Look! Up in the Sky...

Does this count as Mundane?

Um. Everybody duck!:

December 24 Update: 2004 MN4 is now being tracked very carefully by many astronmers [sic] around the world, and we continue to update our risk analysis for this object. Today's impact monitoring results indicate that the impact probability for April 13, 2029 has risen to about 1.6%, which for an object of this size corresponds to a rating of 4 on the ten-point Torino Scale. Nevertheless, the odds against impact are still high, about 60 to 1...

60 to 1? Where do I buy that lottery ticket?

Hugo Ruminations, Part I

A Convention Report

As noted before, the Brunette and I are signed up for The 63rd WorldCon. Not only does this mean that we get to return to Glasgow next summer, it also means that we get to nominate and vote for the Hugo awards. Now, if that's not exciting, I don't know what is.

Apparently, each convention is allowed to have an additional category on the ballot. Glasgow chose to have an award for Best Web Site. I suppose it would be cheeky to nominate my own humble site, especially since it has nothing whatsoever to do with science fiction, so I'll need to look around. Here are three that I'm considering nominating -- we get to nominate up to five:

Mundane SF

It's slightly possible that I've outgrown words like manifesto. The etching a line in the sand image behind such words no longer stirs my blood. On the other hand, I've been drawn to this blog for the last little bit, trying to see how the young ones are doing these days.

The Mundanes promise

To produce a collection of mundance science fiction consisting of stories that follow these rules:

  • No interstellar travel -- travel is limited to within the solar system and is difficult, time consuming and expensive
  • No aliens unless the connection is distant, difficult, tenuous and expensive -- and they have no interstellar travel either
  • No Martians, Venusians, etc.
  • No alternative universes or parallel worlds
  • No magic or supernatural elements
  • No time travel or teleportation
  • Not to let Mundanity cramp their style if they want to write like Edgar Rice Burroughs as well.

Ah, youth. Certainly, in a time that brings us bloated works like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, it's nice to see someone trying to think about discipline. Any kind of discipline. Perhaps they were thinking of a similar cinema manifesto? At any rate, it's good to see they're not toooooooooo obsessed with adherence, as the last line of the manifesto shows:

To burn this manifesto as soon as it gets boring.

Today in Alternate History

A site that will surely not land on the Mundane list, Today in Alternate History is a weird ride. That's about all I have to say about that.

Neil Gaiman's Blog

It looks like all my sites so far are blogs. Now, Neil Gaiman's web site is a full web site, but his blog is what draws me. I'm not sure that I've ventured anywhere else on his site. Mr. Gaiman has got to be the most accessible of our living writers.

Of course, our dead writers aren't very accessible at all.

I don't mean that his writing is accessible, though 'tis; I mean that Neil Gaiman faithfully updates his blog -- when he's not too buried by work and sometimes even when he is -- and maintains a public conversation with his fans and other passers-by. I take this as a sign that the man has some compulsive disorder that forces him to write at any opportunity. Before the internet, he'd have been that man in the ink-splattered overcoat, trailing bits of paper and unanswered post cards everywhere he went.

Or maybe not.

At any rate, I visit his blog nearly every day -- when I'm not too buried by work and sometimes even when I am.

Comments and other suggestions are welcome! Balloting will close in March.

Oh, geez, and I haven't mentioned that the exchange rate for the tickets was $1.94 to the pound. Oi.

The Grass is Singing (Doris Lessing)

The arrival of the golden triangles broke my concentration. I had pretty much come to the conclusion that all of my favorite restaurants have vowel-ending names. My stomach had been rumbling pretty loudly as I scrolled through my favorite eateries in my mind. These golden triangles -- samosa filling inside egg roll wrapping folded like a flag -- are an addiction from Mandalay. Bambule, Udupi, Fado, and Costa Elegre all end in vowels, too. I was trying to decide whether Siri's truly matched the hypothetical pattern when the delicious appetizer arrived.

Sadly, the golden triangles were accompanied by my imaginary friend Bertie.

"Wow, this place is twice as big as it was in College Park," Bertie said and dipped a triangle into the orange-colored sauce. Mandalay originated in College Park, but were forced to new digs in Silver Spring because of, well, simple gross stupidity on the part of College Park's leadership.

"And it still fills up," I said and moved the plate closer to myself.

"Look, I need your help," Bertie said after he had made a second triangle disappear. I merely raised my eyebrows. "Yeah, see, I've got this radio gig to review a book."

"Oh?" I said, more surprised by this than by anything he has ever said. "What book?"

"The Grass is Singing, by Doris Lessing," he said.

I pulled the orange-colored sauce away from him, too, and asked, "What are you going to say about it?"

"I was thinking of starting like this: 'In a fit of drug-induced psychedelia not seen since that Naked Lunch guy and Hunter Thompson shared a trunk in Del Rio, Ms. Lessing presents the inner barkings of people we just cannot understand.' But I have changed my mind."

"Ah," was all I could summon up.

"Now, I think I'll go with the science fiction angle," he said. No matter how often I vow to myself not to play along, he just says things that leave me not choice but to respond.

"SF angle?" I ask, squeakily.

"Yeah, I'll go, 'This is a nice attempt at humanity's inability to feel at home in an alien landscape, what with the grass singing all night long and all. But in the end this is merely a pale imitation of The Songs of Distant Earth."

While I stared at him (mouth open, no doubt) trying to figure out where to begin, he snatched my last golden triangle.

"So, you, uh, need me to, what? Maybe tell you that The Grass is Singing cannot be an imitation because it came out 36 years before Clarke's book?" I sputtered. "Or is it that you need to be told that it can't be an imitation because IT ISN'T EVEN SCIENCE FICTION? Or, perhaps, just maybe, you need my help in understanding that The Grass is Singing was actually a brave work about race relations and colonialism written in the '50s by a colonial white woman?" I paused for breath. "Did you even glance at the book?"

"Of course not," he said, seeming somewhat surprised that I might ask. "My shtick is going to be that I'm reviewing books by the title alone. It works much better if I haven't read the book."

I shook my head, which was pretty difficult because I was also trying to hold it firmly with both my hands. "So, what is that you need me for?"

"A ride," he said. "Can you give me a lift to the station tomorrow?"

"Uh, I guess," I muttered. Why can't I get a gig at a radio station?

"Great," he said. "I've been thinking about one of your favorite restaurants. Why don't you pick me up there?"

"Which one is that?" I asked.

"Moby Dick," he said, then left me alone with my broken restaurant taxonomy. Darn those kabobs, anyway.

Filed under:

Um. No, No You're Not

Come In, We're OpenMy original plan was to ride from the implosion to Reiter's Scientific and Professional Bookstore on K street. This is the area called the Golden Triangle, which is neither the same Golden Triangle as is in Greenbelt nor the home of the delicious little appetizer you can get at Mandalay Restaurant and Cafe. Reiter's is a great geek book store. Unfortunately, it's not open until 9:30 on Saturday mornings. But, hey, no problem. I'll have no trouble finding somewhere to get a drink and read for the hour and a half until Reiter's opens. This is a major city, after all, and this particular neighborhood has banners proclaiming, "Come In, We're Open!"

Um. No, No you're not open.

At 8 am on Saturday, the Cosi on 19th Street is not open, though it seems to have a breakfast menu. I tried a Starbucks on K Street. It was not open, either. Some place called Java Green on 19th Street was not open. Nothing with seats seemed to be open until I found a Starbucks all the way at the end of the Golden Triangle at Washington Circle. It was open.

I did my shopping at Reiter's and rode my bike north through Rock Creek. The Golden Triangle had put me in the mood for Burmese food, so I decided that I'd finish my Christmas shopping at Borders and reward myself with noodle salad or basil chicken afterward.

Riding the Creek is much nicer on Saturday than on a workday. Parts of Beach Drive are closed to motor vehicles and the traffic in the rest of the park is lighter. It was a beautiful day, though it started off on the very, very cold side (Let's face it: it was 30°F (-1°C)). I was smart enough to layer and even remembered to remove a layer as I started to get overheated. What a good way to end my bicycle riding for 2004, I thought, with a sunny day and Mandalay!

I wandered through Borders, feeling guilty as always. I'd waited too long to order from an independent bookseller. But I piled up on stuff and made my purchases. Then, I walked my bike over to Mandalay for lunch. Did I mention how very much I'd been looking forward to eating at Mandalay?

Mandalay was closed.

