Saturday, September 30, 2006


Halloween. The best holiday of the year. Better than Dougmas. It's all about sugar fed fear. It's also the only time of year you can wear a mask. And like it says in the first book of Doug "if they can't see the face, they can't use the mace".

First, the sugar.
I go to for my stocks. I mean just look at the crap they have in stores these days. I used to be able to go out and pick up a six pack or better of Snickers and other candy bars and then at Halloween they'd put out what they call "fun sized" bars. But now it's "fun sized" all year round and for Halloween they sell stuff that's even smaller than that. How lame is that? What candy bar executive thought people would like candy bars that can be fitted nasally? There's something very wrong when your candy bar is a choking hazard.
If you want a candy bar you have to look in the impulse items as you check out. But you can't go there to stock up for Halloween. That's why I go to the internet. I buy the boxes that are stuffed in the impulse item lane.

Next, the fear.
As a kid I had a neighbor that kind of freaked me out. Mom and the kids were alright. The dad however almost never spoke and always seemed to be the grizzled guy sitting in the shadows drinking beer and watching the game. Sometimes he'd go out back and shoot at the trash/burn barrel. So on one Halloween as I went over to their house for the first of the evening's candy I saw a body on the front porch with a knife in it's chest. I had a conflict. It was Halloween and that was probably fake, but it looked soooo real... to a little kid anyway. So I stopped and watched it. I came a bit closer, but I was really expecting the dad to come out any second and move the body. Finally, I ran back to my Mom and Dad who were still just strolling across our yard and warned them that the neighbor had killed someone.

If you've played Thief 2 then you know the room of which I'm about to write. The Haunted Library.
My parrot loves the Thief games. She'll ignore the screen most of the time for most games, but for Thief she's perched on my shoulder watching intently and making the occasional odd comment. So we were working our way through hidden passages when we started hearing the strangest sound ahead. Voices... but, not. You couldn't make out what they were saying. So we approached the door and listened. Whispering and ... something. We opened the door. A dark room. More whispering on the wind. Row after row of bookshelves. That's row after row of blind corners from which anything could step and come after us. We start down the carpeted row so that nothing can hear our footsteps. We move slowly. Watching. Listening. As we reach the first shelves, instead of stepping out, something materializes about a foot in front of us. Gandolf screams and flaps across the room. I scream and leap from my chair. By the time we look back at the screen the figure is gone and my character is fine.
So last Halloween I ran that level up to that room, stuck my character down a row of shelves where he could hear the best sound without the killer ghost getting him and threw the speakers out the window. Then I put a squat candelabra over the door. That's all. Candles and a good soundtrack. Kids who didn't know who lived here didn't want to walk up the sidewalk. One kid, about 5, froze half way up the sidewalk and wouldn't move. Some high school girls argued about which of them would lead the way up the sidewalk. For the next week I'd have people I never saw before coming by and complimenting my Halloween setup.
This year I have a good microphone and some adequate audio editing software. I did some web searches to get some good audio clips. Fire and brimstone preachers, shortwave radio broadcasts, and recorded clips from some radio programs that I couldn't tweek with software because they were RealAudio. I have about 9 minutes of audio that was able to get people in their nice comfortable cubicles to take a step back from their computer. I'm putting this on CD and leaving it on loop.

Here's the audio clip.
Proper adjustment of the volume is important, but you should be able to appreciate it even if you have it loud enough to hear clearly.

Halloween: when fear is fun.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Coffee cans

I have to complain about something rather stupid. Containers. There are several containers that we used to use all the time when I was a kid that I can't find now.

The one that sat me off is coffee cans. We used to always have more large coffee cans than we knew what to do with. Dad would cut the bottoms off and cut air flaps in them. Two stacked end on end would make a good charcoal lighting tool.
If you take a large can and a small can, fill the small can with ingredients, put the lid on and tape it down securely, put the small can in the large can, pack the extra space with ice and salt, seal the large can, then toss/roll the whole thing around for awhile you'd have ice cream.
But now even the bulk coffee comes in some sort of plastic tub. I had to pick up generic coffee to get the large can I wanted. Small cans are still available.

