Sunday, December 25, 2005

Meme of Four

I enjoy doing mini-surveys/quizzes, though I like to try to trace them back to see where they started. I still haven't found the actual genesis of this one, though it seems to have been making the rounds for at least three weeks.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Happy Holidays!

Saturday Morning Edition's Scott Simon read a wonderful piece on this morning's show called "A Modern Day Mary and Joseph." The transcript isn't online, but the audio portion may be (though my RealPlayer couldn't play it this morning). But try to take a listen, it's both somewhat amusing and very moving.

Jim is cooking Christmas dinner again this year, and is making a crispy orange duck.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Senator Specter: Begin Impeachment Proceedings NOW

Dear Senator Specter:

I am horrified by the way our civil liberties are being trampled by the Republican party in general and by our administration in particular.

We have a president who's been incompetent and close-minded. I know that those are not impeachable offenses. However, we also now have a president who has completely ignored all semblances of checks and balances. You and I know that America had a long tradition of not torturing its prisoners. You know and I know that the wiretaps ordered by the president were grossly illegal. These things were true, at least in the America I was raised in.

In the past, there have been times when you've shown yourself to be an independent-minded representative. We need people like you to stand up to the administration and begin impeachment proceedings now.


Laurie Mann
Pittsburgh, PA

* * *

Oh, and now the government is trying to "protect us from PETA." Geesh. I'm not a fan of PETA, but treating them like a terrorist group just crosses the line...

* * *

One small sign that rationality still exists here and there in the goverment - a federal judge in Harrisburg said that "intelligent design" cannot be taught in a science class. Given that it's not science, that shouldn't have surprised any thinking person out there. But, we increasingly see that there are fewer and fewer thinking people in the goverment every day.

I have to thank pro-science bloggers like Michael Burstein and John Scalzi for highlighting this gem from Judge John E. Jones' ruling:

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.

Unsurprisingly, the former school board members are not going to appeal!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Temporary Domain Problems

If you've tried to access anything at, you might have seen a temp page from Network Solutions. If you've been expecting E-mail from Jim or me, we're not ignoring you delibeately.

I goofed and let my domain lapse. I've since paid for it to be reinstated, but, in the meantime, I have no E-mail access.

If you've stumbled over this blog, you probably have my IP address somewhere (it's All (well, at least most) of my site is accessible from the IP address.

Network Solutions has been spamming/junk mailing/telemarketing me for a while. However, they've been doing this with all of my domain names, most of which are through another registrar. So, stupidly, the one time I should have paid attention to them, I assumed it was junk and blew it off. Oh well, live and learn.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Wicked Legalized Ticket Scalping

We had high hopes of being able to see Wicked when it came to Pittsburgh this winter. We knew tickets would go on sale on Monday, December 5. Since we were coming back from Portland that day, Jim went over to the Benedum before lunch on Tuesday.

They were already "sold out."

Now, of course, if we wanted to pay over $200 a ticket, we could go to one of the many ticket resellers on the Web that claim to have plenty of tickets to see Wicked in Pittsburgh. But, as much as I'd like to see Wicked, I don't believe in supporting ticket scalping, whether it's "legal" or the guy trying to sell an overpriced Steelers ticket on a corner.

I've written complaining letters to the Stephen Schwartz Company (the production company of Wicked), to PNC (the local sponsor of Broadway in Pittsburgh) and to the Post-Gazette (local critic Christopher Rawson had also written about the overpriced tickets). The original tickets for Wicked should have cost between $29 and $72. They are available on the Web between $140 and $400. Unbelievable...

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Tigra, 1993-2005

Our cat recently turned 12 and seemed in pretty good shape. About two weeks ago, we noticed she was having trouble getting up the stairs. We described her behavior to the vet, and she thought it was a bad muscle pull.

On Halloween night, she went into convulsions. That was pretty scary. We took her to the vet who did a bunch of blood work on her and sent her home. A few days later, they said to bring her in, as her blood work showed an increase in some liver enzyme or another. She was in the hospital for three nights, had a bunch of tests (including at least two sonorgrams). They said she had some sort of gall bladder inflamation, gave us some drugs and sent her home.

She continued to fail since she got home. She died around 3 this afternoon. Ironically, Jim was at the vet's when she died, picking up some more medicine. He was the one who realized she'd died (I was in the next room over and hadn't heard anything unusual).

This really isn't "cat blogging" - I'm really not an animal person to begin with and it turned out I was quite allergic to her. Still, it was sad watching her be so sick at the end, and trying to figure out if we needed to take her to be put down or not. But she died at home next to one of her favorite heaters.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Howard Dean Comes to Pittsburgh and Why I Am a Registered Democrat

On a rainy October night, Howard Dean showed up at a very well-attended fundraiser. Since I've been unemployed for most of this year, I hadn't been giving anyone any money for anything (beyond tsunami and hurricane relief). But, now that I have a contract job, I made a donation to the DNC so I could attend the party, shake Howard's hand and hear him speak in person.

I'd actually gotten pretty close to Howard once before. How close? How's this:

Howard Dean at a women's rights rally, April 2004 This was at a pro-choice rally in DC in late April 2004. There were nearly a million of us there that day, so I hung back a bit (besides, I was something of a volunteer).

A few days later, I was in Vermont attending my Dad's brother Winslow's funeral. I arranged to meet-up with my Mom's cousin Alice for breakfast the next day. We started talking about her years in the Vermont legislature, as a representative from Burlington. I mentioned I'd seen Howard Dean in Washington a few days before.

"Why, I used to commute to Monpelier with him in his old pick-up truck," she said.
They both served in the legistlature at the same time, driving from Burlington to Montpelier, which was something like an hour away.

What a great story!

I've always loved stories about local politics. Unlike many state legistatures, Vermont's is still small enough that the representatives don't have elaborate staffs. It was like that back in the '80s when Alice and Howard served together, and I suspect it's like that still. When my Uncle Winslow, a longtime Vermont state employee died, I heard people saying that the state office buiding had shut down that day so people could attend his funeral. Now, that may have been a slight exaggeration, but...

There's also a long tradition of "citizen service" in Vermont state government. People don't live to be "lifelong" politicians. They serve for a few years, and then they go home. I had a grandfather serve in the Vermont legislature during WWII, and a great-grandfather as well. I think that's the way it ought to be, I think that's the way the founders envisioned public service.

But back to Howard Dean. I gave him money early in 2004 because I thought he was the most interesting of the presidential candidates. And, frankly, I thought he was the most likely to speak his mind and be very honest. His honesty wound up biting him in the end - God forbid that a politician be too open and honest (and, heck, even exuberant!). His taking the reigns of the Democratic party is, frankly, a good thing, but I would rather have seen him or John Kerry or almost anyone other than Bush as president. So when I was invited to donate to a Democratic fundraiser for the sole purpose of meeting Howard Dean and hearing him speak in person, I jumped at the chance.

Howard Dean in Pittsburgh, 10/25/2005 And I did get to meet him. While Howard is something of a "perpetual motion machine," he really isn't quite this blurry in person. I shook his hand, told him we had a slight connection, and mention my cousin Alice's story about commuting to Montpelier with him.

He looked a little perplexed at first, then said, "Why how's she doing?"

"Fine." Alice is almost 80. I was in awe of all the activities she was doing last year.

"Why she was more liberal than I am!"

"My mother always says I take after her side of the family." And we both laughed a little while I got this picture taken, and he went on to the next folks in line.

Howard gave a pretty good speech to a group of something like 200 attendees. When he specifically mentioned the importance of having a competent government and how the Democrats shouldn't behave unethically either, I started applauding before anyone else!

I was going to give Howard a letter about why I am finally a registered Democrat and a photo of Alice, but I didn't. Instead, I'll put the letter here:

Dear Howard:

I’m a Democrat because I believe in responsible governance, and leaders who demonstrate imagination rather than myopia. While I do not expect the Federal government to “do everything” for me, I do expect a Federal government to provide rational leadership and coordination for the state and local governments.

I’m a Democrat because I believe that taxation for the public good isn’t an abject evil. Responsible taxation funds our schools, our defense, our roads, and rebuilding in times of national emergencies. Responsible taxation spreads the burden so that those more capable of paying taxes pay them, rather than taxing the poor into destitution. If America truly is a society where fairness matters, it is so much fairer to tax responsibly than to spend and spend the country into generations of deficits.

I’m a Democrat because I want to be part of a party that doesn’t fear facts, constructive change, science, technology and the future.

I’m a Democrat because I don’t want my government demonize minority groups

I’m a Democrat because I’m well aware of history, of why the Founders wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution the way that they did. I understand why they insisted upon a separation of church and state while acknowledging a Creator. I understand why they instituted the concept of “advise and consent.” I understand why they insisted on an independent judiciary. These are vital issues, ones that the Federal government must understand and act upon rationally.

