12/30/2008

And The "Good Citizen Award" Of The Year Goes To... A Pimp.

Hey, even a pimp has to have some standards.

A man soliciting sex with a 10-year old was arrested following a tip from a Phoenix pimp, according to Phoenix police.


UPDATE, 12/31/08: The fellow whose tip led to the arrest may not have been a pimp after all.

I Vas Dere, Charlie

One of the shopping mall properties where I've doing security work had a major water line break yesterday, December 29th.

News video available here.

So I ended up with a lot of overtime hours, helping direct traffic around the flooded areas and get them to the remaining exits. The line of slow-moving traffic reminded me of when I was a kid and the family would go to the drive-in movies; at closing time, every car in the lot would try and get through the narrow exit lane at the same time. (With the source of the flooding on the east side of the property, and four exits on the west side, why did the Phoenix PD close down all but one of the western exits? A lot of people waiting in that line of cars had that question, and I had no answer for them.)

This was after a morning stint at another property. And then after the worst of the flooding was under control, I had to go out to a third property where the security officer had come down sick and finish his shift. So I ended up working a sixteen-hour day, and finally got home about 1:30 AM.

12/07/2008

What I Did On My Summer Vacation,
Part 4

And one more post on the Sturm! The Drang! The Plotz! of post-retirement.


Part 4: Relaxing

Between retirement and going back to work, and in between household organizing and cleaning and job-hunting, I also tended to get a lot more sleep, more regularly. And read a few books (yes, Patrick, I will do a review of LITTLE BROTHER, and thank you for the copy) and watched a number of movies via Netflix. Hilde and I also splurged on our anniversary in July and went to go see IRON MAN on the big screen at the local cineplex.

And spent way too much time browsing the Internet. A goodly amount of this was reading political blogs, trying to predict which way the country would go in November. Thank God that Obama was an expert campaigner, and that John McCain turned out to be a stumblebum. (Is that rude to say? But it's true!) I don't expect perfection, or miracles, from Obama, but at last I can feel that, finally, really, "the adults are in charge" (or at least will be in another six weeks).

One other aspect probably needs a few remarks: After retirement, between not working at a regular (fairly physical) job and both spending more time cooking at home and nibbling too much on the results of that cooking, I found myself gaining one to two pounds a week.

My ideal weight is about 165, and I was actually at that weight a few years ago, after spending some months on a diet and exercise program. I'd slacked off a bit, and had gotten back up to about 185 when I retired at the beginning of June. By early July, I was up to 193 pounds. Eep!

I started up an exercise program again, which stabilized the weight level, but didn't seem to do much to lose extra pounds. (I was building up muscle mass with the program, which was probably part of the reason the numbers didn't change, but too much of that extra weight was still fat.

It was only after I went back to work that I started losing weight again. Between a lot of walking (and some bicycle-riding) on the new job, and doing portion control on most of my meals (oatmeal & banana for breakfast, a diet shake and a can of V-8 juice for lunch), I've dropped back down to about 184.

At which point my weight seems to have stuck again. Going back to work meant that I pretty much lost the time to do my exercise routine daily; I need to try and find the time to resume that, in addition to calories burned at work, and see if I can drop at least a few more of those pounds.

And that, folks, is how I spent my summer vacation.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation,
Part 3

Still more on post-retirement thrills.


Part 3: Re-Employment:

So, after mostly working around the house and kicking back for a few weeks after retirement, I started looking for a new job.

I'd actually sent out a few resumes before retiring, but now I was trying to work on finding a job every day, usually for several hours a day.


The last time I'd looked for a job, over thirty years previously, it involved perusing want ads in the paper, or going down to the nearest Job Bank office and going thru their microfiche listings. It was difficult, inconvenient, time-consuming and very frustrating.

The advent of the Internet since then has made the process a lot easier: You can browse job-listing sites like Jobing.com or CareerBuilder from the comfort of your own home, and the search engines at those sites, to varying degrees, make narrowing down possibilities much easier and accurate.

The goals I wanted to meet in my job search included:




  • At least $9.00 per hour pay. (I'd figured this was what would bring our total income back to Postal Service levels.)

  • A commute of less than 10 miles. (My last position with USPS was at a station about 6 miles from home.)


  • Inside work, preferably office/clerical type work. (This was what I'd done before being hired by USPS; two-and-a-half years of my Army enlistment as a company clerk, and a year as a legal secretary. The inside work preference was because after thirty years delivering mail in the Arizona sun, skin cancer was high on my list of health worries; I'd had several basal-type spots excised surgically from my upper chest, and had numerous suspicious spots frozen off in my twice-yearly appointments with my dermatologist.)


  • Work that would provide the satisfaction of being either creative and/or of being of service to the public.

I started out job-hunting fairly optimistic. There were actually a surprising number of clerical or administrative jobs listed within my 10-mile range. Beyond the listings on the job-hunting sites, I also bookmarked the jobs pages for local governments (city, county, state) and watched for possibilities there. And I also bookmarked some local businesses I felt I might enjoy working for. (AAA has a large operations center just a mile north of where we live, easy walk or bike distance. I've been a member and fan of AAA for nearly thirty years, so thought I wouldn't mind working one of their customer service posts. I also bookmarked some of the local hospitals websites.)