The other one is apple cider jugs. We used to have several 1 gallon glass jugs in the garage left from all the apple cider we'd drink in the fall. The mouth was just the right size that you could drop something on fire into the jar and set a hard boiled egg (shell-less) on top and watch it get sucked in. They were also good for cloud formation simulations.
But I just can't find those jugs anymore. Maybe if I search the farm hard enough I can find an old one.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Torchwood, the Dr. Who spinoff is having problems.
“What was originally going to be a dark and brooding series has suddenly gone all bright and glossy.” Why? Well the rather twisted and evil Dr Phibes says they can't get their flashy Panasonic HD cameras to work in low light. “A lot of tape has been junked. Scenes re-shot in full lighting. A certain Russell T. Davies is said to have choked on his Lava Bread and Cockles. Angry e-mails are heading towards lawyers in the Far East....."

But still has the premier listed as October 28, 2006 so we'll see.

Casanova is still supposed to be showing on PBS early in October with the DVD release immediately after on Oct. 17.

Season 2 of the new Dr. Who starts on Sci-fi Channel a week from Friday I think. It premiers along with the new season of Battlestar Galactica.

Lost premiers a week from today.

The WB and UPN combined network, CW, is running premiers this week. Smallville and Supernatural start tomorrow.

I've been running another blog. Nothing special. Just a collection of old Daria episodes.

I started it after looking at a similar South Park site.

A guy I know on base has a blog and Flickr collection going.
His Flickr site shows favorites from the museum archives.
His blog is about comic related happenings around DC.

There is a parrot chewing on my beard.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


In the absense of anything to write about you get a picture I took in the fountain behind the base hotel.

Monday, September 25, 2006


Take a screenshot. This is me being giddy. It doesn't happen much.

G.B. Trudeau, creator of Doonesbury, was over at the base's equivalent of a Ronald McDonald House. The door was locked but someone saw me and let me in. Gerry (I think that's right) was talking to three guys in uniform. I can't tell rank but they weren't Generals but seemed to be higher than Colonels. Anyway, they appear to be part of the ranks that run the base and Gerry talked to them like he's dealt with them several times before. I know this isn't his first visit to base so he probably has.
Anyway, they sat down in the lounge and talked and I grabbed a chair in the corner and tried to stay out of the way. Gerry was given a stack of books with paper in them to indicate how they should be personalized. The officials left and I caught up behind him while he stood in the foyer with nobody dragging him off for some official whatever.

"Pardon me, sir. Could you pity a fanboy for a moment?"

Then he saw the book I brought to sign.

"Oh, wow. This is an antique. This is back when I had long hair. This book is older than you."

Then he asked if I worked on base and we talked about the medical books I create. I meant to bring one of them over for him, but I spaced. We talked about the books and he started asking about the prospects for developing them electronically and generally had a nice chat.

p.s. It's Garry B. Trudeau. Not Gerry.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Book Review: Mindswap

I just finished reading Mindswap by Robert Sheckley.
The galaxy is huge and filled with populated planets. But travelling between them is time consuming and terribly expensive. The cheap way to do this is by trading your mind for one on another planet. The main character has a need to travel so he answers an ad for someone wanting to visit Earth. But when he gets where he's going he finds out that the body he jumped into was not one belonging to the guy who jumped out and had been promised to someone else. And the guy who has his body has disappeared.
Since he doesn't have prior claim on the body he has to leave it. Without the body his mind will fail in a few hours. So he starts hopping from mind to mind, planet to planet, taking miserable jobs and finding himself in a series of bad situations. The characters he meets get some of the greatest/most comical dialog you're likely to find. But the ending does leave you feeling like the author had a deadline to meet.