A sign on the door proclaimed a gas leak caused the closure and the restaurant would open as soon as it was resolved. I even saw Aung sneaking out the side door and jumping into a van, probably running off to Majorca or something. So, I was stuck with a boring Indian buffet.

After lunch, I rode back to Greenbelt, a trip I had not made before. Once again, I find that bike route recommenders are more averse to traffic than to hills, and I rode along quiet roads with steep hills.

Oh, and remember this little piece of advice: a book store is just about the last place you want to go with a bicycle, especially if you've got a ten mile or so ride home. Books are heavy!



Took my bike on the Metro down to see the old DC Convention Center implosion this morning. It was not terribly dramatic -- it took all of 35 seconds or something -- but there was quite a party atmosphere and the rumble rumble rumble of the charges was something to hear/feel.

The crowd clapped, cheered and sang after the building collapsed, though the singing seemed to be more from protestors who were trying to catch the eyes of the cameras with handmade signs and songs about Mayor Williams' Christmas spirit. The crowd dispersed more quickly than the dust. <cough> <cough>

The first train out of Greenbelt on Saturdays is at 7, so I was nervous about the timing, but I got to the corner of 9th and Massachusetts just as the warning sound went off -- hence no "before" shot.

FW: Notes

You might remember my thumbdrive that survived a trip through the washer and dryer. It turns out that survived was too strong a word. The little tyke gave up the ghost yesterday. At least it had held on long enough for me to save my files...

The Brunette has wandered off to St. Louis for the weekend and I'm so melancholy I could eat an entire Cheesecake Factory cheesecake. And I'm not talking about the low-carb one, Bub. I'd follow that feat with a couple sacks of Little Tavern burgers and a gorge-fest at The Melting Pot. All that weight I lost over the last six months? Welcome home.

I've set my laptop's screensaver to randomly show my saved pictures. A good number of the two thousand pictures are from our two years in Scotland. It's mesmerizing. I'm never going to get anything done...

Isn't that Precious?

Isn't that Precious? Mom, not usually prone to syrup, sent us a new Nativity set. It's nice to have one that the cat can't damage, but it isn't clear which little guy is supposed to be Joseph.

Mary and Jesus, we've got figured.

News from Newport News

Actually, it's news from Norfolk, but close enough, eh?

It has been quiet here because I've been away to Norfolk for to do work and stuff. Therefore, and ipso facto, yadda yadda yadda: I've not been able to do my duty here. Ah,well. One must pay the bills and all, neh?

At any rate, we'll have a nice book tale tomorrow at the latest. So sit tight and stop staring at your brother or I'll stop this car right now, mister. Don't think I won't do it.

With Apologies to Real Poets Everywhere...

Sitting on Metro

I'm sitting on Metro
Nearing my stop
You stumble in and
On my bench plop

You're smelly and scuzzy
All unaware
Of the discomfort you're bringing
By sittin' in my chair

My station draws nearer
I'm most polite
"Excuse me...Excuse me...Excuse me"
I don't want to fight

But you cannot notice
You've blocked the world
I quietly object

Needs work, I guess.

Why did the Chicken...?

A Game Review

Maybe I'll replace this later with a little fiction like the restaurant and book tales, but for now, I'll just gush.

We spent the weekend playing games. We fell with maniacal glee into the Why Did the Chicken...? trap. Oh, you see it time and time again. Two innocent waifs wander into a coffeehouse where some local game company is demonstrating games. The waifs are drawn into a game and everyone seems to be having fun until fourteen hours have passed, two small forests have been cleared for paper production, and even the game designers shout, "For the sake of all that is holy and good, please stop playing this game and let us go home to our families and/or loved ones!"

Oh, and we did it to ourselves twice. We tried to sample the other fare available, but we ended both sessions late for another appointment because we just had to scribble one more little, itty-bitty punchline, even when we knew it wouldn't be funny enough.

Well, it would have been funny enough, if it was delivered in that evil voice.

Why Did the Chicken...? is a party game. The game flow is much like Apples to Apples. In each round, one player takes the role of questioner. Everyone else is a joke writer. The questioner draws a joke set up (like "What do you get when you cross blank with blank?" or "Why was blank envious of blank?") and two nouns to fill the blanks (like "airplane pilot" and "rutabaga"). The erstwhile Bob Hopes spend two minutes writing punchlines. When the time is up, the questioner sets up the joke and one of the players tries to sell each joke.

This is where the game can really take off. When the comic sells each joke, there is merriment galore. The questioner is given the unenviable task of picking the two funniest punchlines. I'd like to see the game played with less talented joke deliverers, though, to say whether this format will always succeed. Many of the winning punchlines were chosen more for presentation than content, but there was nothing wrong with that.

Like Apples to Apples, winning this game requires you to tailor to your audience (one table of players was full of pre-teens, so the word "poop" came up a lot in their punchlines). But this game is one step more advanced, requiring more depth and creativity. When the answers are random, it's generally because the player intended it to be random. On the other hand, a general feeling of goodwill and party atmosphere tends to liven up even the most tedious of groaners.

Highly recommended.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon), plus Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (Susanna Clarke)

There's a wooded circle near one of the playgrounds in our Co-op community. I must circumscribe the plot -- or at least an arc of it -- to walk from the town center to our home. I often stop to watch the frollicking squirrels and wonder how they can be so fat.

On this imaginary day, I notice that I'm not alone in observing the squirrels. That kid from down the street -- whose name refuses to stick -- sits on a bench with his wee friend Prasad. Both are staring intently at the rodents. They have their notebooks out and are carefully making entries at intervals. I wander over to inquire1 about their diligent work.

I look over their shoulders to peer at their writing, but it consists of sets of data and crossed out formulae.

I think it safest to steer clear of the formulae, so I say, "Gentlemen! Read any good books lately?"

I suppose I say this with a bit too much boom, because Prasad falls right off the bench. The squirrels disappear. Geoffrey looks up from his book.

I set my bag of groceries on the ground to give my fingers a rest.

"We are very much admiring The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," Prasad says, after he retrieves his notebook and straightens his tie.

"Ah, yes," I say. "I suppose it is safe to say we all wish we were a bit more like Adrian Mole."

"Autistic?" Jeff says, after a moment. There are always these strange pauses in our conversation, usually after I make a statement.

"I'm just saying," I reply, "that it would be nice to keep everyone from touching me. And if I could make people leave me alone simply by putting forehead to ground and groaning..."

The boys look skeptical.

"Actually," Jack says. "We thought you would have a particular empathy with his inability to properly interact socially --"

"Oh?" I say. "I must say I missed that bit. Why would I --"

"At any rate," interrupts Prasad, "We were thinking that it was nice to have a book with footnotes and an appendix with a mathematical proof --"

"Yeah," I say uncertainly. "Though sometimes -- in other books -- that footnote thing is a real problem."

"How is that?" Prasad asks before Joe can stop him.

"Well," I say. "for example, I found it difficult to know what to do with footnotes in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I mean, do you read all the text and go back to the footnotes later, or do you break the stream of narrative to read them?"

"We liked that book," says Prasad. "Though it isn't heavy with narrative drive."

"It's just heavy," says John. "She coulda used an editor."

"And then, if you do the latter," I go on, "what do you do with the bookmark?"

"Bookmark?" Jay asks.

"At least one of the footnotes was four pages long," I say. "If you leave a page midway through to follow a footnote that's four pages long, where do you put the bookmark if you decide to go to sleep in the middle of reading the footnote?"

They obviously had not considered this problem, because their little faces are filled with something that looks a lot like awe. As they sit trying worry their way through my little nugget of wisdom, I watch one of the squirrels return to playing in the trees. Three-quarters of his tail are missing, perhaps chomped by some stray coyote. We call him Nub-butt.

"Actually," Prasad finally says. "We're more interested in the study of magic presented as serious study, like history or science."

"Although we would like to have seen more magical interaction with the animal kingdom," Jeb adds.

"Oh," I say, surprised. "Animals. Pah. They're just dumb beasts. I couldn't believe a story with intelligent animals."

I would like to go further, but I notice a rustling at my feet. I reach down for my grocery bag, but Nub-butt pops out carrying my dried wasabi peas on his back. He runs off toward the trees. I follow as best I can, but he darts left and right so quickly, I have little luck in reacquiring my wasabi peas. Nub-butt is quicker than his girth suggests.

The two boys sit on the bench and solemnly record each of my movements.