Not that I didn't have a few minor obstacles. My last, strictily speaking, job in a clerical position was more than thirty years ago. That's, ummm, a bit of a gap. (Sorta like the long-time housewives who find themselves widowed or divorced and suddenly trying to get back into the paid workforce.) In drafting my resume, I tried to emphasize the paper-handling aspects of my letter-carrier career (I mean, essentially, isn't sorting and delivering mail like sorting and filing papers, except that the "file folders" are a lot further apart than the ones in an office cabinet?) I also hoped that spending thirty years in the same job would be seen as my being a reliable, dedicated worker.

The other major obstacle was one I hadn't expected. It turned out that a lot -- a LOT -- of clerical-type job listings contained one particular line:


"Must be proficient in Excel."


Word-processing? No problem; I've been using wp programs ever since an old housemate brought home a TRS-80, back in the early 1980's. Publishing and layout programs? Pretty good there, too, with all the fanzines and what-not I've put out over the years. And even a moderate amount of experience with setting up databases, tables, and mail merges.

But spreadsheets? Except for dedicated, pre-formatted spreadsheet programs like Quicken, I've never had any good reason to learn a general spreadsheet program like Excel.

If I'd had the experience and proficiency in Excel, the number of jobs I could have applied for would have gone up by about an order of magnitude.

I took some steps to try and learn Excel. I downloaded a trial version of Microsoft Home & Student Office, and got a couple of Excel guidebooks out of the library. But I had a heck of a time trying to think of anything to actually do with the program, which made for pretty slow going. And meanwhile, the general savings account, which I'd figured would give me about three months coverage for the income gap between retirement pay and actual expenses, was shrinking away, and my mid-August deadline for "Start looking for anything" was getting closer and closer.

As that deadline got closer, I started looking at jobs more than 10 miles away, and loosened my goals; I put in applications for city delivery jobs with companies like DHL and Iron Mountain (a business records storage and transfer company).

Now, I could understand why an office might look askance at the long, long gap in time since my last office job. I might be disappointed, but I could understand why I might get no response. But I was really puzzled that -- with thirty years experience in delivery -- I got no response from any of the delivery-job applications I submitted.

All told, I submitted between forty and fifty applications to various employers before that mid-August deadline I'd set for myself. Out of those, I only got any signs of interest from three of them:

--A local city government sent a postcard saying that they'd determined my resume qualified me for the secretarial position I'd applied for, and that my application would go on to the next step, when they determined which applicants would be called for interviews. I wasn't among those called.

--A medical answering-service company called me in for testing. The test was computerized, and primarily tested for language skills: spelling, word meanings, etc. That's the kind of stuff I can pretty well ace; out of several hundred questions, I think there was only one where I wasn't absolutely sure of the right answer. But again, nothing further followed that testing.

--And finally, a security-guard company actually interviewed me for a receptionist position. My lack of proficiency in Excel was, again, a potential drawback. But the lady who interviewed me actually seemed like she might overlook that, because I had an advantage over all the other applicants.

Y'see, when this security-guard company hired its guards, part of the application process was a drug test. These drug tests were conducted on site, with applicants giving a urine sample. To guard against fraud, the applicants had to be under observation while giving their samples.

All the previous receptionists had been female. Which meant that whenever a guy had to give his urine sample, one of the guys working as an executive or administrator in the office had to stop what they were doing and go into the bathroom with the applicant.

So-o-o-o... if they hired me, those administrators and executives could continue their more valuable work, and I could go into the bathroom to make sure applicants were using their own penises and submitting their own urine.

Somehow, I never thought that "able to stare at another guy's penis without giggling" would turn out to be my most important job qualification.

As it turned out, I didn't get called back for that job, either. I must admit to a bit of relief.



SOMEWHAT IRRELEVANT SIDEBAR: Back when I was in the Army, we soldiers were subject to random drug tests. Eventually, my turn came up, and I had to go over to the Sick Call building. Went into the bathroom there, accompanied by the soldier assigned to observe and verify...

...and my bladder said, "Oh, I don't think so." I ended up standing at that urinal for four hours until the doctor in charge finally said "Come back tomorrow, damn it, and have your bladder ready to burst."

So, not only did I spend four hours trying to piss under observation, but the poor guy assigned to watch had the dubious pleasure of staring at my penis for that entire four hours.

At least, I assume it was a dubious pleasure. I didn't ask, and he didn't tell.


By this point, mid-August had arrived, and I needed a job. This is what I wrote here back in March, when I first announced my plan to retire from USPS:




"And if all else fails, I know from friends and family's experience that if
you have a clean background, reliable transportation, and are willing to
work odd hours, there is always, always, always security guard work
available."




I applied to a security company (recommended by a friend) on August 16th, and started working for them on August 26th. I'll probably have more to say about working security in another post, but I'll say now that it's been more interesting than I expected, and that in my first month there I was shown more respect and appreciation from management than I'd gotten in the last ten years from the Postal Service.


