Halloween Report

Well, I'm going to roll up the sidewalk now, because I ran out of candy. My brilliant idea this year was to buy candy I don't like so every last bit went to the kids. My choice: Hot Tamales. But I ran out in the middle of a group of kids, so a couple of lucky monsters got granola bars.

Now we're going to get TPed. I just know it.

At any rate, here is a list of this year's attendees. Thank goodness there were no evil Sarahs.

  • 6 Superheroes (but no Hiros)
  • 4 Star Wars Characters (I didn't think anybody actually saw that cartoon. I remember trying to be R2-D2 when I was a kid, though I couldn't have been very young.)
  • 3 Animals (Sooo cute. Two babies (cow/kangaroo with joey) and one adult (bison))
  • 2 Zombies (but they didn't get any candy)
  • 2 Princesses (Not police officers)
  • 2 Ninja (I didn't know there was a ninja badge)
  • 2 Skull People (Maybe there was some other name for these things: skulls with hair. Strange)
  • 1 Freddy Krueger (That seems like it's out of nowhere)
  • 1 Vampire (With blood dripping down his chin; nice touch)
  • 1 Cheerleader (Maybe she was a Slayer?)
  • 1 Firefighter (Very safe and inoffensive)
  • 1 Insect (A butterfly is an insect)
  • 1 Spider (A spider is not an insect)
  • 1 Devil (I think that's what he was)
  • 1 Vegetable (A pumpkin is a vegetable, isn't it?)
  • 1 Kid with that mask from Scary Movie (Does that character have a name?)

Now get off my lawn.


I just listened to an interview with the band called Dead Men's Hollow. (They took their name from an old designation for Rosslyn, Virginia.) In the interview, they talked about how each band member had family and day jobs and other projects, but they get together to practice, and to play, and to make albums.

And nobody thinks they're weird, because musicians do this all the time.

So, what's keeping us software folks from doing the same thing? Sure, there's open source, but what about getting a bunch of friends into a room for a night of coding? (or at least into a virtual room at the same time?) This is going to be a key aspect of the Slow Code Movement, I tell you, to get people together to do stuff.

Who wants to jam?

Five Years. Wow

I wonder if the fact that I couldn't come up with something witty to say about yesterday's anniversary indicates that I'm not the writer I want to be. Or maybe it was just the coincidence of the rejection that makes me doubtful.

At any rate, yesterday marked five years since this blog began, in its humble way, to take over the world. I'm a little surprised I kept at it for five years. I'm not known for seeing lots of personal projects through to the end. I like to start things...

I'm a little proud to still be chugging after five years and a little melancholy to find that we've been back in the US for five years.

This isn't normally the kind of blog that exposes my feelings/emotions (although I do let out the occasional grump). There are geeky bits and life events that I record as a memory aid (for example, I didn't realize that Tubby joined our household four years ago or that it's been three years since I bought my "new" bike).

I started the book and restaurant tales to keep track of the books and restaurants I read or visited with a little more interest than a simple list and without putting in the effort to be a critic. Some work better than others. Here are the ones I liked best. (I'm going to use the term "I liked" a lot here in this post, but this is what blogging is all about, right? Navel gazing narcissism.)

Thanks for letting me do that. There are lots of other tales out there. Visit the links on the right.

Take a Flying Leap, Jeeves

For the record, received the rejection for Jeeves yesterday. Just a little over three weeks.

Old Greenbelt to Old Bowie

This bug on our garage looks like a leaf. I wonder what it's called!

Leaf Bug

So I made it to Old Bowie and back. I'm pretty sure now that I can make it to Barnes & Noble, but I don't know about coming back. (After all, aren't bookstores the true measure of any worthwhile activity?)

Thoughts today while tootling on the bicycle:

  • I do not recommend riding Duckettown Road. It's narrow with bad sightlines.
  • Has anyone else noticed that Lanham-Severn road goes from Lanham to, well, Bowie? In fact, I don't see any way in which this road gets you to Severn, or even a straightforward path to Severn from Bowie unless you take the train tracks. Who names these roads?
  • Actually, it would be nice to see a path along the tracks from Old Bowie to Odenton, because that would make a nice connector to the BWI trail.
  • Old Bowie is a long way away from what I normally think of as Bowie.
  • There is at least one supporter of Obama in the Bowie area: Weathered Obama Sign
  • Old Bowie would be an even shorter ride if I didn't want to ride through farmland.

google map Old Greenbelt to Old Bowie 15.69

Halloween Advice from the Listserv

The local listserv folks recommend the following:

1. don't open the door to someone I don't know 2. Anyone soliciting in Greenbelt is supposed to have some kind of official solicitation license from the city and 3. call the police immediately so they can come check them out (ie. anything that feels "not quite right" deserves a phone call to the police).

With Halloween coming up, I have a feeling the police are going to get a lot of calls. "not quite right," indeed.

She's Like the Wind

It sure is nice to be able to take a ride through farmland in the middle of the day. We're bounded to the south and west by intense sprawl and urban-ness, but to the north and east, the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC), Goddard Spaceflight Center, some state of Maryland-run farm (maybe for the university?), the Patuxent River Wildlife Research Center, and a few private farms keep us green. (Or even more colorful this time of year.) I think a ride through the country clears my head and makes my afternoons more productive.

