotation of naive or foolish) is held December 28th.

I cannot imagine the perplexed look of the Mexican niños/niñas, when their parents explain that "Dia de los Inocentes" is all about tricking your family and friends, then (a few years later) saying that it really is all about the story of King Herod's mandated killing of young boys in/around Bethlehem in the year 1. This must be similar to the "Santa Claus/Jesus transition" in American homes.

Deep Thought #54: Is there a Mexican Santa Claus?

The story of a family being tipped off, then fleeing to Egypt morfed into an April Fool's-style event baffles me, but so does much of church-state interaction south of the border.

I suppose it's very serious to some people, but I laugh every time I see a story about a "miraculous" painting which weeps, or a pastry which has the image of The Virgin Mary (which eventually sells on eBay for large sums). For a few picoseconds, I once considered saying "Hey, that's not the Virgin Mary - that's my first grade teacher!!" but I suspect the humor would be lost on Those Who Believe.

Then again, this country elected President Quagmire to a second term, so it doesn't speak much gooder on this side of the border.

lessons from a pet

My pets are ecstatic! This year (for Boxing Day) I gave them all a Drinkwell watering dish; Samantha got a new litter box; and Beta (the Wonder Dog) got a new food bowl (and it's non-skid!!).

Pets are easier to buy for than humans. Humans tend to value things like gift certificates (store-specific being less desired than generic cash), while pets are happiest with a warm place to sleep, and an endless supply of fresh water.

Even Rambo (the visitor) seems happy; he came by a few minutes ago to demonstrate his licker license. One of the benefits of having him here was accidental: I placed Beta's dish on the fireplace, to avoid tempting Rambo (dogs tend to be territorial about stuff like food) and .. Beta liked that location! This makes for much less neck strain, which is good.

Last year, I bought Beta a raised feeder, but she wouldn't use it (maybe it was the shiny bowls that are an integral part of that contraption?). I suspect those bowls were too confusing, since she kept seeing "another dog" (her reflection) eating her food! At least she never said "does this collar make me look fat?"

Monday, December 27

it ain't free until the fat lady sings ...

I suspect I have more than one book with a remainder mark, and didn't know it. Some used books are sold online with this note: "may have a remainder mark". Huh? I BrainBoost'ed and found The Explanation. I reckon I'd never notice one unless I went a'huntin for it.

Free Credit Report!       (DOT COM)

My advice to anyone looking for their Free Credit Report is: caveat emptor (that's Latin for "hang onto yer wallet").

Yes, you can get your one free credit report per year (as mandated by the FCRA) .. I did it yesterday. But, it's easy to find yourself being billed $100+/year -- by the same consumer reporting agency that gave you the free report. If the website asks for your credit card number, be prepared to Just Say No.

I did the thing (really Experian). They offered to show me TransUnion and EquiFax's "free" credit reports, too .. then (at the end of 30 days) bill me $12.95/month for the rest of my natural life. Thanks, no. Also (for an additional $5) they offered to show me my Credit Score. Thanks, no.

There are warnings about on Most concern those recurring monthly charges, which are difficult to stop. This isn't the first time I've heard of a business which takes your credit card number, then "has trouble" stopping the gravy train.

I have my (8-page) report in hand; there were no real errors (just a few prehistoric accounts which have been closed for years). I last looked at this stuff 10 years ago, I think .. and it had much more outdated info then. I wrote to the companies, asking them to remove that old stuff: looks like they did.

Finally, out of idle curiosity I went to Sears' website to see if there'd been a price drop on My New Friend (the dishwasher). No! The New "sale price" is almost $100 more than I paid on November 13th. Guess I won't be asking for their low price guarantee, eh.

Sunday, December 26

Boxing Day and Legacies

Here's a Shout Out to my Canadian friends: Happy Boxing Day, eh! Actually, Boxing Day (normally 26 December) is observed tomorrow, since this is one of those exceptions, for holidays which fall on a Sunday. I'm still learning the subtleties of Canadian life, eh. It's too bad that it really has nothing to do with putting the bows and ribbons back in their boxes, since that makes for such a splendid story.

Boxing Day is one of my favorite holidays (now that I only celebrate official Canadian holidays); it's the day that (other than chowing down on some Ashoka canned Indian food) retailers sell their Christmas stuff at 75%+ discounts, to make way for all the Valentine's Day stuff. If you think I'm kidding, drop by your neighborhood Wal-Mart (a place in which I do not set foot) and check out the "Seasonal Aisle".

Deep Thought #52: I think what Coca-Cola needs are more derivations from the original formula (not shown).

