Thursday, May 31, 2007

As a service to our insect-loving readers....

Herewith a link to Cicada Mania, a site devoted to all things cicada, including the 17-year variety.

PEBKAC? That explains a lot....

More "Help Desk Lines" cartoons at this site.

Looking back at it, I believe PEBKAC can serve as the explanation to nearly all of the technical problems I have identified here in this blog....

Take a memo to Campus Security to be on the lookout for this guy in August, OK?

The Ultimate Rejection Letter

Herbert A. Millington
Chair - Search Committee
412A Clarkson Hall, Whitson University
College Hill, MA 34109

Dear Professor Millington,

Thank you for your letter of March 16. After careful
consideration, I regret to inform you that I am unable
to accept your refusal to offer me an assistant professor
position in your department.

This year I have been particularly fortunate in receiving
an unusually large number of rejection letters. With
such a varied and promising field of candidates, it is
impossible for me to accept all refusals.

Despite Whitson's outstanding qualifications and previous
experience in rejecting applicants, I find that your
rejection does not meet my needs at this time. Therefore,
I will assume the position of assistant professor in your
department this August. I look forward to seeing you then.

Best of luck in rejecting future applicants.

Chris L. Jensen

(Found here.)

Anyone who's ever applied for a position -- and been rejected -- can identify with this. If only it were possible to get away with it....

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Scottish baseball? What next? American golf? No, wait....

Landgirl responded to Monday's Amish Umpire post (OK, I started it Monday and posted it Tuesday) by lamenting, "Sadly, when I got enough grandchildren for a baseball team I was in a place [the Highlands of Scotland] where no one plays it."

Och aye. (I believe that's the correct phrase of sympathetic agreement, followed by a long sigh.)

However, I knew that there was a Scottish youth baseball team, at least at one time, because I'd found links to it in the web when I was shopping for a travel team for Youngest Son last year: Meet the Lossiemouth Predators Baseball Club.

Now if you'll click on over to the Predators' site, you'll see that it is long out of date -- it apparently hasn't been updated since 1999 -- and most of the links from the site are no longer active. From my Undisclosed Location in Chicago, I don't know if the team, or any successor thereto, continues to exist.

However, I think we should deputize Chris Lodge, of our Scotland bureau, to investigate and report back to us as soon as possible. He has young sons who are no doubt eager to learn the game....

Chris? We'll be awaiting your report.

Why is Curmudgeon driving us buggy? More cicada stuff....

Yvonne from Uniquely Me commented on yesterday's cicada post; she said the buzzing was well underway in DuPage County, Illinois where she lives.

DuPage is west of Chicago and warms a little sooner; Lake Michigan serves to moderate both hot and cold temperature extremes nearer its shore. Because DuPage is just that much warmer in the Spring, the cicada brood got a head start there.

Yvonne was kind enough to let me share some of her pictures of the bugs with you:

When I said it looked like some of the trees in my neighborhood had developed acne overnight, this is what I was talking about.

These are the cicada nymphs climbing up.

Here's one in its final molt (although this looks darker in the picture than those that I've seen here -- the ones I've seen look almost white on emerging from the shell -- but they'll turn dark as well as the skin hardens):

(And fortunately for this guy, no five year old tried to 'help' it out of its shell....)

And when I said it looked like the bases of some trees had changed color, this is what I was talking about:

It's interesting that these were all taken last Thursday or Friday. We weren't at this stage until Monday, and we're only a little ways away.

And, if you visit Yvonne, and read her post that accompanied the pictures I've reprinted here, you'll see that she was -- at that time -- a little disappointed with the cicada turnout. However, judging by her post this morning (and the new pictures she's posted), it appears that the turnout has increased. Stop by Yvonne's today and say hello and tell her the Curmudgeon sent you: My guess is that she'll be inside anyway... and maybe on her computer.

And for those who've noted that they have cicadas in their part of the world each and every year -- well, so do we. Those critters tend to come out later in the Summer; those cicada buzzings warn us that the lazy Summer days are almost gone. All these 17 year cicadas will be long gone by then.

In the meantime, watch where you step!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cicada update -- some crunching, not much buzzing... yet

It's been nearly three weeks since I told you the 17 year cicadas were about to come out -- and I hadn't mentioned it again because there's been nothing to report.

Oh, there's been some evidence of the cicadas' arrival: We've seen a few discarded shells... and a lot of very happy, satisfied birds... and cats. Some of the birds seem to waddle when they walk and have difficulty flying. And every stray cat in the neighborhood has gained a couple of pounds.

Clearly, this is one party where arriving early can be fatal.

(At left is a map from the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology Periodical Cicada page. It shows the general areas in which the new 17 year brood is now emerging.)

The cicada situation had changed by yesterday, however. The entire neighborhood was out for the Memorial Day Parade that wends its way through the neighborhood streets, finishing up at the local high school. And a lot of the trees looked like they'd developed a sudden case of acne. A few trees seemed to be growing up out of newly tan soil as the nymphs have crawled their way to these trees, hoping to climb up and burst through their shells. The sidewalks displayed clear evidence that not all of the nymphs had made it to safety. And a distinctive crunching noise could be heard underfoot when walking over to inspect the bugs on the trees....

The five year old who lives two doors down told Long Suffering Spouse how he'd helped one bug out of his shell. (Memo to cicada population: Try to avoid emerging near houses with small boys.) Long Suffering Spouse told him that there are just some things a bug just needs to do for itself. The little boy took it well, I'm told.

But the fabled buzzing hasn't really started. I heard a couple of half-hearted buzzes yesterday afternoon... but it's warm outside today and the process may accelerate.

The linked site explains why: The critters emerge as nymphs, then crawl to a tree (or in a few cases, our garage) and then molt. They emerge as adults from this last molt -- but they are white in color, not black as in the picture above. The color changes as the skin hardens: It's only then that they start to sing. The site also has snippets of cicada calls available in a couple of different formats.

Those of you from out of town may wish to explore the linked site. I guess I'll just wait until ours are ready to sing live for us.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Amish Umpire and the Raptors' parents

He might have been 6'4", kind of pear-shaped, wearing an old-fashioned balloon-type chest protector, with a long white beard that made me think, on first seeing him, that he probably played ball in his day for the House of David.

When we reported this story later to Middle Son, he said he remembered this umpire from freshman baseball. That was six years ago now; the umpire was the sort that makes a lasting impression.

He was the umpire at three of our four games this weekend at Youngest Son's Memorial Day Tournament. He was "the Amish Umpire." That was how the big fellow introduced himself to the coaches of either team. He had printed business cards that identified him thus. And, although he is the focal point of our piece, you will see he is not the subject of our story... unless you're the type that thinks Field of Dreams was about Joe Jackson.

I haven't written about Youngest Son's travel team much since the season started; there are a couple of reasons for this. For one reason, as Linda recently reminded me, not everyone is as enamored of baseball as I am. For another, the best stories about baseball aren't just about balls and strikes, or wins and losses; they're about people. And not every game produces such a story....

