Christmas Snowpocalypse -- the view from sunny Arizona

Here in Arizona, I had to brave temperatures in the 70's while running errands earlier today.  Life is tough.

But I've been looking at pictures from the big blizzard that's been dumping snow on the Northeast states.  That's some pretty cold-looking stuff you got there, people!

A photo gallery at Talking Points Memo led me to Dan Nguyen's Flickr set from New York City, which has some particularly nice shots.  This is my favorite, of Union Square:

Union Square - New York Snowstorm Blizzard 2010
 I like the sense of calm in this photo, at a location that would normally be filled with traffic moving in all directions.  The emptiness of the vista, the lack of vehicles and the wonderful old buildings (the snow-haze gives the buildings a layered effect not unlike that seen in Chinese mountain landscapes), make it almost seem like one has dropped a century back in time.  (Just put your thumb over that McDonald's sneaking in on the left edge.)

UPDATE: Here are a few more outstanding photos I've found on Flickr.  One that could be titled "New Yorkers Are Crazy" by O62, and a lovely self-portrait with snow by esparist.


One Word

Via Jay Lake, Daniel Abraham is having a discussion on story vs. sentence in fiction over on his Live Journal blog; Part of the discussion has been about how a story can change when the choice of words is changed.

As it happens, I can give an example where one word, being changed, changed a story:

One of my own stories, "Angel's Blood", published in Heaven Sent (ed. by Pete Crowther, DAW [US] and Signet Creed [UK] 1995).

The Big Reveal in that story came in the following sentence:

"There is war in Heaven, and God is losing."

For whatever reason (it showed up in the galleys without explanation), Crowther decided to change that to this:

"There is war in Heaven, and the angels are losing."

I think that both versions are effective stories. But they're not the same story.

- - - - -

In that same discussion, Daniel brought up the loss of accessibility to written language over time, as the language of later generations changes in usage and meaning, gaining new vocabulary as well as losing the old.  Chaucer and Shakespeare were brought up as examples (outliers?) whose work is still read today because of their sheer strength of story, rather than their now-difficult language.

Language-change is only part of that, however.  Culture as a whole changes over time.  So there's less and less overlap between the culture of Chaucer's or Shakespeare's time and that of a reader fifity or a hundred or five hundrd years removed.  The context is lost.

So, in the context (*ahem*) of reading classical literature, to better understand that literature one needs to learn at least some of the historical context.  For that, things like annotated editions are useful.  But then your understanding of that context is dependent on the understanding and style (their own word-choices) of the annotations' author.  So ideally, the author of such an annotation would be a capable historian, linguist, archaeologist, anthropologist AND author.  And even then, your own brain is getting only a second-generation xerox of that author's understanding.

So it shouldn't really be a surprise that "popular culture" is, well, popular.  There's a "common context" that the reader can share, being a resident of the same culture the author of a modern work lives in.  The context of a work of classical fiction has become an uncommon context.

I think this may be why "historical mysteries" are popular.  The context of the historical period used for the mystery may be uncommon, but the meta-elements of mystery and detective fiction are part of the "common context" an average reader will be familiar with.  That gives the reader sufficient grounding in a work to give the author a chance to present the historical and cultural context clearly enough to give the reader a grounding in that aspect as well.

Conversely, even in a modern work, context can be relative. Why is fiction from other countries rarely popular in the US? I suspect it's because the cultural context is different enough to become part of the "uncommon context" I've mentioned above. Off the top of my head, it seems that the further away from the US (or the UK) a work of fiction originates, the less likely it is to gain a readership here.

And this can even apply to modern works supposedly set in a culture common to the average reader.  Back in my early 20's, I found myself reading Roommates by Elsie Lee.  Lee was a romance writer whose readership overlapped to some extent with SF readers.  (I think I first saw her work mentioned by Juanita Coulson in YANDRO, though I may be misremembering.)  At any rate, I came across and read the book.

I'm pretty sure I was not the audience for that book.  I was a young, socially awkward, inexperienced (worrying about getting laid wasn't a big concern back then; my state of general despair was more about just getting a date!).   And when I read Roommates, I was pretty thoroughly aghastified.  The lead characters in Roommates were... "husband-hunters" is the best term I can come up with.  To become someone's wife was the #1 goal in their lives.

I didn't have the context to understand those characters, or to sympathize with them.  To me, Roommates wasn't a romance novel, it was a horror novel.

(The website where I found the cover image, Fantastic Fiction, also quoted the backcover blurb to Roommates: "They were roommates happily sharing expenses and men, secrets and strategies, until they discovered the real meaning of womanhood--and love."  And underneath that was a "Similar Works By Other Authors" section.  The work cited as similar was Oath Of Fealty, by Elizabth Moon.   Wait, what?)


On the Subject of Beards, With Visual Aids

I'll be going back to work in early January, having recovered from shoulder surgery sufficiently. Which means I'll have to once again shave off the beard I've been growing back these last few months, and which I prefer to have.

A lot of people have said I look younger without the beard. I think they're wrong, but it's actually a matter of how good you look, not how young you look. Here's a piece of evidence to that effect:

The Most Interesting Man In The World

 Not convinced?  Okay, how about this?

with beard

without beard

I trust I've made my point.


A Questionable Christmas

Every Christmas season, there come along various seasonal items that make you stop short and say, "What?  Really?"  Here's a couple.  (I'll probably add more as I come across them.)