Kudos to Jill-Bob for the 333 ml can of Coca-Cola Light (the 150 ml can is one that I snagged during a flight to|from Europe a few years ago).
Photo note: the 1/3 liter can is slightly smaller than the 350 ml (12 ounces) that's standard in the USA, and had to be perched on the top row of this photo, else the Coke Pyramid would've experienced premature topplecation (a term President Quagmire probably inventigated already).
Today, the Dallas Managed News named Karl Rove (President Quagmire's Chief of Staff) as Texan of the Year. This absolutely, positively sends the wrong message, IMESHO*. I think they should've named someone to admire, like Lance Armstrong or Carole Keeton Strayhorn. Karl Rove's legacy is that he will stoop to any depth to get his candidate elected which is a very, very bad message. Then again, maybe that's what Texans admire in 2004: the lack of any illusion of ethics.
* In My Ever-So-Humble Opinion

Saturday, December 25

big snow in Texas? ROAD TRIP!

It's only 300 miles to Victoria, Texas (west of San Antonio, sorta) .. I should drive down there and play in the "foot or so" of snow they got ("first white Christmas in 86 years"). Then again, with temps in the 50's today, it'd be all melted up by the time I got there. What little snow we had in Dallas is all but gone.

I know (of) several people who got iPods for Christmas; word is the earbuds that come with them are (surprise! surprise!) not the highest quality. I heard good things about Etymotic 's ER-6i but since those cost about half of an iPod, they better not be half bad (using Texas' Yew Git What Yew Pay Fer theory).

Rambo and I moseyed up to Trisshinscott's today, and the tyke immediately piddled on the carpet. {sigh} Time for a timeout! He went outside to bond with Barqs and Pepper, and returned with an improved attitude (he's currently sleeping on my feet). Trish ("nice headlights!") fed me some of Scott's mirliton(A) casserole (also spelled merliton) which was very yummy. I'm gonna start hanging around their backdoor, in hopes of table scraps.
(A) The Cook's Thesaurus lists 17 other names for mirliton squash: chayote; cho-cho; chocho; choko; christophene ; christophine; chuchu; custard marrow; mango squash; pear squash; pepinella; pepinello; sousous; vegetable pear; xoxo and xuxu. I think they just flat out made up those last two!
Rambo and Beta (the Wonder Dog) bonded easily yesterday, after the initial - and expected - my growl's bigger than your growl posturing that takes place between canines.

Well, it's time for me to finish screening my latest DVD: D.W. Griffith's 1915 silent! flick Birth of a Nation, which is all about the early days of the Republican Party. I hope Rambo likes popcorn.

Friday, December 24

Festivus 2004

I survived Festivus (yesterday) and followed my family's time-honored tradition of taking my pets to the veterinarian for their vaccinations. I think it's important for every family to develop their own Festivus traditions, versus doing the same thing that their neighbors prescribe. Example: if everyone took their pets2vet4shots on December 23rd, I wouldn't be able to get an appointment, and that just wouldn't be right.

I checked the US Postal Service website, and eventually found a list of 2004 holidays (which contains New Year's Day 2005 but not New Year's Day 2004 - go figure).
Deep Thought #50: Christmas is a postal holiday, yet no other religious holidays are postal-free. Although, it could be argued that since there's no mail delivery on Sunday, there are an additional 52 Christian-only mail holidays every year.
It won't be long now, before Rambo comes for a visit! I won't even try to explain why the phrase "Travel Is Glamorous" now holds all new meaning to both Jill-Bob and THE George.
Deep Thought #51: if everyone used smaller paper, our desks wouldn't be so messy.
Yesterday, I was baffled to hear that William-Bob doesn't share my enthusiasm for migrating the US National Paper Standard from 8½x11 inch paper to 3x5 inches (and legal size from 8½x17 to 4x6). He suggested A4, but Everybody Knows™ that's a model of Audi (automobile) and not a respectable paper size. And that logic about using the √2 as a paper ratio .. well, don't get me started.

Everybody Knows is a trademark of Fox "News"; Rush Limbaugh Productions; and the Christian Fascist Republican Party. [Ann Coulter's] Foul Mouth Enterprises has apparently been dissolved, for lack of interest.

Thursday, December 23

Sundry - done!

please - put down your snow shovels!

the Sundry on Thursday blog is updated. looking over the random stuff that I post there is bizarre (like when I return to my List Of Dreams, months later).

Wednesday, December 22

snowstorm cripples Dallas!

