Friday, December 23, 2005

Not my tree.

Although I'm impressed: a Christmas tree with 52 science fiction and fantasy ornaments. And a Yoda on top.

And allow me to repeat: Not my tree.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Oh, not much. You?

Well, it’s clear I’m having troubles thinking of things to write about – the curse of having a boring, boring life – so I’ll take this opportunity to note books and movies I‘ve liked in the past couple of months.

Books first. Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell won the Hugo award last year (and a host of others), and is sort of a Harry Potter for adults. Not in any salacious way, you understand; just with more adult themes and without the gee-whiz excitement of the Potter books. It’s a story of the return of Magic to England, and is set in the early 1800s. And written in the style of a novel written in the mid-1800s. Great fun, and a long enough book that it will last both legs of a cross-country plane flight. And most of a snow-bound week between flights.

Assassination Vacation, by Sarah Vowell, recounts the author’s pilgrimages to sites related to presidential assassinations and assassination attempts, and is hilarious. While you actually learn little historical tidbits – such as the Curse of Robert Todd Lincoln – it’s the wonderful stories that make the book so enjoyable. The book’s opening line was enough to get me hooked: “Going to Ford’s Theater for the play is like going to Hooters for the food.”

Movies. I saw King Kong last weekend. Very good, and certainly worth the bother of going to a theater to see it on the big screen. Although it's 3 hours and 7 minutes long, it goes by quickly and I never found myself looking for the remote control to fast-forward to the next scene. To be sure, a number of five-minute scenes could have been shortened by a minute and a half, but even then, you wouldn't be taking out "bad" material - you'd be tightening up scenes that went on longer only to show off the computer graphics (which were excellent, for the most part).

I’m not entirely sure that the original King Kong needed to be remade, but this was a worthy remake. I last saw the original on the big screen at a film festival in Charlottesville about 6 or 7 years ago, where it was introduced by Fay Wray. That was fun, too.

At this year’s Virginia Film Festival, I saw Nine Lives. Nine interlocking short stories, each filmed in a single shot so that you get a palpable feeling of “real time.” Excellent ensemble cast: Kathy Bates, Sissy Spacek, Robin Wright Penn, Ian McShane, Aidan Quinn, and many, many others. I think it hasn’t had a real national release yet, so you might be able to catch it in the theater.

DVDs from Netflix. No surprise: I’m an unabashed fan of Netflix. Among the things I’ve gotten from Netflix lately that I’ve liked a lot are the Firefly series, The Fog of War, the Wonderfalls series, and the Jancis Robinson wine series. And I’ve finally gotten around to seeing Sling Blade. But the real joy of Netflix – over and above not having to drive to the dreadful video rental place and wandering around searching the racks for something other than fifty copies of the latest Deuce Bigalow schlockfest – is the ability to see the interesting “little” movie that you’ll never find at Blockbuster and never see on HBO. Here are a couple that I’ve seen in the past month:

Second Generation. Essentially a made-for-TV movie, but since it was made for British TV, it’s orders of magnitude better than American networks’ TV movies. It’s King Lear set amidst Indian immigrants around London, and filled with excellent Indian actors you’ll recognize, even if you don’t immediately know all the names: among them are Parminder Nagra, Om Puri, and Anupam Kher.

Edge of Madness. A Canadian movie, set in the last half of the nineteenth century. A girl who is not yet a young woman is “placed” from an orphanage to be the wife of someone who is a settler in the mostly-deserted Western provinces. Someone who’s not all that good a settler, and not all that good a husband. Excellent dramatic performance in this murder mystery by Caroline Dhavernas (who gave excellent comedic performances in Wonderfalls), and one in which she doesn’t have to hide her natural French accent.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Not that kind of hardware store, alas.

Time for a trip to the hardware store, it seems. To make copies of my house keys, so I can give a set to the neighbor or hide one or something.

Out of the house I bounded this afternoon, all set to go to the UPS place to send off a package. (Christmas presents? Hah! Far too early for that. A birthday present. And no, it's probably not for you.) Got the package? Check. Got the Netflix envelope to drop off at the Post office? Check. Got my wallet? Check. Okay, we're ready to roll! Slam the door behind me, make sure it's good and locked, and away we go!

Got my keys?

Hmmm. This trip could be both much longer and much shorter than I had anticipated.

The choice seemed to be between calling a locksmith to open the door and finding a more direct method through a window or something. Which is likely to be cheaper? Okay, forget the locksmith.

Wander around the house to see whether I've inadvertently left a window open, unlikely as that might seem in the middle of winter. No such luck.

So I picked a basement window to be sacrificed. I found something to try to pry out all the putty around the window, in hopes of somehow being able to ease the window out of the frame without breaking it. Twenty minutes and a cracked-but-not-broken window later, I gave up on that scheme: putty that's dried into place over fifty years just wasn't going to be easily persuaded to give up its grip.

(Twenty minutes was long enough for me, too. I was afraid that the neighbors across my back-yard fence might wonder what was going on over there, with all that banging against the window and that shifty-looking person skulking around the back of the house. Any longer, and they might call 911 - and I really didn't want to be the day's entertainment for Richmond's Finest.)

The window was no match to the business end of a wrench, however.

So tomorrow's list includes a visit to the hardware store, for a set of spare keys. And, oh yes, a new window pane. And putty.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Christmas list.

On the off chance you are wondering what to get me for Christmas, and you have $600 burning a hole in your pocket, you could always get me a life-size Yoda Statue. Not that I'm exactly sure what "life-size" means in this particular context. Presumably something other than "two-dimensional."

And if you're especially thrifty and know someone else who would like a life-size Yoda for Christmas - perhaps yourself? - you'll be delighted to know that if you buy two at one time, the second is 20% off. (I suppose there's also the chance that people will consider you to be at least 20% off to spend $600 for a Yoda statue, but you're willing to take that risk for me, aren't you?)

No lard; just snow.

A fairly peaceful snowstorm, at least at my house. And early enough in the season that by afternoon, the top of the snow was covered with leaves that are only now deciding that it's time to fall.

It was a bit more exciting last night. Driving home from work, as I got within three miles of my home, I realized that the electricity was out - no traffic lights, no lights on the houses, and I'd bet no heat, if there was no electricity at my house. And about a mile and a half from my house, the police had blocked off the street. Not a good sign. As I circled around to approach my neighborhood from another direction, though, I got into an area where the electricity was still on, and it was on at my house when I got there.

And the other excitement came in the middle of the night, awakening to the crack of branches high in the tree in my front yard (and the subsequent thuds when they hit the ground). Sounded worse than it was, though, as I discovered only a couple of 15-foot branches had come down. Not on the electric wires, not through my roof. A good result.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Falls Like Lard.

Or, you know, maybe not.

There's a "Winter Storm Watch" for the area, starting tonight and lasting through Tuesday night. And if it really does snow, they're calling for as much as 2 to 4 inches - on grassy areas.

