Hole in the Wall

So, here it is folks: a breakthrough of sorts.

The wall between the dining room and the kitchen in these old GHI units is full of plaster. It's amazing the amount of stuff inside of these five inch walls. This isn't your newfangled sheetrock slapped on top of regularly spaced sticks of wood. This is solid construction, baby. Well, it's mostly solid. It's tubes of plaster underneath a veneer of plaster below a coating of plaster. Did I mention there was plaster?

Not any more!

Well, at least for part of the wall. One more day of whacking and then it's down to the details. Finishing and cleaning and cabinetry and floors and painting. Oh, there's still plenty to do in between trips to Kansas.

Now, this is what progress looks like.

Signs of the Times

Dang, the picture isn't as clear as I'd like. This was the sign out front of my home-away-from-home this morning. It reads, "Welcome Institute of Divine Metaphysical Research," except, of course, that the sign doesn't have that nifty link to a web page on it. Because the sign doesn't provide a link, I spent the day disappointed because I must have been missing three fascinating subjects:

  • Science
  • Spirituality
  • Large Male Cross-Dressers
Speaking of Divine, I stopped by a nice little restaurant this evening where the waitress looked just like Travolta in that Hairspray get-up.

I also learned today that Kansas has a law: if you're on the Interstate and there's a police officer in the right shoulder, you're supposed to move into the left lane. Want to guess how I learned about this law?

This Side of Paradise (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

I was on the Safety Patrol," I said, and Izzy jumped. I guess he had been in very deep contemplation of this historical marker posted on a state highway in North Carolina. The sign celebrates Francis McCorkle. It says:

Francis McCorkle
1741 - 1802
Militia Major at battles of Kings Mt.; Ramsour's Mill; Torrence's Tavern; Cowan's Ford and Cowpens; Member Rowan County Committee of Safety.
Grave 1/8 mile South

"Yeah," I go on. "It was only for half a year in the sixth grade at Essex Elementary. We got to wear a bright orange strap and a tin badge. We all had stations. I didn't get to do the fancy jobs of crosswalk duty. No, that went to the captains - Colyn and Brian. I stood at the door next to the gym and told the fourth graders not to run. It wasn't quite enough power to intoxicate and yet it was too much responsibility for my restless soul, I guess."

Don't know where the sudden babbling came from. Whenever I'm around Izzy, I just want to give him all kinds of encouragement. He has that horrible writer's block thing, you know. All the cool kids are doing it, sure, but I think it makes him feel bad. At any rate, I apologized to Izzy for running on so.

"I guess it's hard not to relive the glory days of school," I said.

"At least you're not blathering about restrooms," Izzy conceded.

"Oh, that reminds me," I said and snapped my fingers for emphasis. Most of the time, I can't be bothered to snap my fingers, but for a story like this, if it helps emphasize, then heck I'm a gonna snap. "I have a great idea for a story for you. This guy goes into a rest stop in Virginia. While he's drying his hands, the dryer completely melts his hands away. It's like a Stephen King horror story. Needs a twist, though. Maybe the guy was the inventor of paper towels or maybe he was deathly afraid of frostbite. That'd give it that pinch of irony, huh? He usually wears gloves everywhere even in the summer, but he thinks the dryer is safe. Bloorp! There go his hands. Tragic, yet comic."

"What's not to love?" Izzy grumbled.

"Exactly! And it's true to life, too. I tell you, those dryers on Interstate 81 are monsters. They blow so hard you can see your skin move around. It's creepy, like there's something crawling under your skin." I shuddered. "I think it gave me a bruise. It's tender right there. So, any way, it'd make a great story for you to write, huh?"

"I shall never write again," Izzy replied. Oh, gracious goodness, I thought.

"Why ever for?" I asked. He handed me the book he had been holding. "Oh, that's a good one," I said. "I liked This Side of Paradise better than Gatsby."

"You really think so?" Izzy said with more interest than I think he meant to show. "It seemed a bit thin to me. Like a good practice book, but nothing all that special."

"Oh, but I felt that the ennui of the main character as he searches for direction really resonates with my experiences in the post-dot-com, post-911 era."

