an unexpected addition

23
Apr

Colleen brought a “present” home last night….

(I shall pause here briefly for all the “awwwww”ing this picture surely provokes….)

To provide a bit of backstory, last week our friend Sarah discovered a stray kitten while out walking her dog. As it was in a neighbor’s yard, she enlisted the neighbor’s help to retrieve the kitten, and in the end the neighbor kept it. This caused Sarah a bit of heartbreak, as she’s been talking about how she’s really wanted a new kitten lately, and felt that one was going to come into her life soon (after this turn of events, she was rather upset at the universe for taking the kitten from her).

Though the universe quickly smiled upon her again with multitude of blessings, as she and the neighbor soon discovered the kitten’s feral mom and four brothers and sisters living in a drainage inlet. They eventually captured mom and the babies, with the intention to get the very feral mom fixed (so as not to introduce further kittens into the world), and find homes for the youngsters (apart from who Sarah’s keeping).

All the while, as this is transpiring, my lovely spouse received regular photographic and video updates, particularly of one little calico. It seems that She and Sarah were conspiring a little bit to place a particular kitten in a particular home. My (mostly reflexive) objections were quickly dispatched by the cute and professions of short term concessions regarding being able to see the floor again in certain family member’s bedrooms on a regular basis.

So now there’s a six week old kitten camping out in my downstairs bathroom until we can get her to the vet for a check-up, vaccinations, and fixing…Okay, when I say “camping out in my…bathroom”, I mean “hanging out in the bathroom for the few minutes a day when she’s not being carried around by whoever and getting snuggled and fussed over”, but you know the drill. It makes sense to keep her somewhat isolated until she’s got a clean bill of health and the rest of the felines gets used to her (so far, there’s been some hissing, but mostly, everyone’s generally tolerant and non-aggressive).

So far, for someone who spent her whole life apart from the last 48 hours living under a sewer grate, she’s very clean, healthy seeming, and well socialized toward humans, full of purring, nuzzling, and general pleasantness. I didn’t really need another cat, to be perfectly honest, but this one needed a good home, and we had a pretty good approximation of one. Stuff happens. Plus, with Sarah keeping one of the siblings, we now have a kind of joining of families beyond most of our kids being pretty much inseparable anyway.

For now, we’re trying out the name Sif, the Norse goddess of earth and wedlock, but really, it’s more about the Sif from Thor comics, because the ladies in my life are fans of badass warrior goddesses. We’ll see if it sticks, but I’m guessing it probably will.

So welcome, little Sif. Stay cute.

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♫ lie swindled from them on the way to / burma shave ♫

22
Apr

On the way in to work this morning, I heard the radio version of this story on NPR regarding Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, which will be argued before the Supreme Court today.

The case itself is a challenge to an Ohio law prohibiting individuals or groups from knowingly or recklessly making false statements in political campaigns, stemming from a 2010 attempt by The Susan B. Anthony List, a conservative anti-abortion group, to launch a campaign against a Democratic congressman claiming he voted for taxpayer-funded abortion, when, in fact, he did not. The congressional campaign appealed to the state Elections Commission, citing the law barring false campaign statements. The billboards never went up, not because of any particular legal challenge, but because the billboard company refused the group’s business (presumably because of the controversy).

The Susan B. Anthony List then challenged the law, stating that it “demonstrates complete disregard for the Constitutional right of people to criticize their elected officials,” though the challenge was dismissed because the campaign never actually happened. Appeals happened, and the case eventually ended up in before the US Supreme Court.

So, we end up here: The Supreme Court of the United States is today hearing serious arguments about and is being asked to rule on whether being able to knowingly lie about someone is protected by the US Constitution.

Now, I’m generally very supportive of First Amendment rights, though I’m not entirely sure I’m okay with the idea that it might, in fact, be perfectly legal to make up false statements about one’s opponents in order to win a political campaign. Such a ruling would irrepairably sunder any integrity left in America’s already questionable political processes. It would become even more difficult to become informed regarding one’s options when deciding who to vote for, as it would become nigh impossible to separate truth from blatant falsehood (which is already difficult enough). In elections for public office, there really needs to be some basic standard of honesty and truthfulness; sadly, we need laws such as the one being challenged, as so many interested parties have no particular compunction about misrepresentation in the interest of winning. Machiavelli, however much his philosophies are lauded by type-A personalities in business and politics, is simply not democracy.

