And They Have Branches, Too

I went back and forth on making some witty comment, but I just couldn't commit. Ha ha ha ha. Now, I'm going to be sick, I'm so geeky.

The Weather Outside is Frightful

Snow? What snow?


Not much to report from this week's trip to Suffolk, Virginia. I've been on-site or on the phone for pretty much every hour of the day and much of the night.

I did take a plane this trip to see how it compares to the drive. The price seems to be comparable (we get reimbursed for the mileage) and I can save a whole hour. It's nice to not worry about falling asleep and driving off the road. On the other hand, Southwest really treats you like cattle.

I imagine that tonight I'll be over at the airport sleeping on the benches like Tom Hanks, because Capital Weather is predicting a snowfall smackdown. If I get stuck here, I'll probably descend into a blubbering tearful (terribly unmacho) blob. When I'm away from the Brunette, man, I lose total focus. I can't remember how to do anything and I stare vacantly at the walls.

On the bright side, maybe the airport will have movies. When I left BWI for Ohio last week, the monitors were showing TNT. What was TNT showing?


Putting Up Shelves

There's an blog over at Microsoft describing how their new system will provide branching and merging. While that's very interesting, it's hardly groundbreaking. More interesting is the new (?) concept of shelving.

I can't tell if it's a similar concept to private branches or what, but it's always nice to have a new name.

The Nomad of Time (Michael Moorcock)

Not many people are aware that the Fort Totten station is more than just a transfer point between the Green and Red Lines on the DC Metro. I discovered this one morning as I came up the escalator to a platform unexpectedly open to the sky.

The PID indicated that a six car train was boarding, and, indeed, tethered to the platform was a train of six hot-air balloons with oversized (to me) gondolas bumping against the rumble strips. Morning commuters did their normal slogging through the doorways routine -- heads bowed, some grasping one or another of the free daily sheets, most moving slowly.

That's right folks, Fort Totten is actually a node at which many alternate universes connect.

I boarded a rearward gondola, and the doors closed quickly behind me. The station crew cast off our mooring ropes and we ascended for our trip to the next station: Brookland. I thought my fellow passengers watched me with a little more attention than normally available during the morning rush, but I ignored their stares and sat down beside a woman drinking a soda.

"So, you can drink on the Metro?" I asked.

"Sure," she said. "It is okay to have beverages as long as you are consuming the official Metro product. In this case, the drink is RC - a dominant brand in this line of history."

When I looked behind her at the other passengers, each and every one of them held up a blue can of RC in one hand and The Nomad of Time in the other. I knew then that I had found my Commuter Book Group. I had wanted to begin by discussing the differences in approach between the first section (written in 1971) and the final section (1980). I found it interesting to see how much more violent ten years had made the author, though I was open to the suggestion that he had simply become more depressed about humanity's possibilities.

"So, did anyone else notice --" I started, but was immediately interrupted by an older man in a college sweatshirt.

"Hey, hey, hey," he said, "I noticed something all right. There was some pretty foul language in that book. N* this and N* that. I assume Mr. Moorcock was putting those words in the mouths of bad people, but he could have made the same point without such language, if you ask me."

"I suppose --" I started, but this time I was interrupted by a man carrying perfume samples.

"Look," he said. "You can't sell me on this alternate history stuff. It's just not very realistic."

"Sure --" I was going to agree with him. Generally, alternate history and time travel are two types of fiction with which I'm not comfortable. Unfortunately, I was interrupted again.

"Look around you," replied a woman with a chihuahua in her purse. "Were you allowed to bring pets on the Metro in your universe?"

The perfume salesman just shook his head and shrunk away from the dog. The dog, for his part, didn't seem too interested in the man, but he sure wanted to sample the perfume.

"The thing about alternate histories is that they tell more about the author than he or she perhaps realizes," I state, happy to get through an entire sentence. "I mean, look at this book. In every reality he creates, there is still an America, people are still racists, and England rules the waves. It starts out seeming very open and understanding, but in the end it's still pretty parochial."

"You think you'd do better?" sneered the woman next to me. I was noncommittal. "Well, your little alternate reality seems a bit parochial to me. Not only is there a Metro system, but there's still a Washington, DC, with a rush hour. Sure, you've got your little RC quirk and fetish about the Metro rules, but in reality, you've been just as parochial."