From the Toscano catalog, the Christmas Yeti ornament:

And from a Park Seed email, something to do with those overgrown, woody okra pods from your garden:

Every nativity needs a dragon, doesn't it?

You might think someone thinks dragons are just too damn cute to leave out of a Nativity.  But this particular setup was put together by someone basing it on the Book of Revelations, rather than the earlier parts of the New Testament.  That sounds like a fun family to be part of.


The Paris Exhibition on Flickr

I've been reading The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt.  Very good book, but I was especially struck by the section set in and during the Paris Exhibition of 1900 (think World's Fair), with lush descriptions of the buildings and exhibits.

Thought to take a look on the Flickr Commons pages to see if there were photos from the Exhibition.  Turned out there was not only a set of photos, it was a big set (271 photos), and they were even in color! (Hand-colored, but still....)

The full set here.


Two-Fer Teapots!

I occasionally browse around for teapot competitions online.  These are usually for ceramic artists, working within the constraints of teapot design; sometimes those constraints are stretched way-y-y-y beyond what one expects, and the results can be astonishing.

Saddleback College in California has an annual competition along those lines, and past years have produced fine work.  Alas, for 2010, Saddleback decided that rather than a gallery with individual photos of each entry, they'd only post a PDF of the winning entries and honorable mentions.

But wait!  Browsing a bit more, I came across this gallery from a teapot-themed competition/benefit-auction held by the AAW.  That's the American Association of Woodturners.  All those teapots are made of wood (or wood-like materials; one is made from corrugated cardboard).  Woodworking is another area of interest to me, so, hey!, I get two-for-one pleasure from these.  Here are several examples:

Some or most of the AAW teapots are purely decorative (I'd imagine you'd need to coat the interior with a food-safe varnish or polyurethane to actually brew tea in them).  Some are more than obvious about being purely art pieces, like this one, and especially this delicate little number.

And then there's the piece shown below, by artist Binh Pho, made of maple and decorated with glass beads, pearls, and 14k gold; detail photo here:



Latest LOL

Gary Farber reminds us that there aren't enough cats on the Internet. So:

The Way To A King's Stomach?

Browsing the selections over at the Science Fiction Book Club, a two-book combo selection popped up:

The Way of Kings/Best of the Year Cookbook Recipes


I'm scratching my head, wondering how someone made the decision that a Big Fat Fantasy and a recipe collection have sufficient appeal to each other's audience to be offered as a set?

Publishers work in mysterious ways....


Look, Ma! No Sling!

I had my first follow-up appointment with my shoulder surgeon on Monday. The good news is that he told me to start leaving the sling off my arm.

The bad news is he thought I should have a better range of motion at this point, so he wanted the sling dumped to let the arm move around more and get more flexible.

Yes, I have been wearing the sling pretty much 24/7 since the surgery, because that's what I was told to do. The first month following surgery, other than the passive therapy when the therapist moves the arm around while I try to keep it limp, was supposed to give the incision a chance to heal, and not to stress the sutures and repairs to the rotator cuff.

But the second month (as in, now) is when I'm supposed to get more active with the arm, including home-based exercises to stretch the shoulder as well as more-physical appointments with the PT people.

I'm kinda happy to have the sling off. "Kinda", because I still have to be careful not to overextend or overuse the left arm, and because it does ache some just from being out loose. But I can use that arm a bit more than before, with care, and I appreciate that. (Typing one-handed has been, umm, dreary.)

The stretching exercises started today. I figured they'd probably hurt. I was right. (I was saying "Owch! Owch! Oooch! Owch!" when another patient in another room gave a sharp, loud scream from thir own therapy. "Hey, someone's having a worse day than I am," I said. It's very, very bad of me, but that made me feel a bit better about the whole thing.)

Besides the appointments for physical therapy, I'm supposed to do the stretching exercises at home two or three times a day, using a stick and a set of pulleys to help push and pull the arm past it's comfort zone and into larger extensions. This hurts, too, but it does help get the range of motion slowly back to normal. (Right now I can only raise that left arm up to about shoulder level without an assist from the stick or pulleys. That's not sufficient, so I need to do the exercises, regardless of how much they hurt.)

After a month of stretching and extending the range of motion, the third month will be when I start working on getting that arm's strength back, because between not being able to use it fully before the surgery and not being able to use it pretty much at all since the surgery, the strength on that arm is pretty much punked out. Something tells me that's probably going to hurt too.


New Face, Same As The Old Face

I've complained before (bitterly, with much rending of sackcloth and angst-ridden wandering about fog-shrouded moors) about having had to shave off my beard -- my awesome, AWESOME beard! -- when I hired on as a security guard a few years ago.

Being off work for the next several months following the rotator cuff surgery, I've taken the opportunity to let the beard grow back.  After four weeks, we're at this stage:

Past the skeazy-bum stage and starting to fill in nicely.  Could even use a light trim on the lower edge of the moustache.  This is much more what my real face looks like.

Sure is grumpy lookin', though, isn't he?  That's probably because I know I'll have to shave it all off again in a few months.

Cacoeidechthineologism* of the Day

In the news: the word "refudiate", coined (or perhaps "misstruck" is the appropriate word) by Sarah Palin in a Twitter post, has been chosen as the new "word of the year" to be included in the latest edition of the New Oxford American Dictionary.