But then there are days like today. Oi, what a ride. It's a wee bit cool, but the real problem is the wind. It's even fiercer than last week. If the music going through your head when you ride is that bit from the Wizard of Oz where the evil neighbor is riding her bike, you should know to stay home.

A lot of people think that other people make up specialized terminology out of some sort of need to create trivia or to exclude the unworthy from their cliques. But I think that most of what people do with language has to do with trying to be funny. I mean, look at that last paragraph. It's accurate, but it doesn't flow well enough to be funny. It would have been much funnier if I knew the song and could know that you readers would know the song. Then I could have said something like, "If the music going through your head when you ride is the 32nd movement of Scherzo In E Minor..." and you would have laughed and laughed and laughed.

And your little dog, too.

A Google Map of a Bike Ride 12.2

On a Brake


My brakes have gotten on the thin side, so I rode over to Proteus today. I took the long way, down by Lake Artemesia and back up the Piney Branch Trail. If you're not comfortable riding on 193, try US 1 for a stretch and 193 will seem like a dream. (Of course, riding west on 193 is much better than riding east on 193, that's for sure.) It'd be nice if the Piney Branch Trail continued up under the Beltway to IKEA. At any rate, a good half of this trip was off-road, on-trail.

I made a stupid mistake at the bike shop pretending I knew what the heck kinda brakes I have. It's best not to be so dang over-confident. At any rate, I got away with the right brakes and ran up to Arby's for lunch. I can eat fast food if I ride 13 miles.

Speaking of Proteus, they're holding a Ride of the Living Dead on Thursday night. I don't know if we're going to be able to make it, but I decorated my bike anyway:

Boo Bike

Fancy, no?

Lights, Camera, Utopia

Yesterday was the first full day of the Utopia Film Festival, Greenbelt's own little movie extravaganza showcasing work supporting, reflecting and digging into various utopian ideals. There is some fiction, but we're mostly hitting the documentaries. Movies are shown in the Greenbelt Theatre, the mall theaters, and the city council chambers. We attended three screenings yesterday, one in each venue. At two of the films, participants in the film were there for a question and answer session. I especially liked the couple who had lived in the New York cooperative featured in At Home In Utopia. During the questioning, it became apparent that there were two other people in the audience who had lived in the same coops. It was a fascinating discussion.

The lead scientist from the film Blast! answered questions after the movie, but sadly there were only nine people in the audience. It was a nice little film about scientists trying to launch a telescope by balloon into the upper atmosphere, first in Sweden and then in Antarctica. I think he was disappointed in the turnout.

We also saw the story of a banjo player traveling in Africa to find the "roots of banjo music." He said that banjos are descended from an African instrument, but I thought the finger pianos were the most interesting (and pleasant) sounds from the film.

There are still films to see today. There's a schedule on the website. I wish it did a better job telling you which screenings would have participants available. It's really not a bad deal for $5 per screening set (some of the short films are scheduled in clumps).


I have decided that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will be a dentist, a GP, an optometrist, and a barber.

It's obviously not about pain for me (unless Sweeney Todd has really gotten into my head), but I'm not sure what it is about. Probably these are four people I have an obligation to visit and am constantly avoiding that obligation. So, it's just guilt?

Whatever. I decided to add to my collection of horsemen this week by visiting the barber this morning. (The dentist told me that I have to see my GP to get permission to clean my teeth without antibiotics, and I got a card from my optometrist, so they're both on my list.) I don't know what's happened, but my barber has gotten all chatty Cathy on me. I like my barbers surly and quiet. The best barber I ever had was in Glasgow. You sat down and said, "number two cut." He razored your head. You were done. No chit-chat.

The barber down behind Dominoes used to be good along these lines. He'd ask what you want, cut a little and ask for validation, and then shut up the rest of the time. I liked that. I don't want conversations about the weather while scissors are clicking in my ears. I want my hair cut. But today, he was all "weather's getting warmer" and "how are you?" and junk.

Then he said, "You want it short all over?" (I like it very close-cropped so I don't get helmet hair from biking.) "You want it a little longer on top?" "You sure you don't want it a little longer on top?" "Maybe just a little bit?"

Look, I know I'm going bald. Just cut my hair.

The real problem with these people is that they're reminding me that I'm marching -- neigh, I'm running -- toward an appointment with the grave. And I'm not allowed to cancel.

Dentist Follow-up

I'm going to be quiet today because I'm teaching a class, but if you're wondering what happened with the dentist, here's a picture:

fire truck

While sitting in the waiting room reading entertainment magazines and wondering if I shouldn't just bolt, the fire alarm went off. The other two potential patients and I looked at each other and then went back to our magazines. The alarm never shut off and the receptionist eventually told us that the fire was real and they couldn't look at any patients while the alarm was ringing. So we trundled down to the parking lot, where I walked around for an hour wondering if I shouldn't just bolt.

I didn't run because I knew I'd have to tell you people that I did, and besides the next available appointment wasn't until January.

That picture really is of one of the two hook-and-ladder trucks that appeared on the scene, by the way.