"But, but..." I said, and stood up. The crowd seemed to growl. I moved toward the door.

"And in all your stories," said the chihuahua, "you pretend to think that it's neat to live in community, but all strangers seem somehow menacing, rude, or some combination of the two."

"But, but..." I said. The doors opened behind me and I stepped onto the platform. I tried to think of something original about this timeline. The doors shut as I said, "But, in this world, you're all monkeys!"

Hugo Ruminations, Part II

A Convention Report

I'm still thinking about nominations for the category of Best Website. Here are a few more author blogs:

Modem Noise

I have not yet read any books by Adrian Bedford, but I check into his blog every day.

White Screen of Despair

I haven't yet read Gary's book, but I've read some of his other work. His blog provides an interesting look into an early writing career.

Notes from the Geek Show

Hal Duncan's book isn't even out yet, but he's one gonzo writer.


UghWell, I was going to write about The Inn at Little Washington, but I just can't think of anything funny, they made me so mad.

It's a Jungle Out There

It's a Jungle Out There Travel to Cincinnati was bad enough for my health simply because of White Castle's little burgers.

But now I've found another reason for my body to rebel about these trips: Jungle Jim's International Market. Not only is this the biggest grocery store I have ever seen, it is like a little amusement park. There's a fake monorail out front, singing Elvis bears, and talking Robin Hood characters.

But that is not what my body fears. No, my body fears the British candy. I've found an American source for Tunnock's Caramel Wafer Biscuits. Now, I can gain back all that weight!

And, yes, they even have Irn Bru!

Run Away! Run Away!

A Medical Report

What a way to celebrate Valentine's Day: go to the doctor for an annual scare session...I mean, 'physical'.

The doctor wanted to be sure I knew that "testicular cancer is a young man's disease." She went on to tell me that there's only a thirty day window for treating this particular cancer before I will DIE DIE DIE DIE.

But, of course, Lance Armstrong made it, and so can I.

The thing is, I probably don't have testicular cancer. I don't even have symptoms. I think she needed to describe this cancer because I said that the only form of exercise I get is bicycle riding.

I don't know what she would have said if the my preferred exercise was the breast stroke.

Anyway, all you guys out there are supposed to be doing self-examinations every month, because it needs to be treated within 30 days if you want to survive. My doctor assured me that if I found anything even slightly odd, they would make room for me right away, that day, and do an ultrasound.

I don't think I can get pregnant, but the ultrasound is important somehow.

She also was not impressed with my diet. Sure, I've lost 50 pounds in the last year, but cardboard really doesn't have much nutritional value. When I went in, I was proud to be only 16 pounds from my target weight, but the doctor wants me to eat more vegetables, take vitamin supplements, and eat more vegetables.

Don't even get her started on my lack of willingness to see a dentist.

Oh, and she stole my blood and gave me a tetanus shot. Ouch!

Good thing I only have to do this every thirty years or so...

Great Expectations

One good thing about meeting my imaginary friend Bertie at Five Guys is that they give you a lot of fries. I'm not a big fan of their fries (they're the squishy Boardwalk style), but volume is good where Bertie is concerned. As his position in "the entertainment industry" always leaves him short, it's nice to have a meal that is barely affected by his mooching.

I ask him how the radio gig went.

"You mean the one where I review the book based on title alone?" he asks. I nod. "Okay, I guess. But I don't have time for that any more, so I've let Bob take over."

"Is he going to be able to get up the nerve to go on the radio?" I ask. Bertie's brother is a little nervous sometimes.

"I thought so," Bertie says with a frown. "But I gave him Life of Pi to review. He wasn't supposed to read it, of course. It was just an aide-de-memoire, you might say."

"But he read it, didn't he?" Bertie nods. "Geez, that kid trapped in a boat with a tiger must have really freaked him out."

"I couldn't get him out from under his bed for two days. I wanted to tell him that, you know, that whole tiger-in-a-boat thing is just made up, but I couldn't," Bertie says.

"Why not?"

"Because that would have ruined the author's point, you know, about a story sometimes being better to believe in than the reality?"

"I'm not sure --" I start.

"Anyway, let's get back to talking about me," he interrupts. "I've got a new business idea. Did you like Life of Pi?"