One wonders what exactly what sort of logic drove the Susan B. Anthony List to publically challenge this law. Leaving aside my personal feelings about the List’s cause, I can’t help but to think about how such an action would affect an individual or group’s long-term credibility, which one would think is an important commodity for anyone in the advocacy business. If someone feels they have to sue for the right to lie in order to make one’s case effectively, they’re basically admitting that their position can’t stand on it’s own factual merits.

Really, what does it say about you or your cause if you have admit you have to make stuff up to gain support? I can’t see this challenge, whatever the outcome, working well for the group or its allies.

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putting baby in a corner

21
Apr

I took a couple of days off of work last week in association with local spring break. Didn’t feel like much of a break for me, necessarily, as always things are busy around these parts, moreso than usual for the next couple of weeks, as long-standing commitments start coming to their ultimacy for some of us (which really means all of us, as is the way with families).

In conjunction with spring break (at least, that’s how I’m characterizing it), my mobile phone battery completely discharged some time on Thursday, and, given that I was on “vacation”, I just let it rest. Other than a couple of emails about a gig playing fill-in bass next month, I was totally off the global communications grid for four or five days.

And it was glorious.

Can I talk about how freeing that is? I just dropped out of that part of life for a couple of days, left the phone dead on the shelf, and went about my life without feeling stalked by electronic media. I took care of some errands, kept the kids out of trouble, took part in a Seder meal, got together with two different groups of friends to play board games and rpgs, did a deep cleaning and re-arrangment of a rather dirty fish tank, washed some clothes, played some guitar and got a little closer to fleshing out that song idea I mentioned, read a decent chunk of a pretty good novel, held an egg hunt sign for a very long time, and totally failed to finish Ni No Kuni like I intended, because the story kept going, and like most games from Level-5, I keep finding the final boss fight really hard.

It felt really good just barricading that aspect of life off by itself, behind dead batteries and hidden inside laptop cases for a while. I highly recommend figuring out a way to do it for yourself every now and then. You’ll thank yourself for making the effort.

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road trip

14
Apr

It’s been a quietish week in these parts, largely because I was offline for large swaths of last week doing things out in the world. The biggest of those things involved a quick visit to the midwest metropolis of Columbus, OH, where I spent most of two days sitting in a room with a bunch of IT people, who were having difficulty coming to terms with the idea that if one is interested in future-proofing systems for the next decade or two, terms like hierarchical database architecture and IBM 3270 screens probably ought to be purged from one’s vocabulary.

It was an interesting experience, to say the least; beneficial in the sense that I got to meet a bunch of folks in person who I “knew” previously via phone and email, which is generally good for relations. I also got to know a bit more about the inner workings of this newish organization, both in terms of information infrastructure and they way things work politically. Still, kinda dull.

I hadn’t had the opportunity to travel for business in a while, and this was the first time with this organization, so I encountered the usual headaches involving transferring travel credentials and expense accounts across organizational boundaries, though having the experience that I do, I was able to sort it out. Also, approved flights from here to there were a mess, involving long layovers in odd places due to flight paths created via non-Euclidian geometry. So, rather than face such Lovecraftian airline horror, I drove – about eight hours each way – which is honestly about the same time investment as I’d have faced if I flew, counting all the time dedicated to security theater and such; also a net savings to my employer and a few more bucks in my pocket for mileage. A long trip, but generally a win.

I can tell that I’m largely out of practice for business travel – the reflexes are there, but I seem to have lost the ability to sleep in hotel beds without incident and subsist on takeout without dramatic effects on my body – of course, that could just be me getting old. Who knows.