Doesn't stop the TV stations from going into their usual headless-chicken panic mode. Crawls across the bottom of the screen every half-hour or so, and occasionally breaking into coverage to show their forecast maps. And the 11:00 news shows trotted out their packaged clips of Department of Transportation trucks filling up with salt and sand to put on the roads and the "crowds" at the grocery stores. (In fact, to my surprise, the grocery store I typically go to had a normal amount of customers and plenty of bread and milk on the shelves at 7 p.m. this evening.)

My favorite part of the TV weather reports was the forecast map of what areas could expect in the way of precipitation over the next 48 hours. Probably too much information to fit into a single map, but Hey! they tried. They had the map of Virginia, split into about 5 different colored bands, from "All Rain" in the band closest to the ocean, through "Mixed Precipitation" and "Sleet" (these two seemed to cover the Richmond area), "Snow" and ending with "Heavy Snow" (in the mountains). The best parts of the map, though, were the other little comments on the map. Most were informative ("4 to 10 inches" near Charlottesville), but over the mountains was this odd little phrase: "Falls Like Lard".

No idea what it means. I can't imagine snow falling so heavily that one might mistake it for lard, and I've seen a lot of intense snowfalls. Even a thunder-snowstorm, once. But lard? Yuk. Although I suppose it would make for much more substantial snowmen.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

I just send 'em on.

Gleaned from an email:

When my father turned 52, I remember, he made the comment: "They used to say
I'm a real card -- now I'm a whole deck."

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Do you have any respect for Law Reviews? If so, why?

Case in point: the Michigan Law Review, Vol. 104, publication date of May 2006, has an article entitled "Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy" (only an abstract of the article is currently available).

It purports to examine what the Harry Potter series has to tell us about government and bureaucracy. (Bad and bad, respectively.) 'Cause that's the whole reason J.K. Rowling wrote the series.

Leave it to law professors to suck all the fun out of things.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Overheard at work.

It's always fun to listen to folks as they chatter away at work, oblivious to what they're saying or who's listening. And given that we work in a glorified warehouse, at computers set up on folding tables, and that what we're doing is incredibly boring and tedious, matched with an utter lack of challenge, it's no surprise that odd subjects are discussed at length - and often, at excessive length - and that strange and revealing statements are made.

Today, one guy spent a lot of time at the shared computer with internet access, planning his December vacation to Thailand. He plans to travel light, with a small bag containing only underwear and condoms, as he expects to be able to buy anything else he needs - such as shorts and t-shirts - when he gets there. He says that Thailand is on the State Department's list of countries to avoid because of possible danger, and that just makes it all more attractive to him. "I do crazy [stuff]. I went to Belfast when it was really, really bad, just because it was." Yes, this all qualifies as crazy. But to be honest, the whippersnapper isn't old enough to have been in Belfast when it was really dangerous.

Earlier this week, one woman was talking about health food, which is good for you because it's healthy and all and they couldn't call it "health food" if it weren't actually healthy, and she started discussing Omega 3 oils. She proudly noted that kelp is a wonderful source for Omega 3 oils (normally found in fish) because: "Kelp is a fish kind of thing. You know, it's a living thing that lives in the sea." You learn something every day, and that day we learned that the green leafy stuff you find in the ocean and used to call "seaweed" is actually "fish."

She further redeemed herself the next day, when she noted "I'm kind of a pseudo-intellectual." I'd have thought that a pseudo-intellectual was something you either were or were not, and no "kind of" about it.

Still, the best conversation of the week had to be the one about popcorn. Movie-theater popcorn, to be precise, piping hot and complete with salt and melted butter. "And then," it was explained to us, "you open the small package of M&Ms you brought into the theater with you [it being too expensive to buy the M&Ms at the snack bar] and pour them into the popcorn." Apparently the heat of the popcorn heats the chocolate in the M&M, but not enough to cause it to split the shell. And the salt and butter play off against the crunchy nature of the shell and the sweetness of the chocolate. None of the three of us listening to the tale had ever heard of mixing M&Ms with popcorn, and I've had my share of movie-theater popcorn over the years but never with M&Ms. When asked, however, someone at the next bunch of tables said that she did it too.

I've had chocolate-covered popcorn before (usually purchased at a Boy Scout fundraiser), so the concept isn't entirely foreign, I suppose. But chocolate with hot popcorn was a new one to me, and mixing in melted butter just makes me shudder.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Hallowe'en is over, so it's time for Christmas decorations to come out.

And this year, you can have an authentic replica of Charlie Brown's Pathetic Christmas Tree. For a mere $24. Still, for that price, you'll get to keep the tree for many sad years to come.

And on the other extreme, the local paper is taking applications for houses to list on this year's Tacky Christmas Lights tour.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

How are people in Pennsylvania smarter than people in Kansas? Well, eventually.

Election results from Pennsylvania: All eight seats on the Dover, PA school board were won by pro-evolution supporters and all eight losers were supporters of so-called intelligent design.

Give people a choice between teaching their children science or filling their heads with rubbish, and they'll usually make the right choice.

Monday, November 07, 2005

If only wishing could make it so.

Gleaned from an e-mail, anonymously authored:

Moderator: We're here today to debate the hot new topic, evolution versus Intelligent Des---

(Scientist pulls out baseball bat.)

Moderator: Hey, what are you doing?

(Scientist breaks Intelligent Design advocate's kneecap.)


Scientist: Perhaps it only appears that I broke your kneecap. Certainly, all the evidence points to the hypothesis I broke your kneecap. For example, your kneecap is broken; it appears to be a fresh wound; and I am holding a baseball bat, which is spattered with your blood. However, a mere preponderance of evidence doesn't mean anything. Perhaps your kneecap was designed that way. Certainly, there are some features of the current situation that are inexplicable according to the "naturalistic" explanation you have just advanced, such as the exact contours of the excruciating pain that you are experiencing right now.

Intelligent Design advocate: AAAAH! THE PAIN!

Scientist: Frankly, I personally find it completely implausible that the random actions of a scientist such as myself could cause pain of this particular kind. I have no precise explanation for why I find this hypothesis implausible --- it just is. Your knee must have been designed that way!

Intelligent Design advocate: YOU BASTARD! YOU KNOW YOU DID IT!

Scientist: I surely do not. How can we know anything for certain? Frankly, I think we should expose people to all points of view. Furthermore, you should really re-examine whether your hypothesis is scientific at all: the breaking of your kneecap happened in the past, so we can't rewind and run it over again, like a laboratory experiment. Even if we could, it wouldn't prove that I broke your kneecap the previous time. Plus, let's not even get into the fact that the entire universe might have just popped into existence right before I said this sentence, with all the evidence of my alleged kneecap-breaking already pre-formed.

Intelligent Design advocate: That's a load of bullshit sophistry! Get me a doctor and a lawyer, not necessarily in that order, and we'll see how tha tplays in court!