Here is an example of the devastating, crippling snowstorm which struck Dallas today. The snowfall could be measured with a microscope, but only if you know where to look. Snow is somewhat rare here (compared to other parts of the country); as a result, the schools were closed1 and offices vacant2 as the residents tried to stay alive3.
  1. for winter break;
  2. procrastinating shoppers are at the malls;
  3. and that's unusual because ... ?
Rumor has it that other parts of the Metroplex got measurable amounts of snow, especially those north and west of me. Like most large cities, Dallas is a Heat Island, and a lot of bad weather just mellows out before it reaches my domicile. The rain gauge says I got about 0.4" of precipitation with the storm, but most of what landed here was rain -- not sleet or snow.

frohe Weihnachten, ya'll!

First, to my good friends in Germany: frohe Weihnachten und glückliches neues Jahr! (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!)

I miss working with my German friends. When I was working with 250 website content authors (on the OneStop (Sun internal) website that I created), the 8 or so Germans were among my favorites (truly!). You were always precise in your work, and made my job much easier. I hope I was able to make that sentiment known!

Several times a year, the various "yellow page" publishers (phone companies, etc.) deliver their phone books to my door. This year, SBC's books arrived in two sizes: one normal, and one smaller version. Huh?

I spotted a folded insert inside the smaller version, and therein was the explanation: the 1.7 pound book is the New! Mini SBC Yellow Pages! (a condensed version of the usual 5 pound edition). The idea is that you can place the smaller version in your car! I'm guessing this will provide endless hours of pleasure, as it will give me something to read when I'm stuck in traffic.

Noteworthy: the Mini version has 60 pages of listings for attorneys, while the large version has 100 pages of their listings. Hmmm; perhaps this is progress?

Tuesday, December 21

Dihydrogen Oxide ban - coming soon?

COX-2 [cyclo-oxygenase-2] inhibitors (a subset of NSAIDs) are aimed at those with arthritis and acute pain, and they're under attack. First, VIOXX® (Merck's rofecoxib) was pulled off the shelves; Merck says VIOXX can cause strokes, heart attacks, even death (not good). Then (a week later) Pfizer says Celebrex® (Pfizer's celecoxib - another Cox-2 inhibitor) is dangerous in high doses. Pfizer will still sell it, but won't advertise it.
Deep Thought # 49: I can seldom figure out what malady most advertised drugs are purported to cure, anyhoo. All I know is, that whatever they're selling will make me smile, dance and sing.
Today, I read that Aleve® (Bayer's naproxen) could be a problem, too -- and it's not even a COX-2 inhibitor! Aleve is often used as a substitute for aspirin, or Tylenol® {sigh}

Now, I can only wait for the headline:
Dihydrogen Oxide* Banned!
* aka H2O, aka water

I predict this ban will happen once someone figures out that the stuff can cause some people (usually those whose heads are below it) to drown.

At first, I thought it was a joke .. but no .. there he is .. George W. Bush named as TIME Magazine's Person of the Year. You may have heard of this bonehead (48% of Americans just call Him President Quagmire); he's the worst president (by a long shot) in my lifetime. I went to TIME's website and immediately cancelled my subscription. All I needed was my subscriber number (located on the address label) and my ZIP code. Sayonara, TIME.

BTW, I think this makes their appointment of the Ayatollah Khomeini (1979) seem positively inspired.

Monday, December 20

an experiment in Buying Blue

Yesterday, I copied (cut and paste) my wishlist to Barnes and Noble's site, then compared prices. In most cases (13/18 items), Amazon was less expensive, but they had the same price on 5 items, so I bought them from B&N and left the remainder in both wishlists. The B&N site was a bit more tedious to navigate .. it wasn't always obvious when they had a paperback version vs. a hardcover .. and used books aren't as obvious .. but those are things that they can fix with a good User Interface guy. Hmmm .. wonder if they'd hire me?

It's too bad backed the wrong candidates in 2004; I did like them. Maybe they'll see the error of their ways and either stop funding either party, or fund them equally in the future. Anyway, to further The Cause, I dropped an email to B&N saying I'd prefer to buy from them, if they'd match Amazon's price. Now I wait ...

Related to the above, the Dallas Managed News had a front-page story about the websites promoting companies who back Democratic candidates. I can hardly wait for the Opinion Letters to drift in, by those who say they'll use the list in reverse .. as a place to shop for their Red Candidates. More power to `em. When President Quagmire proclaimed his (51-48) mandate, it was like telling half of America: you are irrelevant.

