Birth of a Pepper

Birth of a Pepper

A Garden Report

Well, not a birth, exactly. More like an early burial? At any rate, someday these little guys are going to be tasty, colorful Bolivian Rainbow Peppers.

What Did Taleswapper Forget Today?

Actually, it was yesterday.

I forgot my ethernet cable for connecting to the internet at the Hampton Inn. It's so much nicer when a hotel has wireless, but I've been to this Hampton Inn before and should have remembered the cable.

I've been to this Hampton Inn, so I knew to request to be put in any room but 103. Of course, they put me in 103. "No other rooms available, sorry." Room 103 is between the hospitality suite and the workout room/sauna. The hospitality suite hasn't been too bad, but in the past we've been woken up at 5 in the morning by someone tramping on the treadmill, which is just the other side of the head of the bed.

This time, though, the treadmill is out of order, so it's not so bad.

I also forgot my mouthwash. I did remember toothpaste, so there you have it.

Animal Farm of the Air

Every time I fly, I'm reminded of the reason our nation is falling into a bowl of stupid. It's the television. The one at the airport was tuned to one of those inane morning "news" shows. They spent fifteen minutes with some professor who was upset because of the inability of Microsoft's grammar checker to, well, check grammar.

Good googly-moogly, people. Take some responsibility for your own poor writing skills. Don't blame Microsoft for that.

There's plenty of other stuff to blame Microsoft for.

You know, you might think that Southwest is a little more egalitarian than the other airlines. In theory, it's first come, first serve. Everybody gets the same chance at seats, and they're all pretty much equal anyway, right? Well, no, of course not. There is the mighty valuable row of seats at the exit doors. This row has a kingdom's worth of extra leg room.

Still, we all have the same chance to show up and get in line, right?

Apparently not. Yesterday morning, I was at the head of the line and proud to hurry down the causeway to claim my exit row seat. My knees were singing with joy until I boarded the plane and noticed that the row was already occupied! Some group of chattering chatterers was sitting in the exit row laughing it up with their good friends the flight attendants. Not another seat was taken.

I guess that some pigs are more equal than others, eh?

Hugo Shortlist

I'm ashamed to admit that with our hemming and hawing we missed making our Hugo nominations. Somehow, I thought we had until the end of this month, but the Con has announced the Hugo shortlist. Only 424 people nominated for best novel; the other categories had smaller ballots. Our vote would have had more weight than in our national election.

Ah, well. We'll remember to vote for the winners before 8 July. Now, at least we have a reading list. Here are the nominees for Best Novel:

  • The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks (Orbit)
  • Iron Council by China MiĆ©ville (Del Rey; Macmillan)
  • Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross (Ace)
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury)
  • River of Gods by Ian McDonald (Simon & Schuster)

As always, you can use the comments to try and sway our votes. Updates to follow.

Breakfast of Champions (Kurt Vonnegut)

Breakfast of Champions is not Breakfast at Tiffany's. Breakfast at Tiffany's is an old movie starring Audrey Hepburn and that guy from The A-Team (no, not Mr. T). It happens to be one of Great Uncle Leadbelly's favorite movies.

Americans are programmed to pretend to be happy, no matter what hell it is the chemicals in their body are putting them through. One manifestation of this is a need to have favorite things. Everyone must have a favorite movie, a favorite television show, a favorite food, etc. There are people who cannot, and will never be able to, afford one of those exorbitantly priced drinks at famous coffee shops, but if asked will say their favorite coffee drink is a half-caf double latte.

They don't know what that is, but they heard someone order it on their favorite television show.

Of course, Great Uncle Leadbelly won't admit the Hepburn flick is his favorite movie. His masculinity requires him to say that his favorite movie is Patton. Deep down, though, Great Uncle Leadbelly hates Patton. Stupid Hollywood pretending to be patriotic, Great Uncle grumbles from his condo at the Republican Retirement Ranch, which is mostly in Montgomery County.