Scientist (turning to audience): And so we see, ladies and gentlemen, when push comes to shove, advocates of Intelligent Design do not actually believe any of the arguments that they profess to believe. When it comes to matters that hit home, they prefer evidence, the scientific method, testable hypotheses, and naturalistic explanations. In fact, they strongly prefer naturalistic explanations over supernatural hocus-pocus or metaphysical wankery. It is only within the reality-distortion field of their ideological crusade that they give credence to the flimsy, ridiculous arguments which we so commonly see on display. I must confess, it kind of felt good, for once, to be the one spouting free-form bullshit; it's so terribly easy and relaxing, compared to marshaling rigorous arguments backed up by empirical evidence. But I fear that if I were to continue, then it would be habit-forming, and bad for my soul. Therefore, I bid you adieu.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

It's that time of year again: Election Day in the Old Dominion. Virginia has its state elections in the off-years. This year's election includes the statewide elections for governor, lt. governor, and attorney general.

It looks like a close election for Governor this year, with polls going back and forth as to who's leading, and always within the margin of error. Neither candidate is much of a gem, and it's pretty much "a pox on both your houses." Still, the Democratic candidate is only chicken pox, while the Republican is smallpox.

The Republican wins the award for sleaziest ads. He had a series of TV ads with relatives of murdered people (or, you know, bad actors pretending to be relatives of murdered people) complaining that the Democratic candidate voluntarily represented the accused defendants and actually tried to have juries find the defendants "innocent" and therefore, he cannot be trusted to be governor. 'Cause, you know, providing criminal defendants with a fair trial or otherwise trying to implement the Sixth Amendment is always a disqualification for public office. And what makes this series especially bad? The Republican candidate has spent the last four years as the state's attorney general.

He also wins the award for sleaziest printed ads. There's an independent candidate running, getting about 4 or 5 percent of the vote. A former Republican, although not as much of an idiot as the one the Republicans nominated. Still, clearly a Republican. Friday, I received a flyer in the mail, purporting to be an "Official Democratic Voting Guide for Governor," claiming to show the differences between the Democratic candidate and the Independent, and "clearly" establishing that the more progressive candidate is the Independent. And who sent out this ad? Not the Virginia Democratic party, who you'd think would be the only ones who would authorize an official party voting guide, and not the Independent candidate. In very small type, the ad discloses that it was authorized by the Republican candidate.

And the phone has been ringing off the hook, as somehow both parties consider me to be a strong supporter. So I've gotten taped pleas direct from each candidate this weekend, and taped pleas from former NY mayor Rudy Giuliani, who probably should be paying attention to the NY mayoral race instead, and from Virginia's Senator George Allen, who I knew to be a loudmouthed drooling moron when I was in law school, and he's not improved with age. Plus real-person phone calls from each party, inviting me to Election Eve pep rallies. Yeah, think I'll pass.

The good news is that by Wednesday, all the campaigning will be over. The bad news is that by Wednesday, one of them will be elected.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Kinky for Governor!

No, not here in Virginia, alas. Although he'd surely be better than any of the candidates currently running. Down in Texas, where Willie Nelson hosted a fundraiser for the Kinky Friedman campaign. Running as an independent, Friedman would surely make a better governor than some of Texas's recent ones. Better song-writer, too.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Where does a 25-foot tall gorilla sleep?

Why, anywhere he wants to, of course.

And if he should happen to want to sleep inside a movie theater, it would appear that he can sleep for 3 hours at a time. That's the current length of Peter Jackson's version of King Kong. And Universal is getting a little worried. A movie theater can show a 3-hour movie about half as many times during a day as it could a 1 1/2-hour movie, and since they'd charge the same admission price for each, they'd end up with half the revenue. And since movie studios now try to have huge opening weekends - aiming for half their total ticket sales on the opening weekend - cutting the number of showings in half will go against that strategy.

Still, if anyone can successfully make a long, special-effects movie that people will want to go see long after the opening weekend, you'd think Peter Jackson would be the one. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was certainly no slouch at the box office.

And for comparison, the 1933 version (with Fay Wray) ran 100 minutes, and the 1976 version (the one with, yeah, I can't remember either) ran 134 minutes.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Under the weather.

I seem to have been visited - and possibly possessed - by spirits of my former cats.

I've had a cold for the past week. Usually, colds live in my sinuses for about four days and then move to my chest for two weeks. Not this one: this cold started out in my sinuses for about a day and moved directly into my chest, pausing only to give a heck of a sore throat in the process.

But the real difference has been the feline symptoms. I'll sleep for 10 hours at a time, get up and read my email, and go back to bed for a nap. I'll turn up my nose at perfectly good food. I'll cough up really rude stuff - not hairballs, as one might expect, but (trust me!) other matter that's at least as bad.

But the best symptom is what it's done to my voice, which is now somewhat gravelly and lower in pitch, and I feel like I'm doing a Barry White imitation. Well, not a good one. But the cat connection is that if I sigh and it goes through my vocal cords, I can produce that cat noise that is halfway between a growl and a purr. The noise that a cat makes if she's unhappy with you but wants you to keep petting her anyway. Which is about how I feel, waiting for this cold to run its course.

Well, I see I've been out of bed for about an hour. Time to go back to sleep.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

When it rains.

Saturday was the day for the Tour of Hope bike ride, and Friday afternoon, I dutifully drove up to the DC area with my bike so I could ride in it. Bright and early – or possibly so early that it didn't really qualify as “bright” – I hopped into the car and drove over to Glen Echo, where the ride would start.

Imagine my surprise to see that there were only 5 cars in the parking lot (left). Great big field, clearly set up as a staging area to add those of us who were taking part in a shorter, less strenuous version of the ride. (The longer ride was not only 40 miles longer, it had a minimum speed limit of 17 mph. As I have difficulties keeping it at 15 mph for half the distance of the longer ride, I decided the shorter ride was going to be more appropriate this year.) 200 riders were going to start here, joining the 1300 who had started up near Columbia, Maryland. Plus the 26 who had just ridden cross-county, plus Lance Armstrong and a couple of other Tour dignitaries.

I tracked down the folks from the organizing committee – they were easy to spot, as they were the only people around. It turns out that the event had been cancelled. It had been raining hard in the area for 48 hours – thanks to a visit from the remnants of Tropical Storm Tammy – and there were a number of places along the route where the roads had been flooded. So, in the interests of safety, they reluctantly decided to cancel.

You understand, when I drove over to the starting point, I had my camera with me but not my bicycle. It was raining, and reasonably hard with no sign of letting up. And I don't ride my bike in the rain. (I've had enough bike accidents and broken enough body parts that I truly have no need to tempt fate.) But there are enough lunatics out there who happily ride in dangerous conditions that I figured that there would still be three or five hundred riders, and I wanted to get some shots of that crowd.

They also cancelled the outdoor festivities to take place at the finishing line, at the Ellipse. Also not that hard a choice, as most of the Ellipse was under 4 or 6 inches of standing water. But they still wanted to hold the welcoming celebration for the cross-country riders and the enthusiastic talks by Lance and other folks, so they moved that inside one of the hotels near the Ellipse. One of the goals of this year’s Tour of Hope was to raise awareness and acceptance of clinical trials, without which it is difficult to get new treatments. Lance made a point of thanking those who had taken part in clinical trials 25 years ago, trials which led to the drug treatments he took for his cancer nine years ago. And he noted that some of those in those trials are still around today.