So, we eventually trundled back in, and the dentist told me to stop being a big baby. She cleaned the less-painful teeth. Once the swelling goes down, I have to go back to have some spurs removed or something. I don't know. I wasn't listening. Just happy not to have to have a root canal.

New Taskboard

If you're out there using the Confluence wiki, take a look at this updated plugin. It's called the Agile Toolkit plugin. It was previously released with a real-time planning poker game, but now it has a new feature for presenting a simple task board. You can make simple task cards, put them in columns that represent state, and drag/drop them from column to column.


Elephant Dentist from Shorpy

Alright, I admit it. I'm a big baby. I've had a raging toothache for over a week now, and I have so far avoided using the 'D' word. It's made me pretty grumpy and distracted. If you've run into me recently and found me distracted, it's been I've been wondering if maybe the gods of tooth decay might not be appeased by the sacrifice of a stupid loud beagle.

And of course the most obvious response to a pain in the tooth is not to go to a dentist, because no matter how much it hurts, the dentist is only going to make it hurt worse. Or so I believe.

So it's actually pretty brave of me to have made an appointment with the dentist, which is exactly one hour from now, don't you think? Walking down there, though, is going to be harder than getting out of bed after pulling three all-nighters in a row.

And if he looks anything at like Steve Martin, I'm running away to Mexico. Tequila is a known cure for the pain, I hear.

Flippy Dress Ride with Lunch

Rode the 7.3 mile dancing dress ride in just under two hours. Pretty good, huh?

Yeah, yeah, pretty slow, except I stopped for lunch in the middle. I love me some Pollo Rico chicken. Yeah, I realize that means I just said "rich chicken chicken". And, yeah, I know I've already over used "yeah." I guess I'm just gonna take a new word in every post and over use it. The big front windows of our Greenbelt Pollo Rico mean that the restaurant is much too hot for visiting during the summer, but now that the heat is behind us, I can satisfy my tasty chicken sub cravings.


The restaurant is near the Kmart, which is where the bike rack is located. They have very few bicycle supplies, so I wasn't able to pick up the new brakes I need. I don't think you can see it in this picture, but whoever decided it was a good idea to put repeating "KKK"s on the door should probably find a new job.

Bike Rack at Kmart

I'm not sure how many people will bike to Kmart. It made me think of our days in Glasgow, when we didn't own a car. The Ikea there had lots and lots of bike racks. Not surprisingly, they were usually pretty empty. I suppose an employee or two might have used them. Yeah, I'm not sure how you bungee a flat pack to your bike.

On the other hand, the bus to Ikea was much more well-used.

Do You Know Anyone Named John Martin?

Have you tried Linked In? It's a professional relationship social networking thing-a-ma-bob. You make connections with people you've worked with, I guess so maybe you can beg them for a job later.

It also has a lot of groups and stuff for people of like minds -- there are groups for alumni of particular universities, of ex-employees of big (and small) companies, and of people with similar work experience/job skills. Now there's a group for people who share the same name. If you do a search on Linked In for people with the name John Martin, it stops reporting after number 500, so I guess these people need to get together.

If you know anybody named John Martin, tell them to join Linked In's John Martin group.

Southern California Wants to be Western New York

Here is today's ink blot. Decide what you think it looks like before you read to the end where I tell you what I think.

A Map 7:75/0:45

It seems odd that we have a National Park right here on the Beltway. (The park itself is inside the Beltway, while we live outside the Beltway, which means that we're allowed to rail as much as we want against all those people from inside the Beltway.)

It's a nice little park. There's a quite hilly section, but part of the ride is car-free and well-paved. It was nice to zoom along across the leaves on the roadway. Nice sound. This paragraph has too many nices. At any rate, it's nice for what it is, but do not be fooled by this sign at the south entrance:

Greenbelt National Park Entrance Notice Board

You are not going to get a view like that from our little park, I am sorry to say. It turns out that the picture is from some celebration of national land day (sponsored by Toyota).

I expected my time to be worse than it actually was because today we are under a "Fire Weather Watch." When did we become a part of Southern California? Apparently, this watch means we're a bit dry and there is gusty wind. I can testify for the gusty wind. It wasn't so bad through the park, but behind the high school I was blown a few feet to my left. Glad there wasn't anyone passing me.

So, these thoughts of misplaced mountain peaks and migrated states made me think the ride loop looks a bit like a squashed US (lower-48) map. What do you think?

Don't forget to go guess how I'm lying on this other post.

Territory (Emma Bull)

I'm looking out the window, always looking out the window, but no matter how often I look, there are no snow-capped mountains standing in the Square. Don't know where this desire to run away to the mountains comes from -- I know that in the mountains I'll just look out the window hoping to see the ocean. At any rate, here in Maryland the only things out my back window are flatness and squirrels and children whacking each other with sticks.

I turn away from the window. I know those kids are just figments of my imagination, and it's awfully frustrating when I can't remember the names of people I am totally making up.

So I turn to the front window and am not surprised to find no mountains on that side either. There's another row of houses. There's a row of parked cars. And there's Leadbelly (my imaginary Great Uncle on my sister's side) walking up the path.

Apparently, it is my destiny to interact with some imaginary character today. I close my eyes and briefly wonder whether I have any other choices. I'd prefer Annabel Lee, but she has been away for so long and doesn't really show up unless she's worried about an author. I realize I have no control and turn to the back door. I'd rather deal with childhood melancholy than aging grumpiness.