The best part of the trip, though, was getting to spend Wednesday evening with some good friends I don’t get to see so terribly often who live in the area. The illustrious Elizabeth and Duncan served as my hosts and guides through a town that has changed quite a bit since I was there last, giving me a nice tour of Columbus’s German Village (including some great history of the region), and an excellent dinner at a relatively new eatery in the city, The Red Brick Tap and Grill, where we drank local brews, caught up socially, and consumed some excellent key lime pie, all while sitting below this wall treatment:

Which we all took as a good omen.

After dinner, being bookish folk, they treated me to a visit to The Book Loft, one of the largest independent booksellers in America, home to 32 ROOMS(!) of books for sale, including rare and autographed editions, and “the biggest collection of jigsaw puzzles in the midwest!” We spent quite a bit of time wandering around this maze of a store, enjoying the atmosphere of being surrounded by so many books in such an interesting place, and I think we each escaped with only two volumes apiece, which for us is pretty mild.

So, all in all, it was a pretty decent adventure, both in terms of work and life. I did spend much of the weekend recovering (like I said, my body is out of practice with this sort of thing), aside from taking in the second game of the Richmond Flying Squirrels’ fifth season; or at least the first five innings thereof, before everyone was just kind of wiped out by the crowds and the general early-season event management kinks and bailed early. Still, it’s an evening at the ballpark, which is always a reasonably good time.

That’s been Chuck’s life. We’ll now return you to your regularly scheduled browsing.

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music and is life

02
Apr

Things have maybe, a little bit, anyway, settled down enough for me to catch a breath. We’re still busy, but it’s not really an overwhelming busy.

The spouse and I even managed to sneak away for an overnight adventure sans children, enjoying the music and comedy stylings of the one-and-only Mikey Mason, performing at Atlantis Comics. We enjoyed the show (during which I may have stuffed money down the performer’s pants in a *mostly* innocent manner), visited with friends in the area, and acquired a couple of books from one such friend, author Lynn Townsend, who’s on a publishing roll this year, with three(!) books out this year, as well as a copy of an old edition of the Paranoia RPG out of the shop’s impressive collection of old school game materials. It was nice to get away, even if we spent too much money on the way home passing through Williamsburg (damn you, Harry & David, damn. you.).

Otherwise, it’s been regular life around here: school, work, dance, scouts, etc. Regular enough (for once) that I found time to get together with some of my music/jam session buddies to make some alleged music last night; the first time with these guys since January. Nothing like a couple of hours playing eclectic acoustic covers in the living room and making each other laugh – not the kind of fun I get to have nearly as much as I’d like.

Not all of life’s music is great news, however. Over the weekend, a flurry of announcements signaled what is effectively the end of the Badlees, with the departure of Bret Alexander and Paul Smith from the band’s line-up. Anyone who knows me (especially those who knew me for most of the 90s) know how big a fan of this band I was and am (see here or here or here for additional evidence); seeing this band end after more than 20 years is tough – their music was, for me and for others, the soundtrack of our transition from adolescence into adulthood – it really encapsulated the experience of growing up in a certain place and time. Even though I’m no longer in that place, or that time, being there shaped me, and listening to these sounds (or even thinking about them), dredges up all sorts of feelings and emotions. That’s the beauty of music, after all.

I’m not sure why it’s ending now, but I suspect it’s largely just life happening – output’s been sporadic over the last several years, and all of them have other things going on. With the main songwriting and production forces gone from the band, it’s probably for the best that they’re hanging it up for now. The band, as they’ve always been fond of saying, has always been greater than the sum of it’s parts (it’s really never been quite the same since Jeff left way back when, really). 23-odd years, two different record contracts, and over a dozen albums featuring various combinations of band members is a good run; a lot more than most bands get. I hope to learn of new projects from the various principals in times to come, though I’ll always have a stack of great records to listen to, and an even bigger stack of great memories from all those dozens of live shows. Thanks for the tunes, guys; let’s hope the memories do indeed have equity.

And finally, related to all of the above, I’ve had an idea kicking around in my head for several weeks now that I really need to turn into something; until I do, it’ll be a persistent itch I just can’t get rid of. There’s a creepy ghost story of a song in this photograph from the infamous Graffiti Highway in Centralia PA, if that whole place isn’t a ghost story in and of itself; I just need to finish teasing it out.