Saturday, September 23, 2006


Just a reminder for you druids in hiding, today is the Autumn Equinox.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Video games

First go here and watch the video.
If your speakers don't work or you don't have Flash installed for some reason or you wait two weeks for the next update, it's a cartoon of a squirrel ranting about all the evil corporations in video games either making zombies or making viruses that make zombies and it's your job to save the world.

Zombie games rock. Few things creep me out as much as a well done zombie game. I don't mean First Person Shooters (FPS) like Doom where you have to go room to room slaughtering everything that moves. I mean games like Thief where there's just a few zombies or undead homicidal lunatics that move like a grasshopper dying from wasp spray. There's other good zombie games. They move silently, slowly, unrelentingly, and come out of nowhere. Zombies rule.

There's another point in the video. Why is it that you're always having to save the world (or destroy it)? Give us some less dramatic games. Give us something with minor problems.

Minor inconveniences - the game
Level 1 - You go out to your car to get your lunch and see someone stealing your car. It's your job to recover your lunch.
Level 2 - You need photocopies of your presentation, but the copier is down.
Level 3 - You lost your keys.
Level 4 - You have to meet your date somewhere, but everything goes wrong.

The point is that in each level you have a minor problem to solve and you have to deal with it in the most ridiculous method possible. Buildings are destroyed, governments toppled, aliens fended off, high speed car chases, etc. Just to recover a BLT that's been sitting in your car all morning.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Sorry for the lack of posts. Most of what I've had to write about has been about co-workers who read this.

The morning temperatures dropped 10 degrees this morning to 52°F (284.26°K). This lends a certain urgency to my hunt for my winter helmet. It's designed for a snowmobile rider, but it works well for riding a Segway at any temperature below 52°F (284.26°K). It's at 52°F (284.26°K), plus a cruising speed of 15MPH, that suddenly requires either a box of tissues or some sort of nose catheter. I hope to attack my bedroom/stuff storage with a team of sherpas after work. With any luck we'll find my gloves, too. As it is I had to try to make coffee with all the dexterity of a ... well, this guy.

I'm told there's some NASCAR guys visiting the soldiers today. I'm more interested in G.B. Trudeau's (Doonesbury) visit next week. I've got my 1975 copy of "The Doonesbury Chronicles" here for autographing.
Trudeau donated two of his original strips to the National Museum of Health and Medicine here on base. One was where B.D. was first wounded in Iraq and one was where the doctor who worked on him said "Your awe is thanks enough."

Gas is down below $2.50 here in DC. You'd think there was an election coming up or something. I haven't seen gas prices drop like this since Jim Jeffords left the GOP and opened the oil companies to Congressional scrutiny for their price gouging.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Book Review: The Fourth Bear

The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde
This isn't the first book in this fictional world but you can read these books out of order. The world is the Nursery Crimes Division of the Reading Police Department. See, in the town of Reading there are many nursery rhyme based characters. Jack Spratt, Mary Mary, Goldilocks, an assortment of intelligent bears, etc. Jack heads up the NCD.
In this book The Gingerbread Man, a homicidal 7 ft cookie, escapes from the psych ward where Jack put him 10 years before. But Jack isn't put on the case. Instead he's suspended. His boss suspends him at least once per case, the difference this time is that Jack isn't on a case.
While not on duty Jack and Mary investigate the disappearance of Goldilocks which drags them into the sordid world of competitive cucumber growing and why the homes of the best growers in the world keep exploding with atomic force.
One of my favorite bits is Dorian Gray and his indestructable cars.

I will be keeping and eye out for more of this writer's stuff.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Have you ever heard a wallet scream?

Eric the handyman came by to collect his last check last night. About an hour before that I deposited a few paychecks in the bank. I knew this was gonna be tight. Fixing the wall was gonna be a blow to the bank account and fixing the bathroom too was gonna be pushing my luck. My original estimate of how close I was gonna squeeze it was pretty much spot on. I had a gap of about $2,000 between what I had and what I owed. I think all in all I paid this guy close to $24,000. It was worth it. Don't get me wrong. He's worked on a bunch of houses in this area and they all have as much praise for this guy's work as I do. My wall is great and my bathroom is better.