1 Just as an aside, what is the difference between "inquire" and "enquire" anyway?


I tried to make a comment on dcist, but I was given the following cease and desist notice:

Your comment was denied for questionable content

In the interest of free speech, I'm going to let you be the judge. (If you have small kids, you might want to make them look the other way.

The non-fastfood versions (D&B, etc) don't count. They're just not the same. Krystal burgers are as good, but the closest seems to be in North Carolina.

Little Tavern still exists and sells burgers in Laurel and in Baltimore. The shops are not nearly so clean as White Castle shops (which is not saying much at all), but the burgers are great.

There are some good pictures here and here

Oh, It's Okay for SOME People, I Guess...

I hate to whinge about Metro when so many other people do it so well, but I mean, really. The Washington Post tells us that a majority of the Metro Board have never ridden a bus?

[Metro Board Member Gladys] Mack said her schedule is too busy to rely on public transportation. "My travel, my destinations and my time frames make it very difficult for me to use the system," said Mack, who lives near the Friendship Heights Metro station and works near Howard University. "I would have to take two trains and two buses. . . . It just makes it very inconvenient for me to depend on the system on a regular basis."

Maybe she meant two trains or two buses? Metro's own planning guide gives one train + one bus from Friendship Heights to Howard University:

Traveling from FRIENDSHIP HEIGHTS to HOWARD UNIVERSITY on December 03.
Itinerary #1
Rail : Departs from Board Arrive
Bus : Departs from Board Arrive
Walk 0.28 mile E to HOWARD UNIVERSITY
Fare Total (Senior/Disabled) : $2.30 ($0.95)

And there is a "Howard University" stop on the green line, but perhaps this isn't anywhere near Howard University?

Getting Geeky

We finally got around to purchasing our tickets for next year's World Science Fiction Convention last night. We've never been to such an event, but the Brunette is associated with the Glasgow Science Fiction Writers Circle and the Con will be held in Glasgow. (Just look at me say "con" like a pro!) It'll be nice to get back to Scotland for a visit, and I hope that the timing is right for us to catch the Edinburgh Book Festival on the same trip.

Also, I am hoping that the dollar rebounds a little bit and the Americans are still allowed to travel to foreign lands next summer.

By joining the Convention, we'll be allowed to nominate and vote for the Hugo awards. I intend to take that responsibility quite seriously (welllllll, as seriously as I'm able) and will keep track of the process here. I don't think I get enough exposure to the entire field to make the nominations, but I'll certainly read all the final nominees closely and make my musings available here. If you have recommendations, let me know.

I don't know if we've ever planned anything this far in advance before.

Just Wondering

Is it right that the author Han Jin wrote two different stories with the same name? Shouldn't that be illegal or immoral or something?

Is it right that Metro workers can walk around Rosslyn station with paper cups of coffee? Okay, I only saw one employee with one cup and I don't know if it was coffee. But it was sloshing around while he rode the elevator.

Meet Tubby

Meet Tubby

This is Tubby, our new cat. We acquired him from my sister, who is afraid he might eat her new son or something. At any rate, Tubby spent the weekend settling in and talking up a storm.

We keep accidentally calling him Toby, which will probably eventually morph into
Tobias Walton.

Away To Germantown

Away To GermantownHad to toodle up to Germantown today for a client assessment. I expected it to take longer, so I have an hour to waste. Luckily, there is a new Federal Statute that demands that no two square miles of our fine country suffer the sadness of an absence of Starbucks (with wireless).

It took me less time to get here (from Greenbelt) than to get to Tysons Corner most work days.

This fine sculpture, located outside the Starbucks, is not enough to keep the old folks down on the farm. The place was swarming with an older generation of people gathering their hot chocolates and waiting for a bus to take them to see the Christmas decorations in Norfolk. Good luck to them.

All Thumbs

All Thumbs How about that? The thumb drive was sent through both the washing machine and the dryer. Water and heat. I carefully started my laptop and inserted the thumb drive...

It immediately powered up and all of my files were accessible. I quickly copied them to the laptop for safekeeping and stood in awe at this little device's resilience.

The thumbdrive is pictured here on my new notebook. Boy, my handwriting is terrible.

Out of ConText

This blog contains material about Taleswapper's Life. Taleswapper's Life is a theory, not a fact, regarding the entertainment of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.

Good News, Bad News

Well, the good news is that my notebook really was at headquarters and is now safely with me again.

The bad news is that I left my thumb drive in my pocket, and said pocket was washed and dried. Stay tuned to see if the thing works or not. I haven't tried yet, but I'm betting not.

Oh, Great Googly-Moogly

What Did Taleswapper Forget Today?

If Blogger had that organizational feature I see on some blogs (the one where you create categories of entries that can be accessed from one page), I'd have to create a folder for my lamentable forgetfulness. Right after bragging about buying a new notebook, I left said notebook in our headquarters office yesterday. At least, I hope that's where I left it. I don't know when I'll be able to get to the headquarters office again.


Metro Continues to Disintegrate Before Our Eyes

Ugh. Don't complain to your bus driver about brats who eat on the bus or about his use of mobile technology while driving:

The bus driver then stopped in the middle of Connecticut Avenue and cussed both of us some more and ordered us off "his" bus. He used the f-word a few more times and really started to frighten people.

He then shouted at the lady that it was his expletive cell phone and that he expletive pays for it and that he will talk on it anytime he wants.

The link is to a Washington Post article. If you don't want to set up an account, go here first.


You probably don't care, but I bought some new stuff!

A New Notebook

Oh, and it is fine fine fine. It has orange and yellow stripes and a lion. It is the New York Public Library Student Journal:
Let's face it, student life can be a whirlwind of experiences amid a blur of activity. Inspiration can come from a chance meeting, an exciting book, or that special teacher. The New York Public Library Student Journal is a new way to record your thoughts, ideas, and memories about people, school, and life in general.
I doubt it will be that exciting, but I do like having grid paper instead of blank or lined. I just hope I don't lose it. My theory is that if I have a bright enough notebook, I'll notice its absence. Yeah, right.

A New Wheel

Tired of purchasing new spokes every six weeks, I decided to spring for a new back wheel for my bicycle. It's nothing exotic, but I am hoping it will be a little more robust. It turns out that I bought such a cheap bike in Scotland, that I have little choice in replacement wheels. If I want a fancy new wheel with special nipples and hand-threading and such, I also would have to buy a new gear-set and maybe a new chain and maybe a new derailleur. Maybe a new headlight, too, what do I know?

Right now, it's very shiny.

Friends Kabob

Friends Kabob

But will Monica and Chandler be there?

Old Europe

To say I was a little nervous about Sunday night was a lot like saying Eisenhower was a little concerned on D-Day. After my fourth pace around the first floor and my fifth exhortation to the Brunette (in my best Basil Fawlty voice) to "not mention the war!" she herded me to a dining room chair and forced me to sit.

"I know you are nervous," she said soothingly. "But it is your Great Aunt Iva's birthday, and this is what she wanted to do."

"But Great Uncle Leadbelly was in the War!" I said. I did calm down a little, though. When the Brunette plays along with my imaginary relatives, I can cope somewhat better (although when I start to think about how wiggy I must have been to get her to talk as if my Great Aunt and Uncle really exist...)The truth of the matter was that Leadbelly's service was not entirely clear, even to the extent of being sure which war he fought.

On the other hand, I was also worried about Great Aunt Iva's "playful" streak, which Leadbelly generally calls "downright nasty." I knew she picked a German restaurant just to get under her brother's skin. As it turned out, however, we made it all the way through the entrees without major interruption. Old Europe (on Wisconsin Avenue in the District) had all the tack ornamentation one wants from a German theme park -- heavy-framed paintings, hanging model Bismarck ships, cuckoo clocks, and miniature deer skulls.

Not only that, but the food was pretty good, too. The gulasch had a nice flavor and the bratwurst was delicious.

Leadbelly's good behavior seemed to be getting under Great Aunt Iva's skin. I suppose she had expected fireworks, but Leadbelly refused to oblige. Even her praise of German workmanship went unheeded. She sat with a strained smile through the last half of dinner and our round of presents. Leadbelly's natural animosity to "the enemy" was utterly non-existent.

She gave up all pretense of smiling completely when Great Uncle Leadbelly went over to sing along with the blind woman at the piano -- old German love songs and homages to drinking, no doubt. And when Leadbelly got the whole room going in a German rendition of Happy Birthday to You, Great Aunt Iva ran crying from the room, taking refuge in the ladies room.