Divorced from its source, the word refudiate isn't all the worst neologism ever. But it's not all that good, either. It's a pretty simple and obvious cojoining of two words into one, but doesn't really add any new nuance or meaning to the original words. If someone coined it deliberately, I'd give them a C- grade.

The question is whether this was a neologism -- the coining of a new word -- by Sarah Palin (whose rhetorical skills are, shall we say in the politest of tones, rudimentary), or simply a malapropism -- a garbling of either "refute" or "repudiate". If the latter, should points be taken off and the grade lowered?

(Data point: When it was pointed out that "refudiate" was a non-existent word, Palin revised her Twitter post to replace "refudiate" with "refute"... which was an inaccurate use of that word.)

In any event, when there are so many more creative and useful neologisms around, I find the OAD choosing "refudiate" above other, better, words to be utterly indenstible.

*"cacoeidechthineologism" comes from here


Killing Mrs. Kimble -- life as a one-armed man

Three weeks since my rotator cuff surgery, and my left arm into a sling for almost 24/7 over the next few months.

The goal of keeping the arm immobilized is to let the torn end of the rotator cuff tissue grow a firm reattachment to the bone it's been screwed and tacked to. This takes a while, and putting stress on or trying to use those shoulder muscles too early runs the risk of tearing those fresh connections loose and resetting everything to zero.

In one regard, I'm glad for the sling. Its presence requires me to be aware of my surroundings, and try to NOT use that shoulder. Not just to let it heal, but because moving it too far friggin' hurts.

It's difficult to remember to just let the arm hang and be supported by the sling. My natural bent is to keep my arms slightly tensed and ready to move around. When the arm aches, it also tends to make me tense up the mucles on that side.

So I've been trying to keep pain meds balanced to where I don't ache too much, but also not so doped up that I'm fuzzy-headed. Mostly large doses of Tylenol, backed up with occasional Vicodan. Works fairly well, except for sleeping.

I've found that a Vicodan with the usual bedtime pills lets me get to sleep fairly easily, but that I tend to wake up after about four hours. Having laid flat on my back all that time (I usually shift around while sleeping,mostly on my side), the shoulder has stiffened up and is now really really aching. Even with extra pain meds, it's difficult to get back to sleep and I frequently lay there for hours, "squirrel-caging" in my head, before falling asleep again. (If I do at all.)

This is annoying. I had thought that being off work for several months would at least mean I'd be able to have a semi-normal sleep pattern, with sufficient hours, instead of the trainwreck (chunks and pieces of sleep scattered over the landscape of the day) sleep I can't seem to escape while working a graveyard-shift job.

I'm trying several things to improve my sleep. Different combos of meds, including anti-anxiety stuff to help stop the squirrel-caging, and arranging pillows to raise my upper body at an angle, instead of flat on the mattress. (This last seems to have helped.)

The sharp intense pain after surgery has mostly faded, except when the range of motion is being tested during physical therapy. Instead, deep and long-lasting aches, sometimes for hours, sometimes just in brief but intense occurences. Not necessarily around the shoulder, either; sometimes I'll get "referred pain" down my arm, or back on the shoulderblade, and once in a while I'll actually get an ache in my right arm, which is confusing.

I've been having physical therapy three times a week. This is currently passive therapy, where the therapist moves your arm around while you try and keep the arm completely limp and relaxed. Not easy to do.

Coping with day-to-day things: mixed. I'm not completely one-armed; I can use my left-hand fingers to help manipulate stuff. I just have to be careful to try and keep any hand movements from being strong enough to tighten up the shoulder muscles. Keeping the forearm snugged against my chest helps with that.

Pants: I can work the zipper up on jeans, but that waistband button? *ahem* So Ive been sticking to sweatpants and gym shorts, with elastic and/or drawstring waists.

Shirts: I mentioned in an earlier post that I picked up some snap-buttoned shirts at Good Will that can be buttoned up one-handed. What I didn't mention is that for some reason snap-buttoned shirts tend to be made from one particular style of fabric. So for the first time in my life I've been wearing plaid. PLAID! I'M WEARING PLAID! AIIIIEEEE!!! THE HORROR, THE HORROR!

Between the baggy old sweatpants, the dorkmeister plaid shirts, and the fact I've been letting my beard grow back in while off work, I've been doing a pretty good job of generating that "crazy old homeless guy" mystique that people find so fascinating and appealing.

Kitchen stuff. I can cope with a fair amount. One thing that caught me up was trying to use a can-opener; those almost all require two hands to operate. I found a OneTouch battery-powered can opener that can be used to open cans one-handed... once you've opened the battery compartment and put batteries in, a task that requires two hands.

Medication that comes in those blister packs that are so difficult to get into even two-handed? Jeezus. Prop and brace upright, then attack carefully with sharp scissors. Be prepared to curse.

So a lot of stuff I can kludge or improvise my way around, without having to ask anyone for help. That, asking for help, even when it's appropriate or necessary, is something I've always had trouble doing. So the most frustrating thing about this recovery period has been being unable to drive, and having to ask Tabbi to drive Hilde and me around. I also hadn't realized how often and casually, when out driving, I could add to or rearrange how many stops and errands I made.

I'm coping. But I'll be very glad when this is all over.


A Halloween LOL-lection

With Halloween upcoming, I thought I'd skim my LOLcat creations for appropriate entries. Feel free to re-use!


Back Home

My rotator cuff surgery went well on Wednesday, spent overnight in hospital, came home Thursday afternoon. Went to first PT session Friday; future PT will be about three times a week over the next two to three months.