If you're in the DC area and need some work on your house you should call Eric. His number is (202)409-3820. Just give him a little time to get some sleep first.

In related news Gandolf, my african grey parrot, is back home as of last night. She was starting to go batty in the office. I kept her in an office on a secure military base for two and a half months and the only people who found out were the cleaning ladies. You may applaud now.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Bumpersticker 4

I know, I haven't posted the explainations of Bumperstickers 1-3 yet. One is written but I'm not ready to post it. Two and three I haven't touched yet. I just felt like writing number 4.

Bumpersticker #4 - Science: It's about how, not who.

This is one of my favorites. Coming from Kansas I've had to put up with the state school board's regular bouts with idiocy. Luckily I was out of high school before it really got started. Yeah, I know, if I got out that long ago I'd be the patent holder on the zero or something.
The idiocy I refer to is the Kansas School Board's ongoing struggle with Creationists and how to include the idea that the whole of creation was made by from nothingness by a huge, elderly, caucasion male with a flowing white beard and dressed in robes who may or may not be God. Ok, I exaggerate a bit. Creationists want science teachers to teach what they call Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design is the idea that there was an intelligent being who created everything or at least guided creation. Some Creationists are willing to say that evolution was guided by this being while others want to say that everything was created as is.
The debate goes around and around. Scientists talk about how there's no evidence to support the Creationists' desire for a creator. Creationists talk about the complexity of the eye or the uselessness of an undeveloped wing to say that they had to be planned and built as is.
This debate is going to go on for centuries still to come. My comments so far probably give you a good idea where I come down on the issue.

The bumpersticker simply tries to say that the science classroom isn't the place for this subject to be covered. Teachers have enough trouble covering the proven hows of the natural world without having to add the burden of who. Leave that to the philosophy class with the rest of the thought exercises.

I could get into my definition of the word "miracle" and the idea of "God's Toolbox", but I'll leave that for another time.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


I'm getting into the next installment in my virtual hand surgery series. This time I'm having the user repair a broken metacarpal. The 5th metacarpal is the one most frequently broken. Most stories I've seen have involved people falling off their bikes.
So after several days of online research and pouring through medical tomes (I couldn't put the book down. Hell, I could barely pick it up.) the boss finally got off the phone long enough to answer my questions.

We start with introducing the players - the anesthesiologist, the circulating nurse, and the surgical assistant.
The anesthesiologist will do a nerve block.
The user starts by putting on betadine solution.
Feel along the side of your hand. The pinky side. You can feel the pad of the muscle and the bone. The user may or may not mark along that line where they meet. Then the user cuts along that line.
In the fasciotomy program the internal pressure of the hand held the incision open. In this case the user will use self retaining retractors to hold it open.
I have to figure out how to get the user to get the pieces of bone together.
Then bone holding forceps will hold it in place.
A variety of lengths of plate will be available. The user will have to pick the one that fits. The correct answer is the 6 hole plate.
The user will drill the holes using the plate as a guide.
The user will then screw the plate in place and fix the bone pieces in place.
Then the user will close the hand. A much more satisfactory ending than the faciotomy where we just walked away from the wide open hand while waiting for swelling to go down.

Monday, September 11, 2006


There's a genre of mystery known as the closed room mystery. No, wait, those are mysteries where someone was killed in a locked room and there's no way for the killer to get in or out. No, I'm looking for books like the movie "Clue". You know, there's a group of people in a house, one gets murdered, and the rest of the story is spent finding out who.
I'm not a mystery buff, but I have a setting I think would be perfect for this style mystery. Anyone know of some titles along this line? I need a dozen or two to read just to get myself thinking along the correct lines.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

a miracle

I wish to report a miracle. A football game ended on time! It's either a miracle or further proof that football is rigged and the game ends when the network says it ends.