When Leadbelly returned to the table for Strudel and Black Forest cake, I was feeling confident that all thought of the war was ought of his head. I asked if he was enjoying himself. He leaned over to me, looked over each shoulder, and whispered to me.

"Not really," he said, though his eyes twinkled. "It's just like during the war." Then he went on to whisper a long story about spying behind enemy lines. The story went on and on and on. By the end of it, I was completely bored out of my skull, so much so that I couldn't see straight. Eventually, Great Aunt Iva returned to the table and Leadbelly sat back in his chair. Iva had a mischievous grin.

"So, Leadbelly -- " she started. I immediately interrupted with a shout: "Don't mention the war!"

The Lady or the Tiger

When I saw the shelter cats licking their fur, I remembered to tell the Brunette that I had decided to become obsessive about hand washing. She looked up from the flea-specked white one whose ears she had been tickling and asked, "why?"

"Well, because of flu season and all," I said lamely. It seemed a little weird to say I wanted to have something to talk about at parties. I patted a tabby on its head. Bits of litter fell off his coat.

Some time ago, I realized that the only purpose in our daily existence is the collection of anecdotes. As social creatures, our sole duty is to gather these experiences together and distribute them to others during social gatherings. In this way, one can lead a "purpose-driven" life instead of a "tv-driven" life.

None of the shelter cats met our strict criteria (total and undying devotion and worship) on Saturday, but we did fill out the pre-approval application to ease the process in the future. The application process involves a possible house inspection, detailed interview, something about electronic tracking devices implanted in our skin, and, of course, wads of money.

"Isn't this a bit intrusive?" I wanted to know. My voice rose to a keening wail on the "-ive" bit.

"Oop, better go get something to eat," the Brunette responded. It always seems like she wants to eat right when I'm about to get wound up good and tight.

I suppose, though, I was a little hungry.

The closest eatery we could locate was the Crown Cafeteria, one of those ubiquitous DC-area sandwich shops aspiring to (but not quite accomplishing) deli-hood. The Brunette, who had washed hands twice since handling the cats at the shelter, asked if I was going soft on the OCD so soon. I looked at her with that loveable puzzled expression I so often imagine myself to adopt. What was she--? Oh, yeah! I remembered: I was supposed to be obsessing about hand washing. So, I asked the counterkeeper the location of the restrooms. She pointed down a narrow hall behind the drink cooler.

I toddled down the passage. It ended at two doors, both of which bore hand-written paper signs. One sign read "Ladies." The other sign read "Employees Only." So, I stood staring at these doors for some time, frozen with the lack of choices that fit my needs. (I promise this is the last election reference I make this year!) I couldn't find any reason to move forward, so I finally returned to our table, defeated.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

"My choices are 'Ladies' and 'Employees Only'," I told her, sad to have lost so easily.

"Oh, dear, and what are you going to talk about at parties?" she shook her head and asked.

She had a point! So, I jumped up and walked down that hall with renewed vigor. I boldly opened the door, walked in, and washed my hands. I easily overcame one fear to freely give into my newly acquired compulsion. And nobody accosted me. No alarm bells sounded.

Then, as I dried my hands, I cried out: "Wait a dad-blamed minute! I never told her about discussing my OCD at parties!"


He does it so we don't have to.

The September Country?

I can feel Autumn coming on, with its creeping cold tendrils, especially as I sit on one of the concrete (or are they marble?) benches at the Metro station. I'm just about to close my book and move to the wooden bench in one of the enclosed areas when a short man with a crooked nose and a tattoo on his left forearm walks over and greets me as if we were old friends from Iowa.

"Bradbury always makes me melancholy," he says, pointing at the book I'm clutching in my left hand. It's a collection of short stories called The October Country.

I want to flee, but the conventions of social interaction require that I hear the man out, so as not to appear rude. I make some noncommittal noise.

"All that stuff about leaves turning and happy children and junk," he says, shaking his head. "You think you're in some idyllic middle American town with low crime rates and while you're reveling in the nostalgia, he gets you with some gruesome tick. Like that story about the bonfire --"

"I don't remember --" I start, but he interrupts.

"Sure, you know the one. There's that night of the big bonfire and the narrator's all excited. Everyone in the town came out for the fire, you know. Dad and Mom were there, of course, and all the assorted relatives of these third-generation Americans; everyone from the family is there, including Uncle Einar. The adults brought picnic baskets and "lemonade;" we kids ate hot dogs and laughed. Oh, what a night bonfire night was!

"The grandmothers all turned to the grandfathers to exclaim how pretty the flames were, while all the grandfathers reminded the grandmothers about how much better fire had been in the Old Country. 'Go on, Eugene,' Grandma would say. 'You don't remember that!' But they fell to talking about the older days and times.

"While the parents talked of earlier days or of business deals or even plans for tomorrow, we scampered and jittered, shook loose in a thousand directions, like leaves scattered when a boy jumps into a pile in Autumn, and not just any boy, of course, but like Willie Jackson, the boy who could do anything! 'Joy! Excitement!' We'd shout. 'Bonfire night, it's bonfire night!'

"Jimmy heard his parents giggling over glasses of wine, such lovely flames! The Wilkensons and their brood set up camp just across the street, with streamers and balloons and hand-carved kebab sticks from Mexico! Those sticks stuck in Ma's craw (The audacity!), but on bonfire nights, even she could get along with the Wilkensons.

"Streamers! Balloons!

"When the adults got tired of our running in circles and spilling juice, we found it prudent to organize -- if organize is not too strong a word -- kickball game. It was a continuation of the most epic kickball game of all time. On a night with a bonfire, we'd not be disturbed by our parents until really late, like 9 or even 9:30.

"The Epic Kickball Game had started in the mists of time and would go on throughout eternity, most likely. Hank Anderson was there and even Sally Jenkins was playing. Sally's little brother Jake sat with his parents and cried, over nothing in particular, he always did that! There were the Collins twins, and Jeff and Joe and I don't remember who all.

"It wasn't until midway through my first kick that I wondered where was Willie Jackson? Surely, we couldn't play the Epic Kickball Game without famous Willie Jackson, he of the golden left foot? The boy with the hottest hands in kickball? Why wasn't Willie with us? We were just getting ready to devolve into a game of 'Where's Willie?'; where a hundred town kids would run in circles shouting and laughing Willie's name, when we remembered why Willie wasn't there.

"Of course Willie couldn't play on this particular bonfire night, we laughed. After all, it was his house being burned down! And we went back to our kickball game."

I stared at the man with the crooked nose for a moment. Finally, I said, "I don't think Ray Bradbury wrote that."


"It's certainly not in this book," I said.

"OK," the little man said. "I just guess it shoulda been." Then he boarded the train and was never heard from again.



This is the view from the office balcony today. Dang, but it's a dreary, depressing day.

Here are two links:
Conservative:Interview with Orson Scott Card.
Liberal: A unity poem.

No Joke, Broke Spoke

Just FYI: the roads in Virginia make no sense. The names change randomly. The numbers are not always sequential (or have strange intervals with groupings of numbers an order of magnitude higher than those on either side). The people drive like bats on crack.

But that last one is true of the entire DC area, I suppose.

The Brunette drove over to my work in Rosslyn last night to pick up my bike. She discovered that there are two Fort Myer Drives within a mile of each other! How confusing is that? Sheesh.

And I broke another spoke on the back wheel next to the cassette. Why don't I ever break a spoke in a place I can fix?

Bike to Work (2:10)

Bike to Work

A Commuting Report

  • 7:15 - 7:25 Ridge Rd - Southway - Greenbelt Rd (MD193)
    • Gained five minutes!
  • 7:25 - 7:55 Indian Creek Trail - Northeast Branch Trail - Anacostia Trail
    • Deer in two spots on path
    • Same elapsed time, rode further on trail (having daylight helps)
  • 7:55 - 8:25 Bunker Hill St - Perry St - 34th St - Chestnut - Vista - Franklin - 24th - Channing - 18th - Montana
    • Maybe this is the route. It was confusing. Lost some time here.
    • Crossing Eastern Ave is a pain, as is the connection of Perry and 34th
  • 8:25 - 8:32 West Virginia
    • Nice!
  • 8:32 - 8:50 K St NE - 1st NE - Massachusetts - Louisiana - 1st NW
    • First trip through a checkpoint. Nobody asked me to stop. Don't know if that's normal for bikes.
    • K Street under the railroad tracks out of Union Station is a bit dark and frightening. The marked bike path on 1st St is not worth the underpass.
    • Top of trail to Mall -- same amount of time!
  • 8:50 - 9:07 Mall
    • Was passed by a woman biking in heels
    • Gained ten minutes, somehow, by going south around the Washington Monument, instead north.
  • 9:07 - 9:25 Bridge - Path - Rosslyn
    • Lost five minutes because of heavy traffic coming into the circle in front of the cemetery
Friday night, I took the Rock Creek Park trail pretty much all the way to Silver Spring (some riding on Beech Drive). It took about 1 1/2 hours from Rosslyn.