Surgery site still fairly painful; trying to find the right balance between painkillers and having a semi-functional brain. Alternating Vicodan with extra-strength Tylenol about every three to four hours does a fairly good job on that.

I'll have about a two-inch scar on my shoulder when the incision is completely healed, which means I won't be able to get away with telling people about being attacked by a shark and beating the shark to death with an alligator. Damn.

Learning to cope one-handed: Some things easier than expected, some things not so easy. Some useful tips here.

Meanwhile, normal life refuses to sit back in a recliner with a bowl of chips and a big Pepsi and watch TV for the next three months. Got called last night, with the news that my mother -- who's been having her own, more serious, health problems the last few months -- took a sharp turn for the worse. Still waiting for test results to try and get a firm idea of what's going on, but it doesn't sound good, and the word "hospice" has been bandied about.


If you get an email that supposedly comes from me, but has a blank subject line . . .

. . . delete it without opening or reading.

My system seems to have been hacked, and fake emails from "me" have been going to people on my contacts list, containing links to penis-pills sites and worse. (Such as malware sites that will try and infect YOUR computer too.)

The good news is that the malware isn't smart enough to generate a fake subject line to go with the fake email.

So, Rule of Thumb in this instance is: If an email is lacking a subject line, delete it unread.

My standard security software (Trend Micro) didn't catch the bugger whenever it got into my system (*grump* *grump* *grumpety-poo*), so I'm curently running additional software to try to find and remove the culprit.

When the Revolution comes, and the triumphant mobs thrust me into my rightful position as Semi-Benevolent World Dictator, hackers will be executed in slow, cruel and appropriate ways.

UPDATE 10/23/10: The additional software I ran reported my system as clean, but it didn't report actually finding or removing anything. But nothing new in the line of fake emails has been reported to me, and nothing I've supposedly sent to myself (I got some of those too) has shown up in my email queue, for the last several days, so -- fingers crossed -- hopefully the problem has been eliminated. Still wish I knew where the problem originated, though.


Upcoming Surgery, and other news

I've noted in the last several posts my problems with my left shoulder following a bad fall on a wet kitchen floor at the end of August. The problems haven't been getting better, but worse: my range of motion with that arm is getting less, and the pains are getting stronger and sharper.

So I finally got an MRI on that shoulder last week, and it found what I'd been afraid it would find: a rotator cuff tear.

Most rotator cuff injuries and tears take place on the upper part of the rotator cuff. Mine's on the front of the rotator cuff, a more unusual situation, and harder to repair. (Also harder to diagnose, which is why I wasn't sent for an MRI earlier.) The surgeon has told me that while he prefers to do most rotator cuff surgeries arthroscopically, in my case he thinks it better to do an open surgery, laying the shoulder open to go in.

That will mean at least one night in the hospital. Surgery's curently scheduled for October 20th, next Wednesday.

The last time I was in the hospital for surgery was forty years ago, and I wasn't thrilled by the experience. But I'm a lot more anxious about the recovery period. I've been told that the left arm will need to be used not at all for the first month post-surgery. In the second month, it can be moved, but only in passive therapy where a therapist moves it around. Only in the third month will I be able to start doing some resistance exercises to build arm strength back up again.

I'll essentially have only one arm for about three months. (Oh, and the surgeon told me I shouldn't drive during recovery, either.)

When you're the primary caregiver for a disabled spouse, and have been helping her with... well, almost everything... for years, this is not good news. In fact, this situation -- ending up disabled or out-of-commission myself, and unable to care for Hilde -- has always been just about my biggest source-material for nightmares.

The good news is that we've had a charming young woman, Tabbi, living with us for several years, who acts as backup caregiver for Hilde when I'm at work or running errands. So she'll be able to take up a lot of the slack once I'm unable to do the heavy lifting I usually do. But that will put a big crimp in her own activities, which I'll feel guilty about (because I'm really good at that sort of neurotic navel-gazing).

On top of needing the surgery in the first place, the long recovery period will also mean I'll be off work for those three months. Hilde and I will still have her disability income and my Postal Service retirement check each month, but the lack of those security-job paychecks will mean we'll be running into red-ink territory each month I'm off. (I have some disability coverage through my insurance, but it won't kick in until after the first sixty days off work.) So I'll be having a financial ouchie as well as a physical one.

I've been trying to practice living one-handed before I go into surgery. One of the things I found is that it takes a long-g-g-g time to button a shirt one-handed. So I went down to the local Good Will store and picked up some snap-button shirts to use during recovery. I may also pick up some suspenders, to avoid having to try and thread a belt thru belt-loops, even if suspenders make a person look like a grumpy old guy. (Oh, wait! I am a Grumpy Old Guy....)

One piece of good news comes out of all this: Being off work for three months means I'll be able to grow my beard back! WOO-HOO!

- - - - -

In other news, last week the Phoenix area had a fairly spectacular storm, including heavy -- and large -- hail. "Golf-ball size" hailstones were reported widely, with some baseball-sized hail in a few areas. Lots of broken windows and damaged roofs across the city, though fortunately not in our neighborhood. (The hail here was heavy enough to set off the car alarm, though.)

I took a picture of one of the hailstones that fell here. This isn't the largest -- others were about half again as big -- but this one was in easy reach:


From Sling To Linger

The shoulder injury I reported in my last post, from four weeks ago, seems to have been more damaging and long-lasting than I first thought. Although the inital pain, over the entire shoulder area, faded off over a few days...

