December 31, 2004:

Back home again. Tired, but happy to be here in my own house—and indescribably happy to be back in the same building with a functional broadband connection. Carol and I will be going to bed early, as we almost always do on New Year's Eve. It's the contrarian thing to do. And bedtime approacheth—so let me catch up a little with the odd lots I've been saving for decent connectivity:

  • The magnitude of the tsumani catastrophe is starting to sink in. An entire Old Catholic community in India was swept away during Mass, with absolutely nothing remaining but the foundations of the church building. As many as 300 congregants may be dead, including the pastor.
  • Several publications have commented that even in coastal wildlife refuge areas, no dead animals were found. The animals knew something was coming, and headed away from the coast, to higher ground where it was available. In one of his books (I think Mysteries, which I finished some weeks back) Colin Wilson opined that this sort of "sixth sense" for geological danger probably exists in humans as well as animals, but it's been layered over by our conscious minds and the information provided by the sense is no longer available to us. Maybe somebody should create a tsunami warning system by integrating radio-collar data of a few hundred animals in coastal regions, and watching for any apparently coordinated movement of collared animals inland. No, I am not kidding—you got any better ideas?
  • Pete Albrecht sent me this article, pointing out that the psychics basically bat .000 in their 2004 predictions. Not word one about a Christmas tsunami that may eventually have killed a quarter million people, once the secondary issues of infection and perhaps famine come into play.
  • ARFF (see yesterday's entry) is Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting, and the "ARFF Staging Area" signs I mentioned can be seen along the roads around O'Hare Field. I've wondered about them for years, but never thought to look them up except when there was no Internet connection at hand.
  • "Elmer the Elephant" (a kids' TV show) did indeed exist, and was hosted by John Conrad in Chicago in the late 1950s. It was basically a guy talking to a life-size paper mache elephant head that was mounted on gimbals and could move back and forth and nod. No good writeups on the net, nor photos, but at least I know I wasn't hallucinating.
  • "Lesnerize" is a phony word created by Robert Sheckley for his story, "Protection". Clever story. Read it.
  • And oh, yes, there are several radioactive isotopes of oxygen, with half-lives ranging from 2.2 seconds to 122 seconds. Look quick—and not from up too close.
  • My cousin John Pryes sent me a link to a beautifully executed modern-style church in Lego. It's enormous—big enough for the creator to get inside for maintenance—and required 75,000 bricks to complete.
That'll have to do. I have a few more, but I'm getting sleepy and need to get this year wrapped and posted. Thanks for reading Contra this past year, and stay tuned. Tomorrow I'll go through last year's predictions to see how well I did, and while I beat the psychics, it wasn't by much, heh. After that, well, there's lots to write about.
December 30, 2004:

We'll be heading back to Colorado tomorrow morning, and I was reflecting earlier today (after driving to another Panera and finding that my exile from their system is global and not local) that I have spent much of the time since November 15 away from easy access to the Internet. Only in withdrawal was I able to recognize my habit: I am addicted to answers (to factual questions, at least) Right Now. By factual questions I mean things with known, well-defined answers, like whether or not there is a radioactive isotope of oxygen, or whether there really is such a word as "lesnerize"—and if so, what it means and how to spell it. We'd all like to know the meaning of life, or how to create peace on Earth, but that's not what I'm talking about. Was there really a kids' TV show called "Elmer the Elephant" in the 1950s, or did I imagine it? What is an ARFF Staging Area? Questions like that are a less compelling itch than the cosmic ones, fersure, but an itch that's way easier to scratch.

I'm amazed to think of how often the following happens: I'm sitting at home in my study, sprawled in my big comfy leather chair reading a book, and my crap detector starts giving me a reading. I set down the book, and with three steps I'm in front of what my old friend Mike Bentley called, in all sincerity, "the Eye unto Infinity." I keep a Web browser tuned to Google in the taskbar (and often another tuned to Wikipedia) and for most ordinary factual questions and clarifications, I have an answer in seconds.

If a magazine article or book cites a cultural reference on which I draw a blank, I can jump up and get the skinny in a minute or less. Instead of just grumbling, "Now who the hell is that?" when I read of some obscure actress who is abruptly making headlines in New York, I can get her photo, her filmography, and her fan club home page, often by following a single search hit. I can brush up on fuzzy memory (was the New Madrid earthquake in 1810 or 1812?) and follow side paths of inquiry until I either satisfy the itch or judge the question insufficiently compelling to warrant the time I'm spending on it.

Either way, it's an addiction, and I'm amazed at how much I miss my broadband connection to the All-Volunteer Virtual Encyclopedia of Absolutely Everything, which is what I was asking for in a well-known PC Techniques editorial in early 1994, and which the Web has become. I used to file odd questions in the back of my head, to await my next trip to the library, or at least to the Encyclopedia Britannica downstairs. No more. If I can't ask the question Right Now, I get very testy. I'm sitting here in Niles, Illinois right now, wondering about that hypothetical radioisotope of oxygen, and it's making me nuts. I used to have a hippie poster on my wall reading, "To wonder is to begin to understand." Yup. But only to begin—and right now I'm half crazy wanting to finish all these odd wonderings that I've started in the last few days, a thousand miles from the Eye unto Infinity. I wonder: Will there ever be universal wireless Internet access from anywhere on Earth? No answer exist to that one, but boy, the wondering is intense.
December 29, 2004:
I went back to Panera this morning, and I still can't access any of my domains (or Jim Mischel's from the Panera hotspot. I hope to grab some bandwidth from my brother-in-law tonight to catch up a little, but it's going to be pretty spotty until I get home. Anyway, if any of you are within easy reach of a Panera, I'd be interested to know if you can access through a Panera hotspot. I need to take this problem up with Panera's IT people, and it would be useful to know if it were a network-wide problem, or something fishy with the Niles, Illinois restaurant only. Thanks!
December 28, 2004:

Back to the puzzles of forgiveness. (See my entry for December 22, 2004.) Lots of people are writing, with insights and painful stories. I need to say up front that I don't have all the answers. I'm still working it out. There are a few things I'm pretty sure about, though:

  • Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation, and does not require reconciliation. (Reconciliation requires forgiveness, however, to be genuine.) In other words, you don't have to get back together with an ex-spouse or parent who has brutalized you, in order to achieve forgiveness. Quite the opposite; sometimes, for forgiveness to happen, doors may have to be closed for good.
  • Forgiveness is not any sort of agreement that the hurt that was done was "no big deal" or in any other way acceptable. You don't have to (and should not!) loosen your standards of right and wrong in the process of forgiveness. Certain things are just wrong, and will always be wrong. Forgiving them doesn't mean they didn't happen or are now all right. (Thanks to Michael Covington for reminding me of this.)
  • Forgiveness is not the same as grieving, though there is often some forgiving to be done during grieving. Impersonal forces that cause hurt (what we used to call "natural evil" and explified by the tsunamis that have recently killed 50,000+ people over in Asia) do not need to be forgiven, but the losses they cause do need to be grieved. A murderer who kills your spouse or child must be forgiven, but those who died must also be grieved. Grief and forgiveness are related, and are very deep processes. Both are processes of "letting go;" grief of what was lost, and forgiveness of the negative emotions generated by that loss. Grieving may need to be completed before forgiveness can happen.