I still think it'd be fun to do this ride, especially in a large group. And in nice weather.

There's always next year.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Today's Sign of the Apocalypse.

Available at my local grocery store. A power saw for carving pumpkins. 'Cause it's just too darn hard to cut into a pumpkin with a non-powered knife.

Perhaps they'll also have a powered device for de-gooping the interior of the pumpkin.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The return of Spaceman Spiff.

Well, not so much "return" as "visit." The Complete Calvin and Hobbes is being published, a three-volume, 1500-page art book, containing every Calvin and Hobbes comic strip ever published.

Wonderful comic strip. It's difficult to realize that it's been ten years since Calvin and Hobbes last got onto their sled to go out and explore the world.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Hooray for the red, yellow and orange!

With five of them, you can Get Out of Jail!, and you can get twenty of them each time you pass Go. Starting next year, the ten-dollar bill will come to you in colors other than green, black and white. And, for that matter, in colors other than those used in the $20 bill (peach) and the $50 (red).

And here's an interesting note: the Treasury is planning to redesign our currency every 7 to 10 years, in order to stay ahead of counterfeiters.

If it's September, it must be time to put up the Christmas decorations.

And you know? Nothing quites says "Christmas" to me like a whole gaggle of life-size inflatable characters who appear nowhere in the Bible. Like the Christmas Eeyore and Roo.

Sure, the Christmas Spongebob Squarepants reminds us of what Christmas is all about: giving, and more importantly receiving, presents. And Tigger reminds us of the value of Christmas vacations.

And if, for some strange reason, you'd prefer to get ready for a holiday that's only one month away, instead of three, you could always get an inflatable Halloween costume. And not merely inflatable, but continuously inflating with a continually blowing fan. One of my favorites is the ridable ostrich, with the ballerina a close second.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

How to humiliate your pet.

If you don't really want to dress your pet in an actual uniform - possibly because it would be totally justified in mauling you - you can always do the next best thing: Photoshop it into a uniform.

And for an almost-reasonable $20 (as a special holiday price, although it's your guess as to what holiday the discount is for).

Monday, September 19, 2005

How to ensure that your child will get beaten up this Halloween.

Yes, indeed. He could go to a party in a toilet costume. Complete with toilet paper.

Whatever in the world were they thinking?

They also have this costume in an adult size.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Tick. Tick. Tick.

No, that's not the answer to "What do my legs look like after a walk in the field?"

Time's a-wastin' for making donations to sponsor me in the Tour of Hope. While it's true that I'm not searching quite so enthusiastically for donations as I was prior to Hurricane Katrina, I'm still looking for them. And raising money for cancer research and cancer programs is still a good thing to support.

Time's running short, though. If you'd like to make a donation, please do so within the next week, by clicking on this link and using your credit card.


Sunday, September 11, 2005

Who needs cat beds?

Clearly not these felines, who prefer to sleep in sinks.

I've not had a cat who liked to sleep in a sink, although Sabrina's preferred choice for drinking water was a dripping faucet.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


Here's someone who knits - or, possibly, crochets - the most interesting things. The shark attack, above, and false teeth in a glass, and a whole series on rabbits and carrots interacting in ways unexpected by the rabbits.

Monday, September 05, 2005

I'll see your "Intelligent Design" and raise it.

A wonderful response to the bogus theory of "Intelligent Design" and based on an equal amount of actual science. And yet, with far more of a sense of humor than proponents of so-called "Intelligent Design" have.

Still, it's clear that Flying Spaghetti Monsterism has at least as much of a valid religious basis as George Bush's "Intelligent Design" as it does have t-shirts, mugs, car magnets, and flash games. Among the designs available on t-shirts and mugs is the ever-popular "WWFSMD" slogan. To which one can only add a resounding "RAmen!"

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Good fences make good neighbors.

Man, I sometimes thought I was a slightly-suspect neighbor as I am not as frenetic about mowing my yard as some people near me. This woman, though, takes the cake. 79 charges, and counting.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Mia, 1992 - 2005.

Sad to report, Mia passed away last night. She was 13, old but not elderly in cat terms, but had heart problems which finally caught up to her.

I got Mia about 3 years ago, from the friend of someone I worked with. At the time, Mia's name was "Precious" which she wasn't going to keep for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I've read The Lord of the Rings. But then she named herself, as for the first three months she was Missing In Action in the house, hiding under furniture to stay away from the evil person who had kidnapped her from her mother. After that three months, she realized that perhaps I wasn't so bad after all, and maybe I'd feed her something other than dry food if she'd come out on occasion, so she started sleeping in my lap as I watched TV, and on my bed at night.

A very sweet and loyal kitty; I'll miss her. And in her honor, I'll have salmon for dinner tonight.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Don't mess with Texas.

'Cause Texas is more than Lone Star beer, high school football, and evading the draft. Way more.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

When is an iBook not an iBook?

When it's a lure to act like a complete idiot.

Today was the day that Henrico County was to sell off 1000 used, 4-year-old iBooks for $50 each. (And by "used," they mean "used by students who didn't have to pay for repairs if the computers got broken.") One per person, Henrico County residents only (and you had to prove it), and cash or checks accepted. Today's sale was postponed from last week, when people actually came all the way from Florida to try to buy one of the iBooks.

So what happened today? Stupidity and greed at its finest. Over 5,000 people showed up. For 1,000 computers. People started arriving at 1 a.m., when the gates were to open at 7 (for a sale beginning at 9). Orderliness and civility went out the window.

I'd actually considered going by the sale. For about 30 seconds. Until I realized that (a) these computers were 4 years old, and (b), even if they worked, they weren't compatible with either my home or work computers, so what's the point? I'd do better putting the $50 towards a new, functional, bare-bones laptop that comes with a warranty.

Pretty simple analysis, you'd think. Even simpler if you add in the cost of taking time off from work to go to it, or even the opportunity cost of standing in line for a long, long time if you're off on summer vacation. But a level of analysis that's beyond some people.

Still, what about the people who showed up late? When there's already 4,000 people in line? Can they possibly be thinking, "Lookit all the people ahead of me! I bet that in each group of 5 people, 4 people are here just to keep the one person who's buying a computer company, so there will surely be computers left when I get to the front of the line!"? Apparently so.

Sunday, August 14, 2005


It's good to see that George Bush is doing to the domestic economy what he's already done for peace in the Middle East.

Gas prices at my favorite local gas station went up 15 cents literally overnight. (And yes, I do know what "literally" means. $2.58 per gallon yesterday, and $2.73 today.) That caps off a 35-cent increase over the past week.

About 20 months ago, I purchased my first-ever $30 fill-up. A week ago, I had my first $40 fill-up. Same car, same capacity gas tank. And at the rate gas went up last week? Next weekend, I'll be able to have a $50 fill-up. And I can hardly wait to see what heating oil prices will be for next winter.