I take a deep breath and mosey out to the Square. I realize that I was wrong. Prasad and the other kid aren't actually hitting each other with sticks. Instead, they are standing at opposite corners of the Square and shouting at each other.

"Aguamenti!" shouts Prasad. He is wearing a huge white ten gallon hat. Unfortunately, he only has a five gallon head, so the hat keeps slipping down over his eyes, which pushes his glasses to the end of his nose.

"GitAlongLittleDoggiamos!" shouts the kid whose name I can never remember. His hat is black, but it's a little better matched to the size of his head. He is also wearing a long black riding coat. They are both wearing bright rubber boots.

"Hog Tie!" they shout at the same time. This is accompanied by energetic wiggling of their sticks at each other and followed by the two of them collapsing to the ground and giggling.

"You're going to get dirty," I declare. This turns their giggling into outright laughter.

"We're becoming one with the ground," gasps Prasad.

"And how will your parents feel about that?" I ask, severely. This puts an end to their jollity, and they climb to their feet. Prasad adjusts his hat. "Isn't it about time you tell me what the heck you're doing so we can talk about whatever book it is that is making you do whatever you're doing?"

The kids stand up and explain that they're trying out their new Halloween costumes.

"Really?" I ask. "So early?"

"Mom likes to be prepared," Prasad says. "In case there's an earthquake or something."

"So you're cowboys?"

"Yeah, I'm Wyatt Earp and he's Doc Holliday," Prasad explains.

"Actually, I'm Jesse Fox."

The name rings a bell but only very faintly. I nod anyway. "And what are the sticks, rifles?"

"Oh, no," the ersatz Wyatt says. "Mom won't let us play with guns. These are magic wands."

"Ookay," I say. I know where they are now, but I have to say it anyway: "Aren't you mixing genres? There's no magic in westerns."

"There is in Territory," says Earp.

"OK, I'll grant you that, but there aren't any magic wands."

"It's just a prop," says Wyatt, with extreme patience. "We need a shorthand to connect us to the specific book."

"You could probably sprinkle dirt all over yourselves..." I suggest.

"You told us not to get dirty," Jesse points out.

"Did you read this book?" Wyatt asks.

"Yeah, but I'm mad at the author," I say, and it's completely true.

"You're always mad at the author," Wyatt points out.

"Sure, but this time it makes sense. She killed a character I really liked. Why build up a relationship with a character if the author might kill them at any time?"

"I think it's a sign of a good job if she got you so connected to a character that you're upset like this," says Wyatt.

"I suppose," I say. "And I admit that the story was well done and engrossing. I think she did a good job keeping herself from overwhelming the story with the magic."

"There is the problem of sequels," Wyatt points out.

"How's that?"

"Well, it's not clear that there will be more books, but this one didn't make it all the way to the shootout at the OK Corral."

"I don't know if I agree with the idea of destiny, either," says The Kid With No Name. "There's a little too much of that 'give in and do what you were born to do' mentality. That we have to be broken and just accept our destinies."

"I dunno," I say. "You could read that as him finally admitting reality and accepting his responsibility. There are just some things we have to deal with in life. It's best not to run."

"Your Great Uncle," Prasad says.

"My Great Uncle?" I ask. "Well, I guess you could say that he's something I have to deal with..."

"No, I mean he's coming," Prasad says. I turn around and see Great Uncle Leadbelly walking around the end of the super block. I panic.

"Gotta go!" I say and hot foot it down toward the Center. I'm fast enough that I only faintly hear the kids shouting something random about facing up to responsibility. Where do they get these ideas?

Tag Team

Longtime readers might be aware that I'm not very good at these "tag memes," not so much because I don't like being tagged as because I don't like tagging other people. You might be surprised to learn that I'm painfully shy. But Fiona done tagged me, so I'm going to respond. I'm going to do it, but I'm only going to tag one person, 'cause I think he needs something to do.

Oh, and I'm going to change the rules. As the Abbot of Unreason, it's my duty to mess up all the rules. So, consider you all tagged with this new rule set. You can read the original rules here (if you can stand the painful picture) or here (where I first noticed this insanity). The changes below are highlighted for your protection.


  1. Link to your tagger, me, and all the people tagged before you were tagged. (This is a chain meme).
  2. List these rules on your blog.
  3. Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog, four true, three false. Invite your readers to guess which are which. ("Totally bogus," as the SciAm podcast says.)
  4. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs.
  5. Let them know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs.

Now, isn't this exciting? The next seven items are a mix of truth and fiction. Please use the comments to guess which 4 are true and which 3 are false.