...I was still left with pain in several smaller areas, sometime sharp and intense, sometimes deep and lingering (like a bad bruise, except bruises get better). If pain could be seen, my shoulder would have a dull glowering reddish area most of the time, with occasional bright sparks and flashes.

Been to physical therapy, but if there's been any improvement, it's so marginal that I'm not sure it isn't wishful thinking.

My doctor's initial "You don't have a torn rotator cuff," has now become, "Well, maybe you have a small tear in your rotator cuff." I'm scheduled for an MRI next week, and a consult with an orthopedic specialist.

I'm hoping this doesn't end up with surgery, because I've been told the recovery from that would involve immobilizing my arm for weeks, and strongly restricting its use for months. At the present, I can still use the left arm at about two-thirds of its normal range of motion, inside a tolerable pain range. Push it too far in certain directions (I try very hard to avoid putting my hand behind my back) and I find myself suddenly making very interesting squeaking noises.

But the shoulder is a drag. It slows me down, it distracts me, and it makes me grumpy and irritable. (Okay, more grumpy, and more irritable, than usual.)

It's one of the reasons this is the first post in a month. (That's also because I've been trying to Get Things Done, with partial success. But I need that shoulder working right, dammit!)


Singapore Sling, Hold The Singapore

Took a fall onto the kitchen floor yesterday. Hard.

This came about as the result of a Rube Goldbergesque series of events. If THIS hadn't happened, then THAT wouldn't have happened, and then THE OTHER THING wouldn't have happened, and there wouldn't have been water all over the kitchen floor.

So, hello, Emergency Room. The shoulder wasn't broken, fortunately, but, hoo-hah, did it hurt! So I'm wearing an arm sling for awhile, and am living life with, mostly, only one arm. Tylenol, anti-inflammatories, Vicodan for bedtime all help with the pain.

Had to take Hilde to vote yesterday afternoon. Getting her wheelchair in and out of the car was interesting. I ended up putting my good arm under the folded-up seat-bottom and lifting it up like a one-tined forklift. The voting place had "Curbside Voting" available for the disabled, so Hilde was able to stay in the car while completing her ballot.

I'm hoping the sling can come off before I'm scheduled to go back to work Friday night.

Catching Up On Paperwork -- The Agony and the... More Agony


The photo up there isn't of my own desk, but it's more similar than I'm comfortable admitting.

But I finally managed to catch up on my tax returns, which is something of a relief. What wasn't a relief was finding that, rather than the refunds I've gotten used to over the years, I ended up owing an uncomfortable amount for 2008 and an eye-popping amount for 2009. Ouch. (And, contrary to what I thought after filing an amended return for 2007 earlier this year, the IRS told me I still owed money for that year as well. Double-ouch.)

Part of this was my own fault. After I got the security guard job in August '08, I kept neglecting to increase the withholding amount until earlier this year. Retirement income from the Postal Service also did a number on the numbers. Mea culpa, mea checkbook.

Besides upping the withholding on my guard pay, I'll be going to my credit union and setting things up to transfer a healthy percentage of my monthly retirement check into a savings account reserved for taxes.

We also owed big for 2009 because our income was up and our deductions were down. Having to see doctors less often: good news for your health, bad news for your tax refunds.

I'm peeved about part of that extra "income" because it was no such thing. A few years back I co-signed a car loan for a close friend. She moved across the country in May of 2008, and stopped making payments on the truck. The truck was repossessed in October 2008.

-I- never heard about any of this, even though we were still in touch, until June 2009, eight months later, when I was contacted by a collection agency and told I was responsible for the balance left on the truck loan, close to $12,000.

For various reasons, the friend's own income wasn't seizable, and she could just tell collectors to go fuck themselves when they tried to collect the loan balance. But when she told them to go fuck themselves, she was saying "Go fuck yourself" to me as well, because she knew I'd have to pay if she didn't.

In return for quick payment, the collection agency settled for $8,400. Had to take a home equity loan to pay it. Not happy, me.

Not end of story. Earlier this year, I got a 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt, form from GMAC, the original loan company. The $3,500+ amount that had been waived when I paid the $8,400 was required to be reported as "income" on my tax return.

Oh, not happy, me. Especially when I plugged that information into Turbo Tax a few days ago and watched the "Amount Due" box climb by over six hundred dollars. For a truck I never owned, rarely drove, and should never have had to make any payment on at all. I think this qualifies as adding injury to injury.

(That friend -- let me rephrase that -- that former friend has still never said or written a single word directly to me or Hilde about any of this, even though she knows we know the truck was repossessed, even though she knows we had to pay the balance on her loan ourselves, even though she knows we had to go into debt to pay off her loan. Even just the words "I'm sorry" would have helped a lot with the anger I feel about this.)

Lessons learned?

Specific lesson: Don't co-sign a loan. For anyone. Ever.

General lesson: Don't trust your own trust in other people. (It's not the first time I've been burned by thinking other people would act the same way I would if the situation were reversed. I really should know better at my age.)

One of the reasons I got behind in getting the taxes filed is that I hate the process. Hate. Hate, hate, hate, hate. HATE. Have I mentioned I hate it?

Doing the actual tax returns is not the big problem. Turbo Tax actually does a pretty wonderful job of simplifying tax returns for most people, and even making them understandable for the most part. I want to have Intuit's children.