I’m a Democrat because I do not expect my government to go to war without just cause.

I’m a Democrat because I expect appointments to be based more on the competence, merit and experience of the individual rather than his or her political connections.

I hope you can help to lead the way!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Little Novel Progress

As it typically goes, I fall in and out of fiction writer's block with great regularity. This year, I've written more fiction than I ever had in my life and still haven't finished the novel. And then I fell into writer's block (again). And then, I started a full time (but temporary) job and started travelling every single weekend.

Of course, now's the time I've been starting to write again. At a time when I have absolutely no free time. When I can find the time, I'm compressing some sections, dumping a few extraneous characters, generally tightening things up, and finishing the middle. I wrote most of the opening scene nearly five years ago, and the ending about three years ago. It's the middle that's been problematic.

I've renamed the novel yet again. I don't know if this is a good or bad sign. The title for most of this year was Unexpectedly. I've changed it to IRL, because that plays off the major theme of the novel (what real life is, and what other peole say it it).

I got a little feedback when I put some early excerpts up, but decided to put up the complete first five chapters (it currently constitutes about 20% of the novel). So feel free to read the beginning of the novel. If you're so inclined, drop me a line if you have comments, questions, whatever.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Busy, Traveling and More Busy...

I've been pretty busy lately, as my lack of posting here can probably indicate.

I started a full-time two-month contract job, helping to transfer and repair intranet files. Microsoft CMS is somewhat buggy, but it's really not too hard to learn. I enjoy working in downtown Pittsburgh, and the work is actually more interesting than it may sound.

Nice to have a paycheck again! ;->

I had a wonderful time last weekend, going to a small con (or "Moot") of Lord of the Rings fans who collected in Indianapolis to see the wonderful traveling exhibit from the Jackson movies.

I roomed with TORN's grammab, who wore such an appropriate set of PJs that I asked her if I could take her picture in them - and she agreed. She also wrote a detailed report about the exhibit.

Kudos to Susan and Kathleen for organizing the weekend, and to thanks to Shannon who spent Saturday afternoon testing out the libations at the Alcatraz Brewpub with me:

Susan, Kathleen, Shannon.

Here's a bunch of us at dinner on Saturday night:

More Moot Photos: At the Rathskeller in Indianapolis on Friday, at the Museum for the LOTR exhibit Saturday, and at Loughmiller's Pub for dinner. Since I'm not sure if I'm going to wind up identifying the folks in the photos, Shuya posted her photos to TORN and did a fine job identifying the people in her photos.

After being in writer's block pretty solidly for close to two months, I think I'm starting to make some progress with my novel again. But that's another reason I've been pretty invisible online lately - I really want to finish that book!

I've been complaining for a few years about persistent insomnia and severe short term memory problems. The insomnia has improved slightly since August - I'm back up over five hours of sleep per night. I've seen some improvement in short term memory over the last month as I've been taking a double-dose of folic acid every day (over 800 mcg rather than 400 mcg). We'll see how it goes!

Monday, October 03, 2005

My Letter to the President Re Harriet Miers

Dear Sir,

The notion of nominating an individual without any experience as a judge to our highest court is completely appalling. However, this does not surprise me in the least. You continue to show that you cannot learn from your mistakes. It's ridiculous to appoint yet another political hack rather than someone with experience. Is Harriet Meiers the next Michael Brown?

Laurie D. T. Mann
Pittsburgh, PA

Monday, September 26, 2005

Marching in Washington Against the War

While I've been to a number of rallies in DC over the years, this is the first anti-war rally I've been to. During the Viet Nam era, I was an admitted hawk. But the thing that made me want to go to DC this time was the government response to Katrina. It was deadly, embarassing, and made the Bush administration look really bad.

I took a chartered bus from Pittsburgh (we sent something like 15 busses), and we arrived in downtown DC around 11:30. The march was due to start around 12:30.

Drowning the People Billboard

Drowning the People Billboard

Various Signs Including:  Bush's War Refutes Intelligent Design

Various Signs Including: Bush's War Refutes Intelligent Design

I wandered around to some of the pre-march rally, looking for buttons, for people whom I thought might be there. I found the rally somewhat disappointing as there was a fair amount of anti-Israeli rhetoric by some of the speakers. There's plenty of blame to go around for the mess in the Middle East. However, even though I felt those kind of speeches sent the wrong message, I was certainly in complete agreement with the speakers about the mess the Bush administration has made of things!

My favorite button/sign of the day was: Make Levees, Not War.

Dead Men's Boots

Dead Men's Boots

Axis of Evil:  Bush, Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld

Axis of Evil: Bush, Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld (that's a poster of Casey Sheehan inthe background)

Cheney the Puppetmaster

Cheney the Puppetmaster

Shot of the Crowd at the Pre-March Rally

Shot of the Crowd at the Pre-March Rally

Washington Monument

Washington Monument

Getting the march started seemed to take a while. Often, these things start late.
Around 1:15, I went to see if there was any way to get in place for the march. The intersection where the march was due to start from was jammed with people not really moving anywhere. I got pushed around by the crowd a little (which shows you how densely packed everyone was - I am not a little person and I don't get pushed around that easily). After a bit of this I started to feel a little claustrophic, so I followed along with a line of people trying to cross the street and wound up back near the mall.

Rally Near the Washington Monument

Rally Near the Washington Monument

So, I decided to visit the National Book Festival. The National Book Festival was one of the few good ideas to come out of the Bush administration, and, wouldn't you know it, it was probably Laura Bush's idea. I mostly wandered down the mall, got a free book bag, visited some of the exhibits, took photos of the massive line Neil Gaiman had (probably at least 400 people), listened to George R. R. Martin talk, and finally returned for the March. By then, you could just join the marchers without being completely crowded; the densely-packed part of the march was long gone.


There were a few hundred counter-demonstrators. They were loud, obnoxious, but exercising their right to free expression. We booed and kept on walking. One of the counter-demonstrators had a sign that read something like "Fighting for America's Freedom in Iraq." Well, no. The last war that Americans fought in that had anything to do with America's freedom was probably World War II and that was sixty years ago. Maybe Korea, but that was over more than fifty years ago. But the recent spate of wars has had nothing to do with America's freedom and everything to do with America's control.

It was late afternoon. I was exhausted and starved and tried to find some lunch. Eventually, I lucked into finding Red Sage, my favorite Tex-Mex place in DC. And I lucked into finding a seat in the bar area so I didn't have to wait over a half hour for a table. I had a civilized lunch and went back out to finish the march.

Iraq Veterans Against the War

Iraq Veterans Against the War

One Last Look at the March

One Last Look at the March

I'm not sure how many people were at the march; I'd estimate over 100,000, possibly up to 150,000. Certainly over 100,000 more than the "pro-Iraq war" rally got!

I know marches are merely symbolic acts. We have a government that's shown time and time again it doesn't give a damn about American's dissent. It doesn't mean we shouldn't dissent.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Whad'Ya Know?

Yup, if you listened to Michael Feldman's Whad'Ya Know, broadcast over NPR from Cleveland this morning, that was me at the end of the first hour. I'd always hoped to get to play trivia on Michael's show, and came pretty close during his last trip to Cleveland seven years ago.

So I was excited to play...

More excited to win...

But, the biggest thrill for me was completely accidental. I got to insult former FEMA director Michael Brown while trying to get my phone-player teammate Tom to agree with me on the answer for a particular question. Even better - a packed house laughed at this.

First, a little background.

I've been a longtime trivia fan. I've flunked the Jeopardy test twice so far, but I did make it to the University of Pittsburgh College Bowl team in 1979. College Bowl hasn't been televised in years, it still existed as a series of regional tournaments. The Pitt team placed second in our region. I have way too many versions of Trivial Pursuit and other trivia games in my house.

In about 1996, I started listening to Michael Feldman's Whad'Ya Know on NPR. It's an amusing radio show that's part short-interviews, part humor and part trivia. While the show is usually broadcast live from Madison, Wisconsin, Michael takes the it on the road probably a dozen times a year. In 1998, he brought the show to Cleveland. Jim and I went. I really wanted to participate in the quiz part of the show. I even got Michael's attention just before he started the quiz. Unfortunately, it was before he was ready to invite someone from the audience to participate in the quiz. So, when he started talking to me, I just talked about the old Cleveland-Pittsburgh rivalry.

And I got booed. A little. But that was to be expected.

So Michael brought the show back to Cleveland today. Jim decided not to go (his uncle is in town), so I drove up to Cleveland early this morning. When this radio show travels, they decorate the theater stage with some large props relevant to the area. The stage had two large guitars on one side (from the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame), and bunch of space-related displays and a space suit (from the local NASA office) and a race car (I wasn't sure why, but there was probably a reason for that). I wound up with a seat in the middle of the audience. However, I timed myself much better this time, and Michael called on me to come out and participate in the quiz.