Great Uncle Leadbelly will grumble like this as he sits in his favorite chair and watches his favorite news channel. Great Uncle's favorite chair is a Relax O'Lounge Reclining Chair; specifically, the Excelsior Model. These days, the Relax O'Lounge Reclining Chair Company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Todo El Mundo Corporation. Todo El Mundo Corporation is a holding company for many smaller companies.

For example, Todo El Mundo is a majority owner of a small German company that makes plastic toy elephants. The company is called Heinrich Werks. Their elephant is a favorite of many very young American children. Heinrich Werks has made other products in its past. This is supposed to be good business practice: making diverse items so that the company can be protected from the vagaries of the marketplace.

In the middle part of the last century, Heinrich Werks made weapons that its government handed to people. Those people used the guns to shoot at and kill many of Great Uncle Leadbelly's contemporaries. And so it goes.

Todo El Mundo also owns a company in the DC area called Celluloid Information Miners, Inc, which is often shortened to CIM. This is called an acronym. Making acronyms is a favorite leisure activity for many in the Washington, DC, area. By an amazing coincidence, CIM is the company for which Izzy works. Izzy is a software developer. Izzy's favorite computer language is called Ada. He likes Ada because it has such a rigid structure.

Not many people use Ada any more. Somehow, C and Java seem to be the prevailing favorite languages. By having Ada as a favorite language, Izzy is showing himself to be an independent thinker. Unfortunately, Izzy can never find a job using Ada. Every Ada project he's been offered over the last few years has been on a military contract. But military contracts are not Izzy's favorite things.

Some people would call Izzy a "dove." He has this crazy idea that bombing and killing people doesn't make them stop hating us.

Another way that Izzy shows that he is an independent thinker (aside from being a dove and liking Ada) is in his choice of a favorite baseball team. His favorite baseball team is the Horses, a minor league team from Troy, New York. Because he lives in Maryland, Izzy's favorite team is supposed to be the Orioles. The owner of the Orioles is sure this is true. It's possible that Izzy will start to like the new Washington team when it starts playing.

He'll have to see what everyone else thinks.

Izzy's favorite team is from Troy, New York, because that's where Izzy went to university. It's also where I went to university, although we never met until just last year. Isn't life odd?

The Horses, by the way, are only 49% owned by Todo El Mundo Corporation. That's not so bad, I guess.

Bertie, on the other hand, went to the same university, and I did know him there. To put himself through college, Bertie worked at a small furniture factory in Cohoes. He worked on an assembly line. His job was simple: rotate screw #38A2 exactly twelve times in a counter-clockwise direction. He repeated this activity something like six hundred gazillion times a day.

Turning that screw was not one of Bertie's favorite activities.

Bertie's favorite activity was reading the novels of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. He even had a favorite passage. The favorite passage read like this:

"I can't tell if you're serious or not," said the driver.

"I won't know myself until I find out whether life is serious or not," said Trout. "It's dangerous, I know, and it can hurt a lot. That doesn't necessarily mean it's serious,too."

Bertie was sure that if everyone would read Kurt Vonnegut's books, they would stop hurting each other and themselves so often. I told him he sounded like an evangelist. You could probably say, then, that it was my fault that Bertie got his "Gideon's" idea. He figured maybe he could get hotels and motels to let him put copies of Vonnegut books into the nightstands in their rooms. Then, when a weary traveler opened that drawer, they'd see a really big book called the Bible and a much smaller book, which was a novel. They could decide to read the really big book (which some people believed had one point: be nice to each other) or the much smaller book (which Bertie believed had one point: be civil to each other).

Unfortunately, it was not the favorite idea of hotel owners to allow strangers to leave things in all their rooms and so Bertie was at first stymied. But though he was stymied, Bertie was undaunted. He decided that if he couldn't put books in every hotel drawer, he could still get books into many homes and hotels by using his job. So he started adding an extra step to his work routine.

His routine now had two steps: 1) Rotate the screw exactly twelve times in a counter-clockwise direction, 2) slip a Kurt Vonnegut book into the inner fabric lining of the Excelsior chairs he was helping to construct.