But what then is forgiveness? I'll offer my own definition: To forgive is to sever an unhealthy relationship between the hurter and the hurt-ee. When someone hurts you or your loved ones, it's human nature to feel anger and resentment. As long as you maintain this anger and resentment, there is a relationship between you and the person or organization that caused the hurt. This relationship does you no good. Grudges can make you miserable, and in extreme cases can change your personality enough to (consciously or unconsciously) pass hurt on to others.

Dissipating grudges through forgiveness is crucial. The big question, of course, is how. Here I'm less sure. Like most people, I'm striving to heal the wounds that life invariably causes. Little wounds have been easy to heal. Bigger ones have taken serious time and effort. The really big ones have resisted all attempts. In future installments in this series, I'll discuss what I've done to facilitate forgiveness, though I warn you that my knowledge is very incomplete.
December 27, 2004:
Some freaky things still going on here. The main page of Contra was truncated somehow yesterday or earlier today, and ended in the middle of the achive links. I have no idea how or why. I couldn't get at my hosting directories for most of the day, and at this writing I'm still not sure when I'll be able to upload this.
December 26, 2004:

The Feast of St. Stephen. This is why "Good King Wenceslas" is a Christmas carol; the "feast of Stephen" is traditionally December 26. I'm still out and around doing family things in the Chicago exurbs, but this might be as good a time as any to share a failed filk with everybody. Not everything I begin I finish, and not every creative project can be expected to succeed. This is especially true of filks, of which I have a folder full that just didn't go to completion.

About ten years ago I had a bit of inspiration while listening to one CD of Christmas songs or another, and without a lot of effort I penned the following, intended for the tune of "Wenceslas":

Bit-king William Gates looked down, with his gopher Steven,
Westward out to Puget Sound, south to Portland, even.
Everyone with Windows played, up from Earth to Heaven;
All but one whose screen displayed Apple's System Seven...

I looked up the full version of the carol, much of which is a dialog between the king and his page. I envisioned a comic argument between the Bit King and the sole Mac user in northwest Washington, but it just wouldn't gel. All I got were fragments, like this:

"Sir, he is a major geek, twitchy as a wall-clock.
Changes socks just twice a week, and he codes in Smalltalk."

Followed immediately by:

"Bring me Windows! Bring me RAM! Bring me hard disks spinning!
We'll show him the Mac's a sham, and he'll know who's winning!"
Burdened thus they roared away, in the monarch's Porsche...

and that's where I confronted a peculiar difficulty in rhyming the names of high-end sports cars. What rhymes with Porsche? Boxter? Jaguar? DeLorean? (Kirkorian?) "Bugatti" rhymes with "castrati," heh. I hit upon the word "consortia" (plural of "consortium") as a rhyme to "Porsche" but I wasn't quite sure that the word "consortia" had ever been used in the US in the Twentieth Century.

About then it simply petered out. Oh, well. Being funny isn't easy, and for some reason I seem to have been a lot better at it twenty or thirty years ago than I am now. In the meantime, I'll be out doing some day-after-Christmas shopping, something I haven't done for probably twenty years. I think I've forgotten how scary the day after Christmas is on the retail front, and lordy, it looks like I'm about to remember.
December 25, 2004:
Christmas! I'll keep this short. Carol and I wish you all the best in this blessed season, and exhort you to forgive, bless, and unselfishly offer your time and presence to those who love and need you. Don't let the stress of those obligations make you nuts—think of them as an opportunity to show yourself what you're made of.
December 24, 2004:

I haven't been able to connect to the Net since Tuesday morning, and there's a lesson (if still a little mystery) in what happened. Carol and I spent our first couple of days here staying with her mom in Niles, Illinois, just outside Chicago. For my past several trips I've established a daily routine of running up to the Panera Bread restaurant about six blocks north, at Dempster and Shermer, to read my mail and upload Contra. Well, I went up to panera Tuesday afternoon...and couldn't contact any of my domains. Couldn't read mail, couldn't log in to FTP, couldn't even see my own Web site, though the rest of the Internet seemed to work fine.

So I caught up on my various aggregators while munching a cinnamon crunch bagel, but once I attempted to read, Panera's captive portal threw up a dialog indicating that Bacon was blocked for "adult/mature content." I suppose; some of their humor is of a potty-mouthed nature, though it's actually pretty mild compared to other things I've seen around.

I got no such dialog when attempting to contact my own site, but the HTTP request simply timed out without any other indication. Sure smells like some sort of IP black hole eating my HTTP requests. When myy friend Pete Albrecht called me on my cell, I asked him to log in to my Web site, and he got in without any trouble. So something in Panera's portal was eating any request (HTTP, SMPT, POP, FTP) to my several domains.

The lesson is simple: Wireless hotspots may not be the total solution for Net access while travelling. I killed my Worldnet account some months back, having been able to subsist entirely on Panera's hotspots while on my last several trips. There's some additional sleuthing to be done, but I may need to get another cheap dialup account somewhere. In the meantime, the next time you're at a Panera Bread and using their hotspot, try to get to and see what happens, then do let me know. Thanks!

I may not be back to the hotel to post anything else today or tomorrow, but I'll be back when I can. Lots of Christmas to have with the family, which will be nice after a long trip here and a frantic day yesterday finishing up the Christmas shopping. (Do you have any idea how insane the Crystal Lake Best Buy was yesterday at 4:00 PM? Um, I suppose some of you do.)
December 22, 2004:

Christmas sometimes brings out the worst in people, probably because we feel obligated to squeeze far too much into a thin handful of days off work. Anger flares, fingers are raised, and bumpers get bent. Too many crackpots tried to kill me with their Buicks today. Keep the hippopotamus; what I really want for Christmas is a little more of the vital skill of forgiving.

The notion of forgiveness has always been very important to me, and I've been thinking about it a lot in recent days. Sitting back in my chair after a whirlwind morning and early afternoon of frantic last-minute Christmas shopping in Chicago's hellish traffic, I thought back to the first SF novel I ever wrote, back when I was 15 years old. It was a huge mish-mash that was three parts Tolkien, three parts Star Trek, and four parts banal adolescent stream-of-consciousness. It was cast in a short-lived form that was popular back in the mid-1960s, called "science fantasy," which invariably included a world gone back to savagery after some planetary catastrophe, with what science remaining having advanced to a point that makes it indistinguishable from magic. ("Swords and slide rules" was how one of our lunch-table nerd gang put it. Calculators were still a few years in the future.)