"I'm a bit weary of ennui," he responded. "It's just another book about school."

"Oh, yeah, sure, in one sense. But I liked it better than Lucky Jim. A lot of authors have that first academic novel that they have to get out of their system. Look at Wonder Boys."

"I've just come to realize that I'll not be able to write a novel about school because it's already been done--"

"There are only seven stories," I pointed out. "So they've all been done."

"--and I'm a little too old to write about college any more."

"A pirate looks at 40," I said. He ignored me. "Look, dude. TSOP isn't only about educational experiences, you know. It's also about the guy's yearning to process his place in the world after his experience in a terribly messy war."

"I haven't been to war, either," Izzy said.

"That's not the point, right? His experience is universal, in one sense. The ennui he feels and the striving the others do are related to the same thing. They're -- we're -- all looking for the same thing, don't you think?"

"You don't believe that," he said.

"Not totally, no, but enough to write this story about it."

"OK, what are they looking for?"

"They want everything to be in control again. They're looking for one thing:" I pointed at the sign. "Safety."

A Clean Break

So, for the first time since I started this ridiculous road trip, I made it to my rental car without having to talk to a single person. That's five trips, one successful use of Hertz Gold. Gosh, it was nice.

Something I've learned: the more something costs, the less you get. These crazy car people seem to think that if you asked for a compact car, you'll be thrilled if they give you an "upgrade" to something bigger or sportier. Sure, I thought last week was onna be fun when they gave me a Mustang instead of the Focus-or-similar that I asked for. And it was fun until I got to Topeka and had used half a tank of gas already. Oi!

More interesting, to me anyway, is that the two times I've been upgraded I've lost a feature I like: an aux jack on the stereo.

On the two Chevy Cobalts, the Hyundai whatever it was, and the Ford Focus, I could plug my iPod into the stereo aux jack using a mini-plug. It was nice! But the Mustang's special Sirius upgrade and this week's Ford Fusion's special digital radio both lack this nice feature. Weird, huh?

'Course it doesn't really matter, because I lost my iPod. But I coulda plugged in my computer, I guess. If anybody sees an iPod out there with NumberSix engraved on the back -- it's mine! Gimme!


Have you got your Harry Potter prediction ready? JK Rowling says that this weekend's release definitely "ends Harry's story." Here's my prediction:

Harry and Voldemort destroy each other in a cataclysmic exchange that destroys all magic forever. Now, everybody's a muggle. Imagine the opportunity for a sequel: how will the Malfoys learn to struggle along in a non-magical world where they are the disadvantaged? Sadly, this also means that Hagrid must go. On the other hand, Mr. Weasley will turn out to have the most foresight of all: his interest in muggle technology will lead them all to safety in an uncertain, magic-free world.

Or maybe not.

What Good Is That Signature?

So, two weeks ago, I started using a new credit card. Fun Fun Fun! Free money and all that, eh?

Anyway, this time around, instead of signing it on the back, I wrote three words: "Ask for ID." Now, since I'm on travel, I'm using the thing a lot, what with lunch and dinner every day and the hotel and whatnot. Now, gas and the airplane are done on-line, so they don't really count, but I'm guessing I've given the card to something like 18 people in the last two or so weeks.

Can you guess how many have asked to see my ID?

More Bandwagons

Guess I'm a sucker for these time wasters while I'm trapped with a raging sore throat and stuffed head in a hotel in the middle of Kansas with nowhere to go. I can't think straight, but I can play with pretty pictures.

This is one of those shameless promotional thingies that show that I'm not so good at avoiding crass commercialism. It's me as a Simpson character. It really did take forever to get it to work, so it's not quite so fun as the dancing elf.

I don't know how much it really looks like me, but it surely is the shirt I was wearing.

You can make one, too.

Oh the Shame

I've just learned that one of my alma mater's illustrious alumni, standing tall alongside the inventor of the Ferris Wheel, the creator of commercial television, and the inventor of e-mail, is Bobby Farrelly, one of the directors behind Dumb and Dumber. Oi.


