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Journal Archives - November 1-15, 2002

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November 1, 2002 ... Every step across the yard was a sharp crackle of sound, threatening to set off an avalanche of noise. The staff in my hand tingled against my palm. The cold night air gripped the bare skin of my hands and neck and held them in a lover's embrace, making every motion a painful tearing away from the warmth of serene stillness.

Halloween is known, in some other cultures, as "the day of the dead." It is not, however, typically celebrated in the daytime. When the sun falls, and its life-giving warmth passes beyond the horizon, the earth stands far more in solidarity with the stillness of the grave.

Halloween night, fittingly, seemed a complete standstill.

Out here where we live -- one thousand and two hundred feet above sea level, in a depression carved by eons of silent erosion into the product of the slow rebellion of tectonic plates -- there is far more to the world than the constructed shell of human existence. Out here, where a settlement of 11,000 people is considered a major cultural center and any given resident is likely to be able to describe the appearance of the Milky Way, you can stand in your backyard on a moonless, cloudless night and let your eyes adjust to the silhouettes cast by starshine. Out here, when Mother Nature checks the calendar and holds her breath for an evening, and when the wind comes to a complete stop, the air is so silent that your ears play tricks on you, creating sounds in the background where none exist.

For most of the time I spent outside, I listened to the phantom chirping of summer's crickets, long since driven to ground and stilled by the cold.

It was a night to celebrate death -- or at least a night to celebrate stillness, silence, chill. I stood transfixed. Occasionally, a car would pass by on a distant road, providing quiet comfort, reminding me that I was not, in fact, alone in the void; merely staring at it from the edge. Occasionally, I would work up the nerve to take a step. Then, despite my best attempts to tread softly, my foot would compress handfuls of littered dead oak leaves and pine needles, and a sound like a thousand brittle, ancient bones being snapped would reverberate throughout the neighborhood. Not even the neighbors' dogs dared to bark in response.

Only once did I hear any animals: when, after a long period of motionlessness, I raised my staff. Far in the distance, a bird frantically cried.

The pagan stereotype of Halloween seems to be that it is a night of, to put a colloquial spin on it, "big juju." Certainly I've spent my share of time thinking that it's a night when things somehow "unlock"; a night when more becomes possible; when people suspend, just for a little while and just a little, their disbelief, and ponder whether the world is, to quote J.B.S. Haldane, "not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose."

Something certainly happened last night. Something certainly unlocked. But it wasn't power, or movement, or potential; it wasn't change, because change is the essence of life. The connection that was made last night was to big-n Nothing. A night of tapping into the infinity of emptiness.

A night of accepting loss and solitude ... and a night of hope. A night of reaching within oneself, finding the spark within each of us that shines and guides us to one another in the dark and cold and impersonal void, and finding within that solace, acceptance, and the determination to celebrate ourselves. To seize life by the horns while we've got it, because it's so rare and precious; it's something, and there's so much nothingness out there.

A night to reconnect with that; to let ourselves accept endings, and to look to beginnings.

A night so bright with renewal that I found my eyes hurting when I finally braved the explosion of noise from my footsteps to come back inside the house. I had to turn off all of the lights and walk around in the dimness of the streetlamps outside.

November 2, 2002 ... My other big Halloween adventure (the first was described yesterday) was picking up a hitchhiker who, I discovered when he got into the car, was carrying an eighteen-inch sword.

On the one hand, this is more interesting than it seems. No, it wasn't merely a costume prop. (It was part of the costume, but there was no "prop" about it. We're talking the real deal.) I also fail to mention that he was slurring his words somewhat, and that I picked him up after midnight, in the non-metaphorical middle of nowhere.

On the other hand, even given that information, I didn't have the death wish one might assume. You see ... he was dressed period.

Some of my readers, I'm certain, have achieved journal entry satori with those four words; no more needs to be said. Others of you might have no idea how to parse that sentence. ("He was dressed. Period"?) I suspect the vast majority of you suspect I'm making an allusion you're not catching, or perhaps a bad pun that's gone over your head. It is for the benefit of the latter group that I will briefly explain my use of subculture slang.

