Friday, December 31, 2004

Nothing succeeds like excess.

A favorite Christmas pastime is driving around and looking at the lights that people put up on their houses. The Richmond variation on this is to seek out and view the tackiest light displays. The local newspaper has its own list of residences with tacky Christmas lights, and also lists limo and bus companies that will take you on a tour of the homes (so you don't have to look at a map at the same time you're marvelling at the lights). Some of these homes boast upwards of 50,000 lights.

There's even a slideshow of the tacky light displays (the Tacky Lights around town one). My favorites were # 11 and # 25.

There surely is enough light being blasted into the sky to direct three men from the East, although it's unclear what they'll find.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

At last: the explanation for why I'm still single.

It's because I don't use (or, at least, have not yet used) a hand puppet to meet single women.

Luckily, the author explains in detail how the scheme works. "First, you will need a hand puppet."

Equally luckily, he has another article giving advice once you're successful: First date with a topless dancer.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Gang aft agley.

Okay, maybe I won't go to Florida for Christmas, after all. An American Airlines plane went off the runway into the grass, blocking the two runways that carry 98 % of the traffic at the airport. So they closed the airport. Some 3 hours later, they hadn't been able to move the plane.

Thus, my flight to Charlotte was going to miss its connection to Miami. The airline gave me some options: I could fly to Charlotte and hope that I could find a standby flight to Miami. (This would be at my own risk, so they wouldn't put me in a hotel or anything if I didn't find anything.) Or they could confirm me on to a flight tomorrow, leaving Richmond at 6:00 a.m., connecting in Philadelphia, and arriving in Miami at 4 p.m. (So I could be there for one day, and then fly back to Virginia? Don't think so.) Or they could refund my fare.

I took the latter choice. Well, now I have that much more I can spend on presents. For myself.

Update: The plane went off the runway around 8:20 this morning. And from an evening report, "Finally by nightfall, a local towing company brought its 52-ton wrecker and pulled the plane out of the mud."

Management skills? We don’t need no steenking management skills.

I had long thought that one of my former employers was the most dysfunctional organization around. Certainly that employer provided lots of fodder when I was in business school – any time there was a “good” or “best practice” discussed, it took no effort whatsoever to think of how that company did the opposite. (And after the class on outsourcing, I had the Operations professor laughing uncontrollably with tales of what that company did.)

It turns out, though, that the BigLawFirm for whom I’m working as a contract attorney is even worse. No employee management skills at all, and precious few project management skills. They share information according to the “Growing Mushrooms” principle (keep ‘em in the dark and feed ‘em manure); they don’t have complete written instructions (why try to have 60 people following a consistent procedure?); they don’t like to train people (they’ll seat a new person next to someone who’s been around for a while, and tell the new person that it’s okay to ask questions); they announce changes to the established procedure by telling about a third of the people and suggesting that they might want to pass it on to the others. They don’t keep track of documents terribly well (the thousands of file boxes are labelled on the outside but fairly randomly placed onto shelves, and there’s no master list keeping track of the location of a particular box of documents or of what processing its documents have undergone), and they manage by deadlines (e.g., the mid-day Thursday announcement of “All of this has to be done by Friday” without regard to whether we have enough resources to get it done by Friday, and sharing for the first time that there’s a Friday deadline despite their having known about the deadline for two months).

The latest trick was to have a partner and associate explain – and with surprising clarity, for once – some new set of procedures to respond to a specific document request, procedures which differed from the “standard” process in a major way. They explained it sufficiently well that all 10 or 12 of the people who heard the explanation and followed it understood it the exact same way. About a week later, the associate returned to inform us that we all had misunderstood the instructions, that it clearly was our fault that we misunderstood, because it had been explained so clearly, and that she’d explain it all to us again, using smaller words in the hope that we might catch on this time. She then set forth an entirely new procedure, markedly different from the original instructions. She then left, leaving us to figure out how to reconcile the two sets of instructions. She came back the next day, to explain it all to us yet again, with exaggerated patience and the thinly veiled belief that we were, collectively, dumber than a box of hammers. And this explanation didn’t match either of the two earlier explanations.

Sigh. I so look forward to working for a real organization.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Going-away present.

Today was the last day for the woman who’s been supervising the project I’m working on. It would be incorrect to say she was in charge of the project, because that’s something no one is, but she probably knew more about the procedural aspects of the project than anyone. Anyway, she’s off to New York and a new job. (Leaving us to flounder, but that seems to be totally in keeping with BigLawFirm’s overall philosophy towards the project, so I won’t rant on it further here.)

Someone among the 30 or so of us contract attorneys took it upon herself to get a card and collect money for a gift certificate. So, over the last week, the rest of us signed the card and contributed to the certificate, which she went out and got last night.

What kind of gift certificate got purchased? An American Express gift card? Or a certificate for one of the local malls? Or something generic like a chain bookstore? Not at all. She got a gift certificate from Victoria's Secret.

Yes, a mixed group (half male, half female) of employees apparently decided to purchase erotic lingerie for the boss as a going-away gift, and to present it to her with all the ribald comments that you’d expect (e.g., “[Your boyfriend] will really like this!” and “Send us a photograph of what you purchase, with you wearing it!”). Well, okay: not all of us; just those who were doing the presentation.

Some of us truly were appalled; primarily those of us who have sat through classes and seminars on sexual harassment in the workplace, who recognize that a public presentation of crotchless panties to our boss could easily be construed as a hostile workplace environment, leaving us and the employer open to a fair amount of liability. Appalled from the moment we realized where the gift certificate was from. And further appalled that half of the group – all attorneys, mind you, and not all people who just graduated from lower-tier law schools who have never practiced law – saw absolutely nothing wrong with the gift certificate.

Luckily, she took the situation in stride, and seemed to appreciate the present, so it’s unlikely she’ll sue either us or the law firm for sexual harassment. And no one else seems to recognize that any of the rest of us could now complain of the hostile workplace environment, even if not directed at us.

At least it wasn't 14 inches of rain in 3 hours.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day. I surmise that weathermen aspire to the level of accuracy of broken clocks.

The forecast for Sunday evening: lows in the mid-20's, 30% chance of showers or snow showers. Actual Sunday evening weather: 11 degrees, 3 inches of snow accumulation, and 45 mph winds.

Ah, well. Without the position of weather forecaster, blonde bimbos would never get on-camera jobs at TV stations.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

A bridge I won't be driving over. I mean, across.

The world's tallest bridge was opened in France Tuesday, near Millau; one that you can drive across. And you'd be a mere 891 feet above the river valley below. Man, there would be no way I'd drive across that. I could only hope that the toll operators would provide the occasional driver, the way the Chesapeake Bay Bridge does. The alternative would be for me to start across, gripping the steering wheel so tightly that it would likely break, and hope that I get to the other end before I pass out from failing to breathe.

Of course, living below the bridge wouldn't be a picnic either, with drivers "dropping" things out their windows and over the railings.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Tie one on for Christmas.

I wore a tie to work today. Okay, normally not such a big deal. But this was the first time that I’ve worn a tie to work in 4 ½ years. (The main company I worked for during that period was all business casual, all the time, and nothing I’ve worked at since leaving there required a tie. Working at home for the legal publisher doesn’t even require a shirt, or pants for that matter, but that’s a different story.) It was a Land’s End Christmas tie with a festive scene of a horse-drawn sleigh through the wintry countryside.

Today was our Christmas party, the party for all the people working on the project. You understand, this wasn’t the BigLawFirm’s Christmas party – this was the party “sponsored by” (i.e., paid for by) the temp agencies. Of course, when the partner was “inviting” us to it, he always put it in terms of “WE’re inviting you …”. But it so wasn’t the BigLawFirm party for its employees. This was the party for the field hands, not the one for the house servants and certainly not the one for Massa and his family. It was, however, in the BigLawFirm building, instead of over here in the warehouse, so I guess we were to be impressed that we were allowed into the big building with the clean floors and the employees who bathe regularly, even though we were trooped in like a Boardroom appearance on “The Apprentice.”

And you’ve got to appreciate the festive touch: (a) Attendance was mandatory, (b) you can’t bill for the hour the party was going on, even if you didn’t attend, and (c) to ensure those, they cleared the office at 12:00 and locked us out.

The food was okay: a couple of salads (one pasta, one greens), cold stir-fry main dishes (chicken and pork), sodas, and a lemon pound cake. Not exactly festive fare, but a better lunch than I’d have bought for myself. Some amount of yammering from the hierarchy (“We’re so happy you’re working for us, and we’re delighted with the amount of work you’re putting out. Well, not so happy that we’d allow you to wander amongst us at our real Christmas party, or even to give you either a present or a bonus, but real happy none the less”), but mostly they left us alone to schmooze with our co-workers.

Until they came out with the kicker: “We’ve got all these Christmas cards that we’re sending to people at The Client Compay, and we’d like for you all to sign them. They’re so impressed that the whole team signs the careds: Whenever we’re up there, we see that they still have these cards from last year posted for everyone to see. So please don’t leave without signing them all.” There were about 10 of them, mostly addressed to higher-ups at The Client Company, head of the legal department, and the like. And one for the U.S. Attorney heading up the Feds’ investigation of The Client Company. Very, very bizarre. A couple of folks signed with names other than their own, but no one had the courage to sign “Looking forward to having you here with me. (s) Martha Stewart.”

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

If you wear it, they will come.