Saturday was a miserable day for a ball game. It was raining constantly. But it wasn't raining hard enough for water to pond up on the field. And the sponsors of these holiday tournaments are notorious for proceeding despite inclement weather: They get a lot of money from the teams that enter. They don't want to have to make refunds. So our game went on as scheduled.

So I thought at first that maybe the Raptors' parents were just in a bad mood.

But I now believe it was more than that.

The Raptors is the name I've given Youngest Son's travel team. It isn't really the name of the team, of course.

Most of the Raptors have played baseball together for years. I wrote last Fall about Youngest Son's tryout for the team. The Raptors took on three new kids from those tryouts, one of whom has since quit.

The Raptors' coach had an idea for this year: He would carry a dangerously small roster (13) for the team's ambitious 60-game schedule. This way no one could complain about playing time.

And by "no one" he meant the parents of any kid who wasn't playing enough to suit the expectations (realistic or otherwise) of that kid's parents.

But the unexpected resignation brought us down to 12. Then a very good player dove for a ground ball in practice and came up with a broken wrist. That put us at 11. And another strained his leg and is out for a couple of weeks; we were then at 10.

And these are 8th grade boys: There are graduations and dances and field trips that must be taken into account when scheduling. The coach used his own son's schedule, naturally, in trying to work things out. That worked well for the four boys that attend school with the coach's son... but that schedule doesn't quite jive with Youngest Son's school schedule. There's another boy on the team who attends school with Youngest Son; he was the one who told Youngest Son about the opportunity to play for the Raptors in the first place. And there's another group of three or four that attend still a third school, which has its own schedule.

Once the boys get to high school, it becomes easier, at least in Illinois. The Illinois High School Association simply does not permit a team to use high school players before the end of the high school season. So the seasons of 15 or 16 year old teams don't start until later... but there's no Junior High School Association, and all of these kids were playing for their own grammar schools as well.

So there were games at which the coach had only seven or eight bodies he could count on. You can play with eight. You take an out each time the ninth spot comes up in the batting order, but you can play. You can't play with seven. The coach was able to reschedule one of the games where he anticipated only seven effectives; the grammar school coaches all jumbled their schedules around the traveling players.

So scheduling has been a mess. And a source of tension. But the coach didn't want to deal with the team parents about playing time, or the lack thereof.

There is one group that will not juggle their schedules: The team parents. This one takes a vacation in these weeks, that one takes a vacation in those. The coach purposely did not schedule out of town tournaments for the team this year because the parents grumbled that these were not played in places where the parents would like to vacation. I was in the Quad Cities for a Memorial Day tournament a few years back, and I realize that the Quad Cities are not on anyone's Top 100 Vacation Getaways List so I guess I can understand the feeling -- but I can't understand that the coach would cater to it. Or select boys for his team whose parents would even think about having their kid gone for a week or more during the season.

But I was looking at this from an outsider's perspective. The coach's problem was quite different: The core of his team has been playing together for years. And the parents have become quite chummy, too. For every email from the coach about scheduling, there's another from a parent about who's bringing the mojitas.

The Raptors are based in a suburb adjacent to Chicago. You know how the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence? It really is greener when you cross the city limits into that suburb. And so too are the bank accounts. The Raptors' parents all drive Lincoln Navigators and BMW's and Mercedes-Benz automobiles... well, we have a minivan, but we're new. And we live in Chicago.

The team parents are all young looking. They can't be as young as Long Suffering Spouse thinks they are, though: Most of the kids on the team are the oldest of their respective broods; there are a lot of little kids playing in the bleachers and along the foul lines during the games. But that would make the team parents at most a decade younger than Long Suffering Spouse and me, and I doubt any of them had their kids as early as we did.

I'll say this for them, though: They are loyal parents. They were sitting out in the rain Saturday, just as we were. We just weren't watching the same game.

This was not the first time, apparently, that the Raptors have seen the Amish Umpire. He had called a number of games for them last year... and the parents had taken an instant dislike to them then.

Why, he looked like a clown in that get-up! And his strike call was loud enough that both benches could hear it clearly... but it was polysyllabic! He didn't say "strike" at all, but something like "AAAHHHEEEYAH." And he kept talking to the boys!

Oh no, the team parents did not like the Amish Umpire. And they remembered the dislike from prior encounters, and they elaborated on it, in the rain, on Saturday. "He's a pirate!" said one, and the others judged her clever. Soon, they were all making imagined pirate noises "aaaaaarrrrggggghhhh" whenever the Amish Umpire called a strike.

But the team parents had no problem with the Raptors' new player: A big kid, he'd not tried out for the team because he'd graduated early. Now that his high school team was done, this looked like his best opportunity to play. And the coach, poor man, was only too happy to take him in because his roster was so depleted. We had three games to play Sunday: The most fanatic parent would not complain that his son had a couple innings' rest during such a marathon.

The new player came complete with his own personal coach -- his father. Who took up residence on the bench with the other coaches. But the team parents did not think this amiss -- not since they feel free to wander in and out of the bench area during games, offering drinks or snacks. Emailed warnings against this practice have been ignored.

Youngest Son is primarily a catcher for the Raptors. At this level, he relays signs from the coach to the pitcher, who throws the pitch the coach calls. But the new kid has his own signs; these are different from those that all the other boys use. And they are relayed by his father. But this is not an issue with the team parents.

At one point over the weekend, the Amish Umpire ambled out to the mound to chastise the pitcher against going to his mouth on the mound. This is a balk -- a violation of the rules -- and the umpire was doing the kids a service by teaching them instead of automatically penalizing them. I could figure out what he was talking about because he was pantomiming the motion as he talked to the pitchers. And he talked to the pitchers on both teams.

But the team parents saw only a clown, bothering their boys. "Aaaaaarrrrrggggghhhh!" they shouted from the comfort of their chairs down the foul line. "Aaaaaaarrrrrgggghhhh! Why is he talking to them again? Why doesn't he let them play?"

Our coach made the mistake of leaving the bench area shortly after one such incident; he was immediately accosted by one of the mothers: "Why are you letting him do this? Can't we protest? Can't we get a new umpire?"

The poor coach tried to explain the balk rule, but the team mom was having none of it. I stood up and intervened: "It's a standard rule. The umpire is teaching the boys and not penalizing them. He's doing them a favor." The coach picked up the line: "We play standard high school rules. This is in the rules."

The mom subsided somewhat, but she wasn't entirely willing to concede: "I've never heard of this rule before." Sure you have, I told her: When you watch a ball game on TV in cold weather and the announcer tells you that the umpires have given permission for the pitchers to blow on their hands. But I don't think my explanation helped. She did sit down, though, and resumed reading an article in People or Us or whatever it was about Brad and Angelina's love child.