The hard part, the frustrating part, the part that has me clenching my teeth and bulging my eyes in bloodshot fury, is getting together the information to enter into those tax returns.

Especially because it's shouldn't BE a problem. Every year, throughout the year, I try to put info and papers I know will be needed for the next tax season into a separate folder or container. So it should just be a matter of cranking up Turbo Tax, opening that folder, and starting to enter that information.

And every year... EVERY YEAR... some of those papers and information, that I KNOW I received, that I KNOW I put into that folder... ISN'T THERE. Every damn year, I have to go on a scavenger hunt through every other piece of paper in the house, and usually find some of them in other places and files where they SHOULDN'T and WOULDN'T and COULDN'T be. And still others I have to contact the source for fresh copies, with associated delays.

(This is one area where Turbo Tax has failed miserably for me. Because TT is supposed to be able to download various information directly from one's various financial institutions. Except that every time I've tried using that "Import" button, it does not work. My batting average for downloading information via Turbo Tax is zero point nada nothing.)

But if I've moved into a part of my life where I seem more likely to owe taxes, rather than receive a refund, I really need to figure out some way to stay more organized. Not just with that "Taxes" folder, but with all the other papers & miscellanea that piles up so quickly; if I can change that annual "scavenger hunt" into just a regular "hunt", it would save a lot of time and frustration.


Because Why Should I Be The Only Person On The Internet To Not Write Something About It?


Over at The Rude Pundit, the quotable Mr. Pundit boils it down to it's bleached white bones:

"You despise this country if you think the Cordoba Initiative should move its planned community center. You have no understanding of the Constitution. If fact, you are in opposition to it. You have no respect for freedom of religion or speech. You are a coward who believes that the Constitution and the nation are too fucking weak to handle such freedoms. If you're not one of the crass politicians seeking to exploit the simpletons for your gain or a ratings-whore on Fox, you are a vile, hate-filled, unprincipled lump of shit who thinks that rights are only good when convenient for you, and you are too fucking lazy to fight for anything other than your prejudice and hatred."


It's Been A While Since I've Made A Cooking Post.

Perks of the Job: A Paycheck, Free Uniforms, and Live Sex Shows

Here's a link to a recent news item: "Couple Caught Having Sex In Scottsdale Parking Garage"

Yep, that's the place where I work as a security guard. No, I'm not the guard who caught them on camera, or the one who approached them in person. (This happened on an earlier shift.)

I am the guy, whoever, who was watching the monitors and caught another couple on a sidewalk bench a few nights later, with the very, very drunken young woman trying to get her hands inside the guy's pants. I dispatched our roving guards, who got there before Mister Johnson was dragged out of his tent, and who asked the couple to leave the property. Which they still had enough functioning brain cells left to do, unlike the couple in the news item linked above.

Ever since a large and popular bar opened up on our property a few months ago, the Incident Reports we've had to write have gotten more numerous, and a lot more interesting.

I've never been a big drinker, and never been all-out down-and-dirty drunk. Getting tipsy a few times when I was in my 20's was enough for me to recognize that drinking too much alcohol would make me start to turn into an asshole.

("Don't you mean more of an asshole, Bruce?")

And since the #1 Rule I try to follow is "Try to not be an asshole," I've always been careful not to drink much, if at all.

(That rule works pretty well, actually. I don't have to try to be a saint. I don't even have to try to be good. I just have to try to... not be an asshole.) (Yes, even that's a struggle sometimes.)

But it means I don't have much understanding, or sympathy, for people who seem to think getting drunk (or perhaps "dr-r-r-u-u-u-u-unk" would be a more apt version of the word) is its own end, and its own pleasure. Seeing the more intoxicated patrons of that bar just makes me want to do a facepalm and mutter "Oi vey. Mama Mia. Potrzebie!"


It Is A Proud And Lonely Thing...

...to be a fan of Zardoz.

In John Scalzi's latest film column, about well-regarded film directors who flopped at making a science-fiction film, the last of the list is reserved for what seems to be the obligatory hate for Zardoz.

*sigh* Yes, the costume designer should have been shot, or forced to wear that red loincloth/diaper in public. And some of the acting was done in an arch and mannered way. But still, the concepts were sound, the imagery was spectacular, the score introduced me to Beethoven's 7th Symphony, and I've watched the film multiple times with enjoyment.

Excuse me, I must go console myself with a peanut-butter-&-mustard sandwich.


News, And A New Profile Photo

The new photo is over there in the sidebar. It's been nearly two years since I had to shave off my long-time (33 years) beard for the security guard job, so I'm finally breaking down and putting my naked face online. I still want my beard back. *mrff*

The news is that the film option for my short story "Death And The Ugly Woman" was renewed. The option is for a projected anthology series, sort of like Masters of Horror , only adapting fantasy stories to the screen. Whether this will ever end up with D&TUW being produced . . . well, we'll see. But it means I get a check for another couple years option on the story. And considerable egoboo that they considered the story worth optioning again.


Dear Pedro,

"You DELETE real comments about the truth that is currently happening in America?"

No, Pedro, I delete deranged comment spam from some whacko who not only wants to use MY blog to present his raving views on fluoridation and demonic conspiracies, but who SERIALIZES his opus across four different posts here. None of which posts have any relation or connection to anything you write about.