"Y'know, Michael, you and I have exchanged E-mail recently," I said.

Michael Feldman


"I'm the curator of Dead People Server, and you sent me a correction on your birthday."

He thought about that for a moment and grinned. "Right," then briefly explained my site to the audience. "And why do you want to play the quiz?"

"Because I've been dying to."

So he invited me to join him on the stage.

Onstage, we talked about my Web site, my unemployment and my novel. He then invited callers, as the quiz involves two people - someone from the audience, and a caller who answer questions as a team. If you want to participate as a caller, you need to answer a trivia question. Unfortunately, almost all the trivia questions that morning were related to Cleveland. In fact, I can't even tell you what the qualifying question was, or what its answer was. I only remember that, after several calls, a lawyer named Tom answered the question and became my partner. Luckily, it turned out he was from the Cleveland area, so at least we had a chance.

Michael asked, "What is the female to male ratio of the students at Case Western University: 4:4, 4:5 or 4:6?"

"Hmmm..." I responded. "I know it's still a pretty big engineering school, so it's probably either 4:5 or 4:6. Tom, do you have any idea?"


"4:5," I guessed.

"Oh, sorry, it's 4:6." So we missed the first question. In the Whad'Ya Know quiz, you have to answer three questions correctly to win, but if you miss two of them, you've lost.

Michael asked, "Does the ambassador to Germany need to speak German or have any diplomatic experience?"

The audience giggled, a sure sign that the answer was "No." That would have been my answer anyway, but it's good to have the audience back you up.

Tom said, "Yes, he does."

I responded, "I don't think so."

"Of course he does."

"Look, we just had a director of FEMA whose sole experience was that he ran horse shows, so I don't think an ambassador needs any experience."

The audience laughed. (Hey, I wish I could be consistently funny - I've always been something of a frustrated class clown. So having about 2,000 people laugh at a joke that I told so fast I didn't even think about it was a thrill for me.)

Tom didn't say anything, but I don't think he was convinced. However, one advantage of being the "live" player rather than the "phone-in" player is that you can give the final answer. "I'm sure the ambassador needs no experience."

"You're right!" said Michael, ringing his bell. (Ambassadorships, whether for Republican or Democratic administrations, tend to be major sources of politcal payback. It's simply wrong, no matter which administration does it. It turns out that the new ambassador to Germany is from the Cleveland area and doesn't speak German or have any diplomatic experience.)

Michael asked, "What percentage of Clevelanders have been photographed in the nude, 9%, 14% or 20%?" (I don't remember the actual percentages, but they were something like that.)

I said, "I have absolutely no idea."

Tom immediately jumped in with "9%."

I didn't disagree, and that turned out to be the right answer.

The last question turned out to have no Cleveland connections and was something of a major gift. "A study at Princeton proved that bar snacks like peanuts and pretzels make you want to drink more. True or false?"

"True, because they're salty and make you want to drink more," I said.

Tom agreed.

We won. I forget what Tom won, but I won a Great Lakes Brewery jacket, a soft-sided Great Lakes brewery cooler and five pounds of organic fertilizer. Two of the three gifts were very fitting as Jim and I tend to go the Great Lakes Brewery whenevery we're in Cleveland. And, in fact, I had plans to go there after the show, which I did. I ran into more people who'd been to the show there, and we chatted a little.

After lunch, I drove back to Pittsburgh and went to a Pirates game. The weather was perfect for baseball (it had been raining and dreary in Cleveland and for most of my drive) and the Pirates even won.

Here's a page with a link to the Real Audio version of the show. I'm on at about the 15 minute point of the Part B. I found the episode where I met Michael the first time. I'm on Part D, about 3 minutes into the segment (this show was taped in June 1998, and rerun in March 2002)

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on Whad'Ya Know?'s show from Cleveland. The paper apparently included a photo of me, but that didn't seem to show up in the online edition.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Government by Gumby

"My brain hurts!" (the Gumbies on Monty Python)

We've long suspected that the average IQ of the average member of the Bush government appointee is much lower than the national average. If there was any doubt about this, it was washed away by the government's response to hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

There were a number of painful, deadly boners committed by our government this week. The real "award winners" in this area are, of course, George Bush himself, his FEMA appointee (and former horse organization firee) Michael Brown and his Homeland Security Secrety (and former judge) Michael Chertoff.

The biggest problem is that we have a federal government completely lacking in any imagination at the top. Parts of the government, "privitized" or just gutted by the Republicans just aren't functioning very well. The Republicans have trained millions of Americans to throw tantrums whenever the phrase "raising taxes" is mentioned. Sorry, folks, if we hadn't been giving massive tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, and if we had a government that had a clue about the importance of maintaining infrastructure, the levee may not have broken in New Orleans. Even if it had, the National Guard might have been better prepared to handle the mess that followed.

George Bush said, on national TV this week that we could not have forseen the collapse of the levee. Michael Chertoff said that the "Katrina scenario did not exist." Michael Brown couldn't figure out that people were collecting at the Convention Center when we'd been watching them do that for two days on TV.

The notion that the government could not have forseen this calamity is patent bullshit. Scientists have been warning of this very thing for years - but we have a government that does not listen to scientists. Those of us who bother to read magazines like National Geographic read about this very possibility less than a year ago.

Their brains just hurt to much, they were too bogged down by their own lust for power that these "pro-life" Republicans have killed off hudreds if not thousands of American citizens in New Orleans. It'll be shown that most people in New Orleans did not die during the storm, but in the total collapse of the infrastructure following the storm. People died from drowning, asthma attacks, poor sanitation, heart conditions, murder, accidental killings from overwrought Nation Guard troops (there's a particularly tragic rumor about a man being shot to death by a National Guard when he tried to get their help to prevent a rape). It was a failure on local, state and federal levels, but, in theory, the federal government is supposed to be capable of assisting localities in major emergencies like this one.

Special notice, of course, must be given to the members of his government who viewed staying on vacation as being more important than dealing with a major regional crisis. So we should never forget that George Bush stayed in Texas (when he wasn't out going to political fundraisers) until two days after Katrina levelled the Gulf Coast, and that both Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice stayed out of Washington until at least Friday.

This is not the way the government of a civilized society should be reacting. I want a civilized, rational American government again. I wish "incompetence" was an impeachable offense, because we have more than enough evidence of that now!

Friday, September 02, 2005

Dead: New Orleans and the Myth of the Responsive Government

Well, there's no doubt about it now - if you are poor, and there's any kind of emergency, there's no such thing as a government safety net. New Orleans this week is getting shockingly little federal aid, despite all the FEMA folks claiming over the weekend that "supplies are being stationed just outside of the hurricane zone." Yeah, right. Would that be in Seattle, Washington or Portland, Maine?

The hurricane was over days ago; the flooding, while horrible, isn't as bad as it could have been, and yet people are still isolated and desperate. I don't excuse the looting for TVs and guns and liquor because the behavior of some of the individuals in New Orleans has been horrible. But why did Wal*MART leave things like guns in their stores when they knew looting was a strong possibility? And why not just distribute necessities like food and diapers and medicine and the like when it was clear the electricity was going to be out for a while?

But the "promises-promises" of the federal, state and local government(s) to the people of the South have been reprehensible. So you can understand that desperation of people who haven't had basic sanitary facilities in a few days, who see busses and boats go away without them on it. Some of the local preparedness has been less existant than I would have expected. I'm still floored that hospitals didn't have adequate generators, water or supplies for all this.

People have been dying all over town and the bodies have been left to rot.

So where is our federal government in all this?

Apparently, they've been too busy guarding the various Federal Buildings in New Orleans to help with relief efforts. And, lets not forget, our National Guard troops are thousands of miles away.

What about the state and local governments? Who knows? I've seen relief workers out in rural areas, checking for bodies and the like. I've seen very busy people in New Orleans, rescuing people by boat and helicopter over the last few days. But why didn't they ensure the SuperDome and Convention Center had emergency supplies BEFORE TELLING PEOPLE TO REFUGEE THERE???

When people say how wonderful it is to live in the South, I've, frankly, always been stunned. I like to visit the South - I've been to New Orleans and Florida at least four times apiece over the last 17 years. But, live there? Sorry, give me blizzards over hurricanes and tornadoes any day. I don't plan on buying any land around Lake George, the former New Orleans.

If you have a solid home and any cash at all, make a contribution to the Red Cross. We already did, but I want to do more. The "Liberal Blogsphere" is a way to funnel your cash to the Red Cross. As I've added to the Katrina Relief ad you'll see on every page of my Web site, I'm donating all the dpsinfo GoogleAd revenues to this fund on 10/1. Now, most months that would be about $50. But consider making an ad click or two during the next month at this site so I can send even more money.