I'm not sure I could easily describe what the novel was about, but the climax involved two wizards who had once been scientists, and for a long time, close friends. Physical immortality brought them tens of thousands of years for doubt and rivalry to grow between them, until they had become bitter enemies. Borrowing from the Star Wars mythos that was still ten years in the future, Tofir Snitzius turned to the Dark Side, while Peter Novilio kept to the straight path.

The final fight between them began with super weapons (again, amazingly like light sabers) but rapidly escalated to the metaphysical plane and became a battle of mind and will. One combatant would erect a mental barrier to protect him while he struck at the other, but the other soon broke through the barrier with his own mental weapons. It was an escalating sequence of one-upmanship that echoed their stormy history: Anything you can do, I can do better.

Snitzius proved to be better at mental warfare than Novilio, and at some point Novilio thought that he had reach his limits, and would not long be able to protect himself against Snitzius' mental fury. Seeing his own destruction as imminent, he recalled their earlier friendship, and sent one final thought to his enemy:

"Tofir, I forgive you!"

There was an ominous pause in which nothing happened, and then the evil wizard replied:

"Never, Peter. I am beyond forgiving."

Realizing that he could not respond in kind, Snitzius caved. The notion (which, looking back, seems kind of deep for a fifteen-year-old) became part of my private code of ethics: He who forgives, wins. Simple enough, on the surface—though sometimes it's harder than it looks. I freely admit that I have some forgiving to do, primarily of the Roman Catholic Church. (See my entry for December 16, 2004.) What I've found is that simply saying, "I forgive you," isn't quite enough. I've tried that, and the deeper parts of me still make angry noises when I think too much about my parents. Studying the reasons why the RCC has done what they've done hasn't helped much either. So how do we get our subconscious minds to forgive as well? I'm still chasing that one down. Some of my friends who have suffered (not necessarily in the same ways) have told me that the hurts never really go away, and forgiveness seems kind of hollow while the pain remains.

The issue of forgiveness is crucial to the Christian tradition properly understood, and in this season of supposed Christian joy, I'm still looking for the answer to this difficult problem. More tomorrow.
December 21, 2004:

United Airlines probably deserves to go bankrupt. They took over an hour to get our baggage off the tiny little commuter jet that brought us from Colorado Springs. For reasons unexplained, our flight was never listed at all on the baggage claim monitors. Checking in at the Colorado Springs airport was horrible, with too few people at the counters handling a highly predictable crush of passengers. TSA didn't help, though that's not United's fault.

By the way, I won't have regular Internet access for a couple of days, so bear with me if you send a message and I don't respond immediately. Right now I'm pooped (did not sleep at all well last night) and could use some rest. I'll try and get this stuff posted tomorrow from Panera Bread on Dempster.
December 20, 2004:

Heading to Chicago tomorrow to visit family for

Which brings me to a gripe that I don't generally vent, but this is as good a time as any. Christmas is fast becoming The Feast That Dares Not Speak It Own Name. You never hear of "Christmas Parties" anymore. They must be "Holiday Parties." This happened at Coriolis the last couple of years we existed, and how it came about provides a clue as to the core of the problem. Two young snots fresh out of college told our HR department that they were worried that other people in the company would find the word "Christmas" offensive, and strongly suggested that we call our annual Christmas party a "Holiday party".

They were phonies, of course. They themselves might have been the ones who found Christmas offensive, though it was a little more likely that they were simply aping what they had heard in one of our rabidly anti-Christian universities. Unfortunately, I was not in the office when this occurred, and didn't heard of the change until it was a fait accompli. Otherwise, I might have had a short conversation with the two snots, and it would have gone something like this:

"Hey, have you two ever seen Raiders of the Lost Ark?"


"Remember the scene right at the end, where Belloq, decked out in Jewish vestments, is about to begin an ancient ceremony before opening the Ark of the Covenant?"

(Less certain, wondering what I'm up to.) "Uh-huh."

"As he's getting started, one of the Nazis interrupts him, and says something like, 'Dr. Belloq, I'm afraid I find all this Jewish ceremony...offensive."


"That's what you two remind me of right now. Happy Hanukkah, kids!"

My point? Anybody who truly feels offended at another person's religious holidays is a bigot, plain and simple, and no better than the Nazis who slaughtered 6 million Jews, whom they doubtless found "offensive." I don't have much call to confront this sort of bigotry directly anymore, but if any of you do, I hope you'll call the bastards on what they're really doing, which is deliberately and systematically driving all mention of Christmas from the culture under cover of the lame (and phony) excuse that somebody, somewhere finds it "offensive."
December 19, 2004:

I'm designing a new primary PC system, which I'll finally be assembling in January. One of the issues in brainstorming the design was how to use the 160 GB+ hard drives that are now just a little more expensive than 80 GB or 60 GB. (My current system only has a 25 GB hard drive, and after three years I've barely filled half of it!) One answer is to create several OS partitions using System Commander, and boot into them as desired. I do this now, with Suse 9.1 in one partition and Windows 2000 in the other, but I'm going to take the concept a little farther:

  • The main Windows 2000 partition will be for online research, writing, and drawing. Nothing experimental will go here; see below. I will spend spend most of my time in this one, in a limited user partition, once it's all configured. It's much harder for malware to mess with you if you log in as a limited user.
  • Another Windows 2000 partition will be for programming, in Delphi, Lazarus, assembly, and maybe C#. Need to be an admin here.
  • I'll have a Windows XP partition for when I need to run XP software or write about XP techniques. I don't like XP and I doubt I'll use it much for anything else. It's bloated, garish, and nosy, and gives me nothing that 2000 doesn't have that's of any use at all.
  • Still another Windows partition will be for experimenting with new software. I'll have a Norton Ghost image of the "bare" Windows installation on the second hard drive, and once I finish screwing with a piece of software, I'll just bring back the ghost image, and, shazam! It's as though the wretched thing had never been installed. (For one thing, this will allow me to examine even the most aggressive spyware—or even viruses!—without fear of losing anything.) For experimenting with Office add-ins, I'll have a Ghost image of Windows + Office, and so on. If other special configurations are needed, I'll have them ghosted out to the big (240 GB) D: drive. I've already tried this on my old Dell downstairs, and it works spectacularly!
  • The current Suse distro will be in another partition. If I want to work with yet another Linux distro, well, I have the space, and System Commander can create a new partition at any time.
  • A text-only Linux distro will be in another (small) partition, to support my work leading up to the next edition of Assembly Language Step By Step. It's too easy to just lean on KDE; I want to be able to force myself to stick with textual tools this time.