Of my job-hunting goals, listed above, I ended up fulfilling the first ($9.00/hour or more) and partially fulfilling the other three. Three days a week I'm working at a property just under 10 miles from home, and the other two days at properties about 15 miles away. I occasionally work dispatch from the major property's office, so I do spend some time working indoors. (And hey, the office software they use? Primarily Excel. So I'm getting some experience with that, too.) And I do find myself occasionally helping people out in a satisfying way, helping people find their lost cars or lost children, etc.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation,
Part 2

More on my post-retirement adventures.


Part 2: Living Tight:

When I retired, our income dropped by about a third. (That's from my base pay with USPS; if you count in the overtime money I earned each year, which varied from a couple of thousand dollars a year to -- once -- over ten thousand dollars, the percentage was even higher.)

This meant that, even paring expenses to the bone, we'd run five or six hundred dollars short every month. Our general-purpose savings (as opposed to our investment savings) would keep up going for a number of months, but *sigh* yes it really was necessary to look for another job.

("Hey, Bruce," you ask, "Why retire from the Postal Service if you had to turn around and find another job a few months later?" Because, I say with another sigh, the toxic management environment in the Postal Service finally just got so bad, so consistently, that even with taking anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs , continuing to work there was putting my health -- both physical and emotional -- at risk. I haven't had to take any anti-depressants or anti-anxiety meds since retiring. I miss the work; I always got a lot of satisfaction out of delivering the mail, and doing it well. I miss some of my customers; I miss some of my co-workers. But my overall feeling at leaving the Postal Service is simply one of relief.)

As part of that "paring expenses", we put book-buying on hold, and got all of our reading material from our local library. (Hilde reads a lot of books, so we'd already been a frequent library patron, but putting off actually book-buying probably saved at least $50-$75 a month.) We get movies from NetFlix, so put off any visits to the local cinema-plex too. We dug down in our big chest freezer to use up some of the stuff that had been buried for a while ("Hmmm, a roast from 2003? Yep, probably time to use this."). We planned shopping trips to maximize efficiency and minimize mileage.

We've always been fairly frugal in our lifestyle, but we ramped up and tightened down everywhere we could.

There were three areas of expense that, if we could have eliminated any one of them, would have brought our tightened-up finances almost to the break-even point: The mortgage payment, the monthly costs for Hilde's and my prescription drugs, and the Unexpected Expense Of The Month Club.

The Unexpected Expense Of The Month Club is something I've complained about before: I don't remember joining, I don't like the selections, there's no "Don't Send" box to mark on the reply cards, and the membership is non-cancellable. The costs vary from month to month, but we seem to almost always have at least a hundred to two hundred dollars in UEs every month. And then, once or twice a year, one of the Big Meanie UEs will come along -- usually involving major car or house repairs -- and raise the average monthly UE expense up to around $600 a month.

I was hoping that the next Big Meanie coming down the UE pipeline would hold off a few months, until I was re-employed and getting an expenses-plus income again.

And then our minivan was stolen about the beginning of August.

The good news: It was recovered two days later, across town in Tempe. The bad news: It needed repairs, not only to the ignition lock (which had been ripped out, and the van started with a crowbar inserted into the hole) and steering column, but several instances of body damage and a torn bumper (it looked like they'd taken it off-road for a bit and driven it thru some shrubbery or other vegetation). And... the engine now had a bad knocking sound it hadn't had before.

The insurance policy had a $500 deductible, but we hoped that would be the limit of how much the experience would cost us.

Unfortunately...

Let me see if I can say this forcefully enough:

Do not, ever, allow your car to be taken to Gerber Collision in Mesa, Arizona. Not even when your insurance company tells you they're one of their authorized service dealers.

Do not, EVER, allow your car to be taken to Gerber Collision in Mesa, Arizona.

Do not, EVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, allow your car to be taken to Gerber Collision in Mesa, Arizona.

That engine knocking? After the body and ignition repairs were done, I was told to change the oil a couple of times, and the knocking would take care of itself.

Right. Our son Chris drove the van back across town from Mesa; by the time he managed to get it into our driveway, the knock-knock-knock had become a BANG!-BANG!-BANG!, with the van rocking with each bang.

At which time it became clear that the auto thief had not just driven the van hard and put it away wet, but that the last thing he'd done before abandoning the vehicle was rev the engine until major damage was done. (Thanks a lot, asshole.)

After a phone call to my insurance, the van ended up being towed back to Gerber to have the engine replaced.

Yes, back to Gerber. I did not feel comfortable about this, and probably should have insisted the van be taken to a service dealer that specialized in mechanical work, rather than back to one whose specialty was bodywork.

The bodywork Gerber did was fine; I haven't any complaints about that work. But subsequent events proved that my instincts were very, very right about being wary of sending the van back to Gerber.

When the van was sent back to Gerber, it did not have a power steering leak.

When the van was sent back to Gerber, it did not have a cracked radiator.