It was interesting to note that 16 of 17 oil companies backed President Quagmire (if that doesn't smell of extreme self-interest, I don't know what does). The only one who tilted blue was Shell. I checked their website and found 4 stations within 2 miles. Since gasoline is gasoline (one brand's little different from another) I'll be happy to make that switch, too.

The DMN article mentioned a competing website: I don't like the URL -- it's not as memorable as I guess they tried ("Blue" magazine is about what? outdoor sports?!). While attempting to check out ChooseTheBlue (from memory) I tried; it turns out that's owned by (the medical provider) Blue Cross-Blue Shield! I wonder if BCBS will notice extra hits on their website and not understand why. Perhaps the similarity will drive business their way.

Deep Thought #48: I wonder if Blue Cross-Blue Shield backed the (blue) Democrats in 2004?

Unrelated: on Constantin's suggestion, I added [The Butterfly Effect] (2004) to my list of DVDs to see. Somehow I missed this one, unless it didn't make it to The Angelika (still my favorite theatre in Dallas).

My upper left arm hurts today, as a result of Saturday night's tetanus shot. Fortunately, I haven't seen any signs of infection on my foot; I'm continuing to clean the wound and apply Neosporin™. Someone from CareNow (the doc-in-the-box) called yesterday to make sure I was doing okay. I was taken aback, since followup is SO rare nowadays.

Sunday, December 19

a 3-bag Sunday

Most days, the newspaper arrives in a single plastic bag. Today, it was a 3-bagger. Most of the excess were ads for digital cameras, or spiral-sliced hams, or sets of wrenches ...

Note: this has no relation to a 2-bagger.

While watching TV today, I decided to add the CARFAX ad to the List Of Ads That Make Me Reach For The Remote. You know the one: where the "doctor" sits in front of the red car, asks "How are you feeling?" then snaps on a rubber glove and goes to the car's rear (presumably to check the car's prostate). Enough already.

Saturday, December 18

lockjaw? no thanks!

I'm probably not a huge believer in real win-win situations. It seems that deals invariably leave one party or the other with a lopsided victory. So, it is with great glee that I experienced one this morning.

One gent in my neighborhood was looking for a new farwood supplier, and I've been trying to get rid of the wood left over before I got the gas farplace, so ... I donated the remaining wood. It's been there a few years, and some logs were in contact with the ground and starting to become One With Nature, but my neighbor took the rest of it off my hands. Woo hoo. This will make My Termite Guy a happy camper.

However, all is not without a price. Turns out I stepped on what appears to be a roofer's nail of some sort:

I suspect this thing has been sitting in my driveway since my house was reroofed in 2003. Today, it found its way all the way through the sole of my shoe, through a heavy sock and into the space between my big toe and the one next to it. When I came inside from fetching the snail-mail, I hear a clicking sound, like I was wearing taps; that's when I found the thing above.

I checked my foot and spotted the mini-gash. Naturally, this happened on a weekend, so instead of going to my doctor or (heaven forbid!) the emergency room, I stopped at a local doc-in-the-box, where they checked the wound and gave me my first-ever tetanus shot (unless I was given one as a child). The DITB did a good job with the shot; I didn't even feel it. Now all I have to do is keep the wound clean, so I don't develop lockjaw or get an infected foot. Tra la la.

Unrelated: it's now time to address my Retaliatory Christmas Cards [RCC]. Those are for the nice folks who send you a card, but they weren't on your outbound list. Yet. Now, for the rest of their natural lives, they'll get one from me. I usually wait until 3 or 4 days before Christmas Eve (the last day mail's delivered before Christmas) to mail Christmas Cards, which will be Monday or Tuesday. That way, it's too late for them to send an RCC of their own (to arrive before Christmas). Nefarious, huh?

Friday, December 17

chaos averted .. and you'll never guess why

I've been a fan of The Straight Dope for many years, going back to the days when I lived in Redondo Beach, California and was told about Cecil Adams' series of books by Bob (who is not a -Bob).

Later came the web, and The Straight Dope's e-newsletter (today's included a pointer to a classic: Who decided red means "stop" and green means "go"?) We've come to accept certain things as global (if not universal) standards, that it's seldom questioned. What if we traveled to another country (France, no doubt) where the signal light standard is:
maroon means go and and teal means stop?
Chaos has been averted (in this case) by the American Railroad Industry. Go figure.

I recall another column where Cecil (not a -Bob) explained why the size of our space-bound rockets can be traced back to the Roman chariots (no lie!). As Tonto once said: "Heap Strange, Kemo-Sabe."

Deep Thought #46: why didn't the Mars Rover find ancient traffic signals? Could that be why life never flourished on The Red Planet?