The biggest offense committed by the Amish Umpire, though, was his strike zone. During three games this weekend (he umped three of the four we played), he called a low strike. His strike zone also extended a couple of inches beyond the plate, if it was low and the catcher set up there. He didn't call a high strike once in three games: A pitch across the letters would be a ball, even though in the video games that too would have been a strike.

But he was consistent.

And so were the parents: Every single, stinking time one of their darlings received a called strike on a low or low and outside pitch they hooted in derision: "Aaaaaarrrrrggggghhhh! He's crazy! That's not a strike."

And their offspring, equally stubborn, would not swing at those pitches no matter how often they were called out. And when the boys took their turns pitching, did they pitch to the zone that the umpire had established? The boys on the other teams seemed to... and certainly did after an inning or two... but not the proud Raptors. And each pitch above the belt that was not called as a strike brought forth new howls of "Aaaaaaaarrrrrgggggghhhh!" from the offended Raptors' parents. "That umpire's crazy!"

Albert Einstein said that insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Given that the umpire had every right to call the game as he wanted to... who really were the crazy persons here?

One little vignette from the weekend encapsulates the entire experience for me: It was late in the game on Saturday. Our shortstop ventured out of the bench area to clean off his spikes. He employed a stick for this purpose and was making slow but steady progress at his task. A team mom called out, "Honey, do you want me to do that for you?"


Friday, May 25, 2007

Just when I thought I had figured out something: Technorati troubles

Those of you who think I'm not technically oriented are, of course, correct. But, remember: I'm a lawyer. By lawyer standards, I'm a complete techno-geek. As the saying goes, "In the Land of the Blind, the One-Eyed Man is King."

You will hear, from time to time, about lawyers who brag about using the latest technology in their practice -- how they stay current to keep up with the demands of their corporate clients -- how they couldn't live without their various gizmos (Blackberries, et al.). (And, yes, lawyers use terms like et al. in everyday speech. Especially these sorts of lawyers.)

Anyway, if you hear about such techno-lawyers, don't believe a word they say: Behind every such bragging barrister is a stressed-out assistant trying to digest the manual for whatever toy de jour the lawyer is 'using' today. And these techno-lawyers are usually employed by big firms that are buying these toys in bulk, forcing them -- despite loud protests -- on the very same lawyers that later do the bragging. (You should hear them squawk about it when they think no one will rat them out!)

I have no assistant, so I am forced to rely on my own talents and training in understanding technology. Which is to say, none at all. But every now and again I figure something out.

Or think I do.

Take these "link trains" that were making the rounds a few weeks back. A number of these went past this blog without my jumping on. I was wary. Why should I "fave" a blog I've never read -- and never even heard of? For all I knew, I could be helping to boost the Technorati rankings of the Osama bin Laden Fan Club Blog. And then the next thing you know men in nondescript dark suits and starched white shirts come to ask me questions....

OK, so I'm paranoid. So what?

But, little by little, the hamster inside my head turned the wheel and it occurred to me that this Technorati "fave" thing might be useful. By loading my Blog Links List and a few of my other regular consults into the favorites page I could see when these blogs updated and then go over and say hello. No more clicking to this one and that one and finding nothing new. I've killed hours that way... and, now that I'm back to work full-time, these are hours I need.

And then I thought, gee, this must be what this "reader" stuff is all about. And sure, I could see what's been updated since I last looked in, go to all of these blogs, maybe drop a comment, maybe not, and be efficient.

I felt positively Germanic.

I finished loading all the blogs yesterday... and then I noticed the curious omissions. Three of my favorites, all of which update nearly every day, weren't anywhere near the top of the "freshness" sort. The three blogs are Empress Bee's Muffin 53, By Ken Levine, and Suburban Turmoil. But even though I know these are updated regularly, Technorati seems to think that Bee's hasn't been updated for 248 days, Ken Levine's hasn't been updated for 541 days, and Lindsay Ferrier's has "no recent updates" at all.

I'm particularly surprised about Bee's because she has a Technorati "fave" button in her sidebar; she's signed up. So I can't understand why Technorati says Bee has an "authority" of 1 and a blog "rank" of 2,101,205. Technorati even knows that Bee has 814 "blog reactions" -- which, I'm guessing, means incoming links. If she's got that many people linking in, I'm thinking that "authority number" is way low. And the folks at Technorati have heard of Mr. Levine, too: If you click on the right button you'd find out that Mr. Levin has an "authority" of 229, a "rank" of 17,830 and 2,085 "blog reactions."

On the other hand, although I know Suburban Turmoil has a very large readership, Technorati denies knowing that Ms. Ferrier exists. So maybe she never signed up with the Technorati people. So that's one.

But OK, thought I, I'll just "ping" Technorati about each of these sites and bring them up to date... and I did... and... nothing happened.

Today on Blog-Op, Chris Lodge asks if we're 'pinging the right people.'

I'm guessing my answer would have to be "no."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Hey Detroit! Is this for real?

Whatever happened to American innovation?

Here, supposedly, is a car that runs on compressed air -- about to go into production in India. The Indian car manufacturer is Tata Motors. The compressed air engine was developed by a French company called MDI. Here is what "gizmag" (where the first link above will take you if you click on it) has to say about the new vehicle:

Most importantly, it is incredibly cost-efficient to run – according to the designers, it costs less than one Euro per 100Km (about a tenth that of a petrol car). Its mileage is about double that of the most advanced electric car (200 to 300 km or 10 hours of driving), a factor which makes a perfect choice in cities where the 80% of motorists drive at less than 60Km. The car has a top speed of 68 mph.

Refilling the car will, once the market develops, take place at adapted petrol stations to administer compressed air. In two or three minutes, and at a cost of approximately 1.5 Euros, the car will be ready to go another 200-300 kilometres.

As a viable alternative, the car carries a small compressor which can be connected to the mains (220V or 380V) and refill the tank in 3-4 hours.

Due to the absence of combustion and, consequently, of residues, changing the oil (1 litre of vegetable oil) is necessary only every 50,000 Km.

Memo to Ford, GM and the incoming owners of Chrysler: When will your competing (and improved) versions of the compressed air car be announced?

I think American auto manufacturers can safely wait to announce their own entries into this market until... this afternoon! Please, Detroit, for the good of the country: Let's get going on this!


Thanks to RT for the link (in one of his patented 'Blog Drive-Bys') to Urban Iconoclast. That's where I found the "gizmag" link.


In the time I spent explaining the provenance of this post, I was hoping for a news alert from an American auto manufacturer about compressed air technology.... Still waiting....

AC or not AC, that is the seasonal dilemma...

It's been warm in Chicago the past couple of days. The temperature has gotten up into the mid-80's at least, away from the Lake, and stayed there during daylight hours.

And there's actually been sunshine.

Not constant, of course -- this is Chicago -- but enough to make it warm in the Sun... and even warmer in a largely unshaded den that sits in a one story addition out behind the Curmudgeon's Northwest Side home.