But it did when it came back home.

Before the van was sent home the second time, the customer rep at Gerber did tell me there was a power steering leak, and asked if I wanted them to fix it. By this point, I just wanted the van home, and out of Gerber's shop (there'd been, in the interim, a number of frustrating delays in getting the engine replacement finished), and I figured that any other place would be better to get the power steering leak fixed. So I said no to their fixing it.

Now, from the conversation with the customer rep, I'd gotten the impression that this was a fairly minor power steering leak, one that would probably involve replacing some seals.

The morning after the van's been brought back home for the second time, I go out front, and underneath the van... is not some drops or splotches of power steering fluid, but a puddle, about a foot-and-a-half wide and four feet long.

This is not just a "leak"; this is a catastrophic failure of the power steering system.

This makes the customer rep at Gerber's telling me he was going to do me the "favor" of having the van towed back home, rather than my having to come across town to pick it up again, make more sense. I suspect the real reason he had it towed from Mesa to Glendale was because he didn't think the van would make the trip by itself.

By this point, I've learned my lesson. Chris, when he still had his own truck, had a mechanic he trusted. So we poured new power steering fluid into the van and took it to that place.

What the mechanic there told me was this: The power steering leak was probably caused when the old and new engines were swapped out of the minivan. If you're not careful when hoisting the engine out of or into the vehicle, the power steering pump can get smacked against the side of the engine compartment, damaging the fitting and causing a major leak like the van now had.

It was also that mechanic who also discovered the cracked radiator, cracked at the base of the hose fitting near the radiator's top side. This was another piece of damage that could have been caused by carelessness in hoisting an engine out of the compartment.

And it was also that mechanic who discovered that three of the four engine mounts were broken. Now, this was certainly a pre-existing condition; the thick rubber of the mounts was cracking and separating, badly. But what was unbelievable to me was that Gerber's mechanic could take out the old engine, and put in a new engine, without noticing the blatantly visible damage to the engine mounts. If I hadn't taken that van to a new mechanic, I might have had the damn engine fall out of the vehicle a month or two later. What a piece of fun that would have been.

In short, my quality-of-service rating for Gerber Collision is deep, deep, deep into negative numbers. The cost of repairs for the damaged power steering and radiator, which Gerber most likely caused, was nearly a thousand dollars over and above the $500 deductible I'd already had to pay.

Gerber Collision: DON'T GO THERE!

(Have I told my insurance company about all this? Actually, no; it's been nearly three months since all this happened, and it's only now that I can remain calm enough to write about it. Maybe now I can write Liberty Mutual and tell them just how less-than-wonderful their "authorized service dealer" turned out to be.)

At any rate, having that Big Meanie of an Unexpected Expense come along made my returning to work rather more urgent than before.

12/06/2008

What I Did On My Summer Vacation,
Part 1

So... I retired from the Postal Service on June 1st, and haven't posted all that much about experiences and changes since then. Let's see if we can remedy that in the next few days.

We did some Reorganizing (that'll be Part 1, this post), went into Living Tight mode (Part 2), and I spent several months looking for Re-Employment (Part 3). Also managing an occasional bit of Relaxing (Part 4). And, at the end of August, ended up with a new job, which will be a separate post.


Part 1: Reorganizing:

The major reorganization involved clearing out our rented storage room (that also tied into Living Tight, because dropping the rented storage saved over $120 a month) and a major cleanup on the backyard sheds and yard.

Between all that, we ended up with a pile for the monthly Bulk Trash pickup that was about the size of a minivan. A lot of stuff went to the local Good Will branch, as well. And there are still other things I've meant to put on Craigslist or Freecycle, and some stuff that needs cleaning or repairs before donating or selling it somewhere.

But the backyard sheds are much better organized, the sideyards especially are much cleaner, and the back porch isn't quite as crowded as it was.

Some reorganizing and clutterwork took place inside the house, as well. Our longtime housemate Kay moved to her own apartment in May (and shortly afterward decided to move back to Michigan where her husband Ike has been living the last several years), so the living room -- which had been Kay's household territory for years -- got pretty much emptied out, then rearranged and refurnished by Tabbi, Hilde's live-in caregiver.

After Kay moved out of the front bedroom, our son Chris moved back in with us and took the bedroom over. This keeps some room-&-board money coming in, and helps Chris out with his own finances (room-&-board with your family is cheaper than an apartment, even an apartment you shared with several friends).

One of our other housemates, Holly, who'd been squeezed into a bed and a few shelves in one corner of the overstuffed craft room, also decided to move back in with family members, back in Kansas. This made room, kind of, for Tabbi's brother Paul and his friends James and Jason, to move in for a while. (James and Jason had both spent some months as crewmembers for one of the paddlewheel tourist boats operating in the Pacific Northwest, but came back to Arizona when the company went into bankruptcy.) The three guys come close to hot-bunking, with one in the craft room, one on a mattress on the floor of Tabbi's room, and one on the sofa. Paul's been doing the yardwork for his room-&-board, and Jason has taken over most of the cooking since I started working again.