Interesting story in the Post over the weekend, about cause-related bracelets, of which the bright yellow Lance Armstrong Foundation’s “Live Strong” bracelet was the first. The figures on the Live Strong bracelet are outstanding: they’ve sold over 27 million of them, raising around $22 million for the Foundation’s programs for children with cancer. (It turns out that Nike picked up the manufacturing and distribution costs for only the first five million bracelets; after that, 23% of the $1.00 price goes to cover those costs, and 77% goes to the Foundation.) And demand still outpaces supply, causing a secondary market to emerge on eBay.

Anything that successful will have its imitators, and they started showing up in the fall. The Seattle branch of the Susan G. Komen foundation was the first, selling pink bracelets to raise funds for its breast cancer programs; following closely behind were autism programs (light blue), support for Israel (dark blue), fighting medical malpractice (lime green), bone marrow (royal blue), and colorectal cancer (cornflower blue). And then came schools and sports teams with their own colors. And rip-off artists, like the rainbow colored bracelets sold at 7-Eleven that say “Show your support” – but the only thing supported appears to be 7-Eleven.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Return of the mummy.

King Tut is making a comeback tour, this time going to museums that will charge an admission fee. So I'm guessing it won't be going back to the Smithsonian, where I saw it on a winter day when it got up to 5 degrees (and the Potomac was frozen over sufficiently well that one could walk across it, not that I did), which had the benefit of keeping the waiting line short as no one wanted to wait outside the museum.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

At least there's a little justice in the world.

Famed crybaby John McEnroe's ill-fated talk show was canceled after four months of abysmal ratings, including the occasional 0.0 from Neilsen.

Good riddance.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Advertising madness.

It’s been a while since I’ve railed at TV commercials, so I guess I can have at it again. Today’s theme will be: cell phone providers.

One of the ads has been on the air for a couple of weeks, for n-Telos, a local phone and cell-phone company. Pretty generic ad: it starts off with an animated blue bird swooping and soaring around on a downtown street, past a building with a lot of columns, gliding around the clock on the corner of the building, down to a burgundy canopy over an entrance to the building, and up, up and away! into the blue sky, only to come back down in a meadow out in the country, surrounded by singing children. Stock footage, I’m sure, and not especially remarkable. Except: the downtown building that is swooped around is the building I work in, and I even go into the building through the door under the burgundy canopy. The clock on the corner of the building? Doesn’t work, and hasn’t for at least six months.

And the other thing I find fascinating about the ad is the choice of background music: “Volunteers” by Jefferson Airplane. Lifted straight off one of the Airplane’s albums, I believe, and apparently not done by a sound-alike studio group with rewritten words. Nice music, and I’m always happy to hear it, but a pretty inappropriate choice for the ad. When I think of Revolution Against The Man, I don’t think about cell phone providers, and vice versa. n-Telos is consistent though: they use the same music in their ad where the animated blue bird swoops around the inside of a shopping mall decorated for Christmas.

The other ad played heavily over the Thanksgiving weekend, and was (I think) for Verizon. Set at a big football game, it looks to be either just before the game or during the half-time entertainment, as the marching band is on the field, the cheerleaders are doing something appropriate, and the stands are filled with fans, dressed in team colors (and occasionally bare-chested and covered with paint, and thus presumably liquored-up). The stadium’s public address announcer comes on to tell about the great deal that Verizon has on camera phones – and that the sale ends on November 28th (Sunday). So everyone – fans, cheerleaders, band, and players – bolts from the field, heading off to get themselves camera phones before the fantastic sale ends.

Fine. No better or worse than most other cell phone ads, I’d say, and certainly better than the plethora of “Can you hear me now?” ads. So what earns it a place in this ranting? The time that I saw the ad: Sunday night. I saw it twice between 8 and 9 p.m. on the History Channel (a show about possible conspiracies surrounding the Lincoln assassination), and again around 9:40 p.m., during Desperate Housewives.

What in the world was the purpose of showing the ads that late on Sunday night? Surely the Verizon shops had closed by 6 in the evening, and even if they were 24-hour stores, who could they possibly expect to jump in their cars after 10 p.m. on Sunday night to go buy a new cell phone before midnight? Lunacy. Given that the ad was showing on two different networks at that hour, I won’t blame the advertising scheduler at the network for putting the ad on after the promotion was effectively over. Instead, I’d blame either the ad agency placing the ads or the manager at Verizon who approved the ad placement and the entire promotion, either (or both) of whom probably specified that the ad should run “throughout the Thanksgiving weekend” without realizing that Sunday ads would be wasted, so the commercial should have run only Thursday through Saturday. But I’d have also expected that it would part of their jobs to ensure that commercials pushing a promotion don’t air after the promotion has finished.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Winter's a-comin'.

At some point on the day after Thanksgiving, it struck me out of nowhere: it had been a long time since they’d come to refill my heating oil tank. A long time, and it was starting to get chilly, it being late November and all. I even went out to the tank, and peered into the fill hole. Couldn’t tell much, other than there was still enough oil to reflect my eye back at me, from way down there at the surface of the oil. I also remembered a year ago, when I did the same thing, and I was convinced that I was about out of oil, and had the oil company deliver that afternoon – and it turns out my tank was still two-thirds full, after all.

So I called the oil company. “Do you still have me on your automatic delivery plan?” Yes. “When is the next delivery schedule?” About a week and a half from now. “Really? Hmm. What do your records indicate was the last time you delivered oil to me?” Back in April. You know, it’s been such a mild autumn that we’ve had to delay our first delivery of the season by a couple of weeks.

Luckily, she then asked the correct next question: By our records, we have that you use oil only for heating. Is that correct, that you don’t use it to heat your water? “Uh, no. I use it to heat water that I use for both personal use and for heating the house.” Ah. In that case, we should put you on a more frequent delivery.

And true to her word, the oil truck showed up the next morning to fill my tank. Did a very thorough job of it, too, putting in slightly over 220 gallons. Especially impressive since I thought my tank held 210 gallons. “No, that’s a 270-gallon tank,” the delivery man said, “but you did have it mighty empty there.”

Things appearing where they’re not supposed to be.

And no, I’m not referring to those tattoos that show up after a particularly memorable lost weekend.

It was the shadows that appeared suddenly on my office window. Shadows being cast downward, onto the window from the outside. Shadows of arms and legs and tools. On my 17th-floor window. And then the banging and pounding started. On the outside of the window.

Today was the day the window washers came to town.

We’re not talking a high-class operation here, with fancy platforms being lowered from the roof by inch-thick metal cables. This was a couple of guys, each sitting on a little wooden seat, lowered from the roof by a three-quarter inch rope. They looked to be attached to the rope, which is good; their tools didn’t appear to be tethered to anything, however. And I would imagine that a four-foot wide squeegee on a ten-foot metal pole would make a pretty impressive projectile when dropped from the 17th floor, as would the squirt bottle with a half-gallon of soapy water in it. And it was both chilly and windy; a good combination when hanging around near the top of a 20-story building.

It was bad enough seeing them working on windows at the other side of the room. When they finally got to my window, on their next trip down the side of the building, I literally could not sit at my computer and work while there was a guy on the other side of my window, dangling by a rope, balancing on the ledge while spraying dirty soapy water on the window and squeegeeing it off.

Even in the best of situations, I can’t stand to look down out of my window (I can look at the ground, but only if it’s a half-mile away), and the knowledge that this guy could look down and see nothing below his feet but the sidewalk, and the sidewalk is a three-second freefall away, was enough to give me a little dizzy spell and make me walk away.

And I suppose we can add “window washer” to the list of Occupations I Don’t Care To Practice.

Friday, November 26, 2004

That would appear to be my leg you're pulling. Alas.

Sigh. It turns out that that the article about the Indiana congressman introducing legislation to change the designation of Interstate 69 was from a satirical web site and was fictional. Who knew? If it had been The Onion, I'd have figured it out. But this struck me as being entirely reasonable for an Indiana congressman, given the present makeup of the national government.

The good news is that I wasn't the only person taken in by the article. From a page on their web site with comments they received about the article:

"Hostettler's proposal is truly the stupidest thing I have read all day. What's next on his agenda -- changing the name of French Lick to Freedom Lick?"


"This article on I-69 is making you people look like serious yahoos. I presume that's because you are. I live in Knoxville, TN, and to look like a yahoo from here, you have to be pretty awful."


"Could you also ask the Congressman look into that 'asphalt' term? It's very disturbing."

Monday, November 22, 2004

A little light housecleaning.

Very little, and figuratively only, as anyone who's seen the inside of my house will attest to.

Updates to a few entries I've had recently. The Washington Post editorial page takes the latest nominee for Attorney General to task. Key quote: "Why is a lawyer whose opinions have produced such disastrous results for his government -- in their practical application, in their effect on U.S. international standing and in their repeated reversal by U.S. courts -- qualified to serve as attorney general?"

There's been a partial settlement in lawsuits following the collapse of the bonfire structure at Texas A&M. $4.25 million to the families of four students who died and three who were injured, in settlement of claims against student leaders. Key quote: "The bonfire student leaders wanted to return to their lives and their household insurance companies wanted resolution, said Dallas attorney Chuck Aris, who represents four of them." Lucky thing the student leaders had lives they could return to, unlike - say - their followers.

And to the extent that the lunatic Congressman who wants to change the numbering of Interstate 69 (because it causes teens to snigger, wear their hair long, and create dance crazes, or whatever) had any semi-valid grounds that the extension of I-69 would be west of I-65, and thereby run afoul of the Official Numbering Scheme of Interstate Highways, the internet comes to the rescue: Someone has a web page with all the instances where the Official Numbering Scheme is violated, and nobody seems all that interested in changing any of the other violative highways. (My favorite? The stretch in Virginia where, on the same highway, you are simultaneously going north on I-77 and south on I-81.)