I delete deranged comment spam from some whacko who not only tries to post his crap on MY blog, but who's posted the same wild ravings on thousands of other blogs. And it doesn't seem to matter what kind of blog, either. Cooking blog? "FLUORIDE! DEMONS!!" Sports blog? "FLUORIDE! DEMONS!!" My-Cute-Cat blog? "FLUORIDE! DEMONS!!"

And when I delete those irrelevant ravings, you have the audacity to try and play the Victim Card? You have the GALL to act like I'm fucking obligated to leave your unwanted intrusions untouched?

You're no better than someone who comes into my house and scrawls obscenities n lipstick on all the walls. You're a thug and a vandal.

You're also a thief. Because I've had use my time to wipe your scrawls off my walls. You've stolen my time, Pedro. I resent that. I resent it deeply.

And you're a coward. Everything I write here is under my real name. You? You hide behind the name of an Italian shoe company. (WTF? Is that supposed to be clever?)

Thug. Vandal. Thief. Coward.


If I haven't made myself clear, here's the short and simple version, for you and every other spammer: Fuck off.

Sorry about that, folks. He got my dander up. Here's a kitten chaser to make up for it:

photo by John Nyberg from stock.xchang


Tempe Town Puddle

Tuesday night, a portion of the dam that creates Tempe Town Lake, a recreational spot in the normally dry Salt River riverbed bordering on Tempe, Arizona, burst and released about 750 million square feet of water into the riverbed, creating flash flood conditions downstream for a considerable distance. The Salt River bed is mostly undeveloped, so damages have been light, though there's some fear homeless people who ocasionally set up camp in the riverbed might have been washed away. (Hard to tell yet.)

The dam in question isn't a normal concrete dam, but one that uses a number of extremely large inflatable rubber barriers to hold back the water. The barriers can be inflated or deflated to control the lake's volume.

The barrier section that burst ("exploded" was the word used by some witnesses) was one that had been supposed to be replaced earlier this year. Since the dam was first built about ten years ago, that particular portion had been riding higher than other sections, and it's top edge had been out in the open sunlight, rather than slightly underwater like it was supposed to be.

Take a piece of rubber. Leave it out in the Arizona heat and sunshine for ten years. What do you expect to happen? Duh.

The replacement didn't happen when it should have, apparently for budgetary concerns on the part of the Tempe city council. Double-Duh.

The company that built and installed the rubber barriers is named Bridgestone. I wonder if this is the same Bridgestone that had to recall about six million defective auto tires about ten years ago when the tires began blowing out much faster than would have been expected? Triple-Duh.

Shorter Tempe Town Lake Dam Debacle: "Oh no, the rubber broke!"

(note on the photo shown above: According to the New Times article, the photo and several others were taken from the seventh floor of the old Hayden Flour Mills building. This explains why there was no photographer's credit given; the Hayden building has been empty and boarded up for years, so anyone photographing from there would be doing so illegally. I've seen other photos of the insides of the Hayden building, and it's pretty decrepit, so it was probably dangerous for the photographer as well.)


My Life As A Superstar Cheezburgerer

A couple of the captioned photos I've done for Pundit Kitchen, the news-photo wing of the Evil I Can Haz Cheezburger Empire, recently made it to the front page, to gain notoriety, acclaim, and votes. This first one has gotten over 800 votes:

And this one just got front-paged a few days ago, and has gotten nearly 240 votes so far:

I thought that was pretty cool. Go, me. And then I had to read the comments posted to the photo, and realized that a lot of people were voting for and favoriting the picture not because of my witty, ingenious caption, but rather because Look at those awesome abs! Those guys are HOT!


Back in the old days, I knew a guy who had abs that chiselled and defined. I happened to see him nude from the rear one time (don't ask) and not only did he have those rippling abs, he had a rippling butt. Did you know there's a specific term to describe guys with that kind of physique? Yeah, really: Bastards!

*ahem* Where was I?

Bonus LOL below. This one I find rather odd, because it only got one vote on the "Voting" page (from where LOLs are picked to go to the front page), but it's been Favorited by over two dozen people. Huh. I think it's funny:


God, I Hope These Aren't For Real Books

In the spirit of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, artist Oleg Medvedev has produced some covers for Italian variations on the theme.

(by Oleg Medvedev, CC-licensed, attribution, no derivatives)

Any resemblance between the Yeti and Chewbacca is strictly coincidental, and should not be taken as encouragement to make Classics/Star-Wars mashups the next literary fad.


Big Beetle

This is a beetle I snapped at work the other night. Actual size about two inches long.

I used the built-in camera on my new Droid cellphone, and I have to say I'm impressed that it was able to focus and capture that much detail at a distance of several inches away.


A Few Links

Moscow 2050 -- like Steampunk without the steam. (Gearpunk?) (by Valdimir Shelest, CC licensed -- attribution/noncommerical.)

TILT -- offering a slanted perspective on life. (Click "Project Info" at the top of the page for rights information.)

Both the above come from the BeHance Network, a website for artists to display their portfolios and projects. Great stuff there.

Unsolicited plug: One of our own favorite artists is Sandra SanTara, from whom we've bought a lot of prints and t-shirts, both for ourselves and as gifts for friends & family. Her website is Windwolf Studio. (Image use restricted, or I'd include a sample here.)

And moving from the sublime to the ridiculous: Fellowship of the Vuvuzelas


Adventures In Catspeak

Some guy that looks like me comes into the bedroom after washing his hands, and sees our cat Bastet on the bed.