Bertie worked for the Relax O'Lounge Reclining Chair Company. So, when Great Uncle Leadbelly grumbles about Hollywood (which, after all, is one of his favorite things to do), he does so with his left cheek only inches away from Breakfast of Champions, which is not the same as his favorite movie.



I just noticed that the daily multi-vitamin I've been taking has Lycopene! That means I can stop taking that daily cup of ketchup.

Sad News

The camel at the National Zoo has passed away.

Malafrena (Ursula K. Le Guin)

One of the things we love about living in Old Greenbelt is the system of interconnected walkways. These pathways flow through the community between homes so that it is possible to walk from our house to the library, grocery, cafe, doctor and movie theater without crossing or walking alongside a road. Not only is it nice to avoid contact with motorized traffic, the pathway system gives us more interaction with our neighbors.

Neighbors like Jimmy (or whatever his name is), who has just dashed from the path into the house of his friend Prasad. I approach the chair he has left behind on the path. A poem is attached to the chair with duct tape. The poem reads:

You think they're kinda zany
They're really all insane-y
Our Bush, Our Rumsfeld, Our Cheney

Join us in a rush
To toss them on the tush
This Rumsfeld, this Cheney and this Bush

I roll my eyes at the boys' effort and turn as Prasad and Timmy exit the house bearing a low coffee table.

"Hoy! What is this?" I ask as they upend the table against the chair. Three month's worth of Compressed Living magazine slide to the ground. "This isn't a political blog, you know."

"Oh, hello Mr. Taleswapper," the little ringleader says. (It's starting to sound to me more and more like "Hello, Mr. Wilson.") Prasad simply nods as he returns to the porch to drag over a lawn chair.

"What have you been reading, now?" I ask.

"Well," says Tommy. "I picked up this book by Ursula K. Le Guin that I thought would be science fiction, but it wasn't."

"It wasn't?" I ask.

"Not at all," Prasad puts in after balancing a flower pot on the upside-down lawn chair. Johnny puts his back into pushing a large gas-grill toward the growing pile. Prasad continues, "It started off--"

"--like the first two-thirds of it--" interrupts Jeffrey.

"--quite a bit like a Lavransdatter set in the nineteenth century. Only without the plague."

"But with added suicides," puts in Jackie. "Then, though, it turns into a revolutionary saga, like Les Miserables."

"Only without the singing," I say with a smirk. Both lads pause in their labor to look at me, then at each other.

"Do you remember any singing in that book?" Prasad asks Jed, who makes a gesture that I'm sure means: He's just a crazy old guy; what does he know?

"It was quite thrilling," says Judd. "So, we thought we'd build our own barricade. Viva La Revolucion!" He triumphantly lifts the clay lawn gnome above his head. The barricade now blocks the pathway rather well.

"As I recall," I say carefully, "the point of Malafrena is that only the youth have energy to waste on revolution and that older, wiser folks know the futility of the phrase 'new world order.'"

"That's what we thought at first, too," admits Ted as he climbs the barricade, dragging the gnome along behind. "But then we realized that what she was really trying to say was that revolutions don't generally start with enough youth and energy."

"And we think we're young enough," says Prasad.

"Hey!" It's Prasad's father at the porch. He sounds pretty angry. He looks it, too. Todd's foot slips and he releases the gnome, which bounces down the barricade and through Prasad's hands to hit the sidewalk with a sickening crack.

I run like heck back up the hill and in through our gardenside door. The Brunette looks up from her painting.

"Did you enjoy your walk to the store?" she asks. I harrumph a bit and peek through the curtains out the window.

"Tell me again," I say, "why can't we drive everywhere like normal people?"

If You Can't Say Anything Nice

Another Disgusting Cat Picture

Then Post a Picture of Your Cat

If I haven't lost both my loyal readers by now, this picture will surely do it, eh? I've not been posting these last two weeks because I've been traveling to Suffolk, Virginia, and really, there's just not that much exciting to say about Suffolk, Virginia. Even though I'm home now, I have nothing to say, so I hope the picture will keep you busy.