  1. Back in university on the day before a spring break, one of my professors accused the entire class of cheating and called us all "sewer rat vermin." He suggested that this sort of activity would have the world calling our school "SUNY East."
  2. I was a contestant on the UK version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, but I didn't make it beyond the "fast finger" round, so I didn't get to meet Chris Tarrant. It's a shame, not just because I like Chris Tarrant, but because a million pounds is a lot more than a million dollars.
  3. When I was a wee bairn of 3 months, a doctor told my mother I was dead (from a strep infection), so that means I'm more of a zombie than my neighbors. Mom freaked out and cried until he promised to go check one more time for a heartbeat. I guess he found it.
  4. The Brunette and I once slept on a block of ice. The ice was covered with furs and was shaped like a bed. It was in the ice hotel in Sweden.
  5. I chose the almost-sexist designation of "The Brunette" to refer to my wife because she's actually a blond and doesn't want people to judge her.
  6. For a small part of my childhood, my family lived in a tar-paper shack in the mountains of Tennessee. We had to use an outhouse, but there was some cold sink water that came from a pipe that ran from a waterfall in the woods to the shack.
  7. I grew up in a mobile family. I had attended 10 schools by the time I graduated from high school. And yet I now live within walking distance of a lake where my grandparents used to court.

I hereby tag every single reader of my blog! I also tag WeirdTales at The Wonder Years, WeirdTales at The Wonder Years, WeirdTales at The Wonder Years,WeirdTales at The Wonder Years, WeirdTales at The Wonder Years, WeirdTales at The Wonder Years, and WeirdTales at The Wonder Years!


I Still Don't Get It

OK, there's been a lot of talk about it in the media and stuff, but I didn't really understand what the heck those talking heads were gabbling on about. I finally found a picture of one, but I still don't see what the big fuss is about. Look at this:

Voter Frog

What's your position on Voter Frog?

Meatloaf Challenge

The New Deal Cafe and the Greenbelt Food Co-op sponsored a meatloaf (and veggie loaf) cook-off today.

The Brunette made her grandmother's meatloaf as a demonstration for the crowd, while the judges reviewed a round of veggie and a round of meat loaf.

Meatloaf Hands

It was a little hard to get a good shot of the judges with all the backlighting from the window.

The event began with an interesting discussion by the compilers of 1999's Greenbelt cookbook (Greenbelt Cooks -- Then & Now). The main difference between cooking in the early 20th century and in the early 21st century is that we use a lot less gelatin. The best guess at the use of gelatin early on was the novelty of the introduction of the refrigerator.

It's hard to imagine eating all those cows' hooves.

Another thing that's disappearing from home cooking is lard. I think both of these are good things, but I doubt their removal is the result of health consciousness.

What do you think the next gelatin will be -- that is, the next thing that will disappear from our diets?


Map from Google

This is the squarest ride I've done outside of Kansas.

When I'm working down at HQ in Virginia, I don't have a lot of options for diet cheat day. But today I worked from home. In addition to having access to the humor/humour provided by the cat banging his head on the window every time a bird flies by, I also am close enough to get pizza.

I decided to temper the healthiness of it a little bit by biking over to Three Brothers Restaurant in the mall.

The ride out was through farmland. It's nice on weekdays that the gate isn't closed, so it's a quick ride down Research Road. The ride back was much scarier, because a) my mirror fell off my helmet and b) people treat Greenbelt Road like some sort of runway preparing for takeoff onto the Beltway right in front of the National Park.

Still, I got some nice slices, bought some new pens, and I didn't die in the process. All-in-all, a successful day.

Speaking of Hungry

From Reuters

Savour the Flavour

An Angry Pepper This is one angry looking pepper, eh? You'd think he'd be happy to have won the prize, but in reality, he's just sad that he didn't make it into the fabulous pickle jar of surprise. Yeah. That name is lame.

[Side note: apparently, I've been using the word "lame" a lot. It must be part of my regressing to childhood, when I would latch on to some word and worry it to death like a dog with a particularly tasty strap of leather. If I start saying "awesome" or spitting out an angry "oh, man!" here and there, or if I go back to using "stupid" as a catch-all adjective, or if I make strong statements about an untenable future and request that you put me out of my misery, uh, just shoot me.]

At any rate, I searched the web for a nice picture of a zombie baby, but I didn't like any of the ones I found. They were all just a little too bloody. Are there not any cute zombie babies out there? Well, there will be soon! Congratulations, Zombies!

The Zombies were subject to my pickle experiment last night, which they only brought on themselves by inviting us over. They provided delicious pot roast, scrumptious apple pie and delightful conversation. The Brunette provided a tasty salad. I brought the evil cucumber pickles from heck.

The scary part was that I had lost the list of secret ingredients, so we were flying blind with our taste testing. The jars were labeled with letters, so we had to guess what we were tasting. Of course, this morning, I found the list right under the mortar and pestle. We were only wrong about one. Here is the actual list:

  • (No letter) Basic Dill: These pickles were pretty much the same as the first batch, maybe a little less strong.
  • (P) Pearl Onion: This wasn't bad, I don't think. The onions were a bit mushy.
  • (OP) Onions and Black Peppercorns: Couldn't taste the pepper, really. Maybe they need to be ground up (ground down?).
  • (LL) Lemon and Lime: These were jarred with wedges of lemon and of lime. The lemon was very strong, but the lime wasn't so noticeable.
  • (M) Mint: From our very own garden. We had guessed that M might mean extra mustard, but when we opened the jar, it was pretty obviously mint. Very strong. A mixed reaction.
  • (SW) Soy and Wasabi: OK. So maybe all of you folks out there might have guessed that this would be a disaster, but I thought it was worth a shot. Och, they were horrible. The wasabi wasn't strong, but the soy flavor was just, well, it was just the wrong thing to do to a poor cucumber, let me tell you.
  • (GP) Grains of Paradise: We thought this might be garlic, but it turns out that I had grabbed some seasoning from the back of the cupboard. We bought the grains of paradise once from a Moroccan vendor. To be honest, I don't think these pickles had much of a strong flavor one way or another.