SGTLLM: "Hey, Bastet, wants some pets?" [proceeds to pet cat]

Bastet: "Mrrrr, mrrrr, mrr--AROWWW, ROWWW, ROWWW!" [translation: "Sure, thanks a lo--HEY, YOUR HANDS ARE WET!"

SGTLLM: "Relax, cat." [continues petting]


SGTLLM: "My hands are dry now, what's the problem?"



How To Draw Sharks

From the treasure hoard of ConceptArt, a brief guide to "How To Draw Sharks" by Waterbird.

I'm linking to this not from an overwhelming desire to draw sharks (though God knows, sharks are Friggin' Cool, Man!), but because I found it an exceptionally well-done combo of art and writing. Waterbird's authorial "voice" is engaging and informal, but the guidance is informative, succinct, and easy-to-follow.

This is how to "how-to" a subject.


I've Been . . .

. . . in a funk lately.

Not as bad a funk as the guy pictured over there. but still a significant funk. Feeling overwhelmed, overstressed, underslept, etc.

Various factors have been playing into this. Sick friends, sick relatives, sick family, sick cats, sick me. Current and upcoming (and uncertain) changes at work. Too many things that can't be punted to some other time. Way too many things that have been punted to some other time, but that time is now, or last week, or last month, or even earlier.

I realized about a month ago that I was showing signs of major depression (Thanks, Will!), which has actually helped. Being aware of that has helped me cope rather better -- got a long-standing problem with our 2007 taxes hopefully resolved, for one, which should actually mean we get a slightly larger refund than we did, rather than owing the IRS over a thousand dollars. Better progress on other fronts as well, though it would certainly help more if I could just skip that "sleeping" thing altogether.

So one of the things I wanted to start doing again was posting here. (Hopefully more often than every three months -- did I really let it go that long?)


Robert McCall has died

Artist Robert McCall, known worldwide for space art and portrayals of an optimistic future technology, has died. He was 90.

His poster art for the film 2001 is probably his most widely known work, but he also did many, many pieces for and in support of the NASA space program.

The piece of his I'm personally most familiar with is "Icarus Triumphant", a mural McCall did for the main branch of my local Glendale, AZ library. There doesn't seem to be a full image of the mural online, but here's a detail from the painting:

Among the comments to the news at collectSPACE.com was a note from "KSCartist" who shared some advice McCall had given in correspondence. Worth sharing, and it's advice McCall clearly followed in his own career:

To Achieve Success:
1) Evaluate your talents honestly
2) Set your goals realistically
3) Work tirelessly at your art and love every minute of the work.
4) Study the great art of the past
5) Come back from inevitable failures and diappointments with courage
6) Work relentlessly



Over at DerekMDesign, I found some wowser photos and an interview with John Learner, maker of some of the best damn gingerbread houses I've ever seen. Learn abut the maleability of Pop-Tarts, and why you should never vacuum chocolate dust!


The Future of Used E-Books

The recent Amazon-MacMillan brouhaha made one thing clear: people who read e-books don't want to pay a lot for that muffler!

Now if they read regular books, like most people, they could always go down to the local used-book store to browse for cheap books. But if you want to go down to the local used e-book store... umm, well there's a bit of a problem there, since the most popular e-books tend to have DRM protection on them, and you're not supposed to be able to transfer that data to another reader.

But, hey, I once donated five bucks to the National Association for the Advancement of Smart People, which makes me an honorary genius.

So here's what we need to do to make a used e-book store possible: Rather than the current DRM model, e-books need to be coded to follow the natural life-cycle of a regular book.

What gave me this idea was the sad fact of JPEG degradation: every time you change and save a JPEG image, the image degrades, eventually becoming illegible after enough cycles. I figure e-books can be deliberately encoded to do something similar. ("I have this great idea. If you do the programming, we can split the money fifty-fifty!")

So, the original e-book is pristine and spotless. Done with the book, you transfer your copy to an online used-e-book store.

For that copy, the style-commands of the book get changed, and the new buyer finds himself reading a book set in Aged Book Worn font. Any color contents fade slightly, like a poster that gets direct sunlight on it.

The next reader down will notice the pages on the screen starting to yellow. Some of the pages will have coffee-cup circles on them. If previous owners have bookmarked any pages, those pages are now actually dog-earred, with the page corners breaking off and falling down the screen at unpredictable intervals. Color fading continues to worsen.

Next reader: mildew stains.

Next reader: scorch marks

We get serious with the next reader in line: silverfish and bookworms start crawling across your screen, eating holes in the pages.

And finally: the binding comes undone, and whole pages and entire signatures rip loose from the left edge of the screen and fall down below the bottom edge.

And that's how you'll get used e-book stores.

[wild applause from the Internet]

Thank you, thank you. It was nothing. Next week, I solve global warming.


A Few Links

As promised, a few links of interest:

Good art, good sex, and a good cause: Endangered Species Condoms (SFW)

Our smart and charming niece, Lea, has spent the last year and a half in South Korea, helping Korean schoolchildren learn English and learning Korean in return. She has an occasional blog, A Geek's Eye View, writing about her experiences and travels.

Over at ConceptArt.org, the latest Team Chow contest (#3; collect them all!) had a Tarot theme. Lots of interesting entries there. The entire thread can be found here. (Page down past the polling area to find individual posts by each team, with larger images; most are on page 1, with a few more on page 2.)