But you know how we can tell that the economy is doing well? Oil companies are making record profits; a reasonable return for their investment in the Sock-Puppet-in-Chief.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Round and round and round he goes.

It would appear that pregnant neighborhood stray cats are not the only ones who can read "soft touch" across my forehead. Organizers of fundraising activities can do it to.

I've signed up for a fund-raising bike ride, the Tour of Hope (sponsored by Bristol-Myer Squibb), with all proceeds going to the Lance Armstrong Foundation and Tour partners. The Tour is a cross-country bike ride, San Diego to Washington, D.C. Uh, no; I'm not. But there's a "ride along with the 24 riders who are going cross-country" event on the last day, ending up at a rally at the Washington Monument. That's the one I'm taking part in.

It should be entertaining: I haven't been on my bike in six or seven years, so I've got some training to do. (First, of course, I have to find my bike. I'm pretty sure it's in the room with the washing machine.) And at the end of it, I'll be able to say that I've ridden with Lance Armstrong. Way behind him, to be sure, but still somewhere in a peleton with him.

But you've got something to do, too: donate. Thanks.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

On occasion, he changes his mind.

I've never been a fan of the big book stores; the ones with coffee bars and lounges in them. It's attitude, I guess: the big book stores tend to hire the dimwits who would otherwise pump gas or stock the shelves at Kroger. (Actual conversation: Me: "Could you tell me where the computer book section is?" Nitwit employee: "Uh ... uh ... no?" Give him credit for being accurate.) And, conversely, real book stores tend to be owned and staffed by people who know and love books and who are willing to help you find what you're looking for.

So it was with great surprise that I was in one of those big stores tonight, looking for the Sports Illustrated with Lance Armstrong on the front cover, riding along in the maillot jaune through the French countryside, on his way to win number 7. And with Lance Armstrong on the back cover, as well: in an ad for Nike, with the caption "Just Do It" - a black-and-white photo of Lance from November or December 1996, head shaven, and skull incision prominent. The high and low points of his career, with it apparent that his true victory isn't the one shown on the front cover.

There I was, wandering around the store, where I saw the sign - an official Barnes & Noble sign showing what was in that particular section: "Encyclopedias/Thesauri". Having the courage to get the plural of "thesaurus" correct goes a long way towards forgiving their witless employees I've had to endure in the past.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Hot! Hot! Hot!

And I don’t mean in a good, Bend It Like Beckham end credits way.

Hot. It’s been hot lately. We’ve had a week, at least, in the high 90’s, with a boatload of humidity on top of that. Topped off by yesterday and today in the low 100’s, and that same humidity making it even more fun. Heat lndex readings between 110 and 120, if you’re into heat indexes.

So I suppose it wasn’t too surprising that the heat played a part in my dreams last night, including one scene at my tedious contract attorney job. In the dream, I arrived at work in late morning, as usual, but there wasn’t anyone around. Apparently the folks from BigLawFirm had come through bright and early to announce that everything had settled and the project was over and we didn’t need to come back ever again. However, because they didn’t tell us before today, we were of course welcome to stay as long as we wanted today and be paid for our time on-site. On the other hand, since the project was over, there clearly was no need for them to leave the air conditioning on, so they turned it off. (This in a room that gets stuffy in five minutes without air conditioning if it’s cloudy and the outside temperature is 75.) No wonder there was no one around.

And when I related the dream to people at work today, they all agreed that the same-day announcement of the project’s closing and simultaneously turning off the air conditioning on the hottest day of the year sounded exactly like what they’ll do to us.

Ah, well. One thing you can do when it’s hot outside is to plan winter vacations to chilly climes, and I just found out last night that I’ll be spending this Christmas in Colorado Springs, attending my father’s wedding. Colorado. Snow. Mountains. Cool weather. Can’t wait.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Google Moon - Lunar Landing Sites.

Google continues to come up with fascinating little additions to their various research sites. About a month ago, they added the rest of the world to their Google maps database, so you can now look at both maps and satellite photos around the world. More recently, they've added a scale to the screen, and today they've taken moon photographs and put them against the Google maps interface. In honor of the anniversary of the first moon landing, they've put all the moon landings onto a single map. Make sure you zoom in all the way for the fine details.

Monday, July 18, 2005

On a roll.

Ah, coincidence. When I find a topic, I stick to it.

On my way home from work this evening, I stopped at a light immediately behind someone who had an affinity group license plate, and one which I think definitely falls into the group of plates for which there's no actual need: a plate celebrating membership in the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Well, presumably great-grandsons. The plate comes complete with a Confederate battle flag on it. (Technically, I suppose it's the emblem of the SCV, but 95% of that is the Confederate battle flag, and you'd have to be within two feet of the plate to see any distinction.) And, in theory at least, you have to prove membership in the SCV to get the plate, although I imagine that membership in the Klan would work just as well.

To provide additional evidence where, really, none was needed, the bumper stickers on the car made it abundantly clear that the car's owner would relish a return to the days of slavery and white supremacy.

Gah. It makes the other dopey affinity plates - such as the proposed plate celebrating Secretariat's Triple Crown achievement (although I have to admit that I am unaware of any Virginia connection to the horse) or the proposed "Friends of Tibet" plate, among others - a lot more reasonable in comparison.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Time for a new license plate.

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles has come up with a new affinity group license plate: one for Virginia wineries. It's not yet officially available, as 350 such plates need to be paid for before they have the State Pen stamp them out. But soon, presumably.

This is not a worse subject for an affinity group license plate than Penn State alumni, fox hunting, or Parrotheads. And certainly far better than the original "autumn leaves" plate, which served to camouflage the numbers and letters on the plate quite effectively.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

John's Home for Wayward Cats is CLOSED.

It’s Graduation Day at the Home for Wayward Cats. The last of the kittens went to her new home Thursday night, and the Mama Cat went to hers on Friday.

I’m happy to have had them around, and happier that they’ve all gone to homes where they’ll be beloved pets. Certainly a far better fate than they’d have had if they’d been born under an azalea bush.

The Class of 2005:

Ladybug. AKA Mama Cat, Outdoor Cat. (And “Head Alien” to Mia.) The Matriarch. Thirteen full weeks in the Home. Very sweet kitty.

Flower. Named after the skunk in Bambi. Reunited with his mother last night, after already being in their new home for three weeks.

Jiffy. The most intrepid explorer of the group. Named after the peanut butter. (He looks “just like” the new owner’s previous cat, who was named Skippy.)

Molly. The most frightened of the group. Now in a home with four children, so she’ll get plenty of loving and attention. Whether she wants it or not.

Stormy. Because it was stormy the first night she was at her new home. Also known as "Mouse" because of the way she sits up with her two paws together, and up close to her mouth, like a mouse. The first to purr, and the one most willing to be held.

Updated August 12, to add her new name.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Mia informs me

... that we are now only one away from the optimum number of cats in the household.