Deep Thought #47: boycotts don't work (the vast majority of the time) but here's an interesting alternative to those opposed to the Bush Regime:

Thursday, December 16

introducing the 44th President of the United States

ah, I finally found something that I'd be happy to see under The Tree this year: Kinky Friedman's DVD: A**hole from El Paso.

Knowing that becoming Texas governor is simply a formality* to becoming the next President of the United States, I know who I'll be supporting in the election ...
* how else do you explain the current Moron In Charge?
unrelated: please put down your potato peelers! The Sundry on Thursday blog is hereby updated.

Wednesday, December 15

Christmas Shopping By Phone

<telephone rings>
Gene Bob:       Hello?

elderly woman: Do you have any women's nightgowns?

Gene Bob: Uh, no.
I think you've reached a wrong number.
This is a house.

elderly woman: Oh, I think I have. Sorry.

... and then I checked my closets, just to make sure. Indeed, I have no women's nightgowns.

suddenly, I feel BrainBoost'ed

I was using a9 to find the average lifespan of an indoor cat, when I spotted an unfamiliar site in my sight: BrainBoost™ - Question Answering Search Engine.

Hmm .. the results were useful (albeit contradictory, for the indoor cat query) but I see potential here that was never quite realized by Ask Jeeves (probably the best-known interrogatory search engine). I shall bookmark BrainBoost for future use. Also (if you scroll down their home page) you just gotta be amused by their sample questions (such as "How much meat was on the Titanic?").

As a test, I asked the age-old question "How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?" and didn't find an answer. Maybe some things are not meant to be known.

One cool thing about the BrainBoost site is the (refreshing!) recognition that there are other search engines, and provides a one-click way of seeing their competitor's results. For example, I asked about the distance between Dallas and Amarillo, and BrainBoost said "I don't know." It then suggested:
Compare our results, Try your question on other engines:
Alta Vista | Ask Jeeves | Excite | Google | HotBot | Lycos | MIT's START | Yahoo
Unrelated ...

I continue to be frustrated with the employment scene .. most potential employers are happy to post job openings on their web site, but make no attempt to even acknowledge receipt of a submitted resume. Sadly, networking isn't helping yet either, although Everybody Knows™ that's the best way to approach The Job Hunt. Yesterday, I heard of a lead - in Nogales ("walnuts") Arizona .. the social Mecca of the USA.

Everybody Knows is a trademark of Fox "News"; Rush Limbaugh Productions; [Ann Coulter's] Foul Mouth Enterprises; and the Christian Fascist Republican Party.

Tuesday, December 14

Texas captures all 5 of the Top 5 - woo hoo!

05:47 am says today's worst cities (for pollen) are ALL in Texas: Austin; Brownsville; Dallas; Laredo and San Antonio. Ah-choo!

11:27pm update: don't ask why, but I looked again, late in the day and found the Worst Cities list now says: Abilene; Amarillo; Brownsville; Laredo and San Antonio. That's odd, since the map appears to show that Dallas is still in the middle of an allergy storm.

I know, I know .. this is all so terribly riveting.

Aside: it's supposed to be 26F overnight here in Dallas. Brrr.

Monday, December 13

magical (!) time of the season

Sunday paper : 3 bags (plastic, not paper) on the lawn. weight: about 17 pounds. percentage of pages dedicated to Christmas ads = 73.6%. Fah la lah.

snail mail usually arrives by 11am. Today it's here just before 5pm. Fah la lah.

doorbell rings at 6:45pm. It's been dark since 5:15pm .. UPS has left a package. Fah la lah.

8:45pm .. decide to sneak in a quick phone call to my aunt. call ends 2:05 later. Fah la lah.

almost midnight .. finally tired. Beta the Wonder Dog wisely crashed hours ago. Fah la lah.

winter officially arrives next Tuesday. me, i'm in need of a serious snowstorm. in Dallas, they cancel school when 2 inches of snow have fallen, or the temperature is below 40F. well, maybe not .. but it seems that way.

Zzzzz .... oops. Forgot to Fah la lah.

Saturday, December 11

who needs an umbrella when it ain't raining?

A few weeks ago, my homeowners insurance renewal arrived .. with a substantial premium increase over last year. What did I do to deserve that? Must be that hailstorm in April 2003 when my roof (and several thousand others in the Metroplex) were totalled. That event happened BTB [Before This Blog], so there aren't many details, but .. suffice it to say that I wouldn't have known my roof sustained that much damage if it hadn't been for Drew-Bob, a former co-worker who was in the roofing business at the time.