But never fear, my dear friends and passers-by, next week I'll be in the DC area the entire week. Even better than that, I'll be taking the Metro. Riding on the Metro with a notebook always means a story or two about a restaurant or a book. Or both. I've got a pile of read-but-not-yet-blogged-about books just waiting to get put into a story.

Of course, I'm also going to be wiped out because I'm doing two days of public training. Much as I love the sound of my own voice, standing all day yakking really wears me down. But, if you've always dreamed of being a ClearCase administrator, I guess next week is as good as any to sit in on a class, eh?

Don't ask me how much it costs, though. I prefer not to know.

Oh, I forgot: I was sitting in a meeting with some Rational folks and a few customers. My laptop was sitting on the table. I have my screensaver set to cycle randomly through the pictures in My Documents.

Want to guess which picture popped up during today's meeting? Nope, not this one. It was the next one; the one where the cat is actually licking himself. Ick. Moving those to the trashcan right now!

A Few Unexpected Things

  • Packed the wrong notebook today. At least I haven't lost it lately.
  • Half asleep when I bought the water at BWI, so I thought the taste was weird. It was raspberry flavored Dasani.
  • The overhead bins were covered in crayon. Kids run amok? Apparently not. This was a special airplane - Ronald MacDonald House adverts.

Faith, Madness and Spontaneous Human Combustion

The other morning, I had one of those Dagwood moments. In the rush to get out of the house to clean the car in order to get on the road in time to get to the airport to fly off to Suffolk (where I really did have some trouble with a car rental company), I ran through the front door. In my haste, I barreled right into the lad from down the street. You remember him, the one whose name refuses to stick in my head.

"Sorry there, Timmy," I said as we both stood and brushed away snow.

"Oh, I'm all right," he replied. He helped me to begin clearing the car. Let me tell you, imaginary people have no snow removal skills. It was almost as if he wasn't there at all.

"What are you doing out so early?" I asked.

"Research," he said. I only raised my eyebrows in response. He probably couldn't see this gesture, though, because I had accidentally put on the Brunette's winter black had instead of my own winter black hat and, to be totally honest, I was starting to understand what it must feel like to have a face lift the hat was so tight. Wee Jimmy continued, "You lived in Scotland once didn't you?"

"Aye," I said, investing that affirmative syllable with all the brogue I absorbed from two years in the shadow of the Campsies.

"Do they have ants in Scotland?" he wanted to know.

"Ants?" I actually paused to consider the question carefully. "I don't remember, to be honest. Why?"

"Mostly because I don't want to do Africa," he said.

This made everything so clear that I was forced to squawk: "Midges!"

"What?" he said.

"Midges, boy. Midges live in Scotland. Some kind of evil cross between mosquitoes, horse flies and gnats. Terrible."

"Do they ever go crazy?" Sean asked. "I mean, like, totally insane?"

"Uh," I said. "They drive people crazy, I guess? What are you on about?"

"Well, I've been reading this book." He held it up. It was called Faith, Madness, and Human Combustion. "The author talks about these ants that act normal sometimes except at sunset when they go absolutely mad."

"Go mad?" I said. "What?"

"Yeah, it's like they usually stay on the ground, right? But sometimes when it's getting dark, they go crazy and climb up on the stalks of grass. They bite down, right? And they sort of just wave in the wind until a cow comes along and eats 'em, or until the sun goes all the way down. If they live, they go back down to the ground and act normal again."

"Weird," I said.

"Yeah. And the scientists think that the ants aren't crazy, really, they just got infected by this bacteria that grows in cow stomachs and needs to go back into cow stomachs to breed."

"Kinda like salmon," I said. "So now you want to be an etymologist?"

"I think you mean entomologist," he said. He laughed as if he'd just made a joke, but I didn't get it.

"Ok, whatever," I said. "You want to study bugs now, yeah?"

"Not really, what I want to do is write a science fiction story based on people who act crazy, but aren't really crazy, they just have some bacteria in their brains and this is useful for aliens or something."

"Oh. Well, good luck on --"

"Do you want to hear what I've written so far?" he asked.