Darwinism at work.

Wonderful story out of Wisconsin. Deer hunters shooting at each other, apparently in a dispute over a hunting stand. Ends only when the primary shooter runs out of ammunition. Guess the deer aren't the only ones who should keep their heads down.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Your tax dollars at work.

An Indiana congressman is going to introduce legislation to change the name of Interstate 69 to something less dirty. Since, after all, the names of highways are well-known as erotic stimuli. Well, maybe in Indiana.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Thought for the day.

"As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more
closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain
folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House
will be adorned by a downright moron."

- H.L. Mencken (1880 - 1956)

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Because so few mice know how to dance.

What’s worse than finding a dead mouse in your office? Finding a dying mouse in your office.

Okay, I guess we can’t blame Mia the Wondercat for this one. It’s the mouse on my computer that is on its last legs. (Or whatever.) The ball inside rolls around just fine, and it’s clean enough, but the sensors that detect the motion of the ball recognize only up-and-down motion, not side-to-side. And since no links or commands are ever lined up directly under the mouse’s location, or straight up or down from it, I now have to get around on the screen with some combination of Ctrl- commands and tabbing. No fun at all. But I’m sure I’ll go out tonight or tomorrow to get a new one.

What’s worse still? Having your cat find and play with a live mouse at 3 in the morning, and she’s enjoying it so much that she wants to share the pleasure with you, so she jumps up onto the bed with the mouse in her mouth, and lets it loose so she (and you) can chase it. (Again, not Mia. That was Sabrina, when she still thought of mice as self-propelled fuzzy chew toys rather than as snacks.)

Friday, November 12, 2004


Waiting in traffic last night, I noticed the license plate of the car next to mine: “1-1-CAPT

“One-One-Captain”? What a stupid plate to have, and an especially stupid one to pay extra for.

Yes, I understand: It could be somewhat funny if they were roman numerals representing “one” instead of arabic numerals, because you could pronounce “I-I-CAPT” as “aye, aye, Captain,” but they aren’t, so you can’t, and it isn’t.

Gah. Well, I suppose it’s an extra ten bucks for the Commonwealth every year, so that has to be the silver lining.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

One bad choice deserves another.

Why would anyone think it would be any different? Bush's nominee for the Attorney General position is just as much of a train wreck as Ashcroft was.

He thinks a little torture - whether in Guantanamo or Abu Graib - is just fine. He thinks that the Geneva Convention is "quaint" and outmoded. He thinks that fair trials are a convenience we can no longer afford.

Just the kind of person we need to have in charge of enforcing the law.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

He's back! And about time.

Starting Nov. 21, the Sunday-only and dead-tree-edition only comic "Opus" will bring back Steve Dallas. Older, and no wiser.

Monday, November 08, 2004

"Jodie. Oh, Jodie."

The Post reports that John Hinckley's lawyer is making the claim that Hinckley is no longer mentally ill, and thus should be permitted to have longer (four-day) unsupervised visits every other week to his parents' home in Williamsburg. Government attorneys oppose the claim and the request.

What I want to know is this: Since Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and is involuntarily locked up in St. Elizabeth's because he's considered mentally ill, shouldn't what follows the claim that he's no longer mentally ill be that he should be released? And not that he should have longer visits away before returning for continued incarceration?

The trailer is out.

And it looks pretty good; although, of course, that's what trailers are supposed to do.

Good use of the older Obi-Wan Kenobi for the voice-over. A little risky, though: reminding people of the quality of the original Star Wars movie raises the bar well above the level hit by Episodes I and II. Looks like we'll get some good scenes leading to the creation of Darth Vader, a Mace Windu lightsaber fight, and what seems to be a lightsaber duel between Anakin and young Obi-Wan. Looks like we get some weak scenes, too, with another Dancing Yoda lightsaber fight and ground-war scenes on the Wookiee homeworld.

How many more days until May 19?

Update: Well, the link I had here earlier worked this morning, but doesn't seem to be working now. So I've substituted the official Star Wars site, and I imagine that one will keep working.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

A waste of five million dollars.

That's how much it cost to build Texas A&M's memorial to what they're calling the "bonfire victims". Yes, they're spending a boatload of money to memorialize the 11 undergraduates and 1 graduate student who died, and the 27 people injured, when the annual bonfire for the pep rally before the University of Texas football game collapsed while they were building it. (This would be a "bonfire" that was 170 feet across, made of thousands of telephone-pole-sized logs, layered like a wedding cake, weighing over two millions pounds.)

The university's official report found both engineering/design problems and behavioral/organizational problems as root causes for the collapse (including the lack of any written design or professional review of design changes of the Bonfire, the lack of student knowledge concerning structural integrity in construction), but played down other factors, such as the cavalier attitude towards safety, seen in the high incidence of injury (8 to 10 times that of similar occupations, such as forestry or heavy construction), and the hazing, horseplay, and drinking that went on at the construction site (two of the students who died had blood alcohol levels well in excess of the legal limit for driving).

Five million dollars could have funded a lot of scholarships, which would have been a far better memorial to those who died in the collapse of the tower of logs. Well, it would be, at a school where education was considered important. But this is A&M, after all.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

The Sage of Monticello.

There is a theory out there that you can find a quotation from Thomas Jefferson (or attributed to him, which is pretty much the same) on any topic you want.

And sure enough, like Nostradamus, Mr. Jefferson has already spoken on the 2004 election:

A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to it's true principles. It is true that in the mean time we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war & long oppressions of enormous public debt. ... If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, & then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are the stake. Better luck, therefore, to us all; and health, happiness, & friendly salutations to yourself.

And to show that he knows what's in store for us in with the office of Attorney General, he added a P.S. to that letter:

P. S. It is hardly necessary to caution you to let nothing of mine get before the public. A single sentence, got hold of by the Porcupines, will suffice to abuse & persecute me in their papers for months.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004


You don't have to fool all of the people all of the time; it would appear that fooling 51% of them for four years will suffice.

I suppose this shows the power of appealing to your base support - and however you want to interpret "base" is fine by me - instead of appealing to the broad center or the other guy's support. Works fine for being elected; doesn't work quite so well for governing, as Mister "I'm a Uniter" has discovered.

Still, it's pretty amazing how well Bush has gotten people to vote against their best interests: convincing low- and middle-income Americans to vote in favor of tax breaks for billionaires, convincing the self-styled religious that someone who doesn't go to church has "more faith" than someone with a life-long commitment to his religion, convincing 18- to 24-year-olds (and their parents) that a draft-dodger with megalomania who sends American troops off to die in a pointless war solely for his own glory is a good commander-in-chief.

All we can do now is pray for Rehnquist's speedy recovery and his discovery of the Fountain of Youth, so that he sticks around as Chief Justice for at least four more years. (And who'd have thought I'd ever say that?)

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The early bird gets to vote.


Took nine minutes from the time I left the car in the parking lot at the polling place until I got back to it. And that included hiking across the parking lot to get to the building, and waiting in line at the end-of-the-alphabet table.

Of course, it's easy to vote quickly when there are only four issues on the ballot: the presidential race, a virtually uncontested congressional race (there was a lunatic independent; I voted for him), and two silly state constitutional amendments (extending the line of succession for the governorship in case of, you know, attack or something, and providing for interim elections for vacant congressional seats after redistricting).

At the time I voted - 6:50 this morning - I was somewhere between the 250th and 300th voter in my precinct. Back in February, when I voted in the Democratic primary at 6:50 a.m., I was the first person to vote. Says something about the precinct I live in, not that it's a surprise, given all the Bush placards in people's yards.

Now all we have to do is wait.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Pretty interesting.

Across the room today, there was some sort of discussion relating to the time-value of money, and how much something invested today would be worth in 18 years. (I had tuned out the beginning of the discusion, but I think it had to do with saving for children’s college education. The time period would be about right for that. Possibly the choice was between purchasing an HDTV or putting money away for the kid’s college fund.)

Very funny listening to the mathematically challenged try to figure out how much today’s investment would be worth in the future. “It has something to do with compound interest. Anybody know how to figure compound interest?” “I figure you can get 8 percent return every year, so let’s use 8 percent.” “I can’t figure out compound interest, and I’m proud of that.” “All you need to do is to multiply the original amount by 8 percent, then add that into it, and do it again a total of 18 times.“ “Or you could multiply 1.08 by itself 18 times, and then multiply that times the original amount.” “That’s too much work. There has to be a simpler way, like using a formula or something.” “Those two ways are doing the exact same thing. They just give you different results.”

And a helpful suggestion: “It would be easy to set up a spreadsheet to figure it out. Unfortunately, we don’t have Excel on our computers.”

Or, of course, you could always use that old rule of thumb, the Rule of 72: Divide 72 by the interest rate, and that gives you a pretty close estimate of how many years it will take to double the original amount. And that works especially well with the numbers they were throwing around: An 8 percent investment will double in 72/8 (or 9) years, and in 18 years, it would double twice: So you’d have quadrupled your original principal amount. Ten seconds’ effort, even for people who have to count on their fingers.

And would it surprise anyone to learn that the guy who was proud of the fact that he can’t do fourth-grade math is the same one who wears the pants with duck pictures on them?

Get out the vote.

Hmmph. Article in today's Post about both sides unleashing "unprecedented efforts to mobilize voters."