There's a lot (a LOT!) of things in the house that still need to be gone thru and reorganized or gotten rid of. The biggest projects are: The "craft room", which is also supposed to serve as a guest bedroom. Currently, guests staying in that room negotiate a narrow pathway between boxes and stacks of craft stuff to reach the guest bed. And the library (which was formerly a garage); over the years, we've accumulated enough books that even four-walling the room with shelves, and with numerous free-standing shelves as well, has left us short on space. We need to go thru all the shelves and cull for duplicates and WNRTA (We'll Never Read This Again) books to make room for all the newer books presently sitting in stacks of boxes. But those two projects are probably going to still have to wait for a while (see Part 3, about Re-Employment).

This is the house we figure on spending the rest of our lives in, or until someone drags us away to a nursing home, so I really do need to try and stay on top of clutter. (That stuff adds up fast! I think there may be breeding involved.)


11/07/2008

Yeeps! Two Months?


*poof* [blows off dust]

Um, yeh. It's been a while since I've posted here.

Very, very short reason: I went back to work at the end of August, supplementing my retirement (the monthly retirement check covers a lot of our monthly expenses, but not, alas, all of them) as a security guard for a company that provides security for a number of shopping malls across the country. This has cut back into my free time a lot.

I've meant to post a number of entries, discussing the several months between retirement and going back to work, and also discussing the new work experience. (Short take: More interesting than I thought it would be. On the other hand, from the company's point of view, a boring day is a good day; there are a lot of good days.)

I may yet get those posts finished and online; I'd like to.

In the meantime, though: One of the reguirements of working security, alas, was that I had to shave off the beard I'd had for 33 years.

Yes, this was traumatic. And Hilde had never seen me clean-shaven before. (When we were visiting my mother around the end of September, Hilde said to her, "It's like I've been sleeping with a strange man for the last month." To which, of course, I replied, "Hilde, you've been sleeping with a strange man for more than thirty years.")

I took before-and-after photos. I just want to say in advance, about the clean-shaven version, "This is not my real face."



To me, it's no contest; the bearded guy looks like me, the clean-shaven guy doesn't. And, in spite of the beard having been close to completely white, I think the bearded guy looks considerably younger than the grumpy-looking shaven guy.

Hopefully, more posts in days to come.

8/23/2008

Redecorating...


I'm finally switching over to the New Blogger template, which allows you to do more customization and arrangement of features than the old version.

New Blogger actually got introduced several years ago, but I've resisted the changeover because some people had major problems with the transition.

I'm having a few too. It may take a while until I get things placed just so, with doilies and slipcovers and window treatments where I want them. Until then, the blog still seems to be functional, if a bit funky.

8/22/2008

So I Said To My Wife...



"Honey, if I ever forget how many houses we own, take me to the nearest emergency room; I'll be having a stroke."

This Actually Made Sense, In Context



"When I was a dog, we had to milk our own cows and churn our own butter."

8/15/2008

Because If I Don't Make A Post Soon...

...the Blogosphere Police will break down my door and take my computer away for neglect.

I've been busy with job-hunting (there'll be a post about that soon), dealing with having our minivan stolen (and recovered, with damage; there'll be a post about that, too), getting one of my short stories re-optioned for film (there'll be a post...), exercising (there'll be...), house repairs (there'll...), a bit of reading (LITTLE BROTHER, PERSEOPOLIS, RAINBOWS END, a few others in progress or scheduled for soon; there'll be reviews and commentary eventually), and all the other zillion and one things that keep on happening.

In the meantime a few odds and ends I've been meaning to post:

= = = = =

I've been using Blogger Play frequently as a temporary screensaver for times when I'm not actually doing anything on the Internet. Blogger Play is a feature of Blogger (the blogging site behind Undulant Fever and a few million other blogs) that provides a continuous feed of images that have been posted to Blogger blogs. A lot of family snapshots, baby pictures, travel photos, and just about anything else you might imagine; quite interesting, actually.

And occasionally, some image that makes you say "WTF?", pause Blogger Play, and backtrack to the originating blog to find out what the heck that's about.

Like this one, that made me consider the idea of Victor Frankenstein having somehow end up reanimating the corpse of John F. Kennedy:




(This came from the blog of a woman who makes quilts with a "stained glass applique" technique. Most of her work is in vibrant reds and yellows and bright colors, picturing cats and other animals, quite pretty. But this particular work... oh, man, what was she thinking with those color choices? All that's missing are the neck bolts to complete the "reanimated corpse" look.)










Another image snatched from Blogger Play below. I think this one needs no comment:


I've been composing occasional LolCats on the I Can Has Cheezburger site, at times when I've been fucking off... err, *koff*, *ahem*... I mean when I have a few spare moments. The "Mirror-Universe Oz" pic I posted a while back was one of them. Here's a few more:


funny pictures



funny pictures


And how can I resist a few of Our Embarassing President?:

funny pictures


funny pictures


More to come, eventually.