Drew-Bob offered to swing by my home and inspect for damage, and after a few minutes, he suggested I call my insurance company. They sent an adjuster, who concurred that my roof was a total loss (even though my naked eye, from the ground inspection showed no damage). After some competing bids were secured, Drew-Bob's company won the work.

I'd only been covered by that insurance company about 5 months when the storm happened, and they renewed me last December at about the same cost as before. But this December, they decided to go for the glory and offered a 50% increase. I like to be loyal to a company, but .. it was time to shop.

Surprise! Most quotes were about the same as my renewal. But, I'd already changed auto insurance earlier this year, and if I changed my homeowners insurance, I'd lose my umbrella insurance (no company wants to write only your umbrella) so it made sense to try to put all policies with the same company. There's probably a discount in there somewhere for doing that.

Bottom line: all policies will now be with my new carrier (USAA) on Tuesday. I had them when I lived "back east" but dropped them when I moved to Colorado in 1982 (I don't recall why). Being a prior USAA policyholder made me eligible to "come home again".

In doing so, I saved about 10% over GEICO's auto insurance, and increased the policy limits a bit (seldom a bad thing). I commented to the underwriter about why not everyone spends the extra money for an umbrella insurance contract, above what's provided by the base auto and homeowner's insurance. I guess most people just don't know, or are willing to accept the extra risk. Not me; a $1 Million umbrella is (relatively) cheap.

For extra credit, see the Texas Insurance Commissioner's Bulletin # B-0025-97 which is riveting stuff. Maybe they'll make it into a movie?

Friday, December 10

hunting the wild and unpredictable Müslix

I wandered across - Clear Instructions on How To Do (just about) Everything when I was looking up Müslix today. Google's list of pages related to eHow include such forgettable URIs as,, and so forth.

When I searched for Müslix using a9 the first return was Texas A&M University! Indeed. I tried it again, and the link to Texas A&M vanished. Lesson learned: software rocks! {giggle}

It turns out that Mueslix (Müslix) is a Swedish word meaning "Trail Mix Cereal". Well, okay .. maybe that's not in the dictionary .. but it should be. I'm amused that Kellogg's markets the cereal in this country as Müeslix, apparently because most Americans don't know that ü = ue (hence Müeslix==Mueeslix !)

Thursday, December 9

aircraft noise

what did I learn today, you ask?

If you want to file a complaint about aircraft noise, you need the exact time, in order to pinpoint the responsible pilot. In most cases, you always know the exact location (somewhere above your head, at home). I know, I know .. it's hard to believe that few complaints come from people on the cellphones, in their car. Or when they're at a friend's home.

Most aircraft (including commercial passenger jets) are flown almost completely by computer. The pilot is there to (a) act as a prima donna; (b) override the automated systems so as to cause more noise; (c) be there in case the black box fails (highly unlikely).

Most noise complaints occur on cloudy days.

Additional noise complaints happen in the spring and autumn (in the 48-hour span each year when temperatures in Texas are pleasant). It is during this brief time that Texans open their windows, and notice airplanes.

Aircraft are usually told to fly straight from the airport, and make no turns until reaching a predetermined altitude.

RVSM means Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum (and refers to a costly gadget for airplanes).

Check21 has/will dramatically affect the aircraft industry, which is/was paid to fly checks around the country. One of those affected is Airnet Systems (Columbus, Ohio)

The Federal Aviation Administration has a website dedicated to aircraft noise.

unrelated: okay, okay. put down your spatulas. The Sundry on Thursday blog is updated.

Wednesday, December 8

there's a truck on the phone, backing up ...

what a great way to start the day.

minutes after 8am, the phone rings. CallerID shows the name of a business (not one with which I do business). "I wonder what they want?" .. so I pick up the phone.
Beep. (pause)
Beep. (pause)
Beep. (pause)
Beep. (pause)
{sigh} I recognize that sound: it's a Group III fax machine, trying to shake hands with One Of Its Own Kind. A Bonehead has mis-digited the number (I have never had a fax machine on that line).

This mis-digiting has happened before. I know what will happen next. The remote fax will try automatically redialing until it gets very, very tired. It does not know it has reached a wrong number (in this case, my home voice line). It doesn't care. It is persistent, and will redial. Again. And again. And again. And again.