Friday, September 08, 2006


I got my phone line back in last night. Sorta. I have a working phone upstairs. I need to burrow back through two layers of bookshelves to find my drill so I can punch a hole through the brick. Then I need to run cable and install jacks in the computer room, kitchen, living room, and maybe the bedroom. Antenna wire to follow the phone lines into the bedroom and living room. I might get my computer set up in the kitchen just to have it back.

The house has finally been cleared of all incandescent bulbs. I've got a couple of LED bulbs and several Compact Flourescent Bulbs (CFBs). I'm using mostly GE's soft white 60. It hesitates before lighting and it gets a bit warmer than I remember CFBs getting, but the light is white and bright. It's 15 watts that looks like 60 watts.
Alas, that model was too big for the globe for the kitchen ceiling fan. I went out and got a 9 watt (looks like 40 watt) CFB by N.Vision. It fits but it's blue light. I may replace it with a 40 watt (in appearance) from GE and move this one to the back porch.

Nearly got in a fight last night. A neighbor kid wanted to borrow my Essential Fantastic Four. I told him that if he waits until I'm done reading it I'll be happy to let him borrow it. Every day he asks me again and I tell him the same thing. So while I had my back turned on my house he slipped in and got it. I caught him trying to sneak off with it held behind his back. I've had previous trouble with this guy and his cousin. "No" is not in their vocabulary. "No" translates roughly to "wait until I'm not looking". The cousin is already banned from my house for taking a game I said he couldn't borrow and for trying to walk off with some change that the workmen left in the house. This guy lied to cover for his cousin in the past.
So I dope slapped him, snatched the book away, hefted him up and gave him a toss down the street. He turned around laughing and tried coming back. I advanced threateningly and snarling "don't even try laughing this off. You leave now. I don't want to see you here." A few minutes later his mom showed up with his older brother and uncle. Both guys were large men a head taller than me and head and shoulders taller respectively. I'm aware of the two guys looming and being threatening, but this isn't about them. I'm maintaining eye contact with the queen "B". She starts yelling at me about laying hands on her son. I told her that her son was a little thief who needs to stop trying to make off with other peoples stuff. She lets me know that I should have brought him to her to deal with. I let her know that if she disciplined her kids then they wouldn't need complete strangers doing it for her. This continued for a bit. Her claiming that her boy is very respectful of other people and their stuff. I asked if she'd met her son and how respectful was it to walk off with other peoples stuff when permission was specifically denied. She threatened to call the cops. I said "please do". Finally she headed off. Her thugs followed. The uncle kicked the Battleship game I was playing with a couple other neighborhood kids. I stood back up and went nose to chin with this guy.
"My bad" he said in the most sarcastic tone possible.
"Damn strait it's your bad."
"Just like you hitting that kid was your bad."
"You would have done something different if you found someone walking out of your house with your stuff?" And as he starts leaving I had to throw in "What kind of parent are you anyway?"
I knew it would piss her off again but it had to be said. She came back with the standard "What did you just say?"
"Do you really need me to repeat myself?"
She said something about how she'd lose her job if she hit me and left.
Then we started hunting down all the Battleship pegs.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Book reviews

No TV, no phone, no internet. I'm getting all kinds of reading done.

Shadow Falls by Simon R. Green
Shadow Falls is a city. It's much like Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere or Simon Green's Nightside. It's a supernatural area doesn't exist in normal space but you can get to if you know how or are really, really lost. The people in Shadow Falls may or may not have actually existed. Some are people, some are dead people who came back, some are rock stars whose legend became greater than the person, and some are gods, cartoon characters, or novel characters whose popularity has waned but aren't yet completely forgotten. They come to Shadow Falls because of the Forever Door. The Forever Door is the passage to the afterlife and is guarded by Father Time.
Naturally, something has to go wrong. One of the central characters grew up in Shadow Falls but doesn't know it. He forgot about it when his family fled when he was 10. He is prophecied to destroy the Forever Door. When his parents die he finds a note from his Grandfather that leads him back.
Murder is supposed to be impossible in Shadow Falls. But there has been a rash of murders with no clues. An unstoppable being known as the Wild Childe is responsible.
An army of fanatical Christians has decided to take control of the Forever Door.