Abubu Power! Abubu Power! Abubu Power!

Sorry for going all Zippy on you there. I just came across this phrase in Ink and I like its sound.

I think I mentioned before that I was worried about bringing Ink into Kansas. I fully expected to be stopped at the border and thrown in jail. So, I started off a little tentatively by bringing Dorian Gray, which, it turns out, shouldn't really have been any easier to bring in. I was accosted, though, by at least two whippersnappers who read the book in high school and wanted to talk about it.

I'm an introvert, dang it!

So, I decided Ink would work better in that regard, but once again, two different people have asked me questions about the book. What is with these dang friendly people? Sheesh.

1 for 3

Well, I thought I was 0 for 3 in May. I mentioned back then that I had made three submissions in creative endeavors:

  • An entry to create a new NPR radio show with RadioQuest
  • A short story contest for the Washington Post
  • A short animation for a contest with IBM
I didn't make the cut for RadioQuest, my short story didn't make the grade for the Post, and the Rational Conference came and went with no announcement, so I figured I was out of luck.

But I accidentally hit the link to the R-Tube (clever, huh?) site today to find that they had announced winners:

Finally (for now, that is), we want to offer another round of congratulations to our What Keeps Me Rational contest winners:
  1. What Keeps Me Rational category - Becky Winant
  2. How RSDC Keeps Me Rational category - Jill Mc Nell
  3. You're No Match For My Science category - Jim Hurst
  4. Well, Isn't That Special category - CM Animation

Great work, great meeting, and a great future ahead as we continue to create the software and support systems that keep you Rational.

Scott Hebner

My little CM animation won!

I was surprised that I hadn't been notified, since there were all those great...uh...So, uh, something that's missing from the site is the list of prizes. What happened to the free trip to next year's conference? What happened to the free iPod? Where's my limo? What's the deal Mr. Hebner? eh?



Man, there's something hypnotic about this video. It shows the movement of all US flights over the course of 24 hours. It almost looks like the US is being blown away, grain by grain, to the East, then refilled again, grain by grain.

This video lives on a site called FlightAware, which lets you pick a flight or series of flights and watch them cross the US.

Apex Hides the Hurt (Colson Whitehead)

"Uh-oh," I say as I stare out the gardenside window. The cat and I like to watch the squirrels. Tubby (the cat) gets rather worked up, but I only bonk my head on the glass once in a while. "That kid and Prasad are out in the common square."

"That kid?" asks the Brunette.

"Yeah. You know, the one whose name I can't remember?"

"Oh, them," she says and returns to her book. "They're not real. You do remember that?"

"I'd better go see what they're up to," I say. "It looks like they're up to no good."

"OK, dear," she says without looking up. "Play nice."

Out in the hot air, there's little movement aside from the boys in the square. I find they have a pile of spray paint cans and cardboard.

"OK," I say with all the authority I can muster. "Lads, what are you into now? What have you been reading this week?"

Prasad hands me a copy of a book by Colson Whitehead, Apex Hides the Hurt.

"Gross," I say. "That toe thing was disgusting."

"Personally," Prasad says, "I felt the band-aid metaphor was a bit obvious, but his writing was fresh and entertaining."

"On the other hand," I say. "I certainly identified with that bit about traveling to a strange town with all this time I've been spending in Topeka. The fight with housekeeping was amusing."

"Yeah, of course, the deeper issues of race, memory, willingness (or not) to deal with the past, and gentrification were interesting to me. I also liked the idea of having a job as a naming consultant."

"The protagonist is never named," I say. "That didn't irritate you?"

"In some hands it works," says Prasad's friend. "Other people just don't have the talent to pull it off." Then he stares at me with that weird look he gets. You'd think it was my fault that I can't remember his name.

"At any rate, I believe it has given us an approach for combating the recent crime wave," Prasad says, diplomatically redirecting the conversation.

"Crime wave?" I ask. "The News Review hasn't mentioned a crime wave."