"Um," I said. "You're making me dizzy. I guess it was all right. I did think that since it won the Booker Prize, it would -- I don't know -- wow me or something."

"Exactly!" he said. "What you needed was someone to lower your expectations, right? You know, let you know that the thing is worth reading, but not to get your hopes up too high. What did you think of Sideways?"

"The movie?" I shrug. "It was okay. Not what I expected from all the excitement."

"Just imagine how great you'd have thought it was if I had told you it was pants to begin with."

"But if you tell me it's no good, I might not bother," I tell him.

"Ah, that's the fine line my de-hyping service will have to traverse. Look at The Incredibles."

"That would've been great no mater what --" I say.

"Exactly!" he says again. "But we'd still tell you it was only 'ok.' That'll keep your expectations normalized. You never know when we mean it or not, so you can get a real buzz when you do enjoy it."

"I don't know," I say as I finish my burger. "It sounds kind of iffy --"

"Oh, we'll tell you if something really stinks, of course. That way you need us. What did you think of your burger?"

"Oh, it was a good burger and all. I don't know if it was worth waiting for."

"If only someone hadn't raised your expectations about it, eh? The bar was just too high."

"Yes, well. Anyway, how are you going to advertise your de-hyping service?"

"Bertie's De-hyping Service," he says and part his hands as if opening a banner. "Give us the chance to lower your expectations."

"How about this," I offer. "If you don't have expectations, you'll never be disappointed."

"Now, you're getting it," he says and takes the last fry. "Come help me. I'm taking Bob to the zoo today."


Random Thoughts

The folks over at History Wire are looking for guesses about the identity of Watergate informant "Deep Throat".
...So let's see, a notable person who's dying and who was deeply enmeshed in government at the time of Watergate. Now just when did Nixon appoint Rehnquist to the Supreme Court? 1971. Can't be him. Who else could it be?...
You know, I've heard the Pope is ailing...


Here's a fun one: I installed Rational Suite 2003.06.13 (also known as Service Release 3). Now, when I go into RequisitePro, tag a requirement and try to save, I get this error:

Runtime Error: Object variable or With block variable not set(RqWordServices.DocWrapper,446,91)

The unexpected event was recorded in the log file:
C:\Program Files\Rational\RequisitePro\Bin\Error.log

Now, you can go in, change some text, and save with no problem. It only seems to happen on requirement tagging.

There is an easy fix, but only if you have access to your Office/Word installation. To make this go away, after the installation of Rational, you must "Repair" the Office (or Word) installation. I assume this means that the Rational installation messes with some registration, but who knows for sure?

Do this to fix: Go to Add/Remove Programs, choose Office (or Word), choose Change, then Choose Repair. Wait a very long time.

Dreaming of Fame

A Quick Note

I was just thinking: If I'm ever a famous writer, and I do a reading or a book signing, and maybe somebody from the audience asks me if my characters are based on real people, I'll respond like this:

"Yes. They're all based on you."

Oh, and I intend to write lots and lots of run-on sentences, because Mrs. Jagger, one of my high school English teachers, once said that I could do whatever I wanted when I'm a famous writer.

"But until then," she'd say, "you must follow the standards of the Harbrace Handbook."

Sr Environment Grumpus

I've been considering asking my boss for a title change. I think that "Senior Tools Curmudgeon" would be nice. I could go around dropping statements like:

  • "A poor carpenter blames his tools." and
  • "In my day, 'tool integration' meant holding a hammer in one hand and a saw t'other."

The Brunette seems to think that there's a more appropriate title. She suggests "Tools Prima Donna".

"Intelligent numbers rarely are," I mutter. "Rutabega."

Town to Town; Up and Down the Dial

There's something old-fashioned about a business trip to Cincinnati, don't you think? It brings to my mind movies and stories about fathers in the 1950s who are regional salesmen or mechanical engineers. It's all so old economy. Well, at least I don't have to wear a tie.

I wouldn't mind wearing a hat, though.

Oh, and hey Mr. Hudson News Cashier Guy, if I have to buy a bottle of water on a Monday morning from you, I don't need to hear you ask (with a sigh), "Is that the smallest you've got?" I really don't need to see you shake your head when I respond in the negative. It is not my fault you don't know how to run a business and keep proper change around when your customers' only source of cash is ATMs which give out money in (you guessed it!) twenty dollar increments.