Maybe so, but I have to say: I have been contacted the least of any presidential election since 1976. No telephone calls. No junk mail from either party. Nobody knocking at the door. Nothing. Not a single contact. For any of the contests on the ballot, not just the presidential race.

I can understand why the Republicans don't contact me: they're hoping that I'll wake up tomorrow and not turn on the tv, radio, or internet, and forget that it's Election Day. But the Democrats? They haven't even contacted me for a contribution since July, and they certainly haven't gently reminded me to go and vote.

And it's not as though they don't know I'm here: I contributed to the Kerry campaign, starting in August 2003, a matter of public record. I voted in the primary in Februray, a matter of public record. (And I shoot off my mouth in public often enough.)

I know: Virginia isn't a battleground state, although it's likely to be closer than it was in 2000. And this congressional district doesn't have a Democratic candidate, and I think the only other things on the ballot are noncontroversial constitutional amendments.

Doesn't matter, though. I'll go vote anyway.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Darth Vader Mugs Pizza Man.

Ah, Florida. Hot on the trail to take over the title of "Nation's Kookiest State" from the current champion, California. Darth Vader tries to mug a pizza delivery guy, but is unsuccessful. Delivery guy drives away, but not before being zapped by a light saber. Or maybe it was a stun gun.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Scary sights for Halloween.

Okay, so people don't wear costumes to work at my office. They do to work at the grocery store, though, and I saw a strange one today.

And you could tell that the employees had to wear costumes today, the work of a store manager who decided to make everyone feel the excitement of the holiday season, whether they wanted to or not. Some employees got into it: my groceries were rung up by a woman dressed as a gypsy. Some of the costumes were minimalist but effective (the WASP who costumed himself as a Mexican, by wearing a red checkered shirt and a straw sombrero, and sticking a Mexican flag in his shirt pocket), and others were just minimalist (one woman had an orange, Halloween-themed t-shirt; another had Halloween-themed deely-bobbers on her head).

But one guy was downright creepy. His clothes were raggedy, as though he wanted to be a hobo. His face and hair, though, were made up as a clown. The hair was clearly a clown's fright wig, but the facial makeup was bizarre. Very black skin, thin red lips, and white makeup on the top half of his face: nose and up in front, and just above the jawline and up on the sides. The effect was very strongly that of turn-of-the-last-century minstrel shows, with the Black performers in whiteface. "Why?" I thought to myself as I entered the store. "Why would a Black man today want to wear a costume that so clearly brings to mind performers wearing whiteface?"

As I left the store, I passed by this guy again, close enough to see his hands, which didn't have any makeup on them. Imagine my surprise to discover that he's actually Caucasian, which means that he put on a very thorough layer of blackface before putting on the white portion of his makeup. I decided I didn't need his assistance in getting my groceries to the car.

In retrospect, I kind of wish I'd asked him what he thought his costume was supposed to be, but I guess I was afraid that he'd burst into an Al Jolsen imitation.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Halloween at the office.

What a boring bunch of folks I work with. No one dressed up in a costume to come to work today. (Well, with the possible exception of the guy with khaki pants that had ducks printed [or embroidered, I didn't look all that closely] all over them. But since he wore them last week, I'm guessing it wasn't a costume and was, somehow, intentional.)

Still, people brought in candy. Loads and loads of candy. One of the stashes around the office was in a big cardboard box, and it was maybe 8 inches deep in little candy bars, SweeTarts, hard candies, Twix bars, and the occasional Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. At one point, someone was raking through the box, looking for the elusive last peanut butter cup, doubtless hiding at the bottom, and it sounded just like a cat in a litter box.

Ah, the images one conjures at the office.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Live strong. Sell high.

Incomprehensible, on so many levels. There are now people who are selling their Lance Armstrong Foundation “Livestrong” bracelets on eBay, where they’re getting upwards of $15 for them. For the bracelets that go for a buck apiece at Footlocker, or $10 for a package of 10 if you get them online from the Foundation.

I understand the sellers: they’re using eBay to make a profit off of stupid people, a time-honored eBay tactic. It’s the buyers I don’t understand. Sure, I can see that if you live in the middle of nowhere, and there’s no Footlocker or Niketown within a hundred miles, you’d have to get your bracelet through the mail. But why wouldn’t you order it from the website, where you’d get a package of 10 for $15, including shipping, and $10 would actually go to the Foundation and you'd have extras to give or sell to your friends, rather than from eBay, where you’d get one bracelet for $15, plus handling of $3 to 5, for a total of $18 to $20, of which nothing goes to the Foundation?

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Going, going, gone.

Coming to the sky near you this coming Wednesday evening: a total eclipse of the moon.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

A label is worth a thousand words.

Life sometimes presents you with opportunities you just cannot make up for yourself. I was out walking around at lunchtime yesterday, on a dreary, chilly, gray day that couldn’t decide whether or not it wanted to drizzle. Dull, crummy weather, matched only by the attire and visages of the other people on the street.

And then there she was: Radiant, and covered in vibrant, discordant colors. Her hair was brunette; well, the roots were. The rest of her hair was Bozo-the-Clown red. Lime-green sweatshirt, over an electric yellow t-shirt. A forest-green backpack. A mostly-red tartan miniskirt over blue jeans that were about 3 inches too long, based on how far the cuff went down over (and under) her shoes, topped with a five-inch wide belt made up of silver strands. Of course, she had a Walkman on, allowing her to be oblivious to her surroundings: not just the other pedestrians, but crossing lights and vehicles as well.

And the best part? Her backpack was emblazoned with what I presume was the name of its manufacturer but was also a fine commentary: DOLT

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

One last Eisenhower post.

And, with luck, I'll be off of this odd little Eisenhower kick I've been on of late.

There I was this evening, sitting at a traffic light, waiting for it to change, and staring at anything that looked at all interesting. One step before figuring out the prime factorization of the license plate of the car in front of me, I read its license plate frame: "Eisenhower Panthers." A high school and its sports teams, I suppose. But why in the world are they the Panthers? I'd expect the Generals, or even the Fighting Ikes, but Panthers? Was it the idea of someone who, being clever, translated "Panzers"? I just don't see it.

But what do I know? It's not as though the "Yorktown Patriots" is an especially inspired choice.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

S'More or Less.

Hershey’s has come out with a new candy bar, called a S'More. (Well, it’s new to me, even if it’s not really new.) And a bag of them showed up at the office today, as a co-worker’s contribution to Using Chocolate to Avoid the Afternoon Blahs. The bar is clearly an attempt to render the impression of a traditional S’more, without the bother of building a campfire in your kitchen. It’s marshmallow, on a bed of something like chopped graham cracker pieces, and all covered in chocolate. No open flame to heat it over, and singing campfire songs is optional. (Perhaps not, depending on your workplace.)

It’s okay, but not grand. What I think it does that is awesome, though, is that it has found and filled a very precise candy niche: what to buy to give out at Halloween. It’s good enough that you won’t feel unhappy if you have bought too much, and end up with an extra bag and a half at the end of the night; it’s not so good that if you buy a bag of it three days before Halloween, you’ll have eaten it all by the time the 31st rolls around. And that’s a difficult line to walk. I have experience with both extremes, and neither one is much fun. (Well, okay. Actual experience shows that it’s easier to pretend that you’re not home by turning out all the lights so the little hobgoblins don’t knock on your front door than it is to eat two bags of chocolate-covered coconut bars when you despise coconut.)

Monday, October 18, 2004

Cognitive deficits.

Did you know? Ten years ago, George Bush was a skilled debater, capable of expressing his thoughts clearly, concisely, and quickly. As you've seen from this year's debates, that's not so much the case any more. If you need a refresher, watch this short movie. Then ask yourself:

Do we really need another president with pre-senile dementia?

Sunday, October 17, 2004

And more from Eisenhower.

Folk songs aren't dead. Here's one for 2004, shown in a movie complete with quotations from relatives and cabinet members of the President, and from former Presidents Eisenhower and Jefferson.

A couple of key quotes:

“May we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower, U.S. General, Republican Politician, President; Speech, May 31, 1954, New York City

"Every gun made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." -Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower

I like Ike's son.

John Eisenhower - son of the former president - explains why he's voting for John Kerry.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

That's "PRESIDENT Drooling Moron," to you.

You heard him say so tonight: President Chimpie says that legal reform is necessary so that people injured by, say, contaminated flu vaccine should not be allowed to sue the manufacturers of that vaccine. Does that make sense to anyone?

Monday, October 11, 2004

Look before you leap.

A nice weekend for a change. Sunday was cool, but warm enough when the sun was out, and with a reasonably clear, blue sky, the sun was out most of the time. Great day to be outside doing something and enjoying the autumn weather, so I went to the Great Falls of the Potomac for a picnic. Nice little park, especially for a wild area in the middle of the suburbs, nice views of the falls. Well, nice enough until you notice the parents letting their toddlers climb on top of the railings at the overlooks, where there's a 3-foot drop on one side, back to the concrete or rock floor of the overlook and a 75-foot drop on the other down to the river. At least the adults who climb out onto the last rock at the edge so they can have their photos taken are (arguably) responsible for their death-defying decisions.

When one has a fear of heights, it's fun to go to a park like this with someone who shares that fear, so that you don't feel especially silly standing four feet back from the railing to look.

And it's also fun if your companion shares your opinion of the kayakers playing in the river rapids below the falls: Reasonably entertaining to watch them in the rapids, and probably would be fun to do for about 10 minutes, but not worth the time and aggravation to get the equipment and the training, just to be out in 55-degree water for the afternoon.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Stupid is as stupid does.

Boy, do I feel like a doofus.