People can help even with a government rapidly sinking to third world capabilities due to Bush and buddies. Yet another example of getting the government we deserve...

As uggabugga pointed out this morning (by capturing a great photo of Bush's latest photo op) Bush bored with the whole affair:

FEMA Director Bores Bush While New Orleans Burns...

Sunday, August 28, 2005

More Junk Movies...The Emporer Has No Clothes

I'm a movie fan. I used to go to at least 2 movies every month in the theater.

Until this week, I think the last movie I'd seen in a theater was Batman Returns, which I liked more than I expected to. But nothing since then has interested me. During this year, in general, I've probably only been to about a movie a month in the theater. Netflix and buying videos has picked up the slack. This summer's movies have done nothing for me at all.

Now, I do expect that to be a little different this fall, as, suddenly, I'm seeing trailers and reading about movies that sound either like fun (Just Like Heaven, Prime and In Her Shoes) or that they could be really good movies (Little Fish, Elizabethtown, Serenity, The Fountain, Match Point, and King Kong). But this spring and summer have been a joke. Yeah, sure, I looked forward to Revenge of the Sith, after waiting for 28 years to see the first Darth Vader-Obi Wan showdown, but still! While the fight itself was pretty good, so much of the rest of the movie was an over-long video game that I wanted to scream!

This week, I made the serious mistake of seeing not one, but two movies in the theater. The first one, Must Love Dogs, I saw only because I've always liked John Cusak, Diane Lane and Elizabeth Perkins.

Big, big, big mistake.

It was hard to empathize with any of the characters. Oh, sure, with Diane Lane a little. But hearing Lloyd Dobler's (Cusak's memorably lovable slacker from Say Anything) dialogue come from a 40ish man was disconcerting in the extreme. The characters were all over the place, but so were the reviews for this movie. So while this chick flick disappointed me, I wasn't really all that surprised.

On the other hand...

Many reviewers from Cannes talked about how wonderful Bill Murray's latest, Broken Flowers was. It's still (as of 8/28/05) ranking an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes from 130 reviewers, and a comparable 8 at IMDB from 1,748 voters.


After a year of mostly disappointing movies, this movie is just another of a pretty bad lot.

Don't get me wrong - I love quiet, well-observed movies. I love movies where there's no real violence. I love movies where weird characters wander in and out. I love Robert Altman-style flicks. I don't even mind movies without a real conclusion. I should have adored this movie.

I came close to hating this movie, but I stayed with it until the end (which is an odd reflection of the vastly better Tom Hanks film Castaway).

At least one person in the small audience watching walked out of this movie after 20 minutes, never to return. A number of people at the end kind of went "What happened?" Makes you wonder how the critics universally loved this movie, because there's nothing (and I mean nothing) there, beyond some cryptic performances by some of our better actresses.

I'm not the biggest Bill Murray fan, but I liked him in Groundhog Day and in Lost in Translation. With the right material, he's an interesting actor. This was categorically the wrong material. The problem is much more with the writing and directing than with the acting. But the acting just doesn't make the material any more interesting.

Here's the problem - the movie is, from start to finish, absolutely and completely illogical. There isn't a true moment anywhere in the movie.

Maybe it's a movie about a man who never really had a life and has a long nightmare about "what might have been." What if a woman I'd been involved with came back and told me I had a child I never expected to have?

First problem - Don Johnston (Bill Murray). People keep talking about him as a "Don Juan," and that point is further driven home by the fact that Johnston is watching a movie about Don Juan. But he completely fails to relate to people (men OR women) on any level. Granted, he is shown to be financially well-off. Money certainly can make many people attractive. But he was apparently involved with these women earlier in his life when he wasn't wealthy.

Second problem - Winston (Jeffrey Wright). At first, I thought Winston was Don's paid assistant. Turns out, he says he works three jobs, has aspirations to be a writer, is married and has five children. How in the world would he have the time to help Don to the extent he does? I liked their friendship, and the way Winston was trying to get Don to get involved in his own life rather than be a passive observer. But does Winston simply never sleep?

Third problem - Lolita (Alexis Dziena). Like Jeffrey Wright, my problem is not with the performer, but with the way s/he is written. The kid is named Lolita. So how does she behave? Exactly like Lolita. It was like she walked out of the book/movie of that name. And, at one point, she just walks naked in front of Don. In real life, have you ever heard of a 15-year-old girl walking naked in front of a 55-year-old male stranger? (In front of a hunky, 18-year-old male stranger, maybe, but in front of someone old enough to be her father or even grandfather? I don't think so!)

Now, there's a point later in the movie where Johnston dreams of that moment. It might have made a little more sense for him to have dreamed of her naked then - that he was never "Don Juan" but might have wanted to be. True, a moment like that would have looked like it dropped out of American Beauty, but I think it would have made more sense.

Fourth problem - Dora (Frances Conroy). Dora is so repressed that she makes Ruth from Six Feet Under look like a wild woman. So how can Dora, who seems even more repressed and internal than Don, have had a relationship with Don? You can kind of understand the "opposites attract" relationship that Don and Laura or Don and Penny must have had. But Don and Dora? A photograph Don seems to have taken of a younger Dora implies that they were rather different people in the mid '80s (even if Dora looked more like a '60s flower child than an '80s woman). But what happened to them?

No matter how much you enjoy Frances Conroy or Jessica Lange or Sharon Stone or Tilda Swinton (who's only very briefly in the movie and is completely unrecognizable), it isn't worth going to this movie to see them.

Eleven years ago, many of us found Four Weddings and a Funeral very enjoyable. That said, many of us were wildly frustrated by the character of Carrie (Andi MacDowell), who behaved quite illogically. Imagine a movie where none of the characters are quite so colorful and all of them act completely illogically. And there you have the problem with Broken Flowers.

Another problem is with the "road trip" itself. You see Bill Murray getting on planes and "flying around the country." At one point, his rental car seems to have a Colorado license plate. It's obvious from the scenery that he never really leaves the Northeast. It turns out to have been completely filmed in upstate New York and New Jersey. No surprise there.

So maybe the whole movie is just one man's "fantasy trip." If that's the case, the movie was just impossibly dull, dull, dull. And maybe that's why so many Cannes reviewers loved this movie - they're mostly 40-something white guys who can relate to Bill Murray. Sorry folks, this 40-something white woman was totally and completely bored by the exercise.

Will anyone ever make an interesting and/or enjoyable movie ever again? I've been thiking about going to see Constant Gardener as I do like both Ralph Feinnes and Rachel Weiz. But is seems to be marketed as a "thriller," though many of the reviews make it sound like an interesting chracter study. I'm not prepared to go to the movies only to be pissed off again. I might just wait until I can see the final version of Serenity in about a month (I saw the prelminary version in June and it was extremely promising). I might even wind up going to Cronenberg's A History of Violence only because I really like Viggo Mortensen and feel Maria Bello is one of our most underrated actresses.

I should add - I'd never paid directly to see a Jim Jarmuch movie until today, and I'm unlikely to ever do so again. I've never paid directly to see a David Cronenberg movie before, though I saw Dead Zone on cable and adored it and generally liked The Fly as well. I don't like violence (in movies or IRL), and it apparently spills out of A History of Violence. On the other hand, this flick is apparently one of the few to "dare" to depict sex between a married couple, something that's not even inferred in many movies these days! So, maybe I will see it in the theater. Consensual sex ought to be much more common than violence in movies, and it is either rarely seen or poorly depicted! At least History of Violence is unlikely to bore me to tears the way Broken Flowers and Must Love Dogs did.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

How Well Travelled Are You?

OK, this one is Charlie Stross's fault...

Your Travel Profile:

You Are Extremely Well Traveled in the Midwestern United States (100%)

You Are Extremely Well Traveled in the Northeastern United States (86%)

You Are Very Well Traveled in Canada (80%)

You Are Well Traveled in the Western United States (58%)

You Are Well Traveled in the Southern United States (54%)

You Are Somewhat Well Traveled in the United Kingdom (38%)

You Are Somewhat Well Traveled in Western Europe (21%)

You Are Mostly Untraveled in Eastern Europe (20%)

You Are Mostly Untraveled in Southern Europe (7%)

You Are Untraveled in Africa (0%)

You Are Untraveled in Asia (0%)

You Are Untraveled in Australia (0%)

You Are Untraveled in Latin America (0%)

You Are Untraveled in New Zealand (0%)

You Are Untraveled in Scandinavia (0%)

You Are Untraveled in the Middle East (0%)

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

My Armadillocon Photo Report

We had a great time at Armadillocon in Austin, TX over the weekend.

Report from Texas

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

I'm DONE with My Novel!