I Don't Know

I don't know why the comment summary (on the right) isn't working.

I don't know what the weather will be like tomorrow.

I don't know why half of the country doesn't understand what the other half thinks it understands.

Siri's Elephants

So, last Friday, we dropped by Siri's Chef Secret restaurant. It looks like some place that used to serve American seafood, but now it serves a mixed menu of American and delicious Thai. Yum.

On Friday, we were early enough that we shared the place with one other customer, who sat alone, reading a paper. We admired a wooden sculpture of a boat filled with elephants bearing oars.

And he slurped.

Ugh. The man's wet smacking of his food easily carried across the room, turning my stomach. Luckily, our food hadn't yet arrived. We prayed for a larger crowd to show up and drown out the noise.

Instead, it got worse.

It's bad enough to listen to folks on mobile phones, but what is it with these Nextel people? They treat their phones like walkie talkies. Nobody wants to listen to your inane conversation! And we certainly don't want to hear that stupid bleep before and after each sentence! And we really like exclamation points! (And we miss the rants of the guy at why.i.hate.dc, because he's funnier.)

Guess what the slurpy guy did next: yep, he picked up a call on his Nextel phone.**

At this point, the Brunette excused herself for a brief bit. I was left alone to listen to the slurping, beeping, and bleating. In between phone calls, he started humming. Toneless, rhythmic humming. Around wet smacks. Are you grossed out and/or annoyed yet? I hunched over in the booth. Sloppy-eater boy started launching small pieces of food by pounding his fist on the tines of his fork (after carefully placing the bit of food on the other end). I tried to focus on a mental compare/contrast of the philosophies of Kierkegaard and Kant.

Sadly, I don't know anything about the philosophies of Kierkegaard or Kant.

From here, it just got worse. He took off his shoes. He started playing a Game Boy. With the sound turned on. He had to turn up the volume of his iPod to hear his music over the electronic gaming noises. He had to turn up the volume of his Nextel to hear it over both. He started coughing. Without covering his mouth.

When he started chewing aluminum foil, I got up, grabbed the sculpture, and started shoving elephants down his throat. One by one, the pachyderms marched into the cake-hole of this rude freak of nature. I returned to our table and smiled beatifically when the Brunette returned.

"What are you humming?" she asked.

"The Dance of the Hours," I replied, and I enjoyed my drunken noodles immensely.

** Okay, everything before the double-asterisk is true. The rest is questionable.

Red Line Accident

Red Line Accident

I imagine there is more than a 20 minute delay, since the Red Line is
closed between Van Ness and Dupont.

Rumor has it that one train drove into the back of another.

UPDATE (16:14): The Washington Post reports that it was the other way around: one train backed into the front of another.

A Link

Other people took cameras (and bears) to the voting stations.

Election Day

Election Day

This is what half the line looked like in Greenbelt at 7 this morning, just after the polls opened.

I find myself a victim of voter irregularities! Although I had my trusty registration card proving that I had indeed registered -- and I was in the correct place -- the little old lady behind the notebook couldn't find me. So, although I was about the tenth person in line this morning, I was forced through the provisional balloting process. Basically, you have to fill out the application for voter registration all over again and then fill out a cardboard ballot with pencil.

Probably, you were supposed to fill out the application in pen or something, but they only gave me a pencil.

I expect I might actually get my vote counted, but it'll be some time next March. The others in line were in and out in ten minutes. I had 40 minutes of provisional balloting (which includes time for wandering from judge to judge figuring out what to do with me but not 30 minutes waiting for the polls to open).

Guess I shouldn't have registered as "Snoopy."

UPDATE (12:25): The Brunette had to vote in Spanish. She also was not on the voting roles and had to fill out a provisional ballot. She tells me that they ran out of English ballots, though. Ah, modern democracy.


I realized this morning that I haven't obsessed over punctuation for some time. Then I heard about this exciting breakthrough for international punctuation respect: Quebec has a town named Saint-Louis-du-Ha!-Ha!

The Grand Idea: Joel Achenbach

A Book Tale (Sort of)

I have now written two entire stories about Great Uncle Leadbelly, our shared dislike for both presidential candidates (give us something else!), and Joel Achenbach's book about George Washington and the Potomac.

And twice now I have lost the notebook that contained the story.

I suppose this means I am not destined to distribute that story, so you'll just have to read Joel's book on your own. Keep alert for the feisty Marylander in the book. That's the person I think Great Uncle Leadbelly wants to be.

It also means that once again I must buy a new notebook. Any advice for keeping those things from straying?

Umberto Eco: Baudolino

Our wee vacation to Maine was an exceptional escape from work for a week, but it was also supposed to be a relief from the constant interruptions of my imaginary friends and family. So I found it relaxing simply to sit still on a marble bench near the lighthouse at Port Clyde and stare at the ocean beating itself upon the rocks. Some days, the water nearly seemed to caress the shore as it curled its waves around the stones.

On this particular day, I sat on the bench hypnotized by the rhythms and wondered whether the ocean was trying to punish itself for something.

"Ayuh. When you've claimed as many souls as she has, you feel some regrets," said the man who materialized behind me. His appearance was so sudden I nearly dropped my bag of curry puffs.

"Regrets?" I stammered.

"Aye," he said as he sat down beside me on the bench. He was kitted out in weatherproof getup: a dull yellow vinylized hat covered his ears; a slick coat with a double row of buttons draped to his shins; and his feet were planted in solid rubber boots. He plugged a pipe into his prodigious gray beard and stared icily at the sea.

After waiting for a few moments for him to elaborate, I returned to my bag of curry puffs. He accepted one without comment, or rather: he held his comments close for a few more minutes.

"You see this bench we're perched upon?" he asked, finally. I nodded, but he went silent again. It occurred to me that his sentences were like small islands separated by gulfs of silence. (I later decided that we were both being pretentious.) As a proud member of the "get-to-it" generation, I was a little irritated by being cast adrift like this. If he had something to say, he should just spit it out! But it takes me some time to generate the energy to display that level of rudeness, so before I could start yelling, but not before I had started squirming, he was able to go on.

"It's the headstone of my dear brother Eli." I jumped up immediately. Sure enough, carved into the face were words of memory for Eli Nauzer.

"Sorry, I didn't mean --" I started, but he put up his hand.

"Nah, nah," he said. "We thought that a bench in the safety of the light would be more appropriate than some never-visited gravestone. We meant for people to sit. Sit." He brushed his hand at the spot I had recently vacated. I tried to sit, but found I no longer wanted to sit. I wanted to pace.

"The sea?" I prompted when his hand snaked out to the bag of curry puffs.

"Ayuh. The sea took my dear brother, lad," he said around bites. His beard shifted as he brushed crumbs away, then he pointed out to sea. "'twas a miserable night. The swells were like small mountains, the troughs like Death Valley. Eli was potting lobsters, you see, because the season would end at midnight and he had mouths to feed --"

But he was interrupted by my shout of "Your beard shifted!" I pulled at his beard and it came free in my hand. His eyes went wide beneath bushy eyebrows. I recognized those eyes. Instead of fighting, he reached for another curry puff.

It was my imaginary friend Bertie.

"What are you doing here? And what in the name of all that is holy and just are you doing in that costume?"

"I find it helps the tourists accept the stories a little better," he said calmly.

"The tourists appreciate a psycho masquerading as the Gorton fisherman?"

"People trust the Gorton fisherman," he replied. I simply cried out and rotated three times. Why do these people follow me around? He pulled a book from inside his raincoat. It was Baudolino, by Umberto Eco. "I was reading this book --"

"When did you start reading?" I interrupted, a little rudely.

"We all read," he said. "I was really impressed with the way that Baudolino is able to thrive through the judicious use of ..." He trailed off.

"Lies," I suggested.

"... fictional narrative," he said. "He was able to survive and advance by telling people stories."

"He certainly was able to get himself fed using story," I said, snatching the bag from his hands. "But it all fell apart in the end, don't you think?"