After the pickles, the Zombies let us try pickled spicy artichokes, which I thought were nice and crunchy.

Overall, I liked the dill, lemon lime and pearl onion ones best. I think the mint ones would be good mixed in with something else. The group seemed to feel that the mint were too strong (or just wrong). I think we all agreed that the soy sauce set should just get thrown out.

Now I have eight jars of pickles to eat through. But when I try this again, we already have suggestions for the next batch:

  • Bacon. Every batch needs a potential soy sauce brother.
  • Old Bay. Welcome to Maryland.
  • Alcohol. Actually, the next batch could be just different kinds of drinks. I think we'd keep the pearl onions for gin or vermouth.
  • Fruit. Something non-citrus like pear.

Feel free to put your suggestions in the comments.

Tools for the Job

Man, these candidates are so lame. When I am elected president, I'm going to attack the budget with a hatchet and a scalpel and a chainsaw, a waffle iron, a spoke wrench, and a dozen ninja throwing stars.

Take that, budget!

Where did my Alien budget tool go?

Real Preview for Blogger

Oh, so much fun! This is geeky!

I use Blogger, as you must be aware. I don't know if you use Blogger, but it does an adequate job and I don't have to think about how to manage comments or link history or anything, so I think I'm not ready to bother moving the site over to my domain and switch to something I manage yet.

However, there's one thing that's been bothering me, and a comment from the hacker chick made me realize others have the same trouble: Blogger's preview stinks.

Oh, I'm sure it's fine if you haven't done a lot of customizing, and it's easy to read through and see if you have any spelling mistakes. But if you've done any real customization of your template -- made special icons for your list dots or the like -- then the preview just doesn't cut it.

Imagine that you've gone and made a nice entry with a big blockquote in the middle and you want to review what you've done without publishing -- you don't want to take the chance someone might see it before you're ready, and publishing updates the RSS feed more quickly than you want. Your screen might look like this:

The Blogger Editor

You can click the preview link and Blogger will give you this:

Blogger's Preview

But I've mucked with my template so that all blockquotes have that silly looking blue quote bubble to the left -- not to mention that can't see what the colors will look like or the link. So the Blogger preview doesn't really let me preview. I want to know what it's really going to look like.

I mentioned earlier that I use Blogger. I also use FireFox, which happens to have a great extension called GreaseMonkey, which allows you to add your personal scripting to other people's pages -- only for your use, of course. So, I created a quick little user script (no warranties) just to see if it could be done.

That's where the yellow smiley on the edit page above came from.

If I click on the yellow smiley, the script reads my current blog page and replaces the content of the first post with the stuff I've typed into this edit box. And so now I can see what my post will look like in situ, without publishing first.

Better Preview for Blogger

Did I use that term correctly?

A couple of things that are not yet working:

  • The little label pictures that replace the tags after load are gone because this script strips the body onLoad="" function. Need to hang on to the actual body tag. (Actually need to change to adding it through window.attachEvent.)
  • The new page comes up and keeps spinning. I don't know why this is happening. If I use document.close() after writing the page, it goes and spins on a blank page.
  • Probably because of that last one, the preview tab/window won't reload. You have to close it and to do another preview.
  • I strip out the IFRAMEs. I don't know if this bothers me or not. It was easiest to strip these because there's a weird bit with the xml parser that turns empty divs and iframes into single units, which the browser doesn't like. (I.e, <div></div> becomes <div/>) I fix the DIVs, but strip the IFRAMEs.
  • No title. It's easy enough to replace the body because it's wrapped in a div with a classname of post-body. In my template, the title is wrapped in an H2 tag and a link. I don't know if all templates are like that, so I'm hesitant to figure out how to genericize it. Besides, the content format is what I'm interested in.
  • You have to use the HTML editor and set Blogger to let you control the markup -- that is, don't use the option where it inserts P tags for you. I don't know the algorithm Blogger uses to run through those conversions, so a my preview is meaningless in that case.

Now, if only I could edit directly on the page!

O Say Can You See

I guess there was one thing about the weekend trip down the ocean -- wait, I just have to say, gosh, I love saying that. It's even better when you pronounce "the" as "knee". I tell ya, I haven't heard so many mid-Maryland accents as I did over the weekend. Not so much my family, I think -- we have the blander suburban version of the accent -- but all the people we encountered at the beach. I don't know why I like saying that, aside from maybe it might annoy people. It's odd because I hate when I find myself turning "the" into "duh".

It's time to go back to Scotland to pick up some more lilt, I think.

(Love that fruity soda. Ha! That's a joke, there. Nevermind.)

Right, so where were we?

Someone stole our Obama magnet. It was a big round magnet, sitting on the hood of the car. Not something I'd normally get, but the Brunette (who is more politically active than I) got it from the campaign. And now it is gone. All that remains is the dirty circle:

Missing Obama Magnet

My father is denying it, but in my heart of hearts I'm hoping someone pulled it off to put on the SUV of my most conservative relative.