Hmm, I thought. There are two ways in which I may defeat it:


Plug my fax machine into the line they dialed, and accept the fax. Then again, there may be URs (unforeseen Ramifications). (begin tangential roll)
  1. would it be a one page fax, or 80 pages?
  2. what if I cut it off after the first 79 pages? Perhaps someone is trying to send the original manuscript to War and Peace (a mere 1472 pages).
  3. if I interrupt, will the sender try again?
  4. can I take a loan against my 401(k) to afford the fax machine supplies (paper, film cartridges)?
  5. will the fax be someone's private medical file (something I can sell on eBay for millions?)
  6. what if the sender remembered to put a disclaimer on the cover page, ordering me to destroy a fax if I was not the intended recipient? could I ignore that order, and still sell it on eBay?
My thought processes were disturbed: it's trying again. {sigh}
Beep. (pause)
Beep. (pause)
Beep. (pause)
Beep. (pause)
My fax machine gets very little activity: maybe 2 faxes a month. The film cartridge affords me good quality, but is pricier than some other solutions. The machine is about 5 years old, which means that shopping for a replacement cartridge will be an exercise in futility (even though it's a name brand - Panasonic - the supplies will be out of stock/out of production). This is The Joy that is Planned Obsolescence. I hate shopping for fax cartridges more than printer cartridges.

Deep Thought #45: When Gene Bob becomes King, there will be one brand of fax cartridge, and one brand of printer cartridge. Not 473 of each.

Okay. All done. The fax machine's hooked into my voice line. As luck would have it, a real voice call arrives -- about 30 seconds after I plugged in the fax machine. Argh! My friend got an earful of that infernal truck backing up.

Then there was OPTION B: somehow get a message to The Bonehead that they dialed a wrong number. Maybe, just maybe .. the CallerID is not the number of a switchboard, but is the actual fax machine. I dialed the number. Beep. Beep. Beep. Hmm .. me thinks it's worth a try.

So, I grabbed a blank piece of paper and wrote in BIG BLACK LETTERS:
"972-867-5309* IS NOT A FAX!"

* (you know what I mean)
and faxed it to the number on the CallerID. Surprise, surprise, surprise! It worked! The line receded to silent bliss. Downside: I won't be able to sell (on eBay) whatever they were faxing. {sigh}

Monday, December 6

Freudian Typo?

as reported by Nathan Callahan:
"We think of the patient hope of men and women across the centuries who listened to the words of the profits and lived in joyful expectation."

-- George W. Bush, in a White House transcript of a speech at the 2004 Christmas tree lighting. Nineteen (19) minutes later, a corrected transcript changed "profits" to "prophets."

Sunday, December 5

in search of The Perfect Cable

About 5pm yesterday, I decided It Was Time to do something with the poor PC that's been rotting in the next room, for the better part of 4 years. I didn't remember much about the configuration, and was amused to find a (whoosh!) 200 MHz AMD K6, with a whopping 128 MB of core RAM. From the look of the logfiles, it was last turned on in 2001, so at least all the Y2K patches are there.

Turns out I left it as a dual-boot machine, running Red Hat Linux in one partition, and Win98 in another. It was setup to use a (gasp!) dialup connection - remember 56 Kb modems? I remembered that Win98SE had a TCP/IP stack, so I thought I'd wing it and see if I could get it to talk to my DSL circuit via Ethernet. Turns out it was just like riding a bicycle : there are a few times when I fell off and scraped my knees, but it didn't take all night to get this ancient warhorse online.

The biggest pain was the sheer number of times (maybe 40?) that Win98 had to reboot, once it found the broadband connection and proceeded to insist on adding four years worth of Critical Patches. I suspect it was a bit confused to see such a pterodactyl online, but eventually it stabilized, and now it sits 2 metres away, connected to the same KVM Switch that my primary box runs.

"What's that?", you say .. "I didn't know you had a KVM Switch!" What's he doing with quasi-modern technology? Well, you see .. that's when the bee entered my bonnet last night.

I nosed around the web, looking for a KVM switch that would allow me to use one keyboard, mouse and monitor on both a new USB system, and my ancient relic which had (gasp!) RS232C serial ports and a DIN-5 keyboard connector (big enough to steer). I settled on Belkin's OmniView SOHO line, one of which sits atop my desk, oozing an amber speck letting me know which of two boxes is on at a time (as if I couldn't tell the difference between Win98 and WinXP, or Linux running GNOME).

To be honest, I stopped at MicroCenter first (preferring to do business with them) but I left after seeing that they wanted $150 for the Switch, and Fry's was willing to be rid of theirs for $90 ... I figured it was worth the 6 mile drive to save $60.

Naturally (after returned home), I decided to simplify things. Naturally, that meant that none of the hundred of thousands of cables in Fibber's closet would work, so .. it was off to Fry's in search of The Perfect Cable, which was a hybrid of USB A:B, VGA M:F and mic/speaker. I was amazed to find what I wanted, and was pleased not to catch a load of grief over my desire to return what I'd bought the night before (PS/2 cables).