The last kitten went to its new home tonight. Mama Cat is still recovering from her surgery, and will probably go to her new home over the weekend.

Mia is planning a party.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

A two-day pass.
The Outdoor Cat is enjoying a couple of days away from her prison. Well, perhaps "enjoying" isn’t quite the correct word. She’s off at the Animal Hospital, being spayed.

And she certainly didn’t enjoy the preliminaries – the removal of food by 9 p.m. the evening before surgery, and the car ride over. She started looking for dry food snacks around 3 a.m., and let me know that she couldn’t find any, and registered a louder protest when wet food wasn’t provided to her at 7 a.m.

She saved the strongest protest and accompanying struggle for being put into the cat carrier (a five-minute process) and the car ride to the vet. She seems to view all car rides as possibly ending up at The Pound, or more likely the rendering plant, and she kept up enough of a running commentary that I didn’t bother turning the radio on, because she’d have drowned it out.

She got through the surgery just fine. (“We discovered that she was in heat,” the vet reported, “so that’ll be an additional $19.35.” Not entirely sure why it costs more, but I suppose it’s better to discover she was in heat by having the operation rather than by having her running around outside, looking for boyfriends.) She’ll spend tonight at the vet’s and come home tomorrow to recuperate for a day or two before going to her new home.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

What cats do when you're not home.

And this apparently isn't all Mia does. It seems that she gets onto my computer and reads this blog, and took my Father's Day entry seriously. Well, as seriously as she takes anything I say.

So, one day last week, she teleported out of the house to the Hallmark card store, and bought a “Father's Day from the cat” card. She brought it home and signed it, and in a move I don't really understand, instead of just leaving the card out on the table (or, you know, on the floor) for me, she teleported out of the house again, this time going to upstate New York to mail it (after rifling through my pockets to get the 37 cents for the stamp).

There are times when I wished I spoke Cat, or the Mia spoke English. Learning how she does that teleportation trick could turn out to be quite lucrative, I bet.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Survey says:

In my copious free time, I've taken a survey of weblogs.

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

Well, it beats working.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Not just eBay madness, apparently.

Over on, another auction site, someone is auctioning off "the original Watergate lock" - the lock assembly and key to the suite used by the Democratic National Committee, broken into by Nixon's burglars.

And if you read the supporting documentation, this appears to be the lock on the door to the stairwell that was taped to prevent it from latching and was discovered by the night watchman.

Kind of an interesting piece of history, and it's available to you. All you have to do is bid on it - and the minimum bid is a mere $100,000 (with minimum bidding increments of $10,000, in the event there are two people willing to bid on it).

(And as of this posting, no one has bid on it yet.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

eBay madness.

Someone at work bids a lot on stuff through eBay. (Not the guy who bought an engagement ring there; someone else. By the way, he sent it back.) And she’s often disappointed that she “just loses out” on some things, because “other people have sniping programs” and/or they have high-speed connections. And, you know, if she’d bid just one more time, she’d have gotten the object.

For some reason, I was picked to be the person she approached to talk to about eBay. Perhaps it’s my sincere, trusting face. Perhaps it’s my obvious high-tech expertise. Perhaps it’s that I’m the only one who doesn’t openly laugh at her.

“Do you buy things on eBay? Do you have a sniping program I could use? Or know where I can get one?” Well, yes I do, no I don’t, and no I don’t. I explained the concept of putting in as a high bid the highest amount that you’d be willing to pay for the item, and if someone else bids higher, then congratulations to them: they wanted to pay more for it than you did, and in fact, they did so. She just complained that if she’d only bid one dollar higher, then she’d have gotten it, instead. (Well, unless the other bidder wanted to go higher, too, which of course would never be the case.) I tried pointing out that bidding on eBay was not a contest whereby you become a “loser” if you’re outbid, and that failing to win an auction is not the equivalent of failure at life. She wasn’t buying it: to her, bidding on eBay is a competitive sport, and other people are somehow figuring out ways to cheat her out of the items that are rightfully hers. (You know, like by bidding higher.)

She even got in the last word: “And the sad thing is that I’ve never gotten a great deal on eBay. I’ve always ended up paying too much or buying things I really didn’t want.”

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Solar sails.

Long-used staples of science fiction, solar sails are about to be unfurled for real. Funded in part by the Planetary Society and part by a movie studio connected to Carl Sagan, the Cosmos 1 project will launch a satellite tomorrow which will test the solar sail concept. (NASA is working on a similar project to launch after 2010.)

It won't quite be the space-sailboat races from the Moon to Venus that I recall reading about in the '60s, but it's a start.

Happy Father's Day to me.

Well, step-father.

Well, step-father-ish.

Well, okay, not so much. But they don't make presidential proclamations to proclaim a day in honor of Takers-In-of-Pregnant-Stray-Cats, and even Hallmark doesn't make cards for such folk. So we make do with what we can.

Eight weeks old last Tuesday, and two of the kittens went to their new homes yesterday (including the one above), and one more has had "dibs" called on her and will go sometime within the next week, while the last is being "seriously considered" (which means that I haven't yet had the opportunity to put the kitten into the new owner's hands, because that will seal the deal). Mama Cat is still here with the two remaining kittens, and will be going to the vet later this week to be spayed. (Not "spaded" which I hear far too often, from people who should know better. That's what you do to your garden, for heaven's sake. Gah.) And then within the following week, she'll go to her new home (where one of the first kittens went).

I'm happy that they're going to good, loving homes, instead of trying to survive as kittens in the wild.

Monday, June 13, 2005

At what point does Star Wars jump the shark?

Quite possibly, it just did. They've announced the formation of the Star Wars Bowling League, complete with bowling balls that have scenes from the movies and a Darth Vader bowling ball bag.

So long as they don't force you to rent C3PO's feet to bowl in, maybe it'll be okay.

Mia, Drama Queen of All She Surveys.

"If you don't get rid of those Alien Cats right this very instant, I shall surely die!!"

And she's made it clear that she'll make sure to take care of me before she goes.

This morning around 5:30, the kittens were awake in the bedroom next door, and were loudly enjoying themselves. Running around, knocking things over, mewing, playing with their various jingle toys, and what sounded like moving furniture. Loud enough that it woke Mia up. Mia decided that if she had to be awake, then it was high time that I woke up, too, so she did so in classic passive-aggressive style: without doing anything to directly wake me up (such as jumping onto my chest, meowing in my ear, or batting at my eyelashes, all things that previous cats have been known to do), she walked up and down the length of the bed, and started jumping down to the floor and back up on the bed, right next to my head so that it would bounce as she landed. Down to the floor again, and back up. Down to my feet, swishing her tail to hit me (you know, by accident), and back up to my head.

Then she looks at my eyes and "discovers" that they're open. "Since you're awake anyway, why don't you get up and feed me? And get those things next door to shut up, while you're at it."

If Mia's not happy, ain't nobody gonna be happy.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

An interesting conversation is its own reward.