"My bike was stolen," replies the kid with the spray paint can who is not Prasad. Neither the kid nor the spray paint can is Prasad. Prasad adjusts his glasses. In spite of the heat, he his still wearing his usual tie, but he has compromised by wearing a lighter shade of khakis.

"I've had my bike stolen lots of times," I say. "Every time, it was when I left my bike unlocked and available."

"At any rate," Prasad interrupts again. "I believe that if we take a simple step, we can confuse the criminal element and make our community safe again."

"We're going to rename all the streets so they get lost," the unnamed kid says.

"At first we considered making all the roads one-way, pointing out of the neighborhood, but it was too expensive to buy the signs," Prasad says.

"Plus, nobody could come home from work," I point out. The lads look confused by this, but it's too hot to explain the concept of "work" and selling your soul to the company store and all that.

"So, expect to find that there's no more Ridge Road or Southway soon. It'll be harder to give directions, but it'll be a sacrifice we'll all have to make. We're also going to rename the Spellman Overpass to something that will discourage the bad guys from using it."

"You mean like, 'If You Use This Your Breath Stinks Overpass'?" I ask.

"No, something that they want to avoid, like 'Police Officer Bridge'."

"Or COP Crossing," Prasad adds.

"Or Fuzz Footbridge," I suggest. "I really thought the point of the book was that --"

"We'll also change the name of Roosevelt Center," the kid goes on. Center implies a little too much about being the hub of everything. Roosevelt Edge is a little less in the middle."

"Won't that just make the criminals spend even more time in the neighborhoods?" I ask.

"Well, we'll start calling them the NeighborsNotHoods."

"Ah. Well, kids, I'm going to go back into the air conditioning. Make sure you don't hurt anyone, OK?" There, I've done my civic duty, reminding the kids to stay out of trouble.

Back in the house, the Brunette asks if everything is OK. I figure it must be; how many crooks are going to take a right onto "Not Here Drive" or drive along "Don't Even Think About It Lane" to harass our happy enclave?

"Don't be surprised if Greenbelt changes its name in the morning," I tell her.


"I think they'll be changing the sign near the Parkway to say 'Welcome to We Don't Want Your Kind Here.'"

"That'll go well with the 'Building an Inclusive Community' sign," she says.

"Yes," I say. "Good thing we can make signs. Otherwise I'd feel helpless."


I'm waiting here in Kansas City, sitting on the floor because that's what you have to do when you're a cow in the Southwest slaughterhouse process. Earlier, a man tried to leave his bag in the cattle chute to hold his place and go sit in the nice, comfy chairs that were designed for, well, people to actually sit in. He got into quite the altercation with the security guards (4!) who didn't feel that it was enough that he could see the bag from 15 feet away (behind a counter, near the window) because to them the bag was abandoned. Somehow, he didn't see their point of view and was grumpy about having to go over and stand in line.

Honestly, I was on the side of the cops. People should not feel they can put some sort of "save me" marker in a line. Do the time like the rest of us, creep! This isn't second grade where you get your friend to save a seat in the cafeteria for you.

At any rate, I'm at my own gate sitting on the floor behind a crowd of brats. The little girl keeps hitting me with her stupid Barbie doll, one of the boys is crying because his mom told him to shut up, and the other little boy keeps jumping around like a stinking jumping bean (usually right after he's kicked the crying one in the knee) which brings him into my little piece of luggage, the corner of my monitor, my foot. He's wearing a dorky little Confederate hat and blaring a portable DVD player. They have that annoying whining tone in their voices, all of them including the mom, that makes you just want to shove a pillow on their faces and JUST MAKE IT STOP! MAKE IT STOP! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGHHH

Sorry, lost control there for a second. The meaner brat just dropped his DVD player. I think he broke it, which gave me a momentary feeling of satisfaction which was wiped away because now he's crying, too, and the little girl is saying, "that's the second one he broke." Jeez, an eight year old kid has had two portable DVD players already? No wonder he's a spoiled brat.

Yeah, I'm looking forward to this plane trip. At least the terminal here in Kansas City has free wi-fi.

Sing Like a Bird

I don't know about you, but if I read the phrase "for the ladies," I can't help but hear it in a sleazy, plaid-clad voice.