Well, almost!

Before I went to Scotland for Worldcon in late July, I was looking over my novel and realized that while I was doing a good job of "showing, not telling" through the first 20 chapters or so, much of the last 20,000 words was "telling, not showing." That's a problem. In non-fiction writing, you want to explain things directly. In fiction writing, you want the reader to pick up the clues and figure things out for him/herself. But I was compressing the text because I didn't want the book to go on for too long.

So, after thinking it over, I've decided Unexpectedly is either two short novels or one long one. The first short novel had a very natural ending at the end of Chapter 19. The themes came together very well there, and while there are a few loose ends, it stands on its own.

8-17-05 - I sent out a query letter to an agent saying I had finished my first novel.

By saying "I'm done" with the first 19 chapters means I can focus better on the second related novel (or "the rest of the novel").

I don't think this is going to go on and be one of those "never-ending projects." I think it'll top out in the 150,000 - 170,000 word range. Unexpectedly wound up running 83,000 words (384 double-spaced pages, which I think means it would be about a 190 page novel). The second novel (Even More Unexpectedly? - need to come up with a similar title that evokes a connection without sounding too silly) is probably also in the 80,000 word range. Or, who knows, maybe I will be able to publish this as one longish novel (is 400 pages too long for a first novel that isn't heroic fantasy?).

Monday, August 15, 2005

Some Novel Progress

I've felt pretty crappy since coming home from Scotland, but, gradually, I've been doing some work on my novel. Probably not the bunch of work I need to be doing late in the novel, but a little work on the beginning. I updated my Novel Experiment site this morning with some updated old material and a little new material. I think today will turn out to be more of a writing day. And, it has been. After a few weeks of "treading water" between being on vacation and being sick, I broke 100,000 words today.

Jim and I will be fan GoHs at Armadillocon this weekend, so I asked for a reading and got one. It'll be at 10:30 on Saturday morning, and I expect to be reading some of Chapter 3 and maybe a scene from Chapter 5. While the book definitely has some speculative stuff happening late in the novel, the portions I'll be reading are pretty much contemporary novelish. We're on a bunch of good program items over the con, and it's starting to sound like my voice will be in better shape than it was at Worldcon.

While I spent an awful lot of Worldcon being sick, I came back with my feet, legs and back in much better shape than usual, despite a huge amount of walking on Wednesday and Thursday. This was probably due to the fact that I've been walking more this summer, and I invested in a pair of Hush Puppies "Bounce" shoes. (Photo of me and my shoes - the BBC's Simon Willis is on my right - thanks to Keith Stokes for taking the photo.) Yes, they look like your mother's or grandmother's shoes. But I'm really glad I got them, and will probably always have something similar in the future for times when I'll be doing a lot of walking.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Photos from Interaction

Slowly, I'm starting to add photos from Scotland to my site.

I have some up at: I tend to be very chronological in my photography. These photos are of the con between Tuesday and Saturday. However, I took most of my photos on Sunday.

If you're a fan from TheOneRing.Net, I have Alan Lee and TORNsib photos up too.

I've made almost no progress on the novel since returning home. I just haven't felt very well. I'm sleeping a little better, but that could be because I take Nyquil at night to help me with my cold/laryngitis/et.c. I hope I'll have my voice back before Armadillocon!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Scotland was COOOL!

If you wonder why none of my Web sites have been updated, it's because we were in Scotland working on the World Science Fiction Convention AKA Interaction. Courtesy of USAirways, we lost a day of our vacation (GROAN!). But, we finally got off to Glasgow (via three different airlines), then took a bus to Edinburgh.

We LOVED Edinburgh, a very historic city some 40 miles east of Glasgow. I took an obscene number of photos, and will try to put a few up tomorrow.

Worldcon went surprisingly smoothly and most people seemed to enjoy themselves. This is a good thing. I got to liase with the press (I appeared on a BBC news program last Thursday night, talking about Worldcon), with Alan Lee (who was Interaction's special guest and was just a great guy) and got to meet Susanna Clarke (who won the Hugo for her giant magical novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell) and Ian McDonald (who didn't win a Hugo for River of Gods, but who looks great in a kilt). And Charlie Stross, who won a Hugo himself, also looked great in a kilt!

More soon, but, first, some sleep...

(Yes, my throat is better - thanks!!)

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Results for the "What Kind of Novel Should I Write?" Quiz

HISTORICALS! - Adventurous and somewhat dark, but
that's true adventure. From the heart of Olde England, or the Caribbean isles, adventures in the past, are a fire that burn in your soul to be written. History books, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss and Alexander Dumas are your inspirations!

What Kind of Novel Should I Write?
brought to you by Quizilla

This quiz is probably pretty accurate (even though most of my first unpublished novel is set in 2003). My second novel, however, will all be set in the past, with quite a lot of it set in medieval Edinburgh.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

The True Story of How I Did Not Meet Billy Boyd

This is a true story. Swear to Ghu, even though we have no photos to back it up.

I bought a ticket to see the Pittsburgh Symphony perform "The Lord of the Rings Symphony" a few weeks back, after having been on the fence for a while. I bought a ticket the night Billy was announced as a performer, and went for the left box seats. The really neat box seats near the stage. His "Mist and Shadows" solo was a particularly lovely part of the music for Return of the King, and I wanted to hear it live.

A few days later, Sue (who goes by the name Eomer's Woman on The One and I started talking about getting together at the Pittsburgh concert. We met with her traveling companion Chris for lunch on Friday at Joe's Crab Shack which was fun.

On Friday night, we met up in the lobby of the concert, and found we were sitting in the same box! Wow, talk about a weird coincidence in a hall that seats about 2,000 people.

We went to the pre-concert Q&A: Billy Boyd, Conductor John Mauceri and local classical music commentator Ken Meltzer:

Just before the concert started, a Heinz Hall employee stopped up in our box. "Back up during the fifth movement of the symphony" she warned the two people in the front of the box. "Billy Boyd is performing his solo from this box."


So Billy was performing the world premiere of his live version of "Mist and Shadows" two seats in front of me, and three seats in front of Sue.


It was a major thrill, and he was great. But we couldn't take a picture or record it, for obvious reasons. So you'll just have to take our word for it.

I went to last year's LOTR Symphony in Pittsburgh, conducted by Howard Shore, and I was somewhat disappointed. The symphony wasn't as together as usual, and the "first" seat players were not to be seen. This year, John Mauceri, conducted a better performance. While the "first" seat players were still missing, the orchestra was much more together (after the first five minutes or so, which was kind of mushy). The Two Towers/Isengard part was stupendous - even better than the London Symphony version.

If you're in the area, this is definitely worth seeing. The first show was very close to being sold out (the hall was probably about 90% full).

Since I had bought the expensive tickets, it included a ticket to the post-show reception. I wanted to meet Billy, partially because I admired his LOTR work, but also because I wanted to get him an invitation to attend the upcoming Worldcon, which is in his hometown of Glasgow in less than two weeks.

During the reception, I spent time talking to other fans from The One Ring.Net, and talking a little to John Mauceri (the conductor) rather than standing in line to meet Billy. When it occured to me that I should stand in line, I started getting really, really tired (I have insomnia and have been averaging under 4 hours of sleep a night lately).

Now, it turned out that Sue and her friend Chris had gone to the pre-concert dinner. And they had wound up sitting at the same table for dinner as Billy Boyd and his sister from Glasgow. So I asked if she could show me who Billy's sister was. She could. I asked her to introduce us, and she did. Billy's sister has the most charming Scottish accent I've ever heard, and I handed her a letter from Interaction, and a small gift for Billy (a snapbook of some of my Return of The One Party photos).

(Note - this in no way means that Billy will be at Interaction, it just means he's been informed that the Interaction committee would like him to drop by.)

After I left the stuff with Billy's sister, I felt really tired so I walked back to my car and started it up, blasting the air conditioner. And then I got my second wind, so I went back and managed to get a fairly close-up picture of Billy:

Unfortunately, the autograph line was closed, so I had to be content with the photo.
Then, I found Sue, and partied with some fans after the reception. And here's our party, after the dinner, after the Q&A, after the concert, after the reception and before too much of the drinking got started. On The One Ring.Net, these folks are commonly known as DJDeathkiss, her husband, Wednesday Addams and Eomer's Woman (seated)

One of our partiers shared an elevator with Billy and his sister in the hotel. However, he was so flummoxed he forgot to invite Billy and his sister over for a drink... But we had a good time anyway! Most of us are going to try to be at the IndyMoot in October, to visit the LOTR museum exhibition.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Review of The Lord of the Rings Symphony performance for 7/22.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Astronomy Delivers a Real SensaWonder Sighting....'s report of the discovery of a planet in a triple sun system is one of the most wonerful things I've seen in a long time.