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friday random ten – “glad that’s over” edition

28
Mar

From yesterday’s post, you might have gotten the sense that I was a little frustrated with the office this week. That’s kind of true, but not the kind of frustrating that’s going to have me running to the job boards to find something else. I’m relatively happy with my employment lot at the moment, little frustrations aside.

That said, I’m glad to be done with my week. My bills are paid (with only a few little tiny headaches associated with the process – web sites need to let us know when they move their payment buttons around), and my lovely spouse and I have some nice “just us” plans arranged for this evening, involving music, comedy, friends, and a little alone time*. So yeah, things could be worse.

In the meantime, here are some tunes:

  1. “Little Room” – White Stripes
  2. “Never Say Never” – that dog.
  3. “I Like Chinese” – Monty Python
  4. “I Live With It Every Day” – Barenaked Ladies”
  5. “Ain’t Gonna Ask You” – Norah Jones
  6. “Land of the Dead” – Voltaire
  7. “Here, In My Head (live)” – Tori Amos
  8. “Texas Lady” – Les Paul & Mary Ford
  9. “Getchoo” – Weezer
  10. “Naive” – The Rentals

_________________________

* – I hear the winking and the nudging and the “say no more!”-ing. You all have dirty minds. I know; I can recognize my own kind pretty well. As for your assumptions, well.

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stuck in the middle…again

27
Mar

warning: may contain old man yelling at cloud

I guess it’s good news that I haven’t had reason to bitch about work for over six months since I started this new job. It’s a good job, with a great group of people (both locally and across the country), and I get to do all sorts of interesting software system design stuff in areas I haven’t necessarily tried before, so I’m learning new skills and polishing the tarnish off some old ones. All told, it’s pretty awesome, and I’m glad I’m here.

That said, it’s not without it’s frustrations. Soon after I started here, I inherited sysadmin duties for a service that allows our vendors to receive weekly financial data extracts via secure FTP. I collect information, validate identities, and set up accounts, and answer questions. Not a theoretical big deal.

However, what I end up doing six or seven times a day is explaining “arcane” internet lore to non-technical folks whose online navigational knowledge consists of little beyond “Click on the blue E, scroll through Facebook”. I had two different conversations with private industry IT Guys™ this week who didn’t know what an FTP client application was, and couldn’t conceive of the idea of doing something on the internet that didn’t involve a web browser.

Yes, I recognize that this isn’t the most elegant solution to distributing this data, but it’s what I inherited, it works, and the web services guys have bigger problems to deal with than writing a web interface for this thing. Besides, some of my users have done some really neat things on their end with the raw data we give them. But, I expect it would save me a lot of time if there was just a “click the E” version. For one, I wouldn’t have to keep providing uncompensated tech support for FileZilla every damned day.

Oh well – I guess I just have to consider it my humble contribution to the open source movement.

____________________

Okay, I recognize this kind of whining is coming from a very specialized place. Most people don’t need to know how to do much with their computers besides opening up a web browser or spreadsheet. I call a plumber when my sink backs up, and I’ve learned that most home improvement projects turn out better when I pay someone else to do them. i don’t really fix my car myself anymore. I guess my frustration comes from the fact that although I don’t do these things myself, I know what a wrench is, and I can explain how an internal combustion engine works. When I was a student, the computing classes they made us take included at least passing mentions of basic computer things and rudimentary online stuff.

I guess part of it is a generational thing. People a few years older than me didn’t have computers around in school , especially those earlier ones that required you to type arcane-sounding commands like LOAD “*”,8,1 at a prompt to get them to do anything, and lack the experience. Those damned kids even a few years younger than me grew up with graphical user interfaces where conucopias of porn and pirated music were a few mouse clicks away*. I landed somewhere in the middle, where we had these things, they were new and shiny and interesting, and required a bit of thought and learning to make them do things, but it was worth learning that stuff, because it got you access to all kinds of amazing things. As a result, both the older and younger generations frustrate me, because I have to explain all this crap to both of them on a daily basis.

At least I get paid for it now.