You might think that a roomful of attorneys whose intellectual capacities are not fully engaged by the work they are doing might have interesting, thought-provoking conversations. You might think that, but as a general proposition, you'd be wrong.

Today's conversation was about as close to interesting and thought-provoking of any in the past week, on the relationship between the novel "Dune" and the Unabomber. Still, that was a step or two up from yesterday's existential conversation, "Well, what are boogers?"


There's a reason why I jam my headphones on and listen to books-on-tape. (Today, a novel by Larry McMurtry, "By Sorrow's River.")

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The family portrait.

The Outdoor Cat is on the right, one tabby-striped kitten is to the immediate left of her and two are at the left of the photo, and the tuxedo kitten is immediately below her. The kittens are seven weeks old today.

Speaking of baseball.

If it's June, it must be college playoff time again, leading to the College World Series. Once again, the Rice Owls are knocking on the door of the World Series, playing this weekend in one of the eight NCAA Super Regionals against Tulane. They won their NCAA Regional, beating host LSU in the final game, without losing any games in the Regional. (And, I am told by an LSU graduate, this is the first time that LSU has failed to win an NCAA Regional they hosted - in 17 such Regionals.)

Monday, June 06, 2005

First in war, first in peace.

And first in the division. The Washington Nationals are in first place. The last time that a Washington baseball team was in first place "this late in the season" - admittedly, back when leagues didn't have divisions - was in 1933.

It'll be fun while it lasts.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Mia, Protector of the Realm.
The other night, I had just gone to bed. Mia, as usual, was sprawled across my ankles. I was almost asleep when she bolted upright, pushed off hard and leapt off the bed, headed for the hallway outside the bedroom, and let loose with a long, low growl of a moan.

This sound gets me wide awake, because it's usually the precursor to the production of a hairball, and I know I've got about seven seconds to turn on the light, put on my glasses, find a newspaper or magazine, and thrust it under Mia's head, in hopes that it lands up on the paper instead of the rug. (As an aside, Mia's champion hairball was about nine inches long. Amazing what a long-haired cat can produce.)

When I turned the light on, to my surprise I saw that Mia wasn't in an imminent-hairball-production pose; she was crouched and ready for a fight. And she was staring down the Outdoor Cat, who had somehow gotten out of her bedroom and was innocently exploring the upstairs. Mia was controlling the situation, although I had the feeling that we were about eight seconds from full-scale hissing and twelve seconds from a scratching fight, which Mia would lose, much to her surprise (as she's been declawed and Outdoor Cat has not).

I got between them - at great risk to my legs - and picked up Outdoor Cat, and returned her to the bedroom/prison she shares with her kittens.

Mia got a reward - a piece of cheese - and slept very soundly, as her job was complete.

It's National Hug Your Cat Day. At least, according to no less an authority than, and who could possibly be more authoritative than that?

Took the kittens into the office today, where they got socialized to a far greater extent than they do with just me around. I think they were happy to get back to their bedroom.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Horoscopes, hmmph!

Star Wars Horoscope for Sagittarius

You are superbly wise and have been known to spread your wisdom widely.
You are impatient and pushy when people take your teachings too lightly.
And your philosophical side always peeks through.

Star wars character you are most like: Yoda

Better wine news than the Supreme Court decision.

Reports out of California are that this year's Sonoma County grape crop could be the biggest ever.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Memorial Day weekend.
This photo shows many elements of my Memorial Day weekend: playing with the kittens, seeing the latest Star Wars movie again, and sleeping. The photo doesn't show a few other things I did this weekend - watching a couple of movies on DVD and playing computer games - but accurately shows that I didn't do any yard work, much to the dismay of my neighbors.

And the kittens are six weeks old today.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Brief kitten update.

Yes, they're still around. But in the past few days, they've learned how to run, which makes it even more difficult to take photos of them that I'm willing to post. (On the other paw, it makes it much easier to take blurry photos of them.)

Five weeks old today, and they'll be old enough to be adopted out in about three more weeks. Mia will be more than ready to see them leave. I've found homes for a couple of them, but I don't expect it will be all that difficult to find homes for the other two. And the Outdoor Cat is ready to be elsewhere, as well. Having been used to the Great Outdoors, she's getting a little stir crazy now that she's been shut up in her room for almost seven weeks, five of them with kittens. Luckily, I've got a home for her, too.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Which wine to pair with "Revenge of the Sith"?

Anthony Daniels - the man inside the C-3PO suit - has some suggestions. Red wine. To be precise:

"I think it would be a rather heavy Merlot or Syrah -- though maybe Syrah would be too rounded. It's got very spiky moments, so maybe something with a bit more tannin -- a rather tannic red, I think. Slightly uncomfortable, this film, rather dark. Yes, so I think a rather heavy, tannic red. Mmm," Daniels says sagely.

Champagne while you're waiting in line, and for the beginning of the movie. But halfway through, "hit the red in a major way."

I dunno: since this movie is about the Fall of Anakin, perhaps one of the deadly Zins would be more appropriate.

Ten seconds more of fame.

A local Jaycees group was doing a fundraiser for some disease of the month or another, and it happened to be something I'd be interested in doing: a blind taste test of beers. They very carefully avoided calling it a competition or having any tangible prizes (Virginia's ABC laws prohibit such inducements to drinking beer; your tax dollars at work), but that's what it was.

Taste 12 beers and identify the (a) style, (b) brewery, and (c) name of each. (Scored at one point for each item, so three points possible per beer and a perfect score was 36.) Harder than you might think, especially when you have to identify them with no assistance (no list of 50 beers that they were chosen from, for instance). All you knew was that they were currently on tap at that particular beer bar, which has 70 taps, and you didn't get their current beer list to help you, either. So sometimes you were left figuring, "It's a crappy hefe-weizen - so what crappy hefe-weizen do they still have on tap here?" (Answer: Widmer, and no, I couldn't think of that one.)

I came in second, out of the 20 or 25 participants, with a grand total of 12 points, probably 2/3 of which were from recognizing styles. (And 3 of 3 for identifying Pilsner Urquell.) The guy who took first place had 13 points, so it was close. And since he's a professional beer writer, my story will be that he won the professional division, and I won the amateur division. I was especially pleased to beat the people sitting at the next table: home-brewers who were loudly convinced they had the entire contest completely sewn up.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Wow. Absolutely tremendous.

I was just hoping that it would redeem the series for Episodes I and II, and at a minimum be a better final movie in a trilogy than Return of the Jedi was. This blasted through those lowered expectations and left them in the dust.

I'm looking forward to seeing it again.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

There are times when I feel like I'm living in the middle of a Disney movie. Newborn kittens at home, and even newer born baby birdies at work. There's a peregrine falcon nest on the floor where I work. And not merely on the same floor - it's about 8 feet from me. Behind a protective barrier of shelves and boxes, so we can't see them. But we can sure hear them when they screech; sometimes, they're loud enough to drown out the banal conversation in the room. Not often enough, alas.