The rest of the house has been temperate, even pleasant in some areas, but that matters not to the Curmudgeon's offspring because the Internet connection is in the den. The cable TV is in the den. The offspring are therefore in the den. And they want the air conditioning in there with them too.

Never mind that the den is the hardest room to heat in the Winter or cool in the Summer. Never mind that cool air from the air conditioning will be funnelled, if at all, into that room through an elaborate system of floor and table fans that Long Suffering Spouse will soon set up in the cooler, better ventilated regions of our home. From the kids' point of view, these are mere quibbles. The kids -- especially Oldest and Middle Sons -- want the AC on and they want it on yesterday.

(This is not a picture of our backyard -- but you'd never know it the way the kids are talking.)


My youth was divided between two houses, one in the City and one in a distant region of Exurbia where Christ was rumored to have lost His shoes. Neither of these houses was equipped with air conditioning.

Somehow, however, despite this deprivation, I managed to survive to adulthood.

I moved to a place of my own -- one which I admittedly selected, at least in part, because it was air conditioned. My dwellings since have been similarly equipped.

I can't complain about not having AC growing up, but I think, maybe just a little, I'm still sort of peeved that my parents put AC in just as soon as I moved out. In fact, I think it was the very next afternoon. But I digress.


Air conditioning costs money to operate -- and this year will be particularly expensive because the electric company has raised its rates.

It raised its rates because its supplier is charging so much more. And the supplier? Well, the supplier is a sister company of the utility. But don't worry -- there was a competitive bidding process.


Anyway, aside from the cost, there's also the wimp factor: Even my pampered offspring ought to be able to handle one warm afternoon and night every now and again. Granted, when the 90º days start backing up, one after the other, I'll be the first to throw the switch and take my chances about paying the bill. But for just one or two 85º days?

If the den is too warm in which to watch ESPN for six hours at a stretch, couldn't the kids maybe go to another part of the house and, say, read a book?

I guess I really am a radical kook after all.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A smart blonde joke

Another one making the rounds in the email:

A lawyer and a blonde woman are sitting next to each other on a long flight. The lawyer asks if she would like to play a fun game.

The blonde is tired and just wants to take a nap, so she politely declines and tries to catch a few winks.

But the lawyer persists, insisting that the game is a lot of fun. "I ask you a question," he tells her, "and if you don't know the answer, you pay me $5. But then you get to ask me one, and if I don't know the answer, I'll pay you $500."

This catches the blonde's attention. To keep him quiet, she agrees to play the game.

The lawyer asks the first question: "What's the distance from the Earth to the Moon?"

The blonde doesn't say a word. She just reaches in to her purse, pulls out a five-dollar bill, and hands it to the lawyer.

Now it's the blonde's turn: She asks the lawyer, "What goes up a hill with three legs, and comes down with four?"

The lawyer uses his laptop, searches all references. He uses the Airphone; he searches the Net and even the Library of Congress. He sends e-mails to all the smart friends he knows, all to no avail.

After one hour of searching he finally gives up. He wakes up the blonde and hands her $500. The blonde takes the $500 and goes back to sleep.

The lawyer is going nuts not knowing the answer. He wakes her up and asks, "Well, so what does go up a hill with three legs and comes down with four?"

The blonde reaches into her purse, hands the lawyer $5 and goes back to sleep.


I know this is intruding on your territory, Bee, but it had a lawyer in it too... and I need the laugh today.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Help! Blogger is screwing up again!

Blogger recently announced the addition of an "Autosave" feature. Here's what it says on the Dashboard now:
As you work on a new or draft post in the Blogger post editor, the page will periodically send a copy of the text, title, labels, etc. to our servers. We do this about once a minute, unless you type a lot, in which case we'll save as soon as you stop typing, just to be on the safe side. You'll know it's happening because the "Save Now" button at the bottom of the page will turn into a gray "Saved" button.

We'll autosave new posts (they'll become drafts) as well as draft posts that you edit. We won't autosave posts that are currently published, since you don't want your readers to see your updates while you're working on them.
It would be so wonderful if only it were true!

I just lost a long post on my 'other' blog -- I was minutes away from completing what had been an hours-long project.

Yes, I did something stupid. I can't remember the ASCII code (ALT + nnn) for the character "§" -- the legal abbreviation for "section" as, in the case of the article on which I was working, a section of a statute.

So I compensated. I put it on the clipboard. I just had to hit CTRL-v and insert the "§" character into my text.

But I'm a WordPerfect guy. To get "§" on WordPerfect, I hit CTRL-w, 4, 6. I'm really used to hitting CTRL-w when I'm reaching for special characters.

But -- and here's a warning -- hitting CTRL-w while you are creating a new post in Blogger closes out your screen.

Ah! you say. That is precisely the sort of numbskull move that Blogger is trying to protect you against with the Autosave feature.

And, admittedly, the first time I made this error this morning my post was recovered with only the last sentence I had just typed not included.

But, a half hour ago, I did it again.

And now the post is gone. GONE. And who knows where it went? Not I, certainly. And, after messing around with entirely ineffective help screens before beginning this screed -- finding only laments from fellow users who have been similarly victimized without the ghost of a clue from Blogger as to how to undo the damage new Autosave has done -- I can only conclude that Blogger has no clue either.

I am just a tad peeved at the moment. Just a tad.

I am open for suggestions: Anyone know how to fix this? Does anyone know how to turn off this dangerous Autosave?

Monday, May 21, 2007

The never ending dinner

Oldest Son graduated Sunday from the University of Our Lady of the Lake in South Bend, Indiana. It was a grand occasion and there might be any number of stories to tell -- but let's just focus on dinner Saturday night.

Just as generals are always preparing for the last war, parents are always preparing for the last event: We'd had such difficulties getting Oldest Son to tell us what he wanted to do for Junior Parents Weekend last year that we missed out on the class dinner and all the other formally scheduled events.

So when the school sent us a list of (and an invitation to buy tickets for) each of the Graduation Weekend festivities, I did not wait for Oldest Son to tell us what he wanted to do: I told Long Suffering Spouse to book everything. Especially the dinner. We weren't going to watch our kid mope again while all his friends were together at the class dinner.

And, of course, we suffered the fate of all generals who prepare for the last war: After we had bought all the tickets, Oldest Son advised us that he and a group of friends had decided to bypass the class dinner and have dinner together as a group. They had scouted restaurants and booked one, where we would be given our own private tent for the occasion.

(Oldest Son turned in the school dinner tickets; we'll get a partial refund on that. Eventually. We hope.)

So we arrived in South Bend for the famous dinner. The restaurant and adjacent tent were in Mishawaka. I will call the place Luigi's because that is not the actual name of the establishment. If there is a Luigi's in Mishawaka -- and I sincerely don't know -- I am not talking about it.

(I trust that clears up any potential libel issues. And I must stress, in telling this tale, that I appreciate that Oldest Son and his friends had a truly nice thought in trying to set this up. They meant well. It's just... well, let me explain....)

Luigi's was situated in a converted house right off one of the main roads in town.