7/24/2008

Project Rooftop: Geek Eye For The Caped Guy






Project Rooftop is a comics/art blog dedicated, not to superhero comics writing or stories, and not to comics art per se, but specificially to superhero costume design. As such, they've run several competitions asking for costume re-designs on popular superheroes: Robin, Wonder Woman, Impulse, and most recently, the daddy of them all, Superman.

Drew Blom's steampunkish "Man of Steam", shown above, was one of the entries. Other entries can be found here and here. (The second link is for the "Honorable Mentions". I'm not the only person who thought some of the Honorable Mentions were as good as or better -- Drew Blom's entry ended up in the HM category -- than some of the winners in the first link.)

This is Seriously Cool Stuff, especially if you're an old comics fan (I bought the very first Spiderman story off the spinner rack at a local grocery; yes, I'm that old) and even if you're not.

(Who would I like to see Project Rooftop re-design? Easy choice: Adam Strange. I liked the character, but even as a kid I thought his costume looked, well, dumb. (C'mon, a fin on his head?)

7/07/2008

Jesse Helms Did One Good Thing


Since Jesse Helms, the controversial former long-time Senator from NC, died a few days ago, I've seen numerous commentaries about his life, career, and views. Almost all negative.

Stephen Lemons, columnist for the local version of the NEW TIMES alternative newspaper, grew up in North Carolina. His online column response to Helms' death, "Tramp The Earth Down: The Unlikely Debt I Owe The Late Sen. Jesse Helms", is, I think, one of the best.

The section that sums it up:
I now realize, with the wisdom of a few more years, that I owe ol' Jesse a strange debt of gratitude. There are those raised in more enlightened climes that have never been exposed to such base, political villainy. I didn't enjoy that luxury. As a result, my antennae are acutely tuned to the malevolence, lies and smear-tactics of those who would use race, nationality and/or ethnicity as their bugbears. These individuals are common enough in Arizona, of course, save that here they're more concerned with brown instead of black skin.

I also learned from Helms' that the good fight is the one you win, and only the one you win. Metaphorically speaking, you need not become a snake in order to overcome the reptile. But you must overcome it, or suffer the consequences. Half-measures do not work against water moccasins like Helms. For teaching me that, I owe him one.
In short, the good that Jesse Helms did was to serve, publicly, as a Bad Example.

6/29/2008

Hey, Gang, Let's Put On A Show!



And when your name is Josh Whedon...



...you can actually end up putting on a show!

Coming to an Internet near you, beginning July 15th!

[click image for official Dr. Horrible website]

6/23/2008

Cool Art: Stephanie Hans





I've been spending far too much time over on ConceptArt.org, ever since I learned about it (curse you, Irene Gallo, curse you!). CA is a site where artists and illustrators meet to talk, exchange information and techniques, and challenge and critique each other in numerous ways.

One of those challenges is a "Character of the Week" (CHOW) forum where a theme or brief description of a character is posted, and participants submit their personal riffs and renditions on that theme.

One fairly regular CHOW participant, whose work has particularly impressed me, submits her work under the name "Ryuloulou". The art up above, which reminds me strongly of Charles Vess' work, is from one of the CHOW challenges.

Looking at Ryuloulou's profile led to a link to her home page, where I found her actual name is Stephanie Hans, an artist in France who's apparently done quite a bit of work for French YA bookcovers.

(It would be nice *coff* *ahem* *hint* to see some of her work on US bookcovers.)

Her home page has a nicely negotiable gallery section, where you can see more of her work. (If you read French, there's also a link to her blog.) Enjoy.

6/14/2008

A Movie I'd Really, Really Like To See






















Audrey Hepburn in BREAKFAST AT MOS EISLEY


(via Lucius Shephard) (Ummm... "Shepard") (As if brainfarts weren't embarassing enough when they're not made in public....)

6/13/2008

It's Been A While..."



...since I've posted any pictures of the household cats:

Gremlin:

Bastet:

Cassie

(Not shown: Tia and Rikkus, who will apppear at a date to be determined.)

As an extra bonus, glads and iris from our garden:

Fuligin Stew

John Scalzi takes Fox News to the woodshed in "Fox News Would Like To Take a Moment To Remind You That the Obamas Are As Black As Satan’s Festering, Baby-Eating Soul”

Along the same line, Yahoo! News featured this juxtaposition of photos and subhead a few days ago:



Someone at Yahoo! News thinks they have a sense of humor.

6/12/2008

Dr. Beckett's Mom Cuts Up His Food For Him


From Britain comes the news that hordes of kill-crazy, knife-wielding young people are slaughtering the people of England left, right, and a deep cut down the middle.

Well, not so much:
...experts differ strongly on whether this is a sudden phenomenon that is taking the country into perilous new territory, or just a blip that is generating a disproportionate response from the authorities.

The data is inconclusive. Government figures show fatal stabbings hover at just over 200 every year, with occasional spikes above 250. This time appears no different, despite shrill headlines warning of "blade-mad Britain" each time another teenager dies in a public altercation.