There is a group of people known as the "Society for Creative Anachronism," or, as popularly abbreviated, the "SCA." I'm aware that a one-sentence summary of their activities is going to be painfully reductionist, but in brief, it is this: The SCA is a bunch of people who celebrate faux-medieval culture (more accurately, as un-faux as they can get without giving up modern sanitation, tents and footwear) by going out into the middle of the woods -- dressed up in historical costumes or some approximation thereof -- and camping, carousing, and whacking at each other with dangerous objects, typically either pointy or large. I am not myself a SCAdian (pronounced "SKAY-dee-en" by those in the know); however, I have been deeply enough involved in the culture by proxy that I consider myself reasonably informed. Heck, I can even describe the approximate boundaries of the Kingdom of An-Tir (Oregon, Washington, I think Idaho, and most of Western Canada, including BC and Alberta -- but not Alaska, which for inscrutable reasons is part of the West), which makes me a hopelessly absorbed geek by conventional standards.

To get back to the point: SCAers, when they get together at these big backcountry camping events, dress in a certain manner. This is referred to -- in much the same way as Renaissance Faire participants -- as "dressing period," because they are matching their clothing to a specific time period that the group seeks to emulate. Get it? Well, when I saw someone walking along a deserted road in the middle of the night, sticking out their thumb, I certainly got it -- if it had just been a random fellow in a Halloween costume, I would have been rather hesitant, but when I saw the unmistakeable cloak and boots, I almost was obligated to stop. People don't run out and buy SCA garb just so they can have a Halloween costume; this was a person already involved with the culture who figured they could save some time by just dressing up with the clothes in their closet to impress the mundanes for Halloween.

Which is why I was completely unconcerned when I saw the sword strapped to his belt.

A normal person carrying a weapon would have been reason to gun it. But nobody in the SCA thinks twice about seeing someone carrying a sword. In SCA culture, possession of a sword no more indicates a desire to attack someone with it than possession of a penis indicates a desire to rape. (Radical feminist ideology notwithstanding.)

Even the other danger signs had a terribly reasonable explanation. Yes, he'd been at a party, and I was expecting that he'd just had a few too many and made the hasty and rash decision to walk home. But even that gave my passenger too little credit. Turns out a few of the other guests at the party had started being abrasive, and he simply decided to leave before things got ugly. Unfortunately, his car was in Grass Valley, five miles away. And the slurring? No alcohol overdose, this; he was adjusting to a newly-installed tongue stud.

At any rate, I picked him up and delivered him to his destination, which was a mile or two out of my way, but well worth the trip. It gave us both the opportunity to talk shop. I dare say I was as surprised as he was at that -- after all, subcultures tend to run in close-knit packs, and it's entirely too rare to stumble randomly across local neighbors who are of similar mindset out in the "real world" rather than at the events that attract such crowds.

Especially hitchhiking, or picking up hitchhikers, in the middle of the night.

Chalk it up to mysterious Halloween synchronicity. Things have started lining themselves up for me since I returned to California; it's like my mage mojo, which was getting atrophied from a long hibernation while I disintegrated in Seattle, is bursting from its cocoon with wings widespread. I almost literally walked into my current job, without any painful, protracted searching, despite living in an area where all of the towns within a 20-mile radius don't have the combined population of a large Seattle neighborhood. Now I'm walking into local social circles, finding connections to people who do the sort of wacky fringe-culture outdoor things I'm interested in (he told me about some local fighter practice gatherings, which sounds like a great way to stay in shape -- and, heck, I'm game for the odd SCA event; it's camping, and it's geek-world social interaction), despite the applicable population being about one-tenth of one percent of the region as a whole. Creepy as it sounds, I suspect Penn Valley has more Otherkin than SCAdians. (And the former are all here in this house.)

At any rate, we exchanged e-mail addresses (gods bless the Internet). I'll see how this all works out. And in the meantime, I'm going to catch up on my sleep as best I can; I've got my weekend (Sunday and Monday, my days off work) ahead of me.

November 3, 2002 ... Long-time readers may remember my mention, way back in the Stone Age of last year, of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month -- in which participants challenge themselves to write 50,000 words over the course of November.

Last year, I declined to formally participate. Instead, I joined NaNoWriMo writers in spirit by committing to write a journal entry every day of the month, a process that produced approximately 14,000 words of output -- a comparable challenge, especially given that I was recovering from an flare of acute wrist pain caused by RSI. This year, several of my friends (and probably more that I haven't talked to yet) are enduring NaNoWriMo -- some of them for the second consecutive time. I figured I might as well leap on the bandwagon myself, and make my journal challenge, BaMoJoEnt, a yearly occurrence.