And the joint was packed. They had other graduation parties from Oldest Son's college at the restaurant that night -- and a prom. But they did have a rather well-used tent set up in their parking lot, out behind the place. And there were two men in the alley pointing people to places where they might possibly find a place to park.

We got a space in an abandoned gas station, right outside an open door leading to what had been the gas station's bathroom at one time. This particular setting has undoubtedly used in any number of horror movies over the years; I had no idea that Northern Indiana had such an active film industry.

We did however manage to get back to Luigi's without being accosted by any mutants.

There were roughly 50 people in the party that Oldest Son and his friends had put together. And when we got there, there was a nice young man in a goatee, wearing a black shirt and black pants, tending bar. When I placed an order for Long Suffering Spouse and myself, I noticed the bartender just marking a couple hash marks on a notepad. "We're running a tab?" I asked. We were, he said. "We're running one tab?" We were, he said.

I reported this to Oldest Son... who was confused. "Each family is supposed to have its own tab," he said. I told him to work it out with his friends and the bartender. Eventually they decided that everything would be done by table... and ordered from each table... which was fine except the bartender was the only server. For 50 people. And Luigi's didn't plan on having anyone else take meal orders either.

And have I mentioned that this was the bartender's first day working at the place?

Older Daughter planned to drive up from Indianapolis Saturday evening and catch up with us wherever we might be. We'd been at Luigi's for over an hour when she called to tell us that she was 80 miles out of South Bend. Fine, I told her. When you get into town, call again and we'll let you know where we are.

And she did.

And can you guess where we were when she called?

Yes, we were still at Luigi's. We had yet to order dinner.

Older Daughter got lost trying to find the restaurant. Oldest Son had to take the phone and provide turn by turn directions. Younger Daughter met Older Daughter in the alley and guided her to our haunted parking space.

And Older Daughter was in time to order dinner with the rest of us.

We couldn't get a basket of bread. Or a pitcher of water. And no round of drinks ever came in the same sized (or shaped) glass... because they were running out inside.

It is just possible our bartender was the dishwasher, too.

I do not think this was a ploy to build up the bar tab: First of all, we might all have been passed out if we continued to drink while waiting... and waiting... and waiting for dinner. That is, we might have, if the young bartender could have provided drinks more than once every 90 minutes.

I was ready to eat the tablecloth by the time my dinner was served. I got what I ordered; about half our party did not. Some tried sending theirs back. Some ate anything that was provided. Some private trades took place. And we ate at least an hour earlier at our table than some of the unfortunates at adjacent tables.

But then... finally... when everyone had gotten something, all the graduates got together for pictures and one spoke on behalf of his fellows to the assembled group.

He thanked us all for coming, of course, and recited all of the typical sorts of pleasantries that are customary on occasions of this sort. But he concluded by saying, "Some of us have jobs already and some of us don't and none of us have gotten a paycheck yet. So while we love you from the bottom of our hearts, we're all at the bottom of our wallets."

We parents were expected to pay for this evening... and night... and early morning (or so it seemed to me by this time) at Luigi's. (I really wasn't surprised by this; I rather expected it -- and I thought the kid who broke the news to us did so memorably.)

But we did not order dessert.

And the bill? We had two families at our table; we split the amount between us. My share was only a little more than what I had already spent on the dinner that the college had provided that evening. A dinner which had ended hours and hours before. It did not come close to describing what was consumed at our table -- the entrees were mixed up entirely and the drink orders were worse. But our will to quibble had long since evaporated. We paid. And fled.


Middle Son was not with us at dinner. He had stayed behind in Chicago with Youngest Son. Youngest Son had a baseball game that started at 5:00 pm Chicago time. The game went into extra innings -- 11 instead of the usual seven that are supposed to be played at that level. There was some question whether the game would end before it became too dark to play.

But it finally did end, somewhere around 8:00 pm Chicago time. That's 9:00 pm in South Bend. Middle Son and his brother left from the park... and were in South Bend before we left Luigi's....

Friday, May 18, 2007

Calm before the Crosstown Classic storm

A hush is settling over Chicago as Friday afternoon begins. In just about an hour, the Cubs will jog out to their positions at venerable Wrigley Field and the White Sox will step to the plate.

It's the Crosstown Classic, Game 1 of 6. Three at Wrigley this weekend. Three more at the Shrine on 35th Street June 22-24.

There are no neutrals in these games. Let out-of-towners believe what they want: You can't be a fan of both ballclubs in Chicago.

We may have been united last night, hoping the Bulls might beat the Pistons. And we'll be united again when the Bears are playing and the Cubs and Sox aren't. And most of us who were friends yesterday will be friends again on Monday.

Well, maybe Tuesday.

What will be the memorable image from this year's series?

Last year, Cub catcher Michael Barrett clobbered Sox catcher and enfant terrible A.J. Pierzynski after Pierzynski scored a run, running through Barrett in the process. Barrett had a good reputation prior to this incident... but A.J. can get under almost anyone's skin.

As Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said about Pierzynski: If he's on the other team, you really hate him... if he's on your own team, you hate him a little less.

Oh, it's going to be a fun weekend in Chicago. Go Sox.

A 'wordy' post -- but a short one?

I saw this post by Linda, of Are We There Yet?, and I followed one of the links to a blog called Pretty Good on Paper by Cavebloggem.

Linda had submitted her blog to Cavebloggem's analysis of the words she's used in her blog; Cavebloggem is conducting something of a study to find out how many words are actually in use in the Blogosphere. (Other than George Carlin's seven words you can't say on television, I assume. I don't need to do research to find that these are in frequent use in the Blogosphere.)

Linda was the 18th in a series of blogs at which Cavebloggem has looked, and even though he's looked at so many, he found that Linda contributed 630 unique words to his growing database. I was so intrigued, I volunteered to submit this blog to the process... and I'm hoping to have his analysis to share with you some time in the next couple of weeks.

A milestone of sorts

According to Sitemeter, this past Wednesday evening, around 7:20 pm, someone clicked into this blog from Ronkonkoma, New York -- say that with me now: Ron-kon-kom-a? Ron-kon-ko-ma? -- and became my 12,000th visitor.

That's a lot of people who've come by -- and it would be even better if more of them had stayed.... but I'm very grateful to those of you who do come by regularly. Thank you.

I haven't obsessed over my Sitemeter lately; I went through something of a phase, starting with this January post and ending with this early February post during which I analyzed, scrutinized, hypothesized, and anguished over Sitemeter statistics and referrals to the point where Empress Bee warned me to stop, lest I go blind. And I'm not starting up again, I promise.

But Sitemeter has just gone through a face-lift and Second Effort just crossed the 12,000 visitor barrier, so I thought I'd look again and see how people are arriving at this blog.

Sitemeter says that 76% of my page viewers are from the United States; that's up from 71% in February.

But you may have noticed the "Who Links to Me" button in my sidebar. I'm not sure where I stole borrowed the idea to install that from. I've borrowed a lot of promotional ideas from Skittles' Place over time, but I think this particular button idea came from Star8278.