"Oh, I don't know," said Bertie. "He had trouble because he started to believe his own stories, sure. But that is easily avoided."

"How?" I asked.

"Oh, it takes discipline. You must constantly question the world around you, but most of all, you must think."

"So, if I think hard enough, I can see through the fictions?" I asked.

"Ye--" he started, but he could not finish before he disappeared. Satisfied, I sat down on the bench and picked at my bag of curry puffs. The sea was calming.

But when I looked into the bag, it was empty. I crumpled it up and headed for the car. I hoped it would still be there.

Filed under:

A Long Bike Ride (2:15)

I'm on the bench today, so I thought I'd ride all the way to Rosslyn.

  • 6:45 - 7:00 Ridge Road - Southway - Greenbelt Rd (MD 193)
  • 7:00 - 7:30 Indian Creek Trail - Northeast Branch Trail
    • I thought it would be nicer to ride trail than road when still darkish, but I think the road might have been safer with street lights and passing cars. I didn't have a spill, but I might have come upon a branch or rock unexpectedly in that gloaming (is it called gloaming in the morning? It's not really called dusk...)
  • 7:30 - 8:00 Rhode Island Avenue (Rt 1)
    • The worst hill is topped by 1st Street NE. Not sure why I decided to try this instead of the usual U Route (4th St).
  • 8:00 - 8:25 1st NW - Louisiana Ave - Constitution - 3rd NW
    • In spite of the ADC bicycle map, you cannot really ride 1st Street all the way to H Street. I'm not really sure how I got from 1st Street to Louisiana.
  • 8:25 - 8:50 Mall
    • It looks like they're working on paths around the Washington Monument inside the barricades. I bikes are allowed through there, it sure will help my commute.
  • 8:50 - 9:00 Memorial Bridge - Unnamed Path along Arlington Cemetary/Carillon/Iwo Jima - Ft Myer Drive
    • There is path re-construction on the DC side of the Memorial Bridge. The detour is narrow board covered with miniature golf grass. In addition, there are portable toilets blocking the bicycle path at the Carillon.

This is one of those days I wish I'd brought my camera. I saw:

  • Huge Orange Cat sitting on the top rail of a fence along the Indian Creek Trail.
  • Runway Deer, two of them, standing on the path near the end of the College Park runway.
  • FBI massed on the corner of T & 1st Street NW, waiting for the battering ram.
  • Sidewalk Closed to Pedestrians sign at the Mall. Does this mean it's okay to drive on the sidewalk?

My odometer lists this as 11.85 miles, but I never trust the odometer. It also shows only 1:47 of riding time.

To My Fellow Cyclists

My word. It's bad enough riding a bicycle through the city, dodging idiot drivers and avoiding randomly opening car doors. But if cyclists refuse to obey the rules, we have lost our moral authority to abuse the driving population.

So to speak.

Yeah, I'm talking to you Mr. Recumbent Biker-boy. Oh, sure, props to you for riding through the city at hub-cap height, but I mean really. An eighteen-inch sidewalk is not wide enough for a bicycle. Wheels belong on the road.

And I'm talking to you Mr. Red Light Runner and Mr. Wrong Way on a One Way Street. If you're on a bicycle, you surely can't be in a hurry to get to some emergency. Why do you think it's safer for you to break the law than to follow it? And where am I supposed to go when there are cars to my left and you coming straight at me? Sheesh.

Oh, and I'm talking to you Whole Group of Idiots at Memorial Bridge. The path through construction is a skinny wooden platform with railings. Where did you think I would be able to go when we met coming through there? Over the railing, up the chain-link fence, and into the mud-pit? Did the three big orange signs telling bicyclists to dismount somehow escape your notice? Did you think they referred to some other set of bicyclists?

It's time, folks, to take responsibility. And to do that, you have to act responsibly. I stopped at the direction of a crossing guard this morning. The kid walking across the street looked at me like I was some kind of alien. I wanted to say to him, "Hey, you have to follow the rules, if you expect others to play by the rules."


Tired of pictures yet?

The rest of the pictures can be seen here.



We spent our final night in the Tugboat Inn at Boothbay Harbor.

Port Clyde


Well, there was no room on Monhegan, so we took a look at the Port Clyde light.

Down East

ME_StGeorgeLibrary.JPG Well, we are out of the land of wireless access. Today's message is from a lovely small library in St. George, Maine. The view from the back window is of a small bay with an island. It's the loveliest view from a library I've ever seen.

We're waiting overnight in Port Clyde for the mail boat to take us over to Monhegan Island. We had a good time on Mt. Desert Island (Acadia Nt'l Park) in both Bar Harbor and South East Harbor. Cruise ships dump hundreds of folks onto the island, the folks bus up to the top of Cadillac mountain, and they immediately get on their mobile phones to tell their best friends.

ME_BarHarborFromCadillacMtn.JPG Otherwise, the island is beautiful.



The light on Bear Island. This view is from a friendship sloop chartered out of Southwest Harbor on the "quiet side" of MDI.

Reel Pizza


We had pizza and watched Mean Creek at Reel Pizza in Bar Harbor.

Carcassone at Camden Hills


We had to stop immediately for a game of Carcassone at Camden Hills State Park.

Camden Hills

The view from the park (looking south).

Sunrise at Camden

Sunrise at Camden

We watched the sunrise at Camden, then hit the road...

Camden, Maine

View from the Amphitheater

Some strange plant in the amphitheater. Posted by Hello

Yellow House Along Route 1

Posted by Hello


Posted by Hello

Lighthouse seen from the pier at Newagen

Two Van Reid Location Shots

The Jail at Wiscasset

Fort Edgecomb Posted by Hello

Food and Books

We have arrived in the lands of the Moosepath League. Tonight, we stay at the Sheepscot River Inn (wireless available, but it costs $7). We've driven from Delaware this day. Last night's drive through Maryland was horrendous, due to traffic volume and weather-induced driver hysteria.

The national news tells us that today was even worse, with a 50-car pile-up at White Marsh, so we should count ourselves lucky.

We had a good dinner, but lunch was even better. Somewhere along I-84 in Connecticut we stopped for a good meal and a free book. The Brunette is pictured here with her prize -- an early 20th century novel by Kathleen Norris, who is not the same Kathleen Norris who wrote Cloister Walk in the late 20th century.

You can't beat a good sandwich and a free book! Posted by Hello

Lying Awake; The Child That Books Built; Tepper Isn't Going Out; and Eragon

Tiny Tikes Tome Talk

Now, you and I know that Jimmy, the twelve-year-old kid from down the street, doesn’t really exist. Even so, one doesn’t want him to feel bad about it, so if he asks a favor, it doesn’t hurt anyone to lend a hand, right?

That would sound a lot more supportive if I could remember what the tyke’s name is.

"Basically," he tells me after inviting me to join his friends' book group, "the mall cops always run us off when we don’t have adult supervision."

"So you picked me," I say. "That’s --"

"Actually," he says, "We --"

"So what book are we doing?" I ask. I'm just floored that today's generation is doing anything with such an old media. They should be playing Sega or IMing or something.

"This meeting we're all bringing a book to discuss. Since it's short notice, you don't have to --" But he was too late; I quickly leap up the steps to get a book. I find the one I want and we drive off to the mall.

We are the last to arrive. There is amazingly little small-talk, perhaps because they've been text messaging each other all day already. Jimmy introduces me as their token adult and takes charge of the meeting. He asks Jessica to begin. Jessica sits straighter and folds her hands on the table before her.

"The book I have chosen to bring this time is called Lying Awake, and it's by Mark Salzman --"

"Oh, I know that book!" the girl across from Jessica cries. Jessica's eyes narrow and the seashells attached to the ends of her hair click menacingly. "What's amazing to me is that the book is written by a man."

All of the eyes at the table flick to me and then away. Jimmy smoothly turns attention back to Jessica.

"Jessica, what's the book about?" he asks.

"Well," she continues, "it's the story of a nun who has been having intense spiritual communion with God, or at least she believes that she has been, and then discovers that she has epilepsy. The book is built around this crisis and her need to make a decision: should she have surgery to correct the epilepsy, even though the epilepsy might be responsible for her visions? And if the epilepsy is causing the visions, what does that say about her faith? It's an excellent book. Clarissa is right, in a way. The author is a man, but his use of the female point of view is definitely well-done."