Simon R. Green rocks. He tells fairly original stories and tells them in a way that keeps you reading.

Schrödinger's Ball by Adam Felber
Over on the right side of this page you'll see a link to Adam Felber's Blog. Adam also appears most weeks on NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me", is a stand up comic, and writes for some TV shows.
This is a rather surreal story. It hops between several groups of people with no apparent connection. But it's funny so you keep reading. The book crashes somewhere around page 90 and has to be rebooted. Near the end of the book the various stories finally come together.
It helps to have some understanding of the Heisenburg Uncertainty Principle and/or Schrödinger's Cat model. Not completely necessary, but it helps. Basically, photons and electrons and whatnot exist not so much in a definate place and time but rather a cloud of places where they probably are until actually seen. Once seen they exist in a definate place. Schrödinger's Cat model was supposed to explain this behavior while pointing out how absurd it is. You put a cat in a box with a vial of poison and a uranium molecule. There's a 50/50 chance of that molecule decaying in one hour. If it decays the poison is released and that cat dies. Otherwise the cat lives. But until you open the box and look the cat is both alive and dead and neither alive nor dead.
One of the stories involves a person talking who can't seem to stop running into Schrödinger despite the fact that Schrödinger died several decades before. Schrödinger won't stop lecturing about anything and everything and continually moans about how he wished he never thought of the cat because nobody understands the story right.
Another part of the story involves a man who shoots himself in the head while cleaning his gun in his basement. He then goes out and hangs out with his friends for the next several days. Nobody saw him die or found the body so he goes about his life, although his behavior is quite odd, until someone finds him.

Essential by Marvel Comics
I picked up Essential Doctor Strange, Essential Spider-Man, and Essential Fantastic Four a few weeks back. All three books include 20-30 of the original stories. They're fairly cheap in both price and quality. The Essential Doctor Strange came right apart. Pages everywhere. The paper is essentially rejected toilet paper. Still, for $15 each they're not bad.
Doctor Strange sucks. I find the stories lame and the dialog comically bad.
Spider-Man was pretty good from the start, but there's still some places where you can see how dialog writing has improved over the years.
The Fantastic Four isn't as good as Spider-Man, but it's not awful. You can really see how the dialog writing has improved.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


Thanks to tropical storm Ernesto I had to put off moving home for a day. Even going home on Saturday there was a heavy mist.
The workers finished the bathroom, but they're not done with the house yet. The back window still needs bars over it and needs to be framed in. The back porch light needs to be reinstalled. The door on the second floor needs to have a bar across it to help prevent the neighbor kids jumping out. There's also supposed to be a screen that can be pulled across the door. And the drain pipe only comes halfway down the back of the house. So they still have their tools lying everywhere. This makes rearranging furniture a bit inconvenient. So while I'm back in my house I'm still a long way from reconstructing the living space. Once the tools are gone I should be able to do enough to make space for the bird to come back.

The tank on the toilet is really tiny. The inner workings are rather complex. This won't be as easy to fix as a regular toilet. But there's not a constant stream of water running down the inside so it shouldn't build up minerals nearly as fast.
What I'm most worried about is breaking the seat. You know how on most toilets when you lift the seat it leans against the tank? Well, with this smaller tank the seat doesn't hit the tank. There's a big gap between them. So eventually it'll break off.
There's a noticable difference in the water flow between the two buttons. One is 0.8 gallons, the other is 1.6 gallons (or 3 liters vs 6 liters).
So far it seems to work pretty well.

There's still no phone line in the house. I'm here at the office to check on Gandolf, call Verizon, check my e-mail, and get my jeans.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Clarifying a detail

A public service announcement.

This is a tractor.

This is NOT a tractor.

Thank you for your attention.