Anyway, clicking on this "Who Links to Me" button leads, eventually, to a menu of links to this blog including "Alexa Traffic Details." I've seen Alexa boxes on a number of blogs I visit regularly -- and when I click to get the details for my blog I find this: users come from these countries:

So, do 76% of my visitors come from the United States -- or 6.7%?

Perhaps it is best not to put too much stock into these figures?

Anyway, according to Sitemeter, my 12,000th visitor clicked on a Google image of the Jack Higgins cartoon I used to accompany this post from August 2006 about airport and courthouse security, at a time when I was thrilled to get even one comment to a post. (And thank you for it, Captain Picard.)

But the current number one traffic producer for my site, according to Sitemeter, is this post -- a You Tube video of the "Potter Puppet Pals." It's a cute video, but its available in lots of places. Why should people come here to look at it? All I can figure is that, as the publication date of the final installment in the Harry Potter series approaches, people are getting anxious to find out if it all ends happily.

Unfortunately, Ms. Rowling has not seen fit to take me into her confidence; I can provide no insight.

Maybe I'll become privy to that sort of cool inside information when I reach the 100,000 visitor mark.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Straight dope about dope

The boy and his father rode together up the dorm elevator. The boy was moving in for the semester; his father was lending a hand. They were not alone; another young man got off at a lower floor.

The boy and his father noticed the odor as soon as the doors opened. When the doors closed, leaving the boy and his father alone, the father harrumphed: "Marijuana."

The boy regarded his father with surprise. He'd always seen his father as the straightest of straight arrows. How could he possibly know what marijuana smelled like?

He eventually found the courage to ask.

The father harrumphed again. "You kids today think you invented everything. If you haven't done it, it's never been done before.

"People smoked marijuana when I was a kid, too, you know. Especially musicians. Gene Krupa went to jail for possession of marijuana in 1943. It nearly ruined his career" --

Gene Krupa?

Oh. You thought I was the father in that story? Sorry. I was the son.

Gene Krupa was a drummer and bandleader in the Big Band Era. He had the drum solo on "Sing Sing Sing" at the 1938 Benny Goodman concert at Carnegie Hall that seemed to go on... and on... forever. I listened to the concert recording a lot as a kid.

(And that record was made an entire generation before In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.)

So my father was right: Our generation hadn't invented anything new. The Baby Boomers may have expanded the covert pharmacopoeia a bit, but that's all. Louis Armstrong had smoked pot. Bing Crosby smoked pot.

(Kids in the 1970's didn't think of Louis Armstrong or der Bingle as particularly cool. These were artists our parents enjoyed... and so, by association, they were necessarily uncool. A lot of us grew out of this.)

And if we had thought about it at all, we might have realized that old movies that we laughed at in late night campus showings, like "Reefer Madness", were made because kids were smoking marijuana even way back when.

I've written before about my very limited experience with marijuana: Essentially, I had no use for it. For me it was a logical proposition: Getting caught with dope could get me into serious trouble -- even then -- but drinking beer, awful as it tastes, was entirely legal. (The drinking age was then 19 in Illinois. And even that was winked at. Then.)

I wonder, though, if this incident with my father might not also have colored my attitude toward dope: Pretty hard to be cool and rebellious merely by aping your father now, isn't it?

We put our kids through all sorts of anti-drug indoctrination today: D.A.R.E. programs and Red Ribbon Weeks and so on. And the kids look at almost any movie or TV show from the late 60's or 70's and conclude that either we're all a bunch of lying hypocrites or that we (their parents) were really the hopelessly dorky kids who never heard of the stuff -- leaving them free, in their imagination, to discover drugs for themselves.

Well, I haven't been that easy on my kids: I haven't sugar-coated my own exposure to drugs. I haven't denied that I drank in college. I won't be a hypocrite (although I do reserve the right to keep some details to myself -- at least until they've safely navigated the shoals of adolescence and post-adolescence).

I've told my kids the have rules changed since I was their age -- the rules are harsher now. The consequences are more onerous. In Illinois, for example, there's a zero tolerance statute for underage drinking and driving: A driver under 21 who is stopped for any traffic offense while driving with any liquor in the driver's system -- even less than the .08 legal limit for adults -- will lose his or her driver's license. There aren't many loopholes. See, 625 ILCS 5/11-501.8.

I tell my kids I didn't make up these rules. Nor can I do anything about the new, harsh rules: They'd better just follow the rules.

Besides: Clamping down on drinking and driving makes sense. Some of us drank and drove... but we got lucky. But this isn't what persuades the kids. So I keep this mostly to myself.

A really Happy Meal -- or -- If the customers get the McMunchies, maybe they'll order more burgers

*Waving hands -- jumping up and down* What follows is an attempt at humor. Having said this you will (naturally) be predisposed to find it unfunny. But I don't want to get sued by any major McCorporation....

The Chicago Tribune ran an AP story yesterday about the arrest of "a 17-year-old fast food employee" in Ottawa, Illinois, a town about 80 miles southwest of Chicago.

It seems the young man in question hid "a lighter, pipe, and bag of marijuana" in a Happy Meal box. But he didn't stash his stash: He must have left it out in the open. A customer of the McRestaurant in question ordered dinner for himself and this three children -- and his 8-year-old daughter received the Happy Happy Meal instead of the burger she'd requested.

Dad confiscated the box and its contents and went to the police. And *stressing the point here with emphatic hand gestures* the AP story makes abundantly clear that the restaurant in question "cooperated with the investigation that led to the arrest."

Still... competition in the fast food industry is pretty fierce... and the national chains are jockeying for market share any way they can. I mean you can only get so much positive PR about offering "salads" or "wraps." At some point, you gotta boost the burger sales, right?

I remember the kids insisting on eating terrible fast food just to get their sticky little fingers on the plastic movie-tie-in toy enclosed therewith. What would a slightly older crowd do if word got out that there might be a Happy Hash Pipe enclosed with every 100th meal? And, if word got around, where would these sorts of people go when they were overtaken by the munchies? All the chains are advertising late night drive-throughs these days....

I'd name a couple of places whose business would probably be severely hurt by such a McMarketingMove... but, then, I'd just get into trouble with more corporations, wouldn't I?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Tagged by Skittles... talkin' 'bout stacks of golden wax

Barb from Skittles' Place has tagged me with a music meme. Barb, in turn, was tagged by Danielle of Modern Musings; it was from Danielle that I copied these rules:

1. Go to Pop Culture Madness;
2. Pick the year you turned 18;
3. Get yourself nostalgic over the songs of the year;
4. Write something about how the songs affected you; and
5. Pass it on to 5 more friends.

I usually cringe at memes... but I have a soft spot for the pop music of my misspent youth. Who doesn't? One of the more popular posts I've done here recently was a 'no prize contest' to name the worst song of the 1970's.