One of the things that I like about my ISP – and I recognize that this isn’t a terribly unique trait for ISPs – is that you can access your email account from a web interface, so you can read and respond to your email from anywhere. Thus, I’ve been able to read email while at work.

(Brief aside: Work. Bah. There’s only one internet-capable computer for 25 people, so access to the web during the work day is mighty limited. And getting to read email coming to my main email account is the primary thing that makes the job almost tolerable. Almost.)

Yesterday, I was expecting reasonably urgent email communications from three people during the day. (Up from the average of about half of an urgent conversation per day.) Weekend plans, a possible reasonable job lead, and the like. So I was surprised to get onto my mail site an hour after getting to the office, and there were no emails waiting for me: none of the ones I expected, none of the far-too-many wine-related newsletters, and not even any spam. The next time I got on to check, an hour later, there still weren’t any emails.

Hmm. Did I forget to pay my ISP bill and they’ve shut down access to my account? Well, no, since I can get to it and send email. Is there something wrong with the server, and it’s bouncing in-bound emails? Well, one way to check: I went to one of my free web email accounts, and sent myself something. Yes, it showed up just fine. Good, it’s not broken, so I’ll just wait for something to show up.

A half hour goes by, and I log back in – and now the email that I sent myself has disappeared. Hmm. Did I delete it? No, it’s not in the trash bin – but the ones I deleted yesterday are. Did I imagine sending myself an email? Anything’s possible at this point, so I send myself another one. It arrives. I stare at it long enough to make sure that it’s real, and I log out. And immediately log back in, to see if logging out and in has any odd effect. Nope; the email is still there. Okay, I’ll log out and hope that I begin receiving emails that I haven’t sent to myself.

An hour later, I check in again: and once more, the email I sent to myself has disappeared. Now I’m getting frustrated: it seems as though there‘s Someone Out There who is logging into my account, and sweeping the server clean of newly-arrived emails.

And *ping* that little 15-watt refrigerator light bulb goes on over my head. There is someone out there doing precisely that, and it’s me. It dawns on me that I left my computer on when I left the house this morning, and the email program was running, and it automagically checks the mail server every 10 or 15 minutes to see if there’s any mail, and downloads it if there is. So all of those emails I wanted to see and respond to during the day will have to wait until I get home after work. (And unless I can get the cat to answer the phone and then follow my instructions to turn off the mail program and the computer, there’s nothing I can do to intercept the rest of the afternoon’s emails, either.)

In retrospect, I’m not sure which should cause me more concern: that I was forgetful enough to leave the house with the computer and email on, thereby denying myself access to my email during the day, or that I am geeky enough to have figured out what happened without having it happen to me before and without getting home to see the day’s pile of emails waiting for me.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Maybe it was from the other Weathermen.

I was listening to the radio as I drove along during one afternoon last week, and the announcer came on with the updated weather forecast:

"They're calling for a high this afternoon of 73, a low tonight of 76, and a high tomorrow of 75. The present temperature in the Richmond area is 78."

How could one possibly read that out loud without saying, "Hey! That doesn't make any sense!"? I suppose that if it's a weather forecast, you just don't expect it to make sense.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Planning to blow your stack?

Do it right: do it live on a web cam. Just like the Mount St. Helens VolcanoCam.

Well, perhaps not precisely live, but pretty close. They claim that the image is updated every five minutes. So I suppose you won't get to see the action shots of villagers screaming in terror as they run away from the flowing lava.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The last hurricane report of the year.

Well, we can always hope.

In any event, this will be the very last of the Gaston updates. I promise. Most of the folks I work with who lost their cars in the flood have gotten replacements. One in particular, though, was interesting: He evidently paid cash, as a week and and half after he picked up his new car, he was overheard, laughing at himself and shaking his head bemusedly. “I can’t believe it. I’ve had the car for ten days and driven over 800 miles already, and I still don’t have insurance.” Much eye-rolling on the part of everyone within earshot. One would have thought that since he just got his car replaced due to having insurance, his first phone call after signing the contract for the replacement vehicle would have been to the insurance company. (One would have been wrong, however.) And yes, he’s licensed to represent you in state courts across the Commonwealth and in all federal courts.

This past Sunday, driving home from from Durham, I heard a Public Service Announcement on the radio, exhorting Richmond residents to shop and dine in those stores and restaurants in Shockoe Bottom that were closed by the flood and have since reopened. “C’mon, Richmonders! It’s your Bottom! Get in touch with it!” Perhaps not the tagline I would have chosen.

Also on that drive up I-85 from Durham to Richmond, I passed a convoy of tree-trimming trucks, presumably heading home (to Dayton, Ohio) after helping out with some of the tree-clearing tasks from the first few hurricanes of the season to hit the southeast. I wanted to stop them to ask whether they were aware that Hurricane Jeanne was in Florida, creating more work for them and their tree-cutting brethren. They probably knew that, though, and (a) had already been in Florida (and away from home) for a month, and (b) were getting out while the getting was good.

And, speaking of Hurricane Jeanne, my father reports that his retirement complex lost power for 8 hours on Sunday. Excitement enough for him. Jeanne pretty much passed Richmond by, dropping about an inch and a half to two inches last night and today. But there's more ahead: lots and lots of rain out to the west, and it'll all drain down into the James. They're predicting a flood crest at the recording station about a mile from me for Thursday afternoon, and it'll be 3.5 feet above flood stage. Luckily, my home is much higher above the river than that: enough higher that if there's a flood up here, then most of downtown Richmond will be under water, and there will be far worse things to worry about than my deck furniture washing away.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Is there anyone from Kerry's debate staff out there?

Because here are a bunch of lines I wish he'd use in the upcoming debates.

Among them:

"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?"

"Vietnam was the
defining issue of our generation. I chose to go there and fight, and when I came
to the realization that the war was wrong I tried to stop the killing. Those
were my priorities, what were yours?"

"If you'd been on that boat with me, Mr. Bush, we could have all this confusion cleared up by now."

"FDR told us the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Your administration tells us time and time again that the only thing we have is fear."

Sunday, September 19, 2004

An indoor wedding, we presume.

You'll recall the California-style wedding noted here a month or so ago, and the wedding announcement published in the Richmond paper? There seems to have been a small backlash: this happy couple made a point of making it clear in their announcement that they consider themselves to be normal.

As they put it:
There were no frolicking elves or dancing fairies at the wedding.

I'm guessing they're also substantially less fun than the couple married in California.

Leaflets three, leave it be.

I have long been under the impression that, as a result of passing through puberty, my body exchanged one allergy for another - that I stopped being allergic to poison ivy and started having hay fever. Not the best of possible choices, as presumably I could avoid poison ivy a whole lot more easily than I could avoid the pollen that causes hay fever, especially in this part of the country that includes both the southernmost reach of northern hay-fever-causing plants and the northernmost expanse of southern plants.

It turns out that's not the case: I'm still allergic to poison ivy, as I've discovered from a run-in with a large stand of it in my back yard. It's gotten all over the inside of my left arm, such that whenever I bend the arm, it starts itching. No fun at all.

I'm rather hoping it'll be another 35 years before I rub up against poison ivy again.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

So where's the flipping rainbow?

Here it is, Thursday night, and the National Weather Service has announced a Flash Flood Watch. It covers the entire state of Virginia. And it lasts until Sunday.

That's how much rain they think we'll get. Here in the Richmond area, they're calling for maybe 3 to 6 inches. Or maybe 10.

Not as though we especially need the rain. For the month of September, we've already gotten 4 inches of rain. And that's after August's 16.3 inches, a monthly record for Richmond. Needless to say, we've already gotten more rain this year than the average yearly total for Richmond, and we've got 3 1/2 months to go.

And Hurricane Jeanne is set to get here in the middle of next week. Maybe the rain will let up enough that I can go out and mow the moss that is now my front yard.

Vote early, vote often.

Possibly a more interesting election than the other one facing us in November.

And you can call the candidate a snake, and he won't mind.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Email jollies.

So I've got this email account on Yahoo!. I've had it for a long, long time - long enough that the email address is some combination of my initials and last name, and without numbers at the end or bizarre spellings. The oldest email I still have in it dates back to 1999, and I'm sure the account is somewhat older than that.

I use this account mainly for subscribing to newsletters that I'm vaguely interested in, but am afraid that the sender may eventually sell my address to someone else, and that way lies mountains of spam. (Indeed, I get over 300 spams each day on this account, and Yahoo!'s filter gets over 98% of them, without ever getting an email I intentionally signed up for.) As a result, I generally don't read the mail that accumulates more often than twice a week.

Sometimes, though, instead of spam or mildly interesting newsletters, I get emails that are intentionally addressed to this account, but aren't to me: either the person gave out the wrong email address or the sender misremembered or mistyped the address. I'll usually read those emails, and will usually respond to them, telling the sender that whoever they meant to get the email didn't receive it, and the probably should check to see what the correct email address should have been. Half the time, I don't hear from the sender again, but that's a good result. A quarter of the time, the sender will write back and apologize for the error and thank me for telling them; again, a good result.

It's the other results that are entertaining. One person was convinced that I really was her niece ("Judy Stone" or somesuch), and that I was unjustifiably mad at her and was hiding out behind a false identity. One or two more rounds of explanatory emails didn't seem to help. Poor Judy is going to be surprised when she next encounters her aunt.