About three weeks ago, the female falcon decided to take a closer look at us, and swooped up onto the ledge right outside my window. Right outside. They sure have an intense stare when you're only three feet away from them. You could tell that the little wheels behind her eyes were going round and round: "If only I could get this window open, I'd have good eating for months."

Anyway, the falcon eggs hatched over the weekend, and the little puffballs are kind of cute.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Thirty-six hour countdown.


Refresher viewing of original trilogy. Check, over the past two months.
Refresher viewing of Episodes I and II. Check, last weekend.
Get advance ticket. Check.
Take day off from work for doctor's appointment. Check.
Prepare Jedi Knight robes and lightsaber. Overruled.
Buy Episode III M&Ms (the dark ones) to smuggle in as a snack. Check.
Find Star Wars t-shirt from original movie. TBD.
Avoid all reviews and articles. Ongoing, other than noting that Roger gives it 3.5 stars out of 4.
Turn off cell phone. TBD.

I'm ready.

Raise a glass!

Yesterday's Supreme Court ruling in the wine shipment cases was good news, at least in the limited context that the Court didn't uphold the status quo of different treatment for in-state and out-of-state wineries. But it wasn't great news.

Contrary to some of the reports I heard yesterday, the ruling does not create an unfettered right to order wine on the internet or for wineries to ship wine anywhere in the country. It only requires that a state have consistent regulation for all wineries, whether in-state or out-of-state. Those states that already have a consistent set of rules - like Maryland, which prohibits all direct shipments to consumers - won't be affected, and states with inconsistent rules only need to make them consistent. Thus, in Michigan, one of the states that lost in yesterday's ruling, the state's alcohol regulatory commission wants the legislature to change the law and prohibit all sales that aren't face-to-face at retailers. (In Michigan, then, yesterday's ruling was good news only in the short run, with the potential for being bad news in the long run.)

And the ruling is not going to do away with the "crazy quilt" of state regulation, as other reports indicated. A winery will still need to know all 50 states' shipping regulations in order to avoid sending their wines into states where such shipments are illegal, the same as today: An Oregon winery would need to know that it could ship direct to the consumer in North Carolina with no problem, that it is commmitting a felony if it ships direct to a consumer in Maryland, and that it needs to have a $65 annual license to ship direct to a consumer in Virginia. Still sounds like a crazy quilt to me.

Ultimately, though, I'm not sure it will make all that much difference, at least here in Virginia. Under the regulations in effect before yesterday's ruling, if you wanted to have a winery ship a bottle or a case direct to you, you already could - provided the winery had that $65 license for direct shipment. (And as a rule of thumb, a winery probably needs to sell 2 or 3 cases a year in Virginia to break even on that license fee.) So, if you wanted a bottle of the 2003 Cakebread Rubaiyat, which I've never seen available in a wine shop in Virginia, you were already permitted to do so. If you wanted a bottle of Zinfandel from the Hart Winery, you'd be out of luck.

I'm not sure that yesterday's ruling will change that situation much: Arguably, all wineries need some sort of license to ship within Virginia - the out-of-state ones need the $65 license, and the in-state wineries need their annual winery license (at a substantially higher fee). At most, Virginia might change to require an additional shipment license for all in-state wineries wanting to ship direct to a consumer. The end result would be the same, though: a winery without a shipping license won't be able to ship to a Virginia consumer.

Further, it probably won't make that much difference for the individual consumer. The cost of shipping a single bottle or case will add significantly to the price of the wine; enough so that you probably won't want to order direct from the winery all that often, and only for more expensive wines. You wouldn't buy a $10 California chardonnay and have it sent to you for an additional $8 or $10 very often when you could get a better one for $15 at your local wine shop.

It may make a bit more of a difference for the small or medium-sized winery, to be able to sell wine to an out-of-state customer who tasted it at the winery on a trip last year and now wants more. Probably not a lot of difference, at least to a winery that now sells out of its vintages at the winery, which will now sell a slightly larger portion through out-of-state shipments instead of immediate, face-to-face sales.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Technology just moving too darned fast for you?

Then you can turn your cell phone into a portable black rotary phone, guaranteed to act just like the official Phone Company-provided phones of the 1950's. You can actually dial out with the dial, and incoming calls will cause the phone's bells to ring.

The cost of bringing back yesterday's telephones? $399. It can be expensive to slow down the advance of technology.

No telling whether their next product will be a Princess model.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


Three weeks old yesterday, and they're starting to explore. Can't explore very far when you aren't able to climb out of your box, of course, but they're working on it.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Why did the chicken cross the road?

In California, at least, apparently because the chicken didn't know that jaywalking is illegal.

The state that gave us the Governator is now forging new jurisprudential precedent: issuing citations to chickens for impeding traffic. Trial is scheduled for May 16, although apparently the owners will be the ones to appear in court.

I'm not entirely sure how chickens impede traffic: don't you just drive around - or, more efficiently, through - them? (Making sure you don't suck one into your jet engine, of course.)

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Eleven days to go.

Now that filming for the Star Wars series is completed, it comes as no surprise that many of the principals have time on their hands. And what better way to fill up free time than to have a blog?

A couple of the more notable are Darth Vader's blog (sample quote: "I will say this for being a tyrannical dark overlord: you get great service at restaurants.") and Yoda's blog (sample quoter: "Often this comment people make to me, "Yoda, every day the same clothes you wear." Well, finding adult clothes that fit me you try! Make fancy suits for someone who is 2' 2" tall Armani does not!")

Friday, May 06, 2005

They eat, they sleep, they play.

And when I try to take their pictures, they squirm around a lot. Unless they're asleep.

They've started to play with each other, and are trying - unsuccessfully for now - to get out of their box.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

For those without a job, in the DC area.

Or a life. The organized waiting-in-line-for-release of the next Star Wars movie is about to get underway. Waiting in line for Star Wars movies is now an organized event, not something spontaneous, it would appear. Kind of takes the fun out of it, I'd think.

The best part? One of the organizers claims a last name of "Maul-Sari", so perhaps she's the daughter of Darth Maul.

Update: From the "Truth is Stranger than Fiction" file, it turns out that prior to getting married and hyphenating her last name, the organizer had, in fact, legally changed her last name to "Maul" due to her attachment to the character from The Phantom Menace.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Mia, Queen of All She Surveys.

Mia doesn’t regard my taking in the pregnant homeless cat so much an act of Christian charity as an act of terrorism and unspeakable betrayal. So you might well imagine that the sounds of the Outdoor Cat and her four kittens (“the evil spawn” in Mia-speak) behind That Door are annoying the daylights out of Mia, and you’d be right. Last night, Mia did her impression of a Giant Indonesian Hissing Cockroach in the hallway outside the Outdoor Cat’s room. And I have learned to check the inside of my shoes before I put them on.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

What does the King of the Geeks have in his garage?

Or, more likely, in his mother's garage, next to the basement he's living in.

Now available on eBay, a life-size X-Wing fighter. Engines, armaments, and R2 units not included. (Buy it today for only $85,000.)