So this year, I have set myself last year's challenge: Post a journal entry every day in November. I got a bit of an early start with a few late-October posts, although of course those don't count. I'm also extremely happy with the output produced thus far; while of course I could meet the letter of my self-imposed requirements by simply posting "Ping" every day, I can't bring myself to defile the spirit of the challenge that way. I hope to keep the self-referential posts -- such as this one -- to a minimum, and produce quality daily material. Fiction, non-fiction, essays, whatever. Prose that makes people think, and that challenges me. (Preferably prose that also challenges me to learn how to write faster; I'm not trying to make myself stay up until 5 AM regularly.)

Tomorrow, once I clear out my backlog of errands to run, bills to pay, and e-mail to answer, I hope to churn out a few entries for the "filler file," to give myself a little bit of breathing room. This year, unlike last year, I'm working; there may well be a few nights where I arrive home well after midnight wanting to do nothing more than collapse into bed, and a little bit of foresight will do wonders for keeping me on track to my goal.

Most of you will be reading this on Monday, November 4. U.S. residents should keep in mind that November 5 is Election Day. Set aside some time in your schedule tomorrow to vote; even if you're completely disgusted with the political process, you send a stronger message by showing up and voting third-party (or write-in) than by staying silent. Also, voting will allow you to express your opinions on the few issues that do matter to you.

Speaking of opinions on voting issues, I'll share a few of mine with you tomorrow. Stay tuned.

November 4, 2002 ... Tomorrow morning, on my way to work, I am going to stop by the local fire station, at which is set up a voting station for America's yearly elections. The presidency is, unfortunately, not at stake this year -- but a number of issues of local and state importance are. I plan to make my voice heard, especially since this is an "off year" with the president safe, and voter turnout will be correspondingly lower as a result. (In 1998, less than 40 percent of eligible voters did so, compared to just over 50 percent when Bush and Gore squared off.)

Despite my exposure to politics from working at a newspaper, I feel woefully underinformed about most of the issues and races that face my attention. (This is largely because I work in Placer County and vote in Nevada County; I could go on at length about my picks for Auburn City Council members and Sierra College school board trustees, but I don't actually get to vote in either of those races.) For the local issues, I'm probably just going to vote party-line Libertarian in the partisan races and leave blank the non-partisan ones (a safer solution than simply voting for whose name I've seen on more signs). I feel bad about this, because I really feel it's my duty to be an educated voter -- but at least I will be able to vote in good conscience on the issues (which I can catch up on at the polls if I haven't learned about them already) and the statewide offices.

Chief among those races being, of course, the battle royal between Gray Davis and Bill Simon for governor -- along with a handful of other candidates, who are completely invisible to the media even though pre-election polls show that they should collectively get 11 percent of the vote, plus some fraction of the 17 percent undecided. (American Independent candidate Reinhold Gulke; Green candidate Peter Camejo; Libertarian candidate Gary Copeland [kind of]; and Natural Law candidate Iris Adam.) The race has been notable for its utter degeneration into mud-slinging; Davis and Simon have been at war with each other over mutual allegations of shady business dealings and illegalities, and the consensus among voters is that the prospect of either man in office makes them ill. Despite this, and despite Minnesota's recent gubernatorial upset of third-party candidate Jesse Ventura, most recent news stories have put on their blinders, listening sympathetically to people complain about their lack of alternatives while silently agreeing that such is the case. (The only third-party candidate to really get on the radar is Peter Camejo, and that's because Bill Simon tried to debate him and Davis, without success.) The NBC story linked to was even more directly insulting, talking about the "14 candidates" for seven statewide races, as if third-party candidates for those races weren't even going to appear on the ballot.

Still, that's not what aggravates me the most about the race.

The most frustrating thing for me by far is the inescapable pre-election polls. "Davis leads Simon by 7 points!" the papers scream, as if the election is a horse race or baseball game, as if people need to know whether to root for the underdog or simply assume the outcome is certain so they can pack up and beat the crowds leaving the stadium. In fact, given what happened with Bush's upset in our last presidential race, I'm sure that's exactly what people are doing