_______

* – those of us who were on the cusp of the internet revolution waited like half an hour for a low-res bitmap scan of a magazine centerfold to download on our 9600 baud modems, and we liked it!

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moar squirrels

17
Mar

So, for the last several months, I’ve been playing the Marvel Heroes MMO regularly. It’s one of the free-to-play flavors, so I don’t have the pressure of getting my money’s worth out of a monthly subscription fee. I’ve spent a few bucks over the last not quite year on in-game stuff (mostly extra storage space for loot), but overall, it’s been a relatively cheap hobby to keep me busy.

I’ve got a stable of not quite a dozen heroes, and lately I’ve been playing Squirrel Girl through the top-tier levels. Squirrel Girl is an odd character, who started out as sort of a joke, and still kind of is, but has managed to become something of a fixture in the Marvel universe, not exactly top an A-Lister, but certainly the biggest name in the Great Lakes Avengers, and perhaps the most formidable hero in the Marvel Universe, having bested Dr. Doom, Thanos, MODOK, and other heavy hitters single handedly. She’s fun, and she’s an honest-to-goodness Steve Ditko creation, with a quirky, fun-loving attitude. Plus, she talks to squirrels.

My six year old loves her.

As of this afternoon, she loves her even more, as I managed to score perhaps the most coveted piece of gear for her – Tippy Toe’s Itty Bitty Bow. Tippy Toe is Squirrel Girl’s faithful squirrel companion, and she wears a little pink bow. This item, besides boosting all sorts of stats, summons Tippy Toe herself, wearing, of course, a little pink bow, to follow you around in game, and help you fight bad guys.

And she’s oh so cute:

Today there was much squeeing to be heard, indeed.

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my brain goes strange places…

17
Mar

…when placed under stress.

Life’s been very busy of late, as my wife’s been away a lot due to serious volunteer commitments. It doesn’t help these are commitments that require a certain amount of confidentiality and circumspection – there’s stuff she can’t talk about outside her committee. She disappears and has adventures, and I don’t know much beyond vague generalities. This is tough on both of us, because if there’s one thing we do a lot of, it’s talking about stuff. Not being able to do so is hard on us.

It’s been rough. Lots of mental stress. I joke about how this whole business must kind of be like what it feels like to having a partner engage in infidelity (no offense meant to folks who have experienced this) without bothering to hide it. Of course my joking is kind of out of desperation, because there’s a kernel of truth to the feeling, if not the actual situation.

Make sense?

My brain is doing strange things with all the extra stimulation. Playing out scenarios in my subconscious. I’m having dreams, I think to help me process things.

So, the dream I had last night that involved my spouse leaving me, makes a certain amount of sense in context. I think some even deeper layer of my subconscious understood what was happening, and softened the blow so I didn’t wake up in sorrow and horror.

That theory is all well and good, but it doesn’t do much to explain all the dragons or the pizza delivering monkey*.

Yeah.

_______________________

* -seriously. Monkey, or maybe some sort of higher ape. I don’t remember whether he had a tail or not. I don’t think it was important. Still, he had a little uniform, and a car, and carried pizza boxes around, hung out at the pizza stand between deliveries. That part of the whole business is remarkably lucid. If I knew why that was, perhaps we’d all have a much greater understanding of the universe.

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friday random ten – “um, yeah” edition

14
Mar

Haven’t done one of these in a while, but I was at the computer paying bills anyway, so…

Been a busy couple of months (but not *my* busy, necessarily), and though I can maybe see the end of it, the end isn’t here yet. That’s why it’s been quiet. Sorry.

tunes.

  1. “Legendary Lovers” – Katy Perry
  2. “You’re Crazy” – Guns N’ Roses
  3. “Nowhere Road” – Steve Earle
  4. “Kids Wanna Rock” – Bryan Adams
  5. “Roll Away The Stone” – Mumford & Sons
  6. “Keep Coming Back” – Edie Brickell & New Bohemians
  7. “Hitchin’ A Ride” – Saraya
  8. “Snow Queen” – She & Him
  9. “Cedar Tree” – Indigo Girls
  10. “Dance in the Dark” – Lady GaGa
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