In looking back, I imply that I'll only use Ghost on my experimental partition, but that's not true: With 240 GB or more on D:, I'll ghost out all the Windows partitions as soon as they're fully configured to a safe, functional, and clean "base" state. Once the gunk starts to pile up on any partition, I'll just bring back the base image, and it'll be like I just installed Windows.

Norton Ghost is really a wonderful thing, and using it in conjunction with a number of specialized installations of Windows will allow me to work in a clean environment at all times, and still experiment with new software without being afraid that I'm gunking up the system I use to generate income. If big hard drives are good for anything, they're good for that. I'll let you know how the project goes once I get down to it in a few weeks.
December 18, 2004:

I only have time for a few odd lots on this very busy Saturday:

  • Paul Sleigh from Down Under mentioned that the Germans have a word for a song that you can't get out of your head, and while he didn't remember the German word, it translated as "earworm." I asked Pete Albrecht, who translates technical manuals from German to English and back, what the German word was, and he said, "ohrwurm." To make me pay for the favor, he called me on Skype and sang "The Chicken Dance," which has been in my head for some time now. Even "Spoon River" can't get rid of it. I feel like I have a Polish wedding going on under my bald spot. Thanks, Pete!
  • I found it interesting that several of my younger readers wrote to tell me what "MILF" meant, (see my entry for December 15, 2004) while a couple of my older readers wrote to ask me to tell them, just in case I didn't feel inclined to post the answer here in Contra. Well, putting it somewhat more gently than the younger folk might, a MILF is a desirable older woman, where "older" means 30-55. (30! Sheesh! Then again, when you're 15...) To expand the acronym, I suggest looking in The Urban Dictionary, and search for MILF. Not recommended for the faint of heart.
  • Belkin has actually released a "pre-n" wireless router, which claims to have 40 MBPS throughput—not bit rate!—at 60 feet. One wonders why, when the 802.11n standards process has barely begun, that someone would jump in with a product that cannot help but be incompatible with eventual 802.11n hardware. The why, of course, is that Belkin's unit is fast enough to handle HDTV streaming, and HDTV hardware is finally jumping off shelves into American homes.

December 17, 2004:

I continue to boggle at the lack of good overviews in technical books. (A a secondary complaint, I see a lack of good documentation generally in free software, especially open source PHP utilities for Web servers.) I recently found something interesting on the overviews front, in an odd place: the magazine rack at the local King's Soopers grocery store. (That's a chain based in Denver that isn't seen outside the mountain West.) It's a fat, 225-page magazine-format publication called PC Mobos, as shown at right. It's a one-shot published by the CPU magazine people.

I was amazed at the quality of the overviews, on things like motherboard types and socket species. I actually bought it for the mobo reviews (I'll be assembling a new system early next year) but the overviews alone were just about worth the $10 price of admission.

Overview, it would seem, is something valued by magazine editors, but not by book editors. Having been both, I can hazard a guess as to why. Book authors (and editors) often assume that there's enough space to cover a topic in depth, so overview is "optional." In a magazine, overview is often the best you can do, especially with very technical topics that would take tens of thousands of words to cover in depth. Outside of refereed professional journals, I suspect most popular magazines insist that technical articles are begun with a decent overview; we certainly did at all the publications I worked for.

Overview, of course, is difficult. Writing 500 useful words on a topic is much harder than writing 5,000 (or, lord knows, 150,000) on a topic. Computer magazines have mostly become an endangered species, except in certain areas like PC hardware and gaming, and it made me smile to think that the best place to get your technical overviews is right down the aisle from the fruit-on-the-bottom cherry yogurt. (Alas, that's getting harder to find too.)
December 16, 2004:

Had she lived, my mother, Victoria Pryes Duntemann, would have turned 80 today. The photo at left is a new one that I didn't have until a few days ago. My favorite girl-cousin Rose found it in her mother Josephine's crumbling ancient photo album, after Aunt Joephine died a couple of months ago. It's undated but everybody thinks it was taken in 1948 or 1949, which would have been just before she married my father.

The photo shows her doing something relatively uncommon for her: having fun. I have long had a matching photo of Uncle Louie (her brother) holding the same string of fish, and I think she was razzing him about them. "Whaddaya mean I have to clean them! Louie, you killed them, you clean them!"

Fun was not easy for her, because so much of "fun" was a sin. My mother was taught and adhered to a gruesome sort of "one false move" Catholicism that was a devilish board game, in which the wrong thought at the wrong time (like right before some drunk hits you with his car) could dump you into Hell for eternal torment.

This was not entirely my mother's neurosis. People who have not lived in what we call "The Terror" (basically, the era of triumphalist American Catholicism, 1900-1960) find it hard to believe that this sort of thing was taught in schools and by parents. Most people eventually rolled their eyes at it, but my mother swallowed it whole and kept it scrupulously all her life, and it eventually snuffed out all hope in her.

Dealing with my attendant fury is perhaps my greatest psychological challenge. My mother's suffering and her eventual death has shaped my faith for many years now. When I blessed her moments after she died, I swore to myself that I would work against this abuse of our perception of God, heaven, and human life here on Earth. I swore that I would see the very idea of Hell rot in Hell, as the only thing in all creation worthy of eternal damnation.

But she saw none of that anger at that moment. If she lingered beside us in spirtual form for awhile, in that grim little hospital room, she would have seen me make the Sign of the Cross on her forehead, and heard me speak these words: "Mother, your witness on this Earth is finished, and is fulfilled in your faith, and in your children, and in the good you have done for others. I bless you and thank you, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." I don't know where the words came from. Sometimes, what must be said simply comes to us, and this was one of those times. I only wish that I had added what Bp. Elijah of the Old Catholic Church later suggested: "Any wrong that you have done, I cast into oblivion."