Today's email is too good to keep to myself, though. Here's someone who thinks she's writing to "Jeff" at my email account, despite the fact that I've told her at least 3 times that she's sending her mail to the wrong address. I suppose that she only sends email, but doesn't ever read the ones she receives. Today, she says:

Hi Jeff, We are going to Loyalton. I am still not 100 percent. I was in the ladies room and things are not normal. I will talk to you a little later. Love, Lynnette

I don't think I'll tell her to stop sending these emails.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Not gonna let those pesky "meek" inherit the earth!

California: Land of opportunity.

Well, perhaps not so much, any more. California now has a law banning necrophilia.

It does make you wonder what new recreational pastime the folks at UCLA will have to take up, now.

Aside: The spell-check suggests that I might want to replace "necrophila" with "microfilms." Mighty odd spell-check, that.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Wine. Baseball. Where do these terms go together? In California, of course.

If you live long enough, you'll think you've seen everything. But here's a new one on me: a comparison of the Oakland A's and the San Francisco Giants, comparing the wine served at their ballparks. Since, after all, now that going to a baseball game is so expensive, fans expect a luxury experience.

A description I never thought I'd see:
Indeed, the Sauvignon Blanc, a 2003 vintage, is a superb ballpark wine. Its
simple, straightforward green-apple flavor and clean aroma is a fine palate
cleanser for heavy food like garlic fries or linguisa sausage with peppers and onions.
The review gives a slight nod to the Giants' ballpark, but it's close. I'm taken by the concept that they're serving wines costing between $4.50 and $12 per bottle in stores, and charging $7.25 for a 4- to 5-ounce pour.

The review ends up with some classic ballpark pairings: hot dogs and white zinfandel, garlic fries and pinot noir, and nachos and merlot.

I can't wait to see what wine gets served at Senators' games.

Friday, September 03, 2004

My last Gaston update.

It's getting back to normal. Well, normal, except for those who were directly affected by the floods. Cleaning up is going on, with damage estimates soaring. The City of Richmond is estimating a final toll of twice as much as it suffered when Isabel blew through last year. Not surprising, I suppose: the intense, focused flooding destroyed buildings and roads, where Isabel's damage was more wide-spread and less intense in any given location: uprooted trees downing power lines isn't as costly to repair as a flood propelling pickup trucks into restaurants.

And while the streets are looking more normal, it doesn't take much to notice that there are still problems. If you figure all the garbage and debris and raw sewage left in Shockoe Bottom from the flooding, and all the meat and seafood and vegetables in the Farmer's Market area warehouses and in the restaurants in the bottom that are now rotting because there's no electricity going to the refrigerators and freezers - well, perhaps you can imagine what it smells like. (You can't? Well, let's be polite and say that it smells like vomit that's been marinating in the warm August air.)

Yummers. Think I'll head the other direction to find a restaurant for lunch, thank you so very much.

The folks at the office are coping, mostly. Getting new cars, or at least looking for them. Griping that the insurance companies aren't giving them "enough" for the personal property lost when their cars flooded (mostly CDs - lots and lots of CDs). And tomorrow, I'm off to help the person with the flooded basement sanitize her now-drained basement. (We're calling it a Bleach Party, and will play music by the Bleach Boys.)

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Comets: do they really foretell evil times ahead?

Here's a link to a photo of Comet C 2003 K4 LINEAR, which may be visible to the naked eye by October. Or maybe not, as the prediction of future comet brightness is almost as difficult as predicting the course of hurricanes.

MMMmmmMMM, chocolate. And in a good cause, to boot.

So I received an email from a friend last night; or perhaps I should say, I received a successfully propogated viral marketing email from a friend, on behalf of the makers of M&Ms and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, explaining the new product containing pink and white M&Ms, and how 50 cents from the sale of each bag will be donated to the Komen Foundation, so you should go out and buy a lot of these special pink and white M&Ms.

OOooh, looky! There's the small print: They'll contribute 50 cents per bag sold, up to a maximum donation of $650,000. That is, they'll contribute, but only for the first 1.3 million bags they sell.

Don't get me wrong: over half a million bucks is certainly more than I'm likely to donate to charity this year, even if you combine all my charitable contributions. And 1.3 million bags of M&Ms is likely more than I could eat during the three months this promotion will be going on.

And this is a legit promotion; no doubt about that. But what's the catch? Just this: they'll donate 50 cents per unit sold, up to a sales level of 1.3 million bags. So, presumably, they're raising the wholesale price by some amount - possibly 50 cents per unit, possibly 33 cents, to allow a 50 % markup and thus a 50 cent retail increase. (Or they're keeping the price the same, and reducing the size of the package; perhaps from 10 or 12 ounces to 8 ounces, to the same effect. And, of course, just possibly they're keeping the wholesale price and the package size the same, and it's completely a corporate contribution.) Anything they sell over 1.3 million, they keep the extra proceeds. Just how many units are they going to make, and how many are they expecting to sell? I don't know, of course, but my feeling is that selling only 1.3 million units - nationwide - in a 3-month period - with a big advertising push, and a lot of free P.R. and viral marketing (e.g., this email) - even plus-or-minus 100,000 - would actually constitute a marketing failure, and if this were a regular product with those results, they'd pull it from the market and never sell it again. With no hard data to back up my guess, I'd have thought they'd sell 1.3 million units in either New York or California alone.

True, the Susan G Komen Foundation gets free publicity from this promotion, and each unit sold might lead to someone asking for more information or making a separate, additional contribution. And certainly the pink-and-white combination of M&Ms can be a conversation-starter, the way that the Lance Armstrong yellow bracelets are. But that should be counterbalanced by the fact that anyone who buys a bag beyond the first 1.3 million sold will be misled into believing that her purchase is actually contributing to the Foundation, and thus she doesn't need to contribute anything more.

That's what I don't like about "cause-related marketing": when there's an artificial cap on the contribution, the company expects you to buy into the hype and the PR and not realize that they've gotten you to pay more for a product when the excess price is just going into their pockets. In October of the past few years (October being Breast Cancer Awareness month), the SG Komen Foundation has been the recipient of a $100,000 donation "funded" by people clicking on a link on the sponsor's page, each click yielding an additional $1 contribution, up to a $100,000 cap. The year the NFL sponsored it, it was a month-long promotion - but 1.75 million people clicked on the funding link on the first day it was active, so the limit was quickly passed and additional clicking was unnecessary and useless.

I much prefer an open-ended contribution - "for every unit sold - each and every unit - we'll contribute X amount ..." And that's what Nike did with the "Live Strong" yellow bracelets, contributing (to the Lance Armstrong Foundation) something from each individual bracelet sale. (They even took it a couple of steps farther by completely underwriting the manufacture, distribution, and marketing of the bracelets, and by contributing the entire purchase price - not just a portion - to the Foundation.)

My bottom line: Buy M&Ms because you want to, always a good choice. Buy the pink-and-white ones because they stand out, and will be conversation starters. And if you want to ensure that your donation makes it to the Susan G Komen Foundation - another good choice - go to the website and contribute there.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

And would you like your change in Fifteen-dollar bills? Or Thirties?

Someone in Philadelphia purchased a $99 item, and paid cash. To be precise, she paid with a fake $200 bill, complete with George Bush's picture on it. And she gave change.

The article doesn't say whether the hapless store clerk still works at that store.

Well, it's not Spam, exactly.

But in the unlikely event that you want to email a link to one of these posts to someone, you can do so by clicking on the little envelope icon at the end of the post. (It doesn't mail the post itself, just a link.)

The mighty unlikely event.

More on Gaston.

Here's a day-after slide show of the aftermath of the floods Monday. And another.

Further details on my mostly vicarious experiences with the flood: It turns out that six of my twenty co-workers parked their cars down under the I-95 overpass, and only one of them still has his car. The others have been hearing sympathetic and mostly positive things from their insurance companies, but have not been able to go down and look for their cars (or the belongings which may or may not still be in them). It really wasn't until this afternoon that the police were letting insurance agents into the area where the cars are piled atop one another or buried in the silt, in hopes that the agents could identify the cars. One of my co-workers has seen his SUV, on TV, upside-down and on top of another vehicle, but still hasn't seen it in person (which he'd like to do, to get the 75 CDs he has in the car).

Someone else from the office got home to find five feet of water in her basement. It's drained, by now, but I can't imagine it did much good to her washer, dryer, or furnace. Or, for that matter, the house's fuse box, mounted about 4 1/2 feet off the floor. (Needless to say, she also has no electricity.)

Dominion Power is doing its usual fine job in reconnecting people's electricty: Tuesday morning, there were about 35,000 people without power in the Richmond area. By Wednesday morning, that number had decreased to 39,000. Yeah, I don't know, either. Fifteen or twenty thousand of them were serviced by substations that were destroyed in the flood, so that much is understandable.

My commute to the office has gotten back to normal, although Tuesday's drive in was still exciting: a couple of ponds were still overflowing their banks onto the road, although by that hour, it was only 4 - 6 inches deep. Still a bunch of tree limbs down in or near the road; a mudslide had covered up half a lane, slowing traffic. And a couple of dozen cars abandoned on the expressway downtown, where clearly they had run out of gas the night before, trapped in the traffic jam. (They'd been retrieved - or towed away - by this morning.)

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

After you, my dear Gaston.

Why do weathermen get paid? At 9:30 yesterday morning, the forecast was that Tropical Storm Gaston would blow into town around 11, leave by 2, and deposit about an inch of rain. It actually arrived somewhere around noon, left around 11 p.m., and dropped ten to fourteen inches, depending on your precise location.

Tremendous rainstorm, not surprisingly. Wind blowing at 30, 40, 50 mph, so the rain was coming down sideways. And with all the rain we've already had this summer, this additional rain had no place to go but into the streets.