Triple sun planet.

Leave it to scientists to find the really interesting things!

And a possible sunset on this planet.


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Fire Karl Rove

Teagan Goddard's Political Wire had a link to Fire Karl Rove, a petition urging Bush to fire Rove since it looks like (to almost no one's surprise) that Rove is the one who disclosed a CIA agent's identity. While it's a waste of electrons, I signed it to go on record. Here's what I said:

President Bush, please show us, at least once, that you can be a man to keep your word. Firing Rove for outing a CIA agent would be a very small step for you to acquire an iota of credibility, because you have none with most of us.


Last week, I was working very hard on getting the Interaction schedule ready for the Web. Unfortunately, various things have conspired to hold it up, but I hope do have one up in the next few days.

I am merely Interaction staff, so it's not up to me when the schedule is posted. When I am in charge of something, I always want to publicize as much information about it as soon as I can. I've found that people would like to see a draft of a schedule earlier, rather than "the final" schedule later. And while you always get a few people who can't comprehend the difference between a "draft" version and "the final," it's always a good idea to get the draft up early anyway.

I've also been working on the Pocket Program and Restaurant Guide for Confluence. They'll be printed tonight.

I've been tinkering with the novel a little. Lately, I've been editing and changing a major character's last name about four times. After doing that, I went back to his original last name, even though it was "phony." Somehow, it sounded better than any "real" last name I could give him. I was "trapped" in Chapter 17 for a while, and am now quite happy by how it turned out. I am sort of trapped by Chapter 19 currently, but think I may have just figured a way through it. I'm no longer sure I'll have it done by Worldcon (yuck), but I still have almost two weeks, so who knows...

Monday, July 11, 2005

We're Not Afraid!

I saw a neat Web site today:

We're Not Afraid

It encourages people to thumb their noses at fear. A splendid idea:

We're Not Afraid!

We're still traveling this summer, and, if I was working, I'd still take the subway.

I don't believe in letting the idiot terrorists and fearmongers win this one. I never have.

I haven't been doing too much work on my novel, as I've been doing fanac (for Interaction and Confluence). I did do some editing over the weekend, and the novel is now back to 86,000 words.

Was anyone else out there as unsurprised as I was that Karl Rove has a direct connection to the whole Plame outing? This is news?

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Yes! Even I Can Canoe Ten Miles and Live to Tell the Tale!

No, I'm not quite one with my laptop and recliner. Having heard how great the weather was going to be, Jim and I decided to drive up to Cook State Forest and canoe yesterday. There's a very gentle river in the forest (the Cook River, one imagines) and lots of places to rent canoes. We did the four mile canoe trip two years ago, survived it, and decided to try the ten mile trip yesterday.

Cook State Forest is a little over two hours northeast of Pittsburgh (79N-80E-66N-36S). We got up there a little before 10am, and were suprised to see no line for canoes. This was a little confusing to us, given the phenomenal weather and the holiday weekend. The last time we'd gone on a Saturday, there was about a half hour wait in line just to rent the canoe.

After enough canoers arrived, they loaded us in a van and drove a few miles up the river. Then we got in the canoes, and, with a little help, took off down the river. The first mile or so, the four canoes stayed pretty close together - there was almost no one else in that part of the river. It was a brilliant blue day and I wish my digital camera had been working!!

After a bit, however, the river got very shallow, so we kept having to get out of the canoe and carry it through the shallower water. As Jim and I had never done that before, it really slowed down our trip. So that could exaplain why there were relatively few canoers on that part of the river - they knew canoing in shallow water wasn't much fun.

Eventually, we got back into deeper water, and wound up making fairly decent time. It took us under 3 1/2 hours to paddle 10 miles downstream.

Jim got a wretched sunburn on his knees, but I managed to apply the sunscreen as needed and emerged reasonably unburned.

We didn't see any interesting animals - no deer or bears or anything bigger than vacationers' dogs. We saw lots of birds, particularly woodpeckers, and the occassional butterfly.

I had plans to go to one of Jim's cousins picnics today, but woke up with a bad sinus headache. While I didn't feel like going out to be sociable, I actually made very good progress on the novel today. Last night, I'd finally finished the infamous Chapter 17, a chapter that's been taking me ages to write and has changed more dramatically than any other part of the book. I also updated my Word story submission template, based on the Writers Market suggested format, and integrated all the novel chapters into one long Word master document. So the novel is currently 94,800 words or 442 double-spaced pages (I think that corresponds to about a 220-page book). I think it'll top out at about 110,000 words.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

MIT Blog Survey and What I've Been Up to

Yes, I read about this on Leslie Turek's blog:

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

It was pretty painless - give it a shot.

I've been pretty quiet here, partially because the insomnia is pretty wretched just now, but, despite that, I've been making some progress on the novel. I'm around 90,000 words, and have been pounding away at a chapter that's been causing me grief for nearly a month.

We did go to Midwestcon last week, which was quiet and fun. We threw ourselves a "30 Years in Fandom" party on Friday night, and went to a very long fondue dinner on Sautrday night.

Friday, June 17, 2005

So Tired and Latest Novel News

Over the last 2 weeks or so, my insomnia has gone from bad to worse, and I'm averaging under 4 hours of sleep a night. Sleeping pills stopped working months ago, so I don't take them. So, since I'm usually up by 4:30 or so anyway. I decided to get dressed, leave the house by 5:30 and walk for at least an hour every morning. Since I live near a high school, I walk on the track. And I am not alone. There's usually at least 5 people, even first thing in the morning. One woman says she's often there by 3:30!
So my daily walking average is now up from about 1-2 miles per day, to 3-4 miles per day. And, when it was warmer, I swam for six days in a row. I've made an appointment to see my doctor and will try to have a sleep study done. While I've battled insomnia my whole life, usually it was more obviously stress-related. I'd have trouble going to sleep, but once I was asleep I tended to stay asleep until 5:30 or 6. Now, I tend to fall alseep pretty quickly, but once I wake up, and it's any later than 3am, I stay awake.

My novel-writing has suffered, but that was probably more due to visiting my folks for a few days and doing a lot of Interaction scheduling. Three weeks ago, I'd hit 71,000 words and was optmisitically predicting I'd be done soon. Now, I'm at about 79,000. I did some pruning, restructured the first chapter a little and, sadly, put some material I thought I was writing for the novel into a backstory file.

Yesterday, Michael Burstein was talking about readability software in his blog. I ran the Word tool buried under Spelling and Grammar. Results of my novel analysis.

I was particularly happy to find that the grade level for the pseudo-AP story very closely matched the grade level for business paper writing discovered by a recent study!

If you're interested in reading a little of the novel, please check

Sunday, June 05, 2005

You Can't Go Home Again, But You Can Visit

I'm currently visiting the town I grew up in. I moved there when I was 4, and moved away to go to college when I was 18. I haven't lived in the town in 30 years. West Boylston is a small Massachusetts town due north of Worcester. It's small and easy-to-miss, but if you've ever driven Route 12 north out of Worcester, you might have noticed it because of the Old Stone Church and the Wachusett Reservoir.

With a growing family, my parents moved four times during those 14 years. First, we lived in a ranch house on Pierce St., in a neighborhood where people' yards backed up against yours. Next, we lived in a Cape with a larger, more private back yard on Goodale St. Then, in '69, during my last week of sixth grade, we moved to a brand new Colonial with a small yard on the other side of town, on Shady Lane (beside the old Mixter School). Finally, we moved to one of the many split levels on Yorktown Road (less than a half mile from our house on Pierce St.). My folks and younger siblings lived there until the early '80s.

Pierce St. has changed shockingly little over the last 40 years. Our old house has been expanded some and has a garage. "Goodale St. has really changed," Dad said. "They're building a lot of new houses up that way." The Cape Code I lived in for most of the '60s had long ago morphed into a Colonial. I'd always approved of that change (not that anyone asked me, but I did!). However, as I drove down Goodale St. today, I was shocked to find that my woods were being torn down.

The first few years we lived on Goodale St., we had the run of the neighborhood. While we sometimes were warned about "strangers," people didn't overprogram and overwatch their kids they way so many parents do now. We were allowed to explore the woods (with a babysitter or parent at first, but, then, later, on our own). There was a dirt road, a picnic area and winding paths. The woods were quiet and green, with a variety of trees, ferns, and flowers. A brook babbled about a 1/4 mile down the dirt road, and a small wooden bridge made the crossing easy. The most dangerous thing in the woods was poison ivy, something I wasn't even allergic to during my childhood (something I more than made up for in my 20s).