"Why can't a man--" I start to ask, but Jimmy quickly turns the table's attention to the lad sitting to Jessica's left.

"Prasad, what book did you wish to discuss?"

"I have to start by saying that I'm well aware of the prevailing sentiment in this group for fiction over non-fiction. However, I have been reading the essays in Francis Spufford's The Child That Books Built. Although this book is not fiction, he does speak directly to my fiction-loving heart with his survey of a life of reading. I must say that at moments during my consumption of this book I was transported back to my earlier days when novels truly offered some wonder…"

"Earlier days?" I interrupt. "How --"

"Mr. Blake," Jimmy interrupts me in turn. "Please let Prasad continue."

"But, I mean," I turn back to Prasad. He nervously adjusts his tie. "Dude, you can't be more than eight, right?"

"Eight and a half."

"Exactly!" I say. "How can you look back on your earlier days? Do you mean those wonderful halcyon days when all you had to read was the label on your diaper?"

Of course Prasad's bottom lip starts to tremble and the other kids all frown. Clarissa reaches out a hand and pats Prasad's shoulder with the tips of her fingers. The other little boy in the group picks up his Elmo backpack and starts to struggle into it.

Sizing up the situation, Jimmy says to the group, "Does everyone remember Tepper?" The kids stop their little vibrations and start to meld together again. That Jimmy is a wonder. Of course, I don't have any idea what the heck he's talking about, so Jimmy explains to me that Tepper was a character in Calvin Trillin's Tepper Isn't Going Out. Tepper was on a quixotic quest for a parking spot in New York City. It helped them understand, he tells me, what it must be like to reach a certain age and find yourself useless and outmoded.

Tiffany reaches out to pat my shoulder.

"What book did you bring, anyway?" Prasad asks. As I was absorbing the Tepper story, I decided to sit on the book I had brought. So I only shrug, but the kid with the Elmo bag has been crawling around the table legs picking up Legos. He reads the spine of my book clearly enough for all to hear: Eragon. This is greeted by rolling eyes and hoots of derision. The word "condescending" is passed about.

"What?" I ask. "Don't you like this book? Because --"

"Because it was written by a kid," they all interrupt.

"Sir," Prasad speaks up. "None of us believes that Eragon would have been published had it been written by an adult. In fact, if it had been written by a young person who didn't have connected parents, the book would have remained in the obscurity it really deserves."

"It was a little formulaic," I admit. Snorts all around. Jimmy notes that we're out of time.

"Where do we meet next time," Tiffany asks. Once again, everyone quickly looks at me and then away.

"Don't worry," Jimmy says. "I'll AIM everybody."

Filed under:

On the Phones

On the Phones

A Volunteering Report

We spent Sunday night answering phones for WAMU (88.5 FM). The Brunette has gone on the rest of the week doing the same during the day.

Answering the phones was not terribly exciting, but we did get to meet Ed Walker. These folks must get tired of meeting all these strange volunteers. Oh, the other exciting thing was that during every hour a volunteer was selected as winner of the legibility award. The winner got to sit in the presence of a special bust and was forced to wear a tiara. I spent the whole time going around bumping everybody's table.

I still never won it.

National Book Festival

National Book Festival

Hope you don't mind a bit of photo-albumming, but we went down to the National Book Festival this Saturday. Not only was it well-booked, it was free. The addition of science fiction this year was certainly our favorite part, but it was also nice to see a track devoted to poetry. The whole event renewed my spirit with regard to the state of the book. Kudos to the Library of Congress for putting out such a good event.

Book Signings

Book Signings

The view from Neil Gaiman's line includes the Capitol (through the haze).

Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson

His answers to questions were as long as his books, which is a good thing, really.

Frederick Pohl

Frederick Pohl

Frederick Pohl spoke of the very early days of SF fandom. He wants to be Jack Williamson when he grows up.

Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman

Shown here with Michael Dirda, Neil Gaiman easily had the loudest crowd.

Connie Willis

Connie Willis

If Neil Gaiman is the rock star of science fiction, Connie Willis is the mom.

Where Will Taleswapper Be This Weekend?

We're going to be answering telephones at our favorite public radio station during our favorite radio show this Sunday evening. WAMU is having its semi-annual fund-drive and we'll be there to take your donations. I'll try not to complain too loudly about their cancellation of Selected Shorts.

Other places to see us this weekend include the National Book Festival and the Maryland Renaissance Festival. We might even stop by Cafe Atlantico to spend our gift certificate. Who knows?

Bad Form

For years, my alma mater, RPI, provided its alumni with free "email for life." Now, they've decided to start charging for what was until now a pretty nice little (and I stress little) service. So, I sent them this angry email:

To those who made this horrendous decision to charge us for email (and funnel us deeper into your fund-raising databases), I say "bad form." Why not keep the current level of service free and charge for the upgrade to larger space? No doubt because few would take you up on such an "improvement."

I've spent the last three years bragging about the forward thinking university I attended. On the cutting edge of technology, serving its students even after leaving school.

I read stories about universities around the country giving incoming students laptops and ipods and free music downloads. What does RPI do to its alumni? Tack on an annoying fee to a relatively low profile service and pretend they're giving us more. Bah! This does not endear me to my alma mater.

Class of '89

Not that it'll make a difference. If I actually donated to the endowment maybe I could threaten to withhold my money or something. "Why not change the world?" Ha! Why not charge the world?

Zoned Out

A Garden Spot

Well, leave it to the Brunette to provide an answer to my query. A month ago, I asked you all to identify a plant from my garden. The answer, it seems, is Coleus. I think ours is the 'Shameless' variety, but who can say for sure?

Coleus are perennials, but only in zones 9-11, as far as I can tell. Here in Maryland, I think we're on the northern edge of zone 7, so for us it acts like an annual. To get the plants to zone 9, we have to move to Texas. I'm not up for that.

What Did Taleswapper Forget Today?

His Antenna

It's not terribly useful to bring along my mobile phone when I leave the antenna on my dresser.

UPDATE: Now, I'm not sure what I did with my notebook. I did have it with me this morning, really.

Tell Him What He's Won, Johnny

A Car Buying Report

At the end of the day, if you can't trust a car to get you to New York and back, there's just no point in keeping it around, is there?

The purple Neon gave up the ghost for good last weekend. Sadly, it decided to do this en route from New York. At any rate, on Sunday, we began our search for a replacement. Now that the Brunette can drive again, there was some urgency to the task. Our ideal choice would have been a hatchback with high fuel efficiency. Keeping the price down and looking nifty keen were secondary, but important goals.

Sadly, there are few two-door hatchbacks on the market these days. We tried the Civic Si, which was fun but did not really measure up fuel-wise. We tried the VW Golf. The engine just sounded grumpy. We tried a Mazda M3 only because we needed a third car to try. It failed on all counts: it felt heavy, it was four doors, and its fuel usage was not impressive. We also toodled out (in our rental car) to Annapolis to try the Mini. I tell you, that car was a blast. Unfortunately, the Mini could have taken as long as twelve weeks to arrive. I couldn't see waiting until after Christmas for transportation.

So we went back on-line and noticed the Civic HX. It's a coupe, but it ran into the 40s for mpg. Put that engine into the hatchback body (like they used to do) and we'd have been sold immediately. However, our trip back to the Honda dealer on Tuesday showed us that we're totally out of the mainstream in desire. Although they had a good number of Civics (clustered inside a ring of SUVs), none bore the HX plate. Needing a car, we settled for the Civic DX. It's a fine car and will carry us around for years with adequate mileage, no doubt.

At this point, we got to begin the purchasing process -- also known as trial by fire.

We're not great negotiators. The dealer offered us a price lower than the sticker and we accepted. That was pretty easy. We filled out a few pieces of paper and they asked us to wait while their financial folks prepared to talk to us about loans. I was pretty confident -- I'd gone and gotten some figures from Lending Tree. I waited for the financial folks to get to us while the Brunette went home to get our insurance card.

When she came back, she found me stomping around in the parking lot.

While I sat at the table staring out the window, the manager came up to apologize. Apparently, they had not noticed that the car we were buying had air conditioning. You see, the DX model doesn't normally come with air conditioning, but they had gotten this particular one from the factory with air because, you know, we live in Maryland and all. Now, he told me, air conditioning usually comes to $1200, but since they made the mistake, they'd meet me half-way and only charge me another $600.

How kind of them.