"Um, well, I have to catch a --"

"Good. Listen: " He started reading from his notebook.

The Orkneys having been designated a laser-drive-free-zone due in part to designation as a region "of special cultural interest" and in part to the general orneriness of the local population, I was forced to arrive by ferry after an interminable train ride up the Scottish coast. (I begin this way in order to (1) identify an exotic locale early and (2) indicate that the story takes place in the future.) I stood on the quay with my notebook and backpack. The remainder of my equipment and provisions would follow later, but I preferred to arrive with bare essentials. I also preferred to travel on my own, with few distractions aside from my reading materials, so I had made no acquaintances on the journey.

So, my backpack and I stood still on the landing, while a small wash of disembarkers and welcomers flowed about me. There was no obvious information desk and God help me if I was going to ask a stranger for direction, so I stood motionless as those around me made contact and moved on.

Eventually, I was nearly alone. At the parking area, I spotted a lone pickup truck. The driver -- an older woman with wide shoulders -- watched me but made no move to hail me. As all the alternatives had disappeared into the light fog, I summoned enough courage to approach the truck and ask -- "Mrs. Galloway?"

She gave a quick nod that ended in a tilt indicating the passenger seat. I climbed in and enjoyed a conversation-free ride to the Galloway Guest House, my summer lodging. Mrs. Galloway asked no questions, told no stories, had no apparent interest in hearing any from me. We exchanged not a single word in the thirty-minute drive to the cottage.

I felt like I was coming home.

He stopped reading and looked at me. I nodded for him to continue, but he merely closed his notebook.

"Is that it?" I asked.

"So far," he said. "I have lots of ideas about how he'll become more gregarious and stuff, but I never get around to writing anything more."

"Some people are good starters," I agreed. I looked up when I heard the Brunette come out of the house. She was going to drive me to the airport. When I looked around, Jamie was gone.

"Who are you talking to," the Brunette asked.

"Nobody," I said. "I'm not crazy, you know."

"No," she carefully agreed.

"However," I said, cheerfully, "I might be infected."

Bait and Switch

Dear Dollar Rent a Car,

This letter is to inform you that I will never, ever, ever attempt to rent a car from your company again. If I am trapped in a dangerous country, surrounded by fever-induced madmen bent on my humiliation, torture, and death, and my only hope of escape is a compact car from your company offered gratis, with a full tank of gas, I will not accept your offer.

Because you might tell me at the last minute that you have nothing available except a luxury car, and I only need to pay half the difference.

When I flew into Norfolk International Airport this morning, I was feeling chipper and my view of the world was serene. I had the swagger of someone who had the foresight to reserve a vehicle before arriving at the terminal. Therefore, I knew that I would be able to access a car from your company and move on to my business meeting with ease.

How wrong I was!

After waiting in line for ten minutes or so, I was finally able to speak with your counter agent. She helpfully took my information, including my address and credit card number, all the while absorbing valuable time during which I could have been, I don't know, getting closer to my client's meeting? Of course, working the counter contract is a part of the process, so I had no objection overall. However, I did have an objection to your agent's next statement.

"You can have the compact car you reserved, but you'll have to wait an hour," she said. "If you like, I can get you in a luxury car for 50% of the difference."

I was aghast. No modern company would engage in such baldly fraudulent practice as the old 'bait and switch', surely!

"So you're saying," I confirmed with the agent, "that the car that I reserved to be available right now is not available for an entire hour, but you do have some other car available that I could pay more for?"

She nodded. I explained to her that it was not my habit to consort with people who do not hold up their end of the consumer bargaining experience. I chose and reserved that car in good faith, expecting that my reservation would mean something, that I would not be left in the cold. My choices were to either pay money for something I didn't want or to be an hour late for a meeting with a valued customer.

I chose to pay more money elsewhere. I do not lightly put my company's money into the hands of dishonest brokers. And I shall not make the mistake of trying your service again.

And when society finally does collapse in an angry heap, I'm heading out of here in a Jeep from Enterprise.