What Was the Last Book You Read that was Fun?

I'm in the middle of writing a book tale for Emma Bull's Territory, which I really enjoyed, but I took a quick glance through the other books I bothered to write about this year, and none jump out as being fun. I started thinking about this as I listened to Nancy Pearl's podcast review of Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog, a book that I so enjoyed it brings a smile to my face just thinking about it.

I liked a lot of the books I read this year. Some of them taught me something. Many of them were good. But very few can be described as fun. And I think that by "fun" I mean that I really cared about what was going to happen to the characters -- that in fact they were people I'd like to hang out with; that I actually was engrossed by the book to the exclusion of outside angst; that it would make me smile to think about them.

I think that Territory and Michael Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road came closest, but the latter probably wouldn't survive a re-read. And other than those, it's hard to say how far back I'd have to go to find that kind of fun book.

So, what was the last book you read that was fun?

Calm, Smooth, Relax

Ok. Forget about the grumpy stuff. Think about the nice weekend. It was nice. We went to a family reunion in Ocean City, which was also hosting Cruiser's Weekend.


And we came back to take a lovely walk along the Susquehanna on Monday.

Susquehanna River

That's Entertainment

chevron ad

I had planned to say something light and silly about the crazy world we live in that has companies paying for advertising to suggest you cut back on using their products (The Chevron ad says, "I will leave the car at home more"), but instead, this morning's Medium Large first confused me (it didn't make any sense at all) and then infuriated me (I followed the link provided there).

(Zombies, please don't go look.)

Lord, this makes my stomach turn. This freak organization sells materials for churches to create "Hell Houses" for Halloween. They are offering up torture and pain as entertainment. And since that's not enough, they pick out their favorite "evil" communities for special treatment. This is one of the less-offensive descriptions:

This tumultuous scene involves a volatile father and his wife and two teenage children who he verbally berates and physically abuses to the point that they walk out on him for good. The Demon Tour Guide cheers this display of the “all-American family.” This hard-hitting, domestic drama will paint the picture of many families coming through your outreach. This package comes with one special effects CD. $45 (USD)

What fun.

The scenes against homosexuality and against abortion really make me want to scream or cry, I can't decide which. It's not just a crazy world we live in; it's a wicked one.

Here in subcity life is hard

City of Ember Post-apocalyptic movie based on the YA book about a city built as a temporary shelter but used beyond its expiration date.
Theater Location: Hyattsville
Noise Level: Too Loud.
The Skinny: Bill Murray: great, though I don't understand all of the mayor's motivation. Tim Robbins: OK, but it seems like a scene was cut. The kids: Fine, but it took me half the movie to realize that she was not calling him "Dude!" I would have liked the ending to offer some surprise, since the result wasn't exactly unexpected. The CGI was pretty bad.

unsolicited advice

I heard on the Scientific American podcast that researchers have had trouble finding an intelligence gene.

Maybe they should be looking for a stupidance gene.

Oh the Shame

Well, this is a little embarrassing for a CM person to admit, but the problem was, in fact, not the deployment of an upgrade but the problem of using modified, unchecked-in code for my testbed. Shame shame.

I rolled back the development server and found that the poker game still wasn't working. Turns out I had made a "small, insignificant change -- you won't really notice --" to the javascript and built that into the dev system. I found the problem (after a bunch of painful scratching -- geez, but JS is hard to debug (and this architecture I made is a little too rickety)).

Rolled the server forward (actually, just turned one off and one on) and rebuilt the plugin. And VoilĂ ! It works.

So, a few more unit tests and I think we can release this to the world. I wish I knew more about making automated tests against all this GUI/JS stuff.

Confluence Plugin and an Upgrade

I've been doing a little work in preparation for next month's Atlas Camp. I added a new tool to the Agile Toolkit, so that in addition to Planning Poker, it'll have a simple taskboard.

The simple taskboard lets you move tasks from one column to another by simply dragging them along. I think there's an extra jolt to the emotional connection with tasks if you can do something physical with them, rather than pushing buttons to move through a workflow.

At any rate, the thing works fine in my Confluence 2.7.1 instance, so I thought it was about time to upgrade to 2.9.1 and see how it works. The good news is, the taskboard works fine with 2.9.1.

The bad news is that the Planning Poker game has stopped working. It's not giving any errors, but I'm convinced it has something to do with the servlet. Dang it.

New Digs

So, now we're settled down into new digs.

Partly because I've drifted away from Card's writing, partly because I'm no longer comfortable using a copyrighted character, and partly because I'm tired of most of my search hits coming from the "wife s wapping" keywords, I've decided to switch my moniker and my blogging home.

I am a tenth-generation American, at least in part. We even have a list of descendants, all arranged generationally with Roman numeral identifiers. The ancestor with the i next to his name was a Scotsman of the Borthwick family. He landed in the country in 1773. That's right, if you look at our family book, I'm listed there with the Roman numeral for ten next to my name. An early Generation Xer, but still...

The Borthwicks still have a castle in Scotland. It's fixed up as a B&B and it is really rather nice. I recommend it and its lovely dinner.