After arguing with the man for 20 minutes (he stressed that he never makes any money, that everyone can go on the internet and see what he pays for cars--what other business is like that?, that he doesn't know how he's going to pay for health insurance for his family), I walked out to the parking lot. I was ready to walk, but the Brunette brought along a snack that helped me calm down some and we went back in to buy the car.

Then, of course, we had to deal with the financial folks, who don't know how to add or subtract. Twenty dollars isn't much, but it's a straw after arguing about the air conditioner. And when they tried to charge us the destination fee twice (do you have to add shipping onto the end of the price if you go to Burger King?), I just I just ... arrgh. But cooler heads prevailed and we didn't pay that or the $20 and we finally drove away with the car only four hours after showing up at the dealer in the first place.

And it's going to be a good car, I just know it is.

Bungee Bikes

Bungee Bikes I know that the Kryptonite lock is pretty easy to break, but surely it's a better method than this bungee cord I saw at Greenbelt the other day?

And if he'd only look here, he'd find plenty of available locks.

In Training

7:14 - 8:16 Metro to Medical Center (via Ft. Totten)

Trouble on the Red Line seems to be a daily event, but the today's time is not too horrendous. If there turns out to be a two minute difference between the Ft T route and the Gallery Place route, the all-important standing vs. sitting time statistic would have come in handy, if only I'd been keeping track.

Today's delay caused trains to share the same track between Ft Totten and Takoma Park, which, of course, is contrary to the famous law o' physics: two objects cannot share the same track and expect to get people to work on time, or some such thing.

Flatline on the Red Line

Flatline on the Red Line

Good ol' Red Line. What fun we had this morning! Sitting on the tracks near Union Station. Watching the operators run up and down the aisles shouting into radios, except for those who didn't have radios. They just shouted at the people with the radios to yell on the radio for them. They yanked up seats to play around with the brakes.

Finally, another train came along and pushed us. At least, I think that's what happened. Certainly, when they kicked us off the train at the platform, it seemed like two trains went out of service. Two trains during rush hour!

La La La La La

7:39 - 8:32 Metro to Medical Center (via Ft. T)

She's coming home today
She's Coming Home Today!

Oh, and at the suggestion of my father, I put some stuff into the radiator that is supposed to seal leaks. We'll see if that helps.

Testing, 1-2

OK.  Long day.  I had so much fun with yesterday's ClearQuest certification, I went ahead and tested for UCM with ClearCase.  It was even harder.  Ugh.  <p>

I wonder if I'll get pretty certificates for these, too.

Introducing Izzy (Greenbelt)

Don't Know Much About History The voice on the phone was not familiar to me, but it spoke as if it knew me.

"Hello," it said. "Meet me at the historical marker on Southway." When I told the Brunette, she wanted to know why I didn't ask who it was.

"I didn't want to make him feel bad that I didn't remember him," I said, although the real reason was that I didn't want to look stupid. I mean, how stupid is it not to remember what the voice of one of your imaginary friends sounds like?

"So you might know him?" she asked.

"...I guess, maybe," I said, uncertainly. "But I'd better go down there because even if he doesn't know me, he's going to be disappointed if I don't show up."

"Well, you gotta do what you gotta do," she said. "Just be careful. I can't come save you from Atlanta." I told her I'd be careful. I put on my helmet and rode over. Sure enough, a guy was sitting there on the curb, staring down at his shoes. He looked up when I pulled up next to the map of Greenbelt, but then he looked back down at his shoes again. I stood there trying to think what to say.

"Uh, hi," I said, finally.

"Hello," he replied, without looking up.

"Um," I said. "Do I know you?" He looked up at me again, a little longer this time before turning his head attention back to the ground.

"I don't. No," he said.

"Well, uh, did you just call someone and ask them to meet you here? 'cause I got this call from someone I don't know and..." I trailed off. He laughed bitterly.

"Can't even dial a phone right," he said. "Sorry, wrong number and all."

He looked pretty bummed out, all the same, so I asked if he was okay.

"Yeah," he said. "I'm okay. Just writer's block, you know."

"You a writer?" I asked. Man, that's the dumbest question isn't it? Nobody who isn't a writer has writer's block. No, the whole world can spew millions upon millions of words, but slap the title writer on and the river dries up.

"I guess," he said. "I write a blog, and I'm just tired of it all. Can't seem to ... I don't know, the words aren't. They don't ... " He reached his hand out as if the words might be in the air near the bus stop, but he finally only shrugged. "I had this idea for a project, like I need another project. Go 'round to historical markers and write interesting stuff about them."

We both stared at the historical marker for a few moments. It said:

Greenbelt was the first of three planned garden towns built and owned by the U.S. Government during the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was a "New Deal" experiment in community planning, of note to urban planners throughout the world. The 885 original homes were built in a series of clusters, joined by interior walks, and circling central business, civic and recreation facilities. Greenbelt was incorporated June 1, 1937 as the first Maryland city with council-manager government. In 1952 the residents of the community formed a cooperative and purchased most of the government built houses. By 1954, the U.S. Government had sold all developed property and most vacant land. While many new neighborhoods are also included in the present city, the original planned community continues as a cooperative.

"Nope. Nothing," he said. "A few shards, sure. Nothing up to my normal standards, though. Not clever. Not a single bon mot."

"You know, Franklin Roosevelt actually put the first fish in the lake around back," I said. He looked hopeful for a moment, then the light went out and he shook his head. Not enough. I'm pretty tired of politics, myself.

"Sometimes, it doesn't come, I guess," I said. What would sound encouraging: keep writing, eventually you'll like what you write? No, that didn't sound right.

"Guess these artificial exercises are just that: artificial," he said, finally. Then, he said something really witty that made me laugh. I can't write it here because they were not my words, but trust me: very funny. The bus came down the road, and he turned to it with resignation. As he got on the bus, I asked, "What are you called?"

"Me?" he said. "I -- " but he was interrupted by the door closing and rode off into the sunset.

I've decided to call him Izzy.



Bombay Masala is closed between 3:30 and 5:00pm. This is important to know if you plan to jump on your bicycle and ride over after 4, say. I sat on the grass behind the Burger King and read the Greenbelt News Review. Ah, the smell of fast food grease. Appetizing.

Bombay Masala sits in a shopping strip across from the entrance to NASA. It shares the strip with a dozen other stores, including a K-Mart. I expect that the majority of the restaurant's traffic is from NASA employees at lunch, because on a Saturday afternoon the place was fairly deserted. Some day, I will write an essay comparing shopping at K-Mart to visiting a nursing home. It's sad and irritating at the same time.

The restaurant staff was friendly enough, but the food was rather bland. He brought water as frequently as I needed it, pretty much. There are annoying mirrors on the wall. Gosh, other than that, I have not much to say. It was pretty boring. Doubt I'll go back.

So the search for chicken chasni continues...

Test for Rationality

Last November, I got myself certified in the Rational Unified Process, also known as RUP. Having this certification is a requirement for employment at my company. At some point earlier this year (I don't remember when because the searching tool for Blogger stinks like bad cheese), I got myself certified as a software consultant for the Rational ClearCase tool.

This weekend, I committed to giving the ClearQuest certification a try. I thought it would be fairly easy, you know. Hey, I'm the guy who created ClearQuest Tic-Tac-Toe! How hard could it be?

Little did I know...

The testing methodology has changed. You still take the test on-line from your own computer, which means reference material is at your grasping little finger tips, but now the test is timed. There's plenty of time, except that they've helpfully put a little timer in the upper-lefthand corner. That little bugger sits there relentlessly ticking down the seconds remaining.


It's enough to drive a person mad. I forgot about an area of ClearQuest with which I have less experience: Multisite. Multisite is a little feature that lets you maintain the same data at two sites with regular synchronization. It's used a lot with ClearCase, but we haven't seen it used so much with ClearQuest, so I haven't touched it in a while. How dare they ask questions about something I'm not 100% familiar with!

Since I could take the test from my own laptop, I treated every question as if I didn't know the answer and tried out the available solutions on my own instances of ClearQuest. For the most part, this is a good approach, though it is rather time consuming, and I used every single second available for the test. I think I'd recommend this approach with one change: first, run through all the questions and answer the easy ones, then move through the unanswered ones slowly checking each, then, if there's time, try out even the easy ones. You can't go wrong with that, I'd think.

When I got to the end, I submitted my test. The system was nice enough to ask: "Hey, you still have 20 seconds. Are you sure you want to finish?" What the heck? I thought to myself and, with that devil-may-care attitude submitted my test.

I'm exhausted. I'm going out for a curry.