Perhaps that would have been overreaching; I am not a priest. She did so little wrong in her life that I doubt it matters anyway. But what I do yet hope to cast into oblivion is the cruelty of a church that should be the salvation of all humanity, where "salvation" means healing and reunion with God, not simply escaping the hellish board game that has corrupted the Catholic faith for endless centuries.
December 15, 2004:

Some odd lots at the end of a snowy, sloppy Colorado day:

  • Heading up to the mall earlier today, I passed a short consist dieseling along on the Union Pacific tracks parallelling I-25...with a caboose! I don't remember the last time I saw a caboose that wasn't a tourist attraction somewhere. Admittedly, this was a pretty sorry caboose, painted a sort of goat-urine yellow and slobbered up with graffitti, but it was still a caboose, and there was a brakeman on the rear platform, leaning on the railing and looking like something out of a railroad nostaligia calendar. I had to wonder if I would ever see a caboose on a genuine working consist ever again.
  • I learned today that the new generation of optical mice (beginning with the Microsoft optical mice that first appeared in 1999) works by taking 1500 pictures per second of the surface immediately under the mouse. An embedded processor with between 15 and 18 MIPS at its disposal analyses the differences between successive shots, and by seeing which way the small imperfections in the surface are moving past the CCD sensor, is able to send cursor movement data to the display driver. If I remember correctly, the original IBM PC was not quite a 1 MIPS machine. So now our mice contain computers that are eighteen times more powerful than the IBM PC on which I wrote several books. Wowsers.
  • My inbox has been mostly free of porn spam lately, but this past week I've gotten a handful of messages that are clearly porn spam, offering me photos of MILFs. This is an acronym I have not heard before, and cripes, the computer business is 65% acronyms by weight. Google didn't help me much...though I suspect I really don't want to know.
  • Ed Felton (of the excellent Freedom to Tinker blog) has written a peer-to-peer application in 15 lines of Python. Yup. 15. Not 150. Not 1500. It's pretty minimal, but it convinces me that a prediction I made last year will probably come true: Eventually a virus author will write a virus that installs a UI-less upload-only P2P server. Without a UI or any sort of search function, the app would be quite small. All it would do is search the local hard drive for sharable content (like MP3s or AVIs) and then make that content available over one of the existing P2P networks. Because the P2P server was planted by a virus, a "victim" of the virus can claim that he was unaware that files were being shared off his PC—even if he infected himself with the virus. I further predict that for this reason, this would be the fastest-spreading virus in computing's history. The MPAA is attacking BitTorrent now. The only safety for file sharers in the future will come by using this sort of "deniable" connection, of which a P2P virus is only one.

December 14, 2004:

Last week I noticed something that I recall noticing in times past when I've had a bad cold: While I'm on antihistamines (Nyquil is my preferred vintage) songs get stuck in my head. And when I say stuck, I mean really stuck.

I was seriously under it a week ago, and was basically sitting on the couch in a bright blue haze. I noticed then that a song was playing in my head, in an endless loop, as happens now and then to most people. This was pretty persistent, and amazingly independent of my conscious intent. I could just kick back and listen to it, and the funny part was this: I had no idea what it was. It was a bouncy instrumental, and sounded a little like something you'd hear at a circus.

Circus? Circus! Of course! It was the theme song to Circus Boy!

Most of the older Boomers probably watched it a time or two. It was a TV series that ran from 1956-1958, and notable as the first appearance of Mickey Dolenz, who went on to fame with the Monkees. (It was also the debut of Noah Beery, who later played Jim Rockford's crusty father in The Rockford Files.) Circus Boy was a warm, gentle series with funny animals, and I remember it fondly. The trouble is, I hadn't heard the theme music since, well, 1958. I had no idea why I had remembered it, nor why it was sticking so strongly to the muzzy insides of my head.

The concept was worth exploring, and lord knows, I had neither the energy nor the inclination to do anything useful. So I consciously played another piece of music a few times in my head, to see if it would drive out "Circus Boy". For no good reason, the piece I chose was the old folk tune "Spoon River, as arranged by Percy Grainger." It stuck, and for several minutes I sat and listened to it play, again and again.

So for an hour or so, I played songs in my head to see what would stick. The theme from Maverick stuck really well. "Sheep May Safely Graze" didn't stick at all. I had better luck with several Beatles songs. No luck with "Fuhr Elise." Major success with "Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows." Ditto the Acoma Boneless Turkey Roast jingle. (See my entry for August 30, 2002.) Let's not even talk about how long it took to unseat "Pop Goes the Weasel." After awhile, a pattern emerged: Folk melodies and TV series themes and commercial jingles stuck immediately. Bouncy pop songs and marches worked almost as well. Slow pieces, and pieces without simple rhythms or strong melodic lines didn't stick at all.

As to why songs invade my head when I'm on antihistamines, well, the theory is this: My subconscious is usually busy mulling things over and solving problems, but Nyquil somehow turns off this background process. My subconscious then throws a simple melody on the turntable to take up the unused cycles. What it is matters less than simplicity, a strongly defined melodic line, and rhythm.

People who write memorable TV jingles know exactly what they're doing—as do people who write songs that stick in our collective memory for centuries, like "Spoon River." My hunch is that virtally all 20th century classical music will be forgotten in a thousand years or so, but somewhere, somebody will still be humming "Spoon River." (At least, they will until we somehow cure the common cold!)
December 12, 2004:

Some odd War of the Worlds (WOTW) items that came in over the past few days:

  • Brook Monroe's answer to making large-scale tripedal locomotion possible was simple: BAGs (Big-Ass Gyroscopes.) That would work, of course, but gyros that size would be tricky in several respects, like mass, energy, and bearings. (One assumes noise is not a problem. 100-foot tripedal fighting machines are not a stealth strategy.)
  • My own solution to the problem I pointed out in my December 10, 2004 entry is pretty simple: Compressed air jets at the bottom of each foot, to provide a little upward force to help balance the superstructure while the raised foot is moved to its new position and then lowered. Wouldn't be gentle to anything it was stepping on, fersure, but at least in WOTW, these are fighting machines, not the enigmatic watchers in John Christopher's Tripods books.
  • Several people suggested that if the Martian fighting tripods could move those legs quickly enough, they wouldn't need gyros nor any kind of special considerations to keep the superstructure balanced, no more than does a person walking. My problem was mostly with the BBC's Tripods series, in which the Tripod machines (which are not really fighting machines as Wells' tripods were) move ever so slowly and delicately. I vaguely recall that in the first five minutes of the first episode, a Tripod comes to a small English village, and we see one of the huge feet come down slowly into a mill pond, barely making a splash. That would take gyros. As best I know, no one has ever tried to film the Martian fighting machines as Wells described them. However...
  • Julian Bucknall pointed me to a British production, due for release in 2005, of a genuine, period WOTW film. The Photo Gallery just shows annoyed Victorians and a few artillerymen with cannon; the Martian tripods are nowhere in sight. We can hope...
  • George Ewing suggested that Victorians could hide behind hills and mortar the Martians to kingdom come. I'm not an ace at military history and was a little surprised that the Victorians had mortars (which were invented by about 1500) though they were probably not as good as the ones from WWII.
More tomorrow. I'm still not running at full efficiency here.
December 10, 2004:

Steven Spielberg has turned loose his first trailer for War of the Worlds with Tom Cruise as the lead, and my advice is: Big download. Don't bother. Little is revealed about the film except that it takes place in the current day, and that's enough for me to know to feel that the film could be a loser, just as the last Hollywood stab at Wells' classic (back in 1953) was. Aliens invading Earth in the current day is, well, Independence Day, and we already have Independence Day. Been done, and done well. Doesn't need to be done again. The sad thing is, we now have the CGI technology to do a real, London-in-1900 steampunk cinema masterpiece of the original novel. We just need the will to do it.