I spent many, many hours in the woods, often alone about sometimes with others. We looked for animals, lightning bugs, space aliens, anything a bunch of active, imaginative kids would look for. We had adventures, we ate picnic lunches. I loved the woods. Towards the late '60s, a family built a house in the woods. I guess they owned some amount of the property further back, because, there were times when we just didn't feel welcome there anymore. We still went back that way anyway, but it wasn't quite the same.

And, today, an awful lot of the woods had been clearcut for housing. Part of me almost cried (and I'm really not all that sentimental), but part of me wanted to see if any of that old brook still existed. Maybe we could buy that piece of land and build a house over it. Though, at Massachusetts prices, we don't have enough to build much more than a shed these days...

After driving down Goodale St., I dropped my car back at my folks' apartment house and walked all over the center of town. They live near the reservoir, and I've down that part of the walk dozens of times when I've come back to visit. The water was amazingly glassy this morning, so I took many pictures of the Old Stone Church, the trees, the surrounding hills and their reflections in the water.

Then I headed up lower Goodale St. to Central St. Goodale St. School, where I went to third grade, had been torn down years before and replaced by a ballfield. The metal jungle gym where I'd gotten a concussion in fourth grade was gone ("How many fingers?" asked Mr. Duffy, helping me back to the nurse's office). The huge swings on the playground edge were still there. Right nere the end, on the school side, that's where we talked about the shooting of Robert Kennedy at the end of fifth grade.

Major Edwards Elementary School was at the other end of the playground, and I was there from 4-7 grade. It looks pretty much the same as it did 40 years ago, with really minor additions to the end of one wing and a huge sattelite dish.

The high school was just up the street from the elementary school. I hadn't realized how much the front had changed, or that the lion had been moved. The plaster lion was in bad shape (I took a photo of it, but brought the wrong USB cable so I can't upload it until I get home).

I walked back down Central Street all the way to the Congregational Church. It's still a shady, pleasant walk. The MeatMaster has been replaced by some other butcher shop, and there's an extraordinarly good-smelling bakery in that little plaza. The old Post Office moved out to Route 12 a number of years ago - a kitchen design center is in the old Post Office, surrounded by some surprisingly large trees.

When you visit your old home town, you have a tendency to drive through on quick visits. Take a few minutes and walk around. I was suprised to find some buildings had been added 15 years ago, but I never noticed them until I got out of the car and walked!

The Archangel Book Meme: Four Questions for Book Geeks

Origin point of this:

Total Number of Books Owned

Somewhere around 17,000, probably another 3,000 magazines. We're a long married couple, both of whom have been collecting books since the early '60s and we keep almost everything.

The collection is probably about 9,000 science fiction and fantasy (about 200 of which are autographed), 1,500 history, 4,000 general fiction, 1,000 biographies, 1,000 general non-fiction, 200 antique (including a first edition of Adventures of Baron von Munchausen and an early edition of Poe's short stories I inherited from my grandparents), 150 cookbooks.

We're actually getting rid of books - duplicates, stuff that's just old and not interesting - as we're running out of space and hope to be moving by the end of the year.

Last Book Bought

1776 by David McCullough (OK, actuallly Jim bought it, but I almost bought it...).

Last Book Read

Still reading Warriors of God, which is more interesting than Kingdom of Heaven (the movie that cribbed from it without giving credit).

Five Books That Mean a Lot to You

To Kill a Mockingbird. I read it when I was about 8 and have read it every few years since then. The amazing thing about this book is how you grow with it - things that sail over year head when you're little much so much more sense when you're older.

The Left Hand of Darkness. Wow. I read this when I was about 16 or 17 and was completely floored by it. A completely brilliant book.

Lord of the Rings. Ditto. I read this just after my 18th birthday, while I was taking a bus from Massachusetts to Ohio and back again visiting colleges. I remember reading about Mordor while I was on the bus going by oil tanks in New Jersey and that image has always stayed with me.

The Sparrow and Children of God. I read these books at a point when I wasn't reading much SF that was interesting me. These really interested me. Some of the most intelligent SF of the last 10 years.

American Gods. What an incredible combination of genres and ideas in the same book!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Mark Felt, American Hero

Even in the early '70s, when I was still something of a Nixon supporter, I couldn't hate Deep Throat. I have way too much respect for the truth to attack the truth-teller. Listening to the televised Watergate hearings in 1973 convinced me of Nixon's guilt. So I've always thought that Mark Felt was a hero. Now, look at the way Republican apologists are already complaining about his behavior. And it's sad that a few rather noisy, twisted individuals think Felt was more of a lawbreaker than Nixon, Haldeman and all their friends were!!

So, focusing on the Republican apologists rather than Felt and his family is fairly disgusting. And I think that NBC's Today Show went over the line with its "reporting" on Felt this morning, and here's what I wrote them:

Today Show Comment

I've been a loyal viewer of The Today Show for over 40 years, and I'm making the switch to Good Morning America. I was tired of the lack of real news stories on the Today Show, but the final straw for me was letting Republican apologists dominate the show the day after his identity as Deep Throat was revealed. By contrast, Good Morning America got Felt's lawyer. Sorry, that's more interesting news to me than a convicted criminal like Coulson, or a conservative propoagandist like Buchanan. Shame!

Laurie Mann
No Longer the World's Slowest Blog

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Bush and Cheney Partying Like It's 1984...

Did you ever imagine there would come a time when the executive branch of our government would say things like this about Amnesty International?

President Bush called a human rights report "absurd" for criticizing the United States' detention of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and said Tuesday the allegations were made by "people who hate America.

CNN, 5/31/2005.

War Is Peace. Ignorance Is Strength. Freedom Is Slavery.

Slogans from George Orwell's 1984, that, unfortunately, seem to symbolize our government today.

Hey, does anyone remember the late '90s, when the Republicans constantly attacked Clinton who was accused of having a consensual affair? While many of us supported Clinton through this misadventure, I don't remember that any of us ever accused the Republicans for "hating America," even though the Republicans were busily trying to oust a popularly-elected president.

I don't hate America, it's the current administration I loathe. And I sure believe reports from Amnesty International before I'd believe anything the Bush administration would say about its gross mistreatment of its POWs. Whenever a country is looking to get around the Geneva Convention, something is seriously rotten about its government.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Send a "Thanks, George" Note to Senator Voinovich!

I was reading Leslie Turek's blog where she quoted from Debra Pickett's column in the Chicago Sun-Times. Pickett wrote about many current events, focusing on Senator Voinovich's moving speech on voting against John Bolton last week. I think Voinovich deserves a thank-you note from all of us who are being completely ignored by our Republican senators. So, I did. Voinovich did a very courageous thing last week, and we should support him for it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Moderation Comments and Novel Progress

Three cheers for the return of moderation to the Senate (and maybe even the House). It would be nice to not loose our country to the loony fringe.

I continue to work on my novel in fits and starts. Last week, while I looked at my novel quite a lot, I really wrote very little. Over the last few days, I've started to make progress again, so I'm up to 71,000 words. So I'm continuing with my recent average of about 1000 words a day.

I'm going to be busy the next couple of days, but then Memorial Day weekend should be pretty quiet (other than a likely trip to the Ethnic Festival and a family picnic over in Crafton).

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Medical Services: Central Massachusetts Versus Western Pennsylvania

I'm not sure where to start/where to go with this discussion, but I'm puzzled.

I live in Western Pennsylvania. We're all in reasonable health, but we all tend to have nuisance ailments like gastritis and allergies. We have HealthAmerica, and have never had any trouble getting treatment or tests for anything. For example, my doctor told me to have my sinuses X-rayed the next time I wasn't having an active sinus infection. I called last Wednesday, and got CAT scan appointment for next Monday. The ability to always get tests within a reasonable time has always been reassuring, partcularly since we have a high percentage of the elderly in our area.

My mother lives in Central Massachusetts. She's in her 70s, lives on her own, is in reasonable health, but has been having more age-realted health problems. Last fall, she had a major knee problem and it took her weeks to get all the tests she needed, and she didn't have surgery on it for something like four months after her injury. Currently, her doctor thinks she may have had a mini-stroke because her memory has gotten quite bad recently. But it's going to take her a month to get a CAT scan!! Now, I'd always thought medical care was reasonbly good in Central Mass (UMass Medical School is right there, Fallon is right there), so why does it take over a month to get tests for a potentially dangerous condition?

Is health care being rationed to the elderly? After her knee injury, my mother couldn't walk for a few days and wound up getting one of the last orthopedic beds in a rehab facility. Is health care merely incompetently managed in Central Massachusetts? What's up?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Mini Review and Commentary on Revenge of the Sith

We went to the 9am showing out at the Waterfront. The theater was probably about 1/4 full (but the 3, 5, and 7 pm showings were all listed as being sold out). No one was in any costume at 9am - I was wearing my "May the Force Be With You" button that I'd gotten at the Star Wars premire 28 years ago.