But I'm here in normal Kansas, right? So, I'm sure that the guy was not being sleazy. Did I mention that he's an instructor at a women's prison?

They're not wearing plaid, but Tenacious D know how to say "for the ladies".


One of my favorite bloggers just had quite a frightful night. Read about it at the world's oldest blog:

I betimes to bed, and there fell into a most mighty sweat in the night, about eleven o’clock, and there, knowing what money I have in the house and hearing a noyse, I begun to sweat worse and worse, till I melted almost to water.
Funny stuff.

Question for Debate: Availability of Public Video

So, my city is about to install video cameras around a popular park/shopping area in order to observe the activities of those enjoying the outdoors in Roosevelt Center. I admit to being ambivalent about the issue: sure, crime is something we want to prevent; yeah, it's scary the government is getting all big brother-y; I know, people are worried; I've heard, the thing won't do much good without actual humans doing the surveillance.

What I don't understand is: the cameras are going to be available on the internet, but only to authorized viewers, I assume mostly police and government officials. Why would it be a bad thing for these cameras to be public? If they were public, wouldn't that be more amenable to civil rights, not less? If everybody can access the information, it seems to me, it's just like anyone being allowed to stand around in the center and it would provide a check/balance on how the information is used or modified because many eyes provide a better review?

Plus, it'd be kind of cool to look in on the traffic flow of pedestrians at the center.

Anybody out there understand the reasoning for the secretiveness? Would the images be available under FOIA or is that only for Federal things?

Tell Me If This Hertz

Three arrivals at Kansas City International Airport (MCI), three chances to use Hertz Gold. Hertz Gold is usually nice: you reserve your car on the web, then you walk straight to the car without dealing with the pesky counter people. It's generally fast and easy, just check your name on the electronic board to find the car's space number.

At Kansas City, the rental facility is offsite, so for all car rental companies, you jump on a free shuttle that takes you to this circular building with all the companies around the perimeter. It's clean and fairly quick, only 3 1/2 minutes from the Southwest arrivals, anyway.

The first time I walked up to the leader board to find my name, it was not there. I had to go talk to the counter people who wanted to verify my credit card (I had changed it online).

The third time I walked up to the leader board to find my name, it was not there. I had to go talk to the counter people who told me the car had been reserved for 10am instead of 10pm. Stupid internets!

The second time I walked up to the leader board to find my name, it was there, twice. Imagine that! I had to go talk to the counter people who told me that yes it was important because two people with the same name had indeed made reservations. That's what comes of having a common name, I suppose, but I never realized there were so many Taleswappers out there.

Wasting Money in Margaritaville

Here we are on the shores of Lake Norman in North Carolina. The rental property bills itself as Margaritaville.

Turns out it's loserville. Or something. So far, we have been disappointed by:

  • The grill does not work
  • The kayak has two large holes in it
  • The house is unclean (and if I noticed that, it must be true)
  • The beds are too short
  • The shower head comes out at my chin
  • Of the two highly touted outdoor speakers, only one works, very quietly
  • The VCR does not work
  • The DVD player will not power on
The place has no internet, but we knew that going in. When we sent an email asking if there was internet available, the owner wrote back to ask why the heck would anyone want internet on VACATION. (Caps were his!) But we've found a wonderful sweet shop/coffee shop in Denver with wireless. Highly recommended.

UPDATE: The owner had his lackey replace the grill, which is good. He also took away the broken kayak, but he has not replaced or fixed that.

UPDATE 2: The water went away. Not the lake water, you understand, but the water for washing and drinking and stuff. The owner's lackey came out to prime the pump and got it started again. Half an hour later: no water. We primed it ourselves and it seems to be running okay for now.

All Your Opinions Are Ours

While on vacation here in beautiful North Carolina, we stopped by the local nuclear power plant for a visit. I spent my time working to acquire the "Three Rings of Power," by learning about nuclear power with this machine. The quiz was interspersed with survey questions about my opinions. Apparently, there are only two options for supporting future development of nuclear power: agree strongly or agree moderately.