The hardest part is picking the year I turned 18.... Let's see... I'm still 23 years old... but I graduated from high school in 1974....

I spent a lot of time in one car or another that year (even though the price of gasoline had soared to an unprecedented 60 cents a gallon), punching the buttons between WLS and WCFL -- two 50,000 watt, Top 40, AM powerhouses broadcasting limited playlists and acne commercials in heavy rotation throughout the entire Midwest.

In 1974 I was still going into the record store in town -- not a national chain, just a locally owned record store, right next door to the used book store where I also spent a lot of time. I'd go from one to the other on my lunch break from the jewelry store (I was the mail clerk and delivery boy) picking up copies of the Top 40 surveys from both stations and sometimes a 45 or two at the record store and maybe a National Geographic from the 1920's at the bookstore. The used magazine would cost a dime; the 45's were also under a dollar. I remember being proud, some weeks, that so many of the top 40 45's were in my collection.

I can't recall exactly when I started buying actual albums, but it was around this time: I'd have to choose carefully. Did this album have "enough" on it to justify the $4 or so I'd have to spend at E.J. Korvette's? (Albums cost too much to buy them at the local store.)

I started at the jewelry store for $1.65 an hour. I got a raise, on merit thank you, to $1.75 -- and then the minimum wage went up to $2 and the owners told me they'd have to cut back my hours. I don't think they did.

In 1974, I'd go to work after school. Friday was the late night; I think we were open until 9:00, but it may only have been 8:00 pm. Either way, I had to have dinner -- and I'd get an Italian sausage and beef combo sandwich at "Papa Disease" across the street (no, that wasn't the real name, but it was what we called it) and for 10 cents more I'd get a "dip" -- a sandwich roll dipped in the beef juice. I was still a growing boy.

And I needed the extra energy to make it the block or so to the deli where I could get a quarter-pound of fried clams. And another sandwich.

As delivery boy, I took packages all over the area. Most of these were bridal gifts; I was working at jewelry store, yes, but we had a good line of china, silver, silverplate, and giftware (like Lladro figurines). Local brides-to-be registered at Marshall Field's, of course, but they had to register at our store, too. And I got to drive the bosses' cars. Mr. Jeweler had a station wagon -- yes, with 'wood' on the sides -- which was very practical for deliveries. I once did $389.10 in damage to that car, not that it still bothers me or anything to this very day... but that's a story for a different time. Mrs. Jeweler had an enormous black Buick. You could land a small airplane on the hood. And I cranked up the volume every time I got behind the wheel of either car.

Because these were fancy cars, though, they didn't have manual transmissions. When "Radar Love" came on the radio, even at half past four, I couldn't shift gears. Far better, then, to be in my parents' Maverick with the three-on-a-tree transmission. You needed some kind of imagination to think you were power driving while shifting from second to third in a Ford Maverick... but in 1974 I had just the right kind.

So I would have taken that year... but Barb did. So I'll settle for 1975, a year in which I may in fact have turned 18.....


Here's the 1975 Top 10 from Pop Culture Madness:

1. Get Down Tonight - KC & The Sunshine Band
2. Thank God I'm A Country Boy - John Denver
3. That's the Way (I Like It) - K.C. and the Sunshine Band
4. Cut The Cake - Average White Band (AWB)
5. Lady Marmalade - Patti LaBelle
6. Jive Talkin' - Bee Gees
7. You're The First, The Last, My Everything - Barry White
8. Shining Star - Earth Wind And Fire
9. Some Kind of Wonderful - Grand Funk
10. Send In The Clowns - Judy Collins

Here's the Top 10 according to the WLS Big 89 of 1975:

1. LOVE WILL KEEP US TOGETHER-Captain & Tennille
4. MANDY-Barry Manilow
7. ISLAND GIRL-Elton John
8. BLACK WATER-Doobie Brothers
9. BAD BLOOD-Neil Sedaka w/Elton John

"Get Down Tonight" made it only to No. 16 on the WLS year-end chart. "Thank God I'm A Country Boy" -- a favorite of mine, I must confess, even though I'm not -- made it only to No. 77. "That's the Way I Like It" (uh huh, uh huh) was only No. 20 on the Big 89.

And just to complicate matters further, here's the list of WCFL Top Hits from 1975 (click to enlarge):

The differences among the charts are fascinating. Still, I recognize most of the songs on all the charts... but not all. Something called "Mr. Jaws" by Dickie Goodman held down the No. 13 spot on the Big 89 in 1975. I can't recall ever hearing that. Have you? There are a few others as well.

And my eyesight isn't what it used to be, but I can't find either "Love Will Keep Us Together" or Elton John's "Pinball Wizard" on the Pop Culture Madness chart anywhere. WCFL had "Love Will Keep Us Together" as No. 1 in 1975 also, but "Pinball Wizard" is nowhere to be found. "Have You Never Been Mellow" isn't on the Pop Culture Madness chart either... although Pop Culture Madness advises that this song by Olivia Newton John held down the No. 1 position on the Billboard chart between March 8 and March 14.

"Amie" by Pure Prairie League -- a song that I still sing along with, badly, every single time I hear it -- was only No. 43 on the Pop Culture Madness chart. I can't find it at all on the Big 89 or on the chart from Super 'CFL. But it was in extremely heavy rotation on the juke box at places I hung out in 1975, '76, and '77. And I went to college in Chicago, too.

I could go on like this for days... but I really have to get some work done. So I'll tag SQT, Sari, Susan, Claire (although she's got so many memes backed up now I don't know when she can get to it), and Chris.

Yes, there's a theme to my selections and, no, it's not (intentionally) picking on anyone: All of these people would move the music selections out of the 70's and into what is for me largely terra incognita. I will be interested to see if I recognize anything they come up with....

Monday, May 14, 2007

Paddy O'Dolphin speaks the brogue for all the nice scientists gathered in the cow shed

An AFP story posted this afternoon on Yahoo! News caught my eye with the headline, "Irish dolphins could have their own brogue: scientists."

Sure, now, you don't say so?

Apparently scientists do say so, according to research conducted by the Shannon Dolphin and Wildlife Foundation, which "has been studying a group of up to 120 bottle-nose dolphins in the River Shannon using vocalisations collected on a computer in a cow shed near Carrigaholt, County Clare."

Only in a story about Ireland would we learn that the computer was kept in a cow shed. I'm lapsing into St. Patrick's Day mode just reading over that sentence. You are fortunate indeed that I've never had either the inclination or ability to make an audio post.

No word yet on whether German dolphins, if any exist, would swim only in straight lines and always in single file order.

A graduation-themed joke to start off a mid-May Monday

Yes, this is an old joke... but, then, so am I.

No, wait, that didn't come out right....

The old man lived by himself far up in the hills. His only son had moved away years ago, cross country, to some fancy college. He sent letters home, as a dutiful son would, never realizing that his father had never learned to read them.

The old man was proud. Nobody knew he had no formal learning.