Four people I work with have been parking in a free parking area underneath I-95, and they discovered yesterday why there weren't any official lots there: one guy got to his car at 3:00, and drove it off. The next guy arrived 45 minutes later, got his car started, but then it stalled - and the car started floating away. He got out and swam to safety. The other two guys? Their cars got swept away - and one of them was a pretty hefty SUV.

Lots of power outages - not at my place, thankfully - lots of limbs down. Reminded me a lot of a miniature version of Isabel's visit last fall.

And what do you want to bet about where Hurricane Frances will go?

Sunday, August 29, 2004

The truth behind the War Medals of George W. Bush.

Since we're looking so closely at the medals that Kerry received for heroism in Vietnam, it seems only fair that we take a close look at the War Medals of George W. Bush.

Seems like a Pulitzer Prize is just waiting to be awarded here.

Not enough time to watch all 9 DVDs of the Alien series?

(And, for the record, these would be the "good" Alien movies; i.e., those with Sigourney Weaver in them.)

Well, you could always watch Alien in 30 seconds, as re-enacted by bunnies.

And thereby save enough time to also watch Jaws.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

"Muh. Huh. Huh. Li'l man make joke. Me no get."

What can you do at Kansas State University that you can't do at the University of Virginia? Or at Ohio State University, but not at the Naval Academy? Or at the University of Southern California, but not at Virginia Tech? If you're a football player, you can get course credit for playing football. Often, it's course credit towards graduation, although sometimes it's only credit for fulfilling a university physical education requirement. But it counts towards an NCAA-required minimum number of course hours per semester. At Ohio State, for instance, football players can take SFHP 196.06 ("Varsity Football") five separate times, for a total of 10 academic credits. Academic powerhouses like Brigham Young, Florida State, Georgia, Nebraska, and Penn State all have similar policies, allowing college credits for playing football.

If we're required to go through the pretense of calling football-playing behemoths "student-athletes," wouldn't it be nice if occasionally they actually were students?

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Beer in aluminum bottles.

The people who make Iron City Beer have a new gimmick for you: they're selling their beer in aluminum bottles. Yes, I can hear you wondering: aren't those things called "cans"?

Well, yes. But these are special aluminum cans, shaped to look like bottles. Complete with bottle caps, it looks like, so while they might be better at places where you don't want to drop and break a glass bottle (such as at a swimming pool), you appear to need a bottle opener to get the cap off.

The theory behind the gimmick is that beer is purported to stay cold "longer," although the article doesn't say longer than what. And it seems to me that it can't possibly keep beer colder than a glass bottle, aluminum being a good conductor of heat and all, while glass is a good insulator. (One of the arguments for aluminum cans is that they cool down quicker than bottles, which would be in direct opposition to this claim.) The brewery also thinks they look "cool," although is that enough to cause you to pay $1 more per case?

Not for me; but then again, I've had Iron City beer, and $1 is not the magic amount that would cause me to drink it again, even if you paid me that much per bottle.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Parachuting not exciting enough? Then parachute into a pond.

Speaking of newly legitimized sporting events: "Pond swooping" is the new thrill for those people for whom stepping out of a plane at 10,000 feet has gotten routine.

The idea is that the jumper converts downward velocity into sideways motion and lift, to sustain level flight at ground level such that the jumper skims one or both feet for up to 240 feet along the surface of a pond, coming to rest on the far shore. Doesn't always work correctly, of course, with resulting face plants in the mud, hard landings on the ground, broken bones, or worse.

I guess I can see the attraction in the adrenaline rush, but it's clearly not for me. (I've been skydiving before, once, and that was enough for me.)

But, I suppose this must be a legitimate sport: they've just held the sixth annual national Pond Swooping championship, and competitors there take part in the national professional tour.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Lobster-Eating Contest.

I guess they've now found something to make Rhythmic Gymnastics and Synchronized Swimming look like legitimate sporting events. In Kennebunk, Maine, they had a lobster-eating contest, won by a 105-pound Virginia woman who ate 38 lobsters - representing 9.76 pounds of lobster meat - in 12 minutes. (Presumably that 105-pound figure is pre-competition.) "I could eat more, but something else - not a lobster," she says.

But this must have been a legitimate sporting event: it's sanctioned by the International Federation of Competitive Eating, which notes that the winner also holds records for eating pork-and-beans, and hard-boiled eggs. (Yes, those were two separate competitions.)

Art collecting, the quick way.

Amazing to see that art thieves have gone after Munch's paintings again, this time stealing The Scream and Madonna from the Munch Museum in Oslo.

Personally, I think it's just a bunch of wacky Norwegians who believe that they are supposed to take The Scream out for some fresh air during the Olympics.

I've been to that museum, and saw The Scream, back some 30 years ago. (Don't recall Madonna, although I'm sure it was there.) And we've seen a lot of The Scream since then, usually in connection with some phrase like "President Quayle."

And I've even had inflatable versions of The Scream, both the 19-inch desktop one and the 4-foot one, and - somewhere - I have a Scream tie, perfect for wearing to the office for interminable meetings.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Also, probably not what my mother had in mind.

Sure, the one thing my mother wanted, more than almost anything else, was to see me married off. But I just don't think that this could possibly be what she had in mind. And yet, why not? For surely there can be nothing more romantic than a double-tattoo ceremony. Especially one where the bride and groom are escorted by dancing woodland fairies and frolicking elves.

Yes, this is a good reproduction of what was in the paper. But to get a better flavor, you have to click on the "Photo Gallery" button.

But wait! There's more! You also need to check out the Gift Registry (example: give money to, to defeat George Bush) and the Guest Book.

And if that's not enough, you can always check out the Happy Couple's website, with even more photos of the ceremony.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Interesting reading at Slate.

A bunch of interesting articles there, actually. And I suppose I'd fine even more there if I didn't have to spend so much time at work. Alas.

Anyway: here are a couple. One article talks about how the red-state/blue state Bush/Kerry dichotomy isn't reflected only in news channels, films, and musicians. It's also reflected in discount retailers: Wal-Mart = Bush and Costco = Kerry. Of course, I don't especially enjoy shopping at either one. I suppose that makes me an independent.

The other article looks at men's soccer in the Olympics, and how it's virturally meaningless in international soccer. The other international tournaments - including the World Cup, the European Championship, and the Copa America - take all the time and energy of the top players, so there's little enthusiasm for yet another international tournament. And the Olympic organizers play along with this, by capping the number of players older than 23 to 3 per team. I look at Olympic soccer to be a view towards the future: you're seeing the players who will be playing for their countries' World Cup teams 6 or 10 years hence.

Rain, rain, go away.

The good news is that the worst of the hurricanes passed Richmond by, for which we're grateful. Last fall's Isabel was enough to last us for a while. The bad news is that, while the high winds and horribly intense downpours missed us, we did receive a lot of rain in the past three days. I'd guess something on the order of six inches in that period.

Yes, yes, I know. That's one and a half hours' worth of rain along the path of the storm. Trust me, I know. It's still more than enough to cause flooding (flash and otherwise), because we've had so much rain lately and the ground is saturated. Since the beginning of June - during a period where we'd receive an average of 10 inches of rain - we've gotten over 22 inches. (It seems to start about 5 minutes before I leave the office in the evening, and has done so 4 days out of 5 workdays in each of the past three weeks.)

So you 'd think that with the hurricanes blowing through, today ought to be clear and sunny. And you'd think wrong: overcast, and cycling through Threatening To Rain, Drizzling, and Raining, on about an hourly cycle.

Oh, well. We need the rain. It gives me an excuse not to mow the lawn.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Batten down the hatches.

Storms a-comin'. What are now Tropical Storm Bonnie and Hurricane Charley will hit here tonight through tomorrow and Saturday through Sunday, respectively. Lots of rain expected. Lots. and maybe related tornados. Flooding alerts already out. But the expectation is that they'll each have lost enough power (by travelling overland) that they will no longer be named storms by the time they reach us.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The first Tuesday after the first Monday.

Can't wait until November to tally up the electoral votes? Here's a site that will do it for you. They take the most current poll in each state as a predictor of actual Election Night results, and add them up as a predictor of electoral vote totals.

The count changes almost daily, as new polls come in, so you can play out your own scenarios. Last week, if one Kerry-leaning state (Missouri) went for Bush and all the others went according to the current polls, there would have been a 269-269 tie, throwing the selection of the president into the House, where the likely majority of state delegations would be Republican even if the majority of representatives were Democratic (there are a lot of western states with one Republican representative; each counts as much as California or New York in this particular Constitutional role), so Bush would be re-elected. On the other hand, the Vice President is chosen by the Senate, and if the Democrats regained a majority (requiring a two-seat pickup), John Edwards would be the Vice-President. Yes, we could end up with a Bush-Edwards administration.

At the moment: Kerry leads in this calculation, 307-231. But many states have one candidate leading by less than the margin of error in that state's poll, and even more states have the lead less than the margin of error plus undecided voters.

To me, the most amazing statistic is that Bush's lead in Virginia is only 3%, with 5% uncommitted. That's in a state where Bush won in 2000 by 8%.

And yes, I know: come back in September and October when the polls will finally start to mean something.

Monday, August 09, 2004

A message from White House West.

A commercial for ACT, with Will Ferrell as the Prez. Very funny.

Where were you?

Let's play this game again. Where were you, thirty years ago today? When Richard Nixon resigned the office of President and flew off into the dustbin of history?