Super Sell

A Commercial Report

Just like every other American blogger (I'm sure), I watched the Super Bowl in order to discuss the commercials. I'm not much of an American football fan, but since we have no TV, it seemed as good a time as any to go up to the in-laws' to revel in the creativity that our consumer culture can generate when given half a chance. So perhaps it's a bit ironic that I came away with only one thought:

When the heck did U2 sell out?

Did I really hear their Sunday, Bloody Sunday used to promote football games?

THIS SONG IS A SERIOUS LAMENT FOR THE DEATH OF CIVIL RIGHTS MARCHERS IN IRELAND AT THE HANDS OF GOVERNMENT FORCES IN 1972. Tell me it was not used to sell a game where fat people in plastic armor struggle to move a little funny-shaped ball from one side of field of fake grass to the another.

C'mon, this massacre happened in my lifetime.

And it's true we are immune
When fact is fiction and TV reality
And today the millions cry
We eat and drink while tomorrow they die

When an Entire Colon is Just Too Much

An Aniversary Greeting

Today is the aniversary of the death of the only person I can find who is historically linked with an actual punctuation mark: Aldus Manutius, the Elder, invented the semi-colon.

Toaping Castle

Toaping Castle "Tell me again; Why are we here?" Izzy asked.

"We are here," I explained, very patiently, "to provide a fictional context for showing a picture of a historical marker on my blog."

"No," Izzy responded with a shake of his head and a little sigh. "I meant, 'What are we pretending we're doing?'"

"Oh, we're trying to break you out of your writer's block. I thought that a series of stories based on historical markers might be a method of working out of the rut."

"But I don't have writer's block," he said, rather petulantly if you ask me. "I don't even exist."

"Oh, we all know that. That's why the word 'Tale' is in the subtitle. It lets people know we're just walking around in my head."

"But even in your head, it's winter, right?" he asked.

"Yeah, so?"

"So, this place is all green and stuff."

"Well," I said and stopped. I mean, the picture is pretty green after all. "I took the picture months ago; I just never got around to writing anything about it."

"So, maybe you're the one with writer's block," he said, triumphantly. He acted as if he were Howard Hughes in The Aviator asking that Senator how he got to Peru.

"What difference does it make which one of us has writer's block?" I said.

"I'm worried about my image," he replied.

"Image?" I stomped in circles around the sign. "But you're not even real!"

"I don't care," he said and sulked. We both stared at the sign, which reads:

Toaping Castle
(Circa 1750)

On this site, Isaac, Charles, and Nathan Walker erected a large white oak log house, named for their ancestral stronghold in Scotland which the three brothers had fled after the failure of attempts to unseat George I, King of England, as ruler of Scotland. Isaac permanently settled here and obtained land grants for 188 acres. He and his three sons served in the Revolutionary War. The graves of Isaac and his son Nathan are north of here.

Toaping Castle was the birthplace of Samuel Hamilton Walker (Feb 24, 1817-Oct 9, 1847), Lt. Colonel of the Texas Rangers and Captain of the U.S. Cavalry. He left home at age 18 to fight Indians. And later he became a leader and hero of the Rangers. His suggested changes to Samuel Colt's revolver resulted in Colt's success as an arms manufacturer. 1000 Colt-Walker Pistols -- the first, heaviest, and longest revolvers ever issued to American forces-- were purchased for the Texas Rangers during the Mexican War. Walker was killed in that war at the Battle of Hua Mantla, Mexico.

The family cemetery is all that remains of the Toaping Castle estate.

"Got anything?" I asked, after a few minutes of staring. He shook his head. "It'd be easier if that were a White Castle instead of a Friday's."

"Or a gun shop," he suggested.


We continued to stare disconsolately. This had seemed so ripe with promise when I'd first seen the sign and told Izzy to meet me here. There had to be some story in liberal Greenbelt being the home of a gun inventor. Failing that, we're always interested in Scottish stories, right?

"Well, if there's nothing, there's nothing," I said. "Might was well go home."

"Sometimes, the words just don't cooperate," he said. "Writer's block is nothing to be embarrassed about."

"I don't have writer's block!" I said.

He was quiet for a moment.

"You know my name's not really Izzy, don't you?" he asked.

"Oh, shut up."

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