Borthwick Castle

The best part of being a part of the Borthwick diaspora is our connection to The Abbot of Unreason, a Scottish fill-in for the Festival of Fools' Lord of Misrule. Our Abbot of Unreason is described by Sir Walter Scott as preventing Lord Borthwick's excommunication by baptizing the message-bearer in the creek and feeding him the excommunication orders as a sort of communion. You can read an excerpt in this post when name changing was on my mind almost two years ago.

So, welcome to my fireside. I don't anticipate any change in the kinds of content you'll find here, still a bit of story telling, a lot of commuting and bicycling, and a little geekdom sprinkled in for good measure.


And the living is easy. We're over at the New Deal Cafe, listening to April Stace Vega play Jazz and Celtic tunes on the harp. She just went from Summertime to some Irish thing.

Wow, Two Stories Out At Once

Getting back to working on the shotgun approach, there are now two stories out to magazines. I dusted off my SF Wooster story, J33-V5, and sent it along to Asimov's.


As we continue redecorating around here and packing up the old boxes, I thought I'd let you know where the name taleswapper came from.

According to this site, there are 13,683 people with my name in the US. (Interesting. It was 13,682 a week ago. Where did they get the updated information?) It's a pretty common name, so from early on I've usually been unable to get my name as the login for popular services, like Yahoo or AIM.

Way back before the public internet, at University we had a little group chat program on the mainframe. It was called cb, and it was my first use of a "handle." Back then I loved the Grape Nehi, so I chose "Radar."

For the record, I never slept with a teddy bear.

Radar was a fine pseudonym, but it isn't quite unique enough. As I left university and the internet blossomed, I found myself running into sites where the account name was already taken. Not wanting to put 32 numbers after my real name, I turned to "taleswapper."

Taleswapper is a character in the Alvin Maker series of books by Orson Scott Card. The series is an alternate history set in a North America where magic ("knacks") is real and what we think of at the US doesn't quite gel as a single nation. The Taleswapper character, in fact, is a kind of pseudonym. The character is also known as William Blake. He was not a primary character, but he wanders around trading stories for food and putting new stories into his journal.

I thought the moniker made sense for my first blog, where I intended to write about restaurants I'd visited and books I had read.

In addition, I liked the world view that I read into the series. It might shock the author to know this, but I feel like the early writing of Card really lead me down the path to the more liberal person I've become. I'm thinking especially of the strength of community and desire to heal after genocide in Speaker for the Dead and the amazing image of the consequences of hasty violence and war in the Alvin Maker books. In the Alvin Maker series, the residents of Vigor Church are cursed because of their part in a massacre -- a massacre generated by a frenzy of misinformation, mistrust of The Other, and general selfishness. The curse is: Whenever a visitor comes to town, the residents must tell their story or their hands will start to bleed.

After we make the name switch, I'll explain the change.

What Does Metro Have Against Obama?

Change is not as Good

The Ties that Bind

I grow nervous when I hear folks talk with fondness of the good ole days when we dressed up for work. There were two guys chatting along this vein on the Acela back to DC last week. One commented that he liked the idea of people trying to dress like workers at IBM did "when IBM knew what they were doing."

I hate this kind of talk. Reducing the flow of oxygen to my brain with an ugly tie does nothing to aid in my productivity.

I wanted to, I really wanted to, turn around and say, "Look, old people, as far as I can tell, the only people who wear suit and tie these days are hotel concierges and Wall Street stock monkeys. And look where these people in their stupid ties have gotten us."

But the syntax of that sort of implies that concierges are also responsible for our current crisis, and I didn't want to give them a bad rap. They're just folks who wear a tie because their boss makes them.

Cleaning House and Moving Notice

Folks, the blog's going to be a little shaky for a day or two as I tweak the new format. I'll be adding images for tags as I get around to it.

Let me know what you think of the new format.

Along with the new format is the long-awaited name change. The URL will change on Wednesday. So, those of you watching with a feed reader will want to be prepared to change address on Wednesday. Well, I hope you'll want to change the address and follow us over.

The new site will be http://theabbotofunreason.blogspot.com, and the new feed will be http://theabbotofunreason.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default.

Sending Steaming Mad Traveling

I had planned for this to be the year I really tried to shotgun my stories out there and then I went into some kind of fog after March. Well, to get back in the swing, I've submitted a very short story to POW!erful Tales, a superhero story anthology.

Must See Movie

Blindness Based on the book.
Theater Location: Hyattsville
Noise Level: Fine.
The Skinny: Oh, gosh. The movie is an excellent adaptation of the book. You lose some of the interesting prose, but the experience is very much in line with the book. Of course, if you found the book depressing and icky, you'll find the movie the same. Still, I recommend this.


OK, this is so dang easy. I wanted to make sure that I was indeed registered to vote. Nice to make sure, right? I'm in Maryland, so I just went to http://www.mdelections.umd.edu/voter_registration/v2/vote_prod.php and typed in my name address and birthday and got to verify that I was ready to vote and even where I was going to have to go. (Same place as always, but still...)

In Maryland, if you want to vote in this election, you have to do it before October 14th at 9:00 p.m.

Here's a video (found via My Thoughts Exactly) of a bunch of famous people telling you not to vote (plus, there's a woman taking her bra off under her shirt):