I've long had two conceptual problems with Wells' original treatment:

  • Creatures evolving in low gravity would probably not be squat little blobby heads with fifteen tentacles. They would be tall, willowy, and probably bipedal. However, such creatures (we call them basketball players here on Earth) would not evoke the same horror as landcrawling Cthulian squidoids. Wells was smart enough to figure that out, but he was also storyteller enough to resist the temptation to cling too closely to scientific fact when what he wanted was mythic shock value. My workaround: They didn't evolve on Mars; they just lived there for awhile after being shipwrecked, and didn't care for the climate.
  • Hundred-foot metal tripods are a nonstarter in real life. A stylish nonstarter, but they just won't work. In the 1980s BBC TV series of John Christopher's Tripods trilogy (which basically depicts what Earth would be like a hundred years after losing the War of the Worlds) the animated tripods pick up one leg and put it down, slowly. What nobody but me ever seemed to ask is: What the hell keeps them vertical when they pull one leg off the ground? I think it's significant that we have two, four, six, and many-legged creatures on Earth, but no three-leggers. (Still, apart from that, the BBC Tripods is worth seeing. Rent it if you can.)

Wells got two significant things right, however:

  • Creatures used to Mars would more naturally use walking or rolling vehicles than aircraft. Aircraft are possible on Mars, but heavy-lift aircraft would be very difficult, and not nearly as energy-efficient as land-bound vehicles.
  • The big spoiler in any meeting of two biological races is bacteria. Wells' Martians croaked from bacterial infections. I've heard the argument that alien life forms would be too exotic chemically for bacteria to attack and digest, and I say that's hooey. Bacteria are the most versatile and deadly living things on this planet, and basically depopulated an entire hemisphere between 1500 and 1600. They can live in volcanic vents and eat sulfur. They could damned well eat Martians, no matter what they're made of. Any biology that can live comfortably on Earth would be vulnerable to Earth's bacteria.
The half-mad artillery sergeant in Wells' novel had a dream of capturing the tripedal fighting machines and going up against the Martians in their own weapons. That would be the way to play it: Get the Martians a little sick and a little confused, capture a few tripods, and have at it. Man, that would be a movie!
December 9, 2004:

Definitely feeling better; thanks to all those who've been asking. When the MS Statendam pulled into Honolulu last week, we could see a CompUSA store from the top deck. Jerry and Bill headed out there to buy more digital "film" (i.e., CF cards) and Jerry came home with a 1 GB CF card for an effective price (after rebates) of $30.


I try to pay attention to everything, but that's difficult, so every once in a while I "refresh" my knowledge base by scanning the Web intensely on a topic for an hour or two. I just finished such a scan on Flash memory in its various forms (primarily Compact Flash) and it was interesting indeed. A few things I learned:

  • Digital photography is obviously driving the Flash device market now. It was interesting that virtually all the point-and-shoot cameras I saw on our cruise were digital. (I could tell by the LCD display on the back.) Many of these were 3 MP or 5 MP, and the images such cameras create are multi-megabyte propositions. The demand for bigger CF devices will soon become ferocious, which should continue to bring down prices. (My poor 2.1 MP Digital Elph is almost four years old, and its 48 MB CF can hold several hundred shots.) This doesn't even take into account the "movie" features present on many newer cameras, which can chew up CF memory at dizzying rates.
  • CF cards come in different speeds, expressed as multiples ("x") of a baseline speed, much as CD and DVD drive speed is. 150 KB/sec is considered the 1x baseline. Most are now much faster than that, and the fastest I've seen is the Verbatim Pretec 80x line, which can do sustained writes at speeds of 12 MB/sec. High-end digital SLRs are driving this market. Long latency is not something you can sell in a $3000 camera!
  • Flash memory has a minimum write/erase cycle of 100,000 times per sector. To keep a Flash drive from wearing out because everybody always writes to Sector 0, most modern Flash memory devices have a sort of wear-leveling algorithm in their firmware to spread the writes around the physical cells. 100,000 writes is a lot; even in extremely heavy use, a card should last more than five years.
  • Most modern CF drives are designed to spot and map out "dead" cells, or cells that have reached a predetemined maximum life. This means that toward the end of its useful life, a CF device will "shrink" some from walled-off cells. My guess is that if you notice your thumb drive is losing capacity, it's time to get a new thumb drive, heh.
  • CF devices with capacities higher than 2 GB are beginning to appear, and they come with a catch: They need to be formatted as FAT-32, and many pre-2003 digital cameras don't understand FAT-32. CF cards 2 GB and under are typically formatted as FAT-16.
  • You can already buy an 8 GB CF card, but it will cost you: The Lexar Media 8 GB CF goes for about $1300.
  • There's a pretty amazing CF speed test database here. Even if you don't need the speed figures, the intro is extremely valuable all by itself.
As you may have noticed from my cruise log, I had a lot of trouble with my Canon Elura 50 mini-DV camcorder, and I'll blatantly predict that once CF media in the 8GB range comes down to $100 or so, tape-based camcorders will be history, and for my money it can't happen soon enough.
December 8, 2004:

Many, many things to catch up on, and I'm still kind of wobbly here. So let me start digging into the pile of odd lots:

  • I thought the Lockheed C130 Hercules cargo plane looked small (see my entry for December 4, 2004) but I was actually thinking of the awesome C5 Galaxy. Thanks to Bruce Baker for the noodge and the links, which included one to a shot of the world's largest aircraft. Look at the wheels on that thing! (It was designed to carry the USSR's Buran space shuttle.)
  • Bruce also sent me a link to a hilarious account by Penn of Penn & Teller, of his altercation with TSA. After a TSA security guy grabbed his crotch during a pat-down, Penn decided it was over the line and called the Las Vegas cops on TSA! (Now that'!) Note: It helps to be a national celebrity when you try something like this.
  • One of the early reviewers of my latest book had this to say about me: "Duntemann is a spam-bashing, worm-whacking guru who can clean your system out with one hand tied behind his back." Shucks, I'm blushing.
  • The Supreme Court will soon decide whether to invalidate laws in 24 states prohibiting winery-to-consumer shipments of wine from out of state, and it looks like the Court will decide against the 24 states. This is an odd case, where two portions of the Constitution are in direct conflict. When prohibition was repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933, it apparently allowed states to violate the Commerce Clause for liquor. My view on this is pretty simple: While Prohibition was in some respects understandable, it was a bad legal concept that was massively bungled in its implementation, and we would do well to eliminate its last remnants from our lawbooks.
More tomorrow if I feel a little better. Much interest in the "Right Man" issue, which I will try and post an entry on soonest.
December 7, 2004:

Well, we're back—and my bathroom scale tells me, remarkably, that I brought home only four more pounds of guy-flesh than I left with. Alas, I also brought home a gullywhomper of a head/chest cold, and as I write this I'm doped up to the scalp and not thinking very clearly.