"There have been a number of high-profile incidents and that gives the impression that the problem is more widespread than it actually is," says Enver Solomon, deputy director of London King's College's Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. "There hasn't been an underlying increase in the number of people murdered by sharp implements."

[...]

Some even argue that this is not an epidemic of knife crime, just an epidemic of press stories about knife crime. "The BBC now puts any murder in the national news," said Simon Jenkins, a prominent commentator. "The effect of this nationalization of social panic is that you get knee-jerk policy reactions," he told BBC radio.
And:
Roger Matthews, a criminologist at London South Bank University, says that surveys of youth show that a "very significant percentage of young people routinely carry knives." He attributes knives' increased popularity to Britain's strong anti-gun legislation. [...] "The great attraction of knives is that they are enormously accessible and can be acquired from different places. Very often they aren't machetes, they are just kitchen knives," he says.
So, Britain has a growing problem with knife-based assaults, except that the problem isn't actually growing. And a lot of these attacks are being made by people carrying kitchen knives.

I. Don't. Think. So.

If I want to carry a knife around with me, I'm NOT going to say, "Oh, I'll just take this unsheathed, sharp-pointed knife from the kitchen and shove it into a pocket." Yeah, someone would likely end up in the ER with a knife wound, but he would be an idiot, not a victim.

If you want to carry a knife around with you, the overwhelming odds are that 1) it will have a sheath of some kind, or 2) it will have a folding blade. Like, oh, the folding pocket knife I usually carry (which also has a belt clip, which is not only more convenient, but saves worries about accusations of "carrying a concealed weapon").

My bet is that the overwhelming majority of "kitchen knife" attacks, in Britain or elsewhere, are the results of domestic violence incidents where someone goes over the edge and grabs the nearest household weapon available, usually the one on the kitchen counter.

But the newspapers say there's a problem, so obviously we need to find someone with a solution to it. Enter Dr. Michael Beckett:
Another medical expert, Dr. Mike Beckett, argues that it is time to remove sharp knives from kitchens altogether. He says there is no need for the pointed tips that make knives fatal. "What people want in a kitchen knife is the edge," he told the BBC. "The point on the end of the knife actually serves little culinary purpose, but it is the point that kills people."

Ay, caramba. No doubt when Dr. Beckett clips out the news article for his scrapbook, he'll use the round-pointed "safety scissors" he saved from his days in kindergarten.

The mental image that comes to mind is of a young British tough getting into an argument, pulling a "Beckett-Special" kitchen knife from a pocket, staring at the rounded front edge, crying "Damn! DAMN, DAMN, DAMN! This won't work!" and getting so depressed that he goes home, runs a hot tub, and slashes his wrists.

Can I be treated like a competent adult now, Doc? Thanks.

(photo from Geekologie)

6/11/2008

Two Skilled Gentlemen...




I'd like to recommend Michael Chabon's short novel GENTLEMEN OF THE ROAD, a rollicking "Jews With Swords" story set in the Khazar empire of the 10th century.

On its own, that would be plenty to enjoy. But as I was reading it, I came to the sudden realization "Oh my god, Chabon's main characters are Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser!"

The names may be different, the weapons they carry may be different, Amran may be a giant African instead of a red-headed Northerner, but the flavor, the banter, the style... if Chabon isn't a big fan of Fritz Lieber, I'll have to bake an edible hat and eat it.

Short take: If you miss Fritz Lieber's work, read GENTLEMEN OF THE ROAD.

(Side note: Looking at the Wikipedia entry on Fafhrd and the Mouser, I found that the very first appearance of the characters in a comic-book form was in a 1972 issue of... WONDER WOMAN?!?!?! An issue written by... SAMUEL R. DELANY?!?!?!?!?! Pardon me while my head explodes.)

6/10/2008

My Retirement Cake






This is the cake I had made for my last day at work. The decoration is based on a drawing by JayDee Faire named "March of the Happy Mailman" that I came across on deviantart.com several months ago. I was so tickled by the drawing that I wanted to put it on a cake. (Used by permission. Thanks, JayDee!) The original drawing can be seen here.

6/06/2008

News, With More To Come




Last Saturday, May 31st, was my last day with the US Postal Service. I am officially retired.

I've been busy since then emptying our rented storage room, going thru the backyard sheds to clean, sort, trash and re-organize the stuff in them, and consolidating it all. BIG pile for bulk trash pickup next week, plus smaller piles for Craigslist, Freecycle, and Good Will.

Then comes similar work on the inside of the house. (Retire... you'll work your ass off!) And then emphasis on job-hunting to make up the difference in income between my regular USPS paychecks and the retirement checks.

More details to come, with pictures of retirement cake, etc., and hopefully more extensive posts on more extensive subjects. Right now, just time for this short post, and the occasional "Snarkaption" photo.

Snarkaption Nation #7




4/06/2008

Food Porn



Over at BROWNIE OR DIE, blogatrix Jessica has up a post about Sacherbrownies, that includes this photo:



One of the things about the hordes of food blogs on the Net is that some of the bloggers are not only enthusiastic about food, but talented photographers.