I thought it was very good but not great - probably a 7 on the IMDB rating scale, maybe even an 8 because I thought the last hour was much stronger than the first.

The first half hour or so is one solid video game - all sound and fury, signifying very little. It gets a little more interesting in the quieter moments, until an awkward Lucas line hits, or Hayden Christiansen looks more uncomfortable than dangerous. The effects are great, but because there so many special effects it seems like overkill after a while.

The final battle is pretty good, and there is a frighteningly ironic detail that shows you how Vader survives his encounter with hell.

The acting is all over the place, but it's mostly pretty good, led by very strong performances by Ian McDarmind (Palpatine) and Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan). Christiansen is certainly stronger in this movie than in Attack of the Clones, but still doesn't quite pull it off. Natalie Portman is good as Padme but is given depressingly little to do. It would have been nice to see more of Jimmy Smits. Yoda has become the best CGI character since Gollum.

This week, we watched episodes I & II before going to the theater to see episode III, and we watched episodes IV & V after seeing Sith. The earlier movies have a kind of visual elegance to them that's almost totally lacking in the current set (with a couple of exceptions in III, and cribbing from Dinotopia in II). Some special effects gurus feel compelled to fill up the screen with just more effects. This doesn't necessarily make a better movie.

***Comments on how it should have been*** **sorta spoilers**

There is a wonderful scene in Return of the Jedi between Luke and Leia, where they talk about their parents. Leia has a line where she simply says "I remember my mother. She was so beautiful...and so sad," as if she'd known her biological mother, and her mother had died when Leia was a little girl (and not just when Alderan is blown up in Star Wars). I'd always hoped that Padme survived childbirth, perhaps being presented as a queen on Alderan, to raise Leia as her daughter. Since Leia is, also, raised by an adoptive mother, that line won't feel the same the next time I see Return of the Jedi (probably this weekend!).

I thought it was a terrible cheat to not show Annikan slaughtering the Jedis-in-training. We saw him slaughter everyone else, and the movie was rated PG-13 for a reason! I'm not advocating blood and guts, just honest, on-camera proof of what a monster Vader had become.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

More Voting Screw-ups

Well, we all know how things went in November? Think things are any better?

Apparently not.

I had no problem voting in November. I went to vote today and learned my voter registration change (I'd changed from Independent to Democrat in late January when I renewed my driver's license) didn't go through. So I was still listed as an Independent. Meaning I didn't get to cast a vote against Michael Diven *sigh* At least I could still vote yes for both ballot questions.

So the Mount Lebanon poll worker was really quick to blame the Department of Motor Vehicles. Said she'd heard the same story from other people. But I wonder where the problem really was? Was it with the DMV? The County Board of Elections? The Mount Lebanon board? Who knows? I will write a letter to the Allegheny County Board of Elections today to complain. This is ridiculous - it shouldn't take over three months to change your party!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Star Wars in All Its Forms - Honeymooning with Wookiees

We've been getting in the spirit of the upcoming Star Wars finale by watching the movies. We watched Phantom Menace on Friday and Attack of the Clones last night.

I've always enjoyed the movies, though George Lucas put spectacle in front of story for the most recent Star Wars movies. One thing I've always loved about the Lord of the Rings movies is that the story is so strong, Peter Jackson would have to have been a major idiot to let the special effects overwhelm it. The Star Wars saga, while certainly interesting, isn't as rich a story as LOTR, and much of the recent two movies felt like the movie was going from one video game to another.

It's particularly funny that Galaxy Quest, which came out in 1999, perfectly satirized the stupid "clone factory" sequence in Attack of the Clones, which didn't come out until 2002!

[thanks to IMDB for this relevant quote:
Gwen DeMarco: What is this thing? I mean, it serves no useful purpose for there to be a bunch of chompy, crushy things in the middle of a hallway. No, I mean we shouldn't have to do this, it makes no logical sense, why is it here?
Jason Nesmith: 'Cause it's on the television show.
Gwen DeMarco: Well forget it, I'm not doing it, this episode was badly written.

But, anyway, I do look forward to seeing Revenge of the Sith this week. I think thse are all hopeful signs: the movie is dark, not for young kids and that Jar-Jar has no dialog!

The Post Gazette had a great Star Wars tribute today. I enjoyed the trivia test, particularly becuse I scored a 71 on it! ["The Force is strong with you, and the Jedi Council is preparing a seat for you"]

How much of a fan was I of the first three movies? Oh, a pretty major fan. A few years ago, I wrote Honeymooning with Wookiees, which was about my life as a 20-year-old Star Wars fan and newlywed.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Good News/Bad News Kind of a Day

Well, first the bad news - I didn't get hired for a full time job, but at least they wrote to me to tell me so (unlike another place where I had an in-person interview a few months back and never heard a thing).

But, in some ways, that's kind of good news. I'm still making progress on the novel and am up to 63,000 words.

I've been working more this week on the Growing Greener II primary ballot initiative. Remember, even if you're a registered Independent, you can still go and vote for ballot questions (like Growing Greener II if you live anywhere in Pennsylvania, and reducing the number of row offices if you live in Allegheny county).

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Non-Smoking Restaurants and that Novel Obsession....

We've discovered another two restaurants considerate of non-smokers in the Pittsburgh area: Red Robin (out at the Waterfront, just down the street from Loew's) and Il Pizziola in Mt. Lebanon. Even better - Il Pizziola has added a non-smoking wine bar in the back, a place Jim and I will try out some night soon. We're at the point with restaurants that if we have to choose between a restaurant that permits smoking and one that is smoke-free, we'll always choose the smoke-free restaurant. And we really don't go to bars very often when we're at home as a result. Molly Brannigan's in Mt. Lebanon has turned out to be something of a disappointment. The food is erratic, and the "non-smoking bar" often isn't.

Sorry for my novel obsession, but I did reach 57,000 words this morning. I still work on it in fits and starts. Sometimes, I'll spend an hour or so just rearranging a few words. Other times, I write steadily for a couple of hours and find I finished a sticky scene or had added another 2,000 words. I'm working some for my old employer as a contractor, and soon I know I'll have a pile of database work to do for Interaction Programme. I haven't heard back yet on the interesting full-time job I interviewed for last week, and hope to hear either way soon.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Spring in Pittsburgh

Two signs, one a little old but one from today, that spring is really here:


I'm not sure what the salmon-colored flowers are, but we thought they were pretty so we'd planted a bunch of them.

2 of the 3 deer who wandered into our yard at rush hour...

We live on a busy street, so seeing some three deer in our teeny-tiny back yard during rush hour was a tad disconcerting. They stayed long enough for a photo session, then wandered away. We alerted the Mt. Lebanon police to warn them about this possible traffic hazard.

Growing Greener II Poster

I've been doing some contract work for PennFuture recently. It involved mostly database work, but I've been distributing posters for the Growing Greener II referendum on May 17. I brought posters to Shadyside and Squirrel Hill yesterday, and to the South Side yesterday. I lived in Shadyside in the late '70s and wish I could afford to live there again!

My novel has been coming along slowly this week, because in addition to the contract work, I also had a very lengthy and interesting job interview yesterday. I'll probably hit at least 51,000 words tonight. Tomorrow, we'll probably go see Kingdom of Heaven. I like that it's both ambiguous and doesn't have a tight narrative structure - it was about a war, after all! I don't like that it seems to have put crossbows about 400 years early in time, but...

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Up to 45,000 Words...

I hit 45,000 words today. Well over 1/2 way through it.

I've been envisioning this story for a while, since at least late 2000. The first chapter hasn't really changed much in over four years. Just after I wrote the first chapter, I realized what the structure of the novel would be, and have pretty much stuck to that structure.

Of course, some of the details have changed, but the character arcs are basically intact. And during most of the last four years, I really didn't have all that much of the novel actually written. I was up to about 17,000 words as of about six weeks ago, and have written over 28,000 words since then (probably closer to 30,000, but have periodically gone back and pruned). I also keep jumping around what I'm writing. Now that the beginning is solid, I'm mostly writing chapters in the middle and chapters near the end.

Now that I'm having some success at getting the writing done, a contract job is beckoning and I'll have a second interview for a permanent job that sounds pretty interesting. It never rains but it pours...

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Letter to Senator Specter on S. 786

I appeal to you to please not vote for Senator Santorum's S. 786 - National Weather Services Duties Act of 2005. As written, it could privitize the excellent online services already provided by National Weather Service. It sounds like an act written only to protect the business of AccuWeather in State College - it again puts the interest of a private business (and contributor to Senator Santorum's re-election campaign) above the interests of the taxpayer.

Where will this kind of behavior end? Can we rely on at least one of our senators in Pennsylvania to care at all about its citizens?


Laurie D. T. Mann
Mount Lebanon, PA