Still, Nyquil or no Nyquil, I have a story to tell, though I'll try to be brief. We were scheduled to get off the cruise ship yesterday by 8:00 AM. The cruise terminal is quite close to the San Diego airport, so we booked a flight to Denver for 11:05 AM. Come Monday morning, we were packed and ready to go, sitting in our cabin, waiting for the guy on the ship's PA to call our disembarkation number.

Waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Every few minutes, the PA blurted forth a soon-to-be repetitive call: "Will Mr. and Mrs. Gobbelschooper please report to the Explorer's Lounge for immigration clearance?" Well, we're not sure what happened to the Gobbelschoopers, but come 9:00AM or so the passengers would gladly have dismembered them and fed the fish in the habor with their remains. We were not let out of the ship until almost 10:00 AM, and Carol and I got to the airport just in time to wave bye-bye at our flight.

The United check-in area was pandemonium. There were milling crowds, cancelled flights due to bad weather along the East Coast, and too few United people to answer questions and keep order. Somebody had shoved the signs around, so we got in the wrong line, and asked questions of a harried United agent who then gave us the wrong information, and then got yelled at by an ill-tempered agent for following the first guy's directions. After standing in line half past forever, we got a booking on a 5 PM flight with standby on the 2 PM flight. My primary thought through all this was, These people deserve bankruptcy!

My headcold was blossoming at that point, and I was burning through those little pocket packets of Kleenex like the Federal Government through uncollected tax dollars. Carol kept fetching snacks and Kleenex packets, and after failing to get seats on the 2 PM flight, we just hunkered down for another three hours. We got on the 5 PM flight without incident, and got back to Denver about 8. We gathered our baggage and took the bus out to the back-40 cheap long-term parking about find that my right front tire was utterly flat, and (judging by the note left under my wipers by lot security) had been flat for more than a week.

We called the lot office, and they promised to send out a guy to do "air assist." After waiting for air assist for 45 minutes, we got disgusted and just called AAA. I might have done the tire swap myself, if the weather were better (it was 23 degrees there, with a wind) and I wasn't half-dead of fatigue and viruses. The AAA guy showed up promptly and changed the tire out for us, and we got on the road about quarter to 11. We stopped at Castle Rock for a bottle of Nyquil, and blasted south as best we could, but our heads didn't hit the pillows until 1:30 AM.

So I'm still a little wobbly. Still, the good news is that my cold got so bad that my sore foot has been completely forgotten about, and if there were more good news I'd pass it along. But for the time being, my primary needs are IV chicken soup and about three weeks' sleep. More when I wake up.
December 5, 2004:

Our last full day sailing, and the weather turned bad.We had a Beaufort force 9 wind ("Fresh Gale") from the northwest last night and this morning, and the ship has been rolling very deeply. I've been nauseous since last night, and although the meclizine allowed me to sleep, it hasn't entirely suppressed the nausea.

There's not much more to be done today but pack, though there will be another Team Trivia game at 1:30 PM. Our team won the last three games, and the cruise director joked that the other teams might try to throw us off the boat. (The nice little MagLight flashlight we won yesterday served us very well when the power went out in the bathroom yet again last night, about 11:30 PM.)

Anyway, at the request of reader Terry Dullmaier, I'm posting a couple of photos of our intrepid group who haven't been much in evidence in my postings since I began our cruise series here. First of all, here are Carol, myself, and my sister Gretchen, standing on deck watching the Na Pali Coast go by several afternoons ago, while we were running past Kauai.

At right is Jerry Corrigan, our long-time friend from Chicago, here holding my laptop up on the sports deck. I had the only computer in the party, and we passed it around for things like downloading photos from CF cards and posting Live Journal entries through the ship's expensive and crotchety satellite Internet system. (None dare call it broadband....) Jerry has a PhD in electrical engineering, and was extremely valuable in playing team Trivia.

Below is my brother-in-law, Bill Roper, who brought a guitar and made good use of it (along with Gretchen) in yesterday's passenger talent show, where the duo sang a humorous song they wrote together. Bill collects advanced degrees like Hummel figurines, and is also pretty deadly at Team Trivia. He and I shared the curse of the Seasickness Fairy, in that any time he was feeling like hell, I was doing all right, but once he started feeling better, I got hit hard. The ship is rolling so badly now that stuff is sliding off tables and breaking, so I'm on a double dose of meclizine and basically bumping into walls. Carol and I have begun packing up the stateroom, and after that we expect (well, at least I expect) to do little more than lie in a comfortable position and read.

Some odd lots pertaining to recent entries:

  • A. E. Van Vogt's book on "Right Men" is called The Violent Man, and although it's long out of print, used copies are available inexpensively.
  • The aircraft shown in yesterday's entry is in fact a C130 Hercules, which would have been my guess, except that I was sure they were much bigger!
I may or may not manage to post an entry tomorrow. We get off the ship early and will be travelling for some time (since I have to drive back to the Springs from the Denver airport, a 93-mile haul) and I suspect that once I'm back in my own house, I'm going to put my feet up and do no computing until Tuesday.
December 4, 2004:

Drama on the high seas! Given the age demographic on this cruise ship (and, from what I've heard, on many others) what happened today isn't that remarkable: A passenger suffered a medical emergency, and the ship's physician had need to request some sort of medical supplies to save the person's life. The ship's captain got on the PA and announced that a Coast Guard cargo plane was going to drop a canister of the necessary supplies into the ocean, and one of the tender/lifeboats would run out to fetch it.

The cruise ship stopped and lowered the tender, as we all watched from the Sports Deck. The Coast Guard plane (of a model I didn't recognize) circled around the ship a few times, then dropped a small canister from an altitude of about 400 feet. The canister hit the ocean no more than a hundred feet from the waiting tender (some say it was much closer; perhaps as close as 25 feet!) which reeled it in and high-tailed it back to the ship. In the photo above, you can see the little white parachute above and to the left of the waiting orange and white tender in the lower right corner.

As I write this, about four hours later, we don't know how well the mission succeeded. I'm sure the ship's staff are being careful of medical privacy laws, and I don't blame them for remaining mum, but it was nice to see the Coast Guard doing what they do best, and doing it very well. I only hope that the unfortunate passenger will survive the next two days back to San Diego, but however it falls, we all have a story that we can tell for a long time to come.
December 3, 2004:

Still at sea. I'm still reading Colin Wilson's Mysteries (see my entry for December 1, 2004) and earlier today I ran across an interesting passage describing as personality type that has caused most of the trouble down through human history. Wilson was quoting SF writer A. E. Van Vogt about Van Vogt's concept of the "Right Man," who absolutely must be right, and accepted as right, and not challenged as being right—even if he (much more rarely she) is a tinpot tyrant with delusions of grandeur, and not "right" in any sense of the word. The Right Man fears almost nothing except humiliation, and once a Right Man is publicly humiliated—especially by his wife—he is very likely to suffer an emotional or physical collapse, or even commit suicide.