But the pile of letters grew and so did his curiosity. One day the old man went to see his preacher and, after swearing him to secrecy, asked the preacher to read him the boy's letters.

And the preacher did, in order, starting with the oldest first. In the letters the son proudly reported how he'd worked hard and gotten his B.S., M.S., and finally a Ph.D.

The old man listened in silence until the last letter was read. Then he said, "Preacher, I know he's trying to sell me on this being a good thing, but I don't see it. Everybody knows what B.S. is -- I imagine M.S. just means more of the same. And Ph.D.? What can that mean but 'Pile it Higher and Deeper'?"

Friday, May 11, 2007

Billboard boosts lawyers' business -- but at what cost?

You may have to squint a little to read this. Sorry.

This billboard recently was put up in Chicago in the Rush Street area, the so-called "Viagra Triangle," on behalf of a couple of Chicago lawyers. I saw one of the lawyers interviewed on TV; she's an attractive blonde. And she said the sign was generating business.

(The sign was shortly thereafter taken down because, after the story broke, the local alderman said the billboard company did not have the proper permit for display.)

Defenders of the sign have argued (correctly, in my opinion) that a message on a billboard, even one promoted by a scantily clad model, is not going to break up a happy marriage. But -- really -- I can't help but think that people heap enough scorn on us lawyers without stuff like this.

Maybe I'm just oversensitive.

And maybe divorce lawyers need to advertise. A story on AOL today says that the American divorce rate is at its lowest since 1970. It's a long article with many sidebars. A number of reasons are given for the decline in the divorce rate, but two stood out for me. One -- a positive -- people are marrying a little later in life now. So today's newlyweds are, just possibly, a tad more mature.

But the other? Cohabitation rates have soared. More and more young people are living together without benefit of clergy -- and without the real benefits of divorce laws.

It's all rainbows and lollipops when you start "shacking up" -- but what happens if things turn sour? If both parties have contributed to the mortgage... but only one is in title? If children become involved?

Divorce may not be a good thing, but it is sometimes necessary. And divorce laws may not be perfect, but they're better than nothing. And nothing is what you may get when your unmarried partner flees. Or locks you out. It could take years to recover from such a blow.

Which gives me an idea for my own billboard: Life's short. Get married.

A bill collection story... with a twist

From time to time I know I have whined about money. And complained. And sometimes I have whimpered and sometimes I have shouted.

But today I have a new one. Honest.

Every month West Publishing (or Thomson West as they're calling themselves these days) sends me two bills, one for legal research (Westlaw) and another for a web site that supposedly drives business to me (Findlaw). I have no use for the web site -- I only wanted it so people looking for me specifically could find me during the transition from the old to new Undisclosed Locations -- but Westlaw is useful. And expensive. These two bills add up, every month, to more than what I pay in rent.

(Aside to Shelby and any other law students who come by from time to time: You get to use Westlaw free while you're in school. It's like drug pushers giving away samples on the school playground: They count on you to become addicted. And when you're out of school -- wham! -- they can charge you pretty near whatever they want. And they do. And, what's worse, you almost can't practice without Westlaw access in your field.)

It's no secret that things have been slow around here: When I work, I sometimes don't make money. But when I don't work I definitely don't earn money... and I've lost considerable time from work because of my health this year. So the fact is I fell behind on my payments to West -- a couple of months behind, in fact, before I sent in the February and March payments during April.

It's May 11 now and the April payments (due at the end of April, you understand) haven't yet been sent. They're late... not very late... but late.

But West must be getting nervous about me: Yesterday I received a dunning notice on the fax.

It mentioned the overdue April Findlaw and Westlaw payments, as you might expect.

It also mentioned the May payments... which aren't yet due.

In fact, I just got the May Westlaw bill today.

That's right: I got a collection notice about a bill that was not only not late, it was not yet received.

Panic in Boston over publicity stunt: A follow up

This is a picture of one of the "devices" that shut down Boston on January 31. Remember? Here's a picture of a Massachusetts state policeman removing one:

The story is in the news again because, according to an AP story by Denise Lavoie, posted late this morning on Yahoo! News, criminal charges were dropped today against Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens, the individuals who planted the Boston "devices."

That's Berdovsky on the left and Stevens on the right at their court appearance today.

Ms. Lavoie reports that prosecutors agreed to drop pending criminal charges against these men after they offered contrite apologies in court. In addition, Berdovsky performed 80 hours of community service and Stevens performed another 60.

"Devices" like that pictured at the top of this post were "planted" in Boston and nine other cities around the U.S., according to Lavoie's story, but only in Boston were bomb squads "deployed, and highways, bridges and some transit stations... temporarily closed" because of "fears of terrorism."

According to the Trivia page of the IMDb entry for the "Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie" (that being the epic that Messrs. Berdovsky and Stevens were endeavoring to promote), Turner Broadcasting, the parent company of Cartoon Network (on which the "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" cartoon is shown) and "Interference, Inc., the marketing company that created the campaign, reached a settlement with city and state officials to resolve" their own civil or criminal exposure. "The companies agreed to pay $1 million dollars to the Boston police department, and $1 million to fund homeland security. Jim Samples, the head of Cartoon Network, resigned his position as a result."

However, neither today's news story nor the IMDb entry reports the status of the charges that surely must have been brought against the public officials that were so dim as to confuse a lighted stick figure with a terrorist bomb.

I'll bet you can guess why.

And, if I'm wrong, please, please, please set me straight: Did anyone in Boston police or government circles lose so much as a day's pay for this unimaginable overreaction?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

They're coming!

Long Suffering Spouse ushered me over to the side of the house last night.

"Look there!" she commanded, and I did, increasingly apprehensive as I waited for whatever was lurking in the ground cover to rush out at me. I thought she'd found a mouse or a wounded bird... maybe even a snake. And I just knew I'd shriek and jump and make a fool of myself.

My posture alone was sufficient to convey to Long Suffering Spouse that I'd not seen what she lured me out of the house to see. "Look closer," she told me. I looked at the plants again and she corrected me: "No, on the ground."

I zeroed in now -- and then I saw a couple of distinct holes.

Not as many, yet, as these which a Chicago Tribune photographer found in a local forest preserve. But the shape and size... yes, they are almost here.

The 17-year cicadas: For 17 years they lie buried in the ground, emerging for not even 17 days, only to mate and die and make a great deal of noise in the process.

Seventeen years ago, at our old house, on the other side of the parish, there weren't too many of these beasties -- but we had our fill and then some when we ventured into nearby Park Ridge. Our next door neighbor told LSS that our current area was carpeted with the bugs last time out, so it may be quite spectacular soon.

The little kids from two doors down came over to see the holes with their mother. She told them each how old they'll be the next time the cicadas emerge.

LSS was just a little misty when we went in the house. "That's just what I told our kids the last time. And now...."

And now they really are that old, yes.

All except for Youngest Son, of course. He wasn't around for the last go-round. Somehow, though, even I understood that it would not be necessary to point this out.