So you get a lot of photos that make you go, "Ooh, nice work!" And then there are the photos that I call "food porn", where it looks just SO damn good that you can't take your eyes away, and your saliva glands go into overtime.

That sacherbrownie, with the dark layers of brownie and chocolate sandwiching that backlit filling of apricot jam... oh, man....

Excuse me, I have to go into another room for a few moments. (The KITCHEN, I swear!)

What Was I Thinking?

Actually, what I was thinking last night was:

"Hmmm, when I'm using a knife this sharp, I should probably cut in the other direc... SHIT!!"
Three stitches. 'Nuff said.

3/30/2008

Teapots Galoreous





Via chineseclayart.com's newsletter, a link to a teapot art exhibition.

While some of the teapots are done in a rough, thrown-together style that I find ugly, most of the teapots are striking and a goodly number outstanding. Some are barely recognizable as teapots (the aardvark teapot, for one), some use the basic form but a dissonant theme (the gear-wheels teapot), and some are just plain beautiful (the persimmon teapot, shown below).


3/20/2008

Announcement, With Mixed Feelings

I've started the paperwork to retire from the Postal Service, effective the beginning of June.

I could say quite a great deal about what led to this decision, but it would probably get me in trouble with my bosses if I actually wrote about it right now. (More details, possibly, after I'm actually retired.)

I'll just say this much: When a bad business plan creates a hostile work environment, there's hope that it can be rectified.

When creating a hostile work environment is the business plan, it's time to go.

Financially, it's not the best time to retire. I'd figured probably another three or four years, to clear off debt and pay the mortgage down (with a possible refinance to reduce payments on the remainder), before retirement. At that point, I'd be able to make ends meet with a part-time job.

As it is, while working to get all the retirement papers (there are a lot) completed, I'm also job-hunting for a new full-time job.

I'm aiming to get back into office/clerical work (I was a legal secretary before getting the letter carrier job, and a company clerk in the Army before that), so I'm trying to brush up on old skills (my typing speed has gone a bit downhill since I was doing it for hours every day thirty years ago) and learn new ones (Microsoft Office seems to be the default software for businesses; I've had some experience with Word -- though I prefer WordPerfect by a wide margin -- but I'll have to install Office and get a good teach-yourself book for Excel and the other Office programs).

Browsing the job listings online, I've actually been surprised at how many jobs might be available. One of the things I did was sit down with a map and figure out how many large businesses are within a reasonable commuting distance. I've already submitted three applications, the farthest being less than eight miles away. I'll be submitting more between now and my actual retirement date.

And if all else fails, I know from friends and family's experience that if you have a clean background, reliable transportation, and are willing to work odd hours, there is always, always, always security guard work available.

Wish me luck.

2/10/2008

Old Series, New Series

I realized the other day that a popular new TV series has a lot in common with a TV series I watched as a teenager:









THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. : Unsuspecting civilians find themselves sucked into the missions of a secret, clandestine organization devoted to saving the world, and have thrilling adventures.




TORCHWOOD: Unsuspecting civilians find themselves sucked into the missions of a secret, clandestine organization devoted to saving the world, and get killed.

1/06/2008

Ten Reasons To Load Up Your Wallet And Head To Scottsdale



The Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction is held annually across town in the second-filthiest (as in, "filthy rich") city in the Phoenix metro area, Scottsdale. They auction off rare and valuable collector cars, to the tune of six-digit and occasional seven-digit pricetags.

Very pretty to look at, but I've never wanted to actually own any of the cars sold there, at least not at those kinds of prices. (A Lamborghini? How much lumber and shit from Home Depot can you load into one?)

But I saw the back-cover of the new 2008 B-J auction catalog this morning....

Oh dear. Oh dear, dear, deary-dear me.

This year, on January 19th, Barrett-Jackson will be auctioning off...

ROBOSAURUS!!!


Because what red-blooded American boy (at heart) would not want to be the next owner of (OMG!) Robo-friggin-saurus!?

Reasons? You want reasons? Okay, here are your damned reasons:

1) Dude, it's a robot!

2) It's a robot dinosaur, dude!

3) It's a forty-foot tall robot dinosaur!

4) It's a forty-foot-tall robot dinosaur with flame-throwers!

5) It's a forty-foot tall, flame-throwing robot dinosaur that can pick up an entire car and bite it in half, dude!

6) Chicks dig flame-throwing robot dinosaurs. Yes, really! (And if they don't, they damn well ought to start.)

7) People will be able to find your house easily. ("Just look for the house with the forty-foot tall robot dinosaur parked in the side yard.")

8) The Yard Nazi -- pardon me, I meant to say "City Code Compliance Inspector" -- who leaves you snide notes about your lack of lawnmowing ambition will never bother you again. (Did I mention the flame-throwers?)

9) I can't believe no one's gone to Sci-Fi Channel with the idea for Flame-Throwing Robot Dinosaur, a Sci Fi Original Saturday night movie.

10) And because when you're the owner of a forty-foot tall, flame-throwing, metal-rending robot dinosaur, you will be -- at last, at long, long last -- Cool.