Wilson provides examples of any number of Right Men, and the most interesting is Giordano Bruno, burned at the stake by the Inquisition in 1600. Modern history paints Bruno as a martyr for the cause of reason, but in truth he was a typical Right Man; combative, thin-skinned, paranoid, and completely unwilling to entertain any doubts that he was right in all things. What few remember is that Bruno practiced an ugly form of occult magic, and this is what the Inquisition finally nailed him for, even though he was more of a scientist than an occultist. (I had to flash on Al Capone, who was a much better gangster than an accountant, and the Feds finally got him for tax evasion.) Had Bruno been a little more willing to "lose the little ones" the Church might have let him live (as they did Galileo) but he basically dared Cardinal Bellarmine (the head of the Inquisition) to condemn him to death, and Bellarmine took him at his word.

Wilson's point in the chapter is that in recent centuries, far too many Right Men have been scientists, and have forgotten the value of doubt. Half of a scientist's job is to build theories to account for the experimental data, and the other half is to attack his own theories to find their weak points. Doubt is the single most important element of science; without doubt, science becomes a form of theology and sets into stone. We're well along that path now, and the most glaring example is the near-hysteria you'll hear from most scientists when anybody mentions "cold fusion." The only reputable reaction to Pons & Fleishman is to say, "Those guys were fools and broke the rules...but we need more research." Saying "there's nothing to look for" is not only wrong, but a criminal betrayal of science itself. What has been called "cold fusion" may not be and probably isn't fusion, but something's happening there (google on it) and it may be a useful something. (It's not totally unprecedented. The Farnsworth fusor generates some neutrons, enough to be a laboratory neutron source, and "cold fusion" may be some new way of generating neutrons, which is at least interesting and possibly a new if minor wrinkle in nuclear physics.)

One of my personal creeds, of which I remind myself regularly, is this: "No matter what you believe, you are (at least in part) wrong. All knowledge is incomplete. All positions are weak. No human being ever has the whole story." (Note well that this is what I apply to life in the physical world. The role of doubt in religion is subtly different but important, and at some point I'll work up the nerve to discuss it here.) This is a useful creed, and possibly the only thing I can say that is completely...right.

More on the violent fringe of the cohort of "Right Men" (whom I call "ferocious men") later.
December 2, 2004:

My sister Gretchen and her husband Bill Roper are musical maniacs. They run a little venture out of their basement called Dodeka Records, and create professional-quality CDs of funny people singing funny songs, along with other folk-leaning categories. They have fun, they make money, and I consider them to be a model for the future of Small Media.

Now that we're in the middle of the Pacific with nothing but water from horizon to horizon, we find we're spending a lot of time around tables, eating too much and being silly. At lunch today there was a pickled herring platter on the buffet, of which we all partook. So it shouldn't surprise anyone that Bill got this look in his eye, and then starting singing (the tune should be obvious from context):

Jesus pickled all the herring,
All of the herring in the world.
He just reached into the sea,
And He pickled them for me.
Jesus pickled all the herring in the world...

At that point, there was pickled herring sprayed all over the place.

At dinner, the question came up: How may things can you sing to the distinctive tune and rhythm of "Fernando's Hideaway"? The answer: Almost anything. Like:

Praise God/From whom/All blessings flow;
Praise Him/All creatures/Here below....

I guess we're a godly bunch, and God gets into the humor, along with everything else. (I scored a point on Team Trivia for knowing what the last word in the Bible is. Amen.) But in truth, Fernando casts a far longer shadow:

Whose woods/These are/I think I know;
He lives/Down in/The village though.
He would/Not mind/My stopping here

To watch...his woods fill...upwithsnow.

Later on, after the band in the Ocean Bar began playing "Fly Me to the Moon," Bill borrowed a phrase I use a little too often—especially wiith respect to Hollywood's dimbulbs—and started to run with it:

Gag me with a spoon, and let me scoff at all the stars...

Gretchen threw a meatball at him. "Don't start!" she scolded...but we're wondering what he'll sing at dinner tomorrow.
December 1, 2004:

Today was the first full day (of five) steaming back to San Diego. After several days of getting up early (after getting to bed late) and frantic running around in the Islands, we abruptly switch to a routine where there's basically nothing happening. The cruise line does a pretty fair job of scheduling things to do, and I've been joining with Bill, Gretchen, and Jerry in playing Team Trivia, Taboo, and other sitting-around-a-table word games. (My problem is that the meclizine suppresses higher brain functions, so I haven't been very useful as a team member.)

The key to enjoying this much enforced idleness is bringing good books. I've found, in these circumstances, that the specific book itself isn't nearly as important as the author. Again, it's the singer, not the song: There are only a few basic stories, and the real value-added lies in the telling. When you're looking for entertainment, the degree of engagement is far more important than the topic or the plot.

This trip, I took along one of the best nonfiction writers I've ever encountered: Colin Wilson, a British writer who has covered a lot of ground in his long career (everything from the causes of crime to sexuality for teenagers) but is best known for his work on the paranormal. Among nonfiction authors, only Isaac Asimov gets higher marks from me in terms of quality of writing and the degree of engagement. I brought along Wilson's 1981 book Poltergeist, which is a cool-headed popular treatment of poltergeist hauntings. I had read the book about ten years ago, and brought it along because it was extremely engaging. I was amazed at how much I enjoyed it a second time, which isn't always the case. I've tried to read a lot of books a second or third time, and in most cases the book becomes boring very quickly and easy to set aside. If the surf outside your porthole becomes more interesting than the book you're reading, that tells you something.

I burned through my first three books on this trip more quickly than I expected to, and thus it was an unexpected blessing when Carol and Bill went shopping in Kailua-Kona and found me a used copy of Colin Wilson's massive 1978 book Mysteries, which is less focused (so far he's done dowsing and pendulum divination in depth, and I'm barely two chapters in) but no less engaging. I'll have more to say about the topics themselves later on, after we get back home. What I'd like to emphasize here is that the skill an author brings to a work is the pivotal issue. I'm not passionately interested in poltergeists, nor (lord knows) dowsing. I am passionately interested in the notion of a collective unconscious, and if there's any reality at all to the paranormal, I'm convinced that the human collective unconscious lies underneath it. So books like Poltergeist and Mysteries do link into several of my lines of primary research, while making the hours fly while the waves roll past. One can't ask a great deal more of any book than that.