Yes, there were hiccups. The keyboard suddenly disappeared after I thought everything was working (turns out the cable became unplugged when I replaced the removable shroud on the Switch. Then, the old PC doesn't support USB in the BIOS, so booting it requires an old keyboard (so that I can opt for Win98 or Linux at the lilo boot prompt (LILO being a a lovely old accounting term). Give me a few months (and a paycheck) and I'll upgrade the motherboard to 21st Century technology. Heck, it'll probably be liquid cooled by then.

Saturday, December 4

it's a long (Seg)way from Oklahoma

I spotted five (5!) Segway® Human Transporters in Richardson this morning, as I made my way south from a rendezvous with Todd-Bob at Starbucks (the one at Coit/Spring Creek in Plano). Seems the City of Richardson closed northbound Coit Road to hold a Christmas Parade, and I'm guessing those Segways were one of the "floats".

The city's website included this one-line explanation:
The Christmas parade starts at 9 am on Saturday Dec. 4th traveling the streets of Promenade then north on Coit RD to Melrose.
No clue why those five Segways broke from the parade and were heading south (toward Dallas) but I was surprised to see them here at all (in the land of pickups and SUVs).

What I could see of the parade (as I moseyed south on Coit) was typical small-town: lots of pickup trucks and a few haywagons converted into floats, and a marching band or two. The sidewalk crowd was very light (probably related to the bone-chilling 50F weather); I'm not sure how many years they've held this parade. Today is the first one I've ever heard of!

anyhoo .. back to those odd-for-Texas contraptions: Segway's website says there's a dealer in Houston (about 250 miles south), but the nearest one is in Oklahoma City (about 200 miles north). Wonder how long it took those Segways to "drive" those 200 miles, and how they found enough sidewalks for that distance? Hmmm.

9 December update: the Segway FAQ says that top speed is 12.5 miles/hour. The range for most models is 8-12 miles (only 6-10 on the p Series), and the recharge takes 4-6 hours. Given that, my NapkinMath™ says it would take about 4.5 days (110 hours) to "drive" a Segway from Oklahoma City to Dallas, assuming I could recharge it in 5 hours, every 10 miles. Or maybe I could make it in 20 hours, assuming I could (a) carry 19 spare/charged battery packs or (b) use solar power (not offered)

Friday, December 3

the start of a great movement?

Today, this is little more than a logo:

(Coalition of Unpaid Bloggers). To read more, see Eric Siegmund's blog (from lovely west Texas)

Other than the various laxatives on sale at our local chemist drugstore or grocery, I can't recall any great movements in this country, since the anti-(Vietnam) war movement of the 1960's. Alas, my parents wouldn't drive me to any of the protest marches, nor let me spend my allowance on hippie love beads or Earth shoes.

Sure, there have been demonstrations here and there (the 1995 Million Man March, the 2004 Million Woman March, etc.) but I'm not sure I even know what they were marching about, which is counterintuitive to holding the thing in the first place, n'est pas?*

* a French phrase meaning (literally) "ain't that right?"

Thursday, December 2

circuit boards looking for a good home

I called a few local recyclers, trying to find one who's willing to take some electronic components off my hands. All are prehistoric relics that have no business becoming part of the water supply. I thought that Recycled Computers International (located in nearby Carrollton) would work, but they'll only accept stuff from businesses, not individuals.

One of the aliases I'm on mentioned First Saturday which I've never been to. Then someone else chimed in, suggesting other places with used computer parts (who may presumably be willing to take this stuff off my hands):

Universal Technologys [sic]
11508 Reeder Rd Ste 112
Dallas TX 75229

Electronics Discount Sales
908 E Pioneer Pkwy
Arlington TX 76010
4070 N Beltline Rd
Irving TX 76034

Computer Junction: Richardson
1730 N Greenville Ave
Richardson TX

Tech Computer Service: Dallas
laptop and printer repairs

Tanner Electronics
1100 Valwood Pkwy Ste 100
Carrollton TX 75006

22 December 2004 update: Anne Kandra wrote an article for the January 2005 (print) edition of PC World titled "A Computer Is a Terrible Thing to Waste" which has some good pointers to computer recycling. Places that are New To Me include the National Recycling Coalition and TechSoup.

For those of you who haven't been able to sleep since last week, be advised that the Sundry on Thursday blog is now updated. Please put down your gravy ladles and resume eating leftover turkey.