I was off in the wilds of Norway (Trondheim, as I recall), doing the Youth Hostel and Eurailpass summer-in-Europe thing, where the International Herald-Tribune - published in the morning in Paris - arrived by train about 5 p.m. the next afternoon. Whenever you saw someone who looked American, you'd stop them and ask if they'd heard anything. Invariably, they'd pull out the same copy of the Herald-Trib that you had. Finally, I saw a local paper with the headline "NIXON STORGT". Below the headline was a photo of Ford, and a caption with a word about 50 letters long, and someplace in the middle of that word was something that looked like "president". So, while we figured that something had happened, we really weren't sure what. At the youth hostel that evening, someone whose English was better than my Norwegian told us that Nixon had "gone by himself" and made the little gesture with two fingers of someone walking.

In the hindsight of many years, I regret not picking up a copy of the "Nixon Storgt" paper.

"Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking."

I’m not normally one to pay attention to signs and portents. Perhaps I should be.

I took a quick weekend trip out to Indiana a couple of weeks ago. Flight out was fine: medium-sized jet to Charlotte, where I caught a medium-sized jet to Indianapolis. Smooth flights, no delays.

For the flight home, I made my connections through Pittsburgh. More reasonable departure time, shorter layover, substantially more reasonable arrival time. But, oops: I didn’t look very closely at the planes involved. Turns out that both of the flights were on tiny planes: only about 22 rows long, and each row consisted of one seat on the left side of the center aisle and two seats on the right. Worse still, although both flights were the same model plane, only the flight from Indianapolis was a jet – the other was a propeller-driven puddle-jumper.

The pilot wanted to leave Indianapolis early, due to the severe thunderstorms rapidly (and loudly) approaching from the west. And I suppose that pulling away from the gate at the scheduled take-off time qualifies as “early” for USAirways. Before we got to the runway, the skies opened up. We took off anyway, into the storm, and had a mighty rough ride for the first fifteen minutes, which is a pretty good-sized portion of the 55-minute flight. Up, down, up, dowwwwnnn, up, whoops! Way down. Urp. But the flight finally settled down, and we got into the Pittsburgh landing approach.

The view out my window on the approach was fairly repetitive: hill, golf course, water tower, hill, water tower, golf course, hill, etc. Finally we got set for wheels-down, and the last landmark off the left side of the plane was a hill, covered with little white buildings. The top of the hill was at window-level, so you had to hope that the pilot had the plane lined up properly. Thankfully, he did. As we passed the hilltop, I realized that we were a lot closer to it than I’d thought, and the little white buildings and spires on the hill actually turned out to be the gravestones and crypts in a cemetery.

Fine. Rush to the gate for the flight to Richmond. Get there just barely in time for boarding. Well, just barely in time to start waiting, as it turns out. They’ve decided that they have overbooked the flight by six customers. A flight with about 66 seats, you understand. So they want volunteers to step aside and take the next flight to Richmond, which will get you there around midnight instead of around 7:30. Ten minutes later, they ask again for volunteers. Ten minutes later, they ask again. By now, it’s already past time for wheels-up from Pittsburgh. One person volunteers. They ask again for volunteers, with the dual threats that (a) they won’t begin boarding until there is an appropriately small number of passengers and (b) if they don’t get enough volunteers, they’ll start bumping people. By the time it’s a half-hour past scheduled take-off, they grudgingly allow boarding to start. We all bolt for the plane and claim our seats.

Kind of a mistake, it turns out. A plane which is painted dark blue and which has been sitting in the strong July sun all afternoon turns into an oven. Especially when there’s no air conditioning on the plane. If you then load that plane up with more than 60 people, it turns into a mobile sauna. (Well, if it were moving, it would be a mobile sauna.) How many more than 60? By the time we finally took off, there were five empty seats. (And two of the filled seats were filled with USAirways pilots, dead-heading.) Somehow – between pre-boarding and post-boarding – the flight went from having 72 paying customers to having only 59 (plus the two freebies). Difficult to be successful at running an airline if you misplace that many customers at once. Add in the crew (I’m guessing 2 pilots and 1 flight attendant), and you get a total of 64.

So there we were, 61 passengers who had made a beeline for the plane, only to discover that it was about 120 degrees inside, and getting hotter. Minimal air circulation and no air conditioning. You can’t open the windows (all in all, probably a good design in an airplane). And the long wait inside the oven starts while USAirways looks around for the missing customers. Or something. They never actually told us why we were waiting, but wait we did. And the temperature went up. A half-hour later, I’d guess it was at least 140 degrees, and at that point, it really doesn’t matter if it’s “in the shade” of the plane’s interior. Everything that everyone was wearing was thoroughly soaked from perspiration. The flight attendant was as unhappy as the rest of us, and promised us cold drinks once we got up into the air (and not until). The pilot came on the intercom and assured us that once the plane was airborne, it would cool down.

We soon discovered what he failed to tell us: that when he fired up the engines, what minimal air circulation we had would go away, not to return until we hit cruising altitude, when the propellers no longer needed all the power that the engines could generate. And he warmed the engines up for 5 minutes – with the cabin door closed, of course – before we moved away from the terminal.

After we pulled away from the terminal, we stopped and waited a few more minutes, taxied a little more, waited some more, and finally took off. We got up about 2000 feet and leveled off, and the air conditioning finally kicked in, so the interior cooled off to a more reasonable level (and in this instance, “reasonable” means merely 105 degrees).

We did a slow 60-degree right turn, and I settled in to read my book. A few minutes later, I felt another 60-degree turn to the right, and tried to concentrate on the book. Or possibly to take a nap, no telling. After we’d been aloft for 20 minutes, I took notice of yet another 60-degree turn to the right (and realized there had surely been others that hadn’t impinged on my consciousness), and I could see a big city out my window; and you know? There really aren’t all that many big cities on the flight path from Pittsburgh to Richmond. And fewer still that have skyscrapers near the confluence of a couple of major rivers. And, hmm, that particular configuration of golf course, hilltop, and water tower looks awfully familiar. And while we’re at it, why are we still only about 2000 feet up? Other passengers have noticed, too, and are starting to murmur.

The pilot comes on: “You may have noticed that we’re still near Pittsburgh. When we got off the ground, we discovered that we have an instrumentation problem. So we’re going to circle Pittsburgh for another 20 minutes, land, and get the problem fixed.”

So we fly around for 20 more minutes, with a 60-degree right turn thrown in every few minutes, and eventually come back to my friends the water tower, golf course, and hilltop. And down we go to land, with the usual pre-landing instructions of putting the seat upright and the like.

As we land, we saw that the Pittsburgh airport had prepared a festive arrival for us, with a parade of yellow fire trucks beside the plane, pacing us down the runway with lights flashing and sirens blaring (presumably; we can’t hear them over the sound of the engines). I counted 5 hook-and-ladder trucks, 3 other fire trucks, a couple of ambulances, and a couple of pickup trucks painted fire truck yellow with the airport’s logo on the door. Very nice of them to have a parade for us, to make us feel better about having our trip delayed.

Oh, wait. Maybe that’s not why the fire trucks were staying so close to us.

The fire engines stay along side the plane until we hit the end of the runway, then they follow us almost all the way back to the terminal, before peeling off to go back to the airport firehouse. It’s chili night, I guess. We taxi back to the terminal we left from, and they open the door, but don’t let us de-plane. I imagine that they figure we would scatter and find another way to Richmond. (And what do you think happened to the air conditioning? Yep. Anyone who had gotten most of the perspiration evaporated from the first pass through the oven started sweating again.)

Oh, and once we come to a rest, the left-side engine starts smoking. Enough that you’d be worried if you saw that amount of smoke coming out of your car’s tailpipe, but not so much that you could legitimately call it “billows of smoke”. Certainly more smoke than I ever recall seeing come out of an airplane’s engine before, not that I’ve flown on propeller planes more than a dozen times. Perhaps you can imagine how calming it is for the passengers to see the engine suddenly start pouring out smoke when we’ve just been treated to a landing surrounded by fire engines. One of the dead-heading pilots looks at the engine and tells us not to worry, that’s common. The murmuring dies down some, only to start to build up again as it sinks in that it’s such a common occurrence on this airline’s flights to have the engine smoke profusely that it isn’t worth having a mechanic come look at it.

A guy in a suit watches as mechanics do something to one of the panels in the cockpit and possibly to something around the front wheel well. The pilot in the passenger section identifies him as being the head of operations for the Pittsburgh airport; presumably the head of operations for the airline, although that’s a big job since Pittsburgh is a US Airways hub. Still, you can tell he isn’t head of public relations for the airline, as he doesn’t pop on board, tell us what’s going on, instruct the flight attendant to pass out cold drinks (ideally with a slug of scotch in each), and wish us a happy flight.

Forty-five minutes of waiting passes. Slowly. Finally, it looks like we’re ready to take off. I’ve kept a close eye on the two dead-heading pilots, using them as my guides to staying on the plane. I figure that they know more about the safety of these planes than I do (and I truly don’t want to know it if they don’t), and if they’re willing to chance it for the flight to Richmond, I guess I will, too.

No problems on the flight to Richmond; at least, none that I could tell. Sure, the left engine started pumping out smoke when it was shut down at the terminal in Richmond. And sure, there’s no way to tell whether it was doing that all the way from Pittsburgh. But we arrived safely, albeit more than 3 hours late.

And if I had been driving from Indianapolis, and started home at the same time that I started out for the Indianapolis airport, I’d have probably driven up to my house about the same time that I actually arrived home from the airport after the plane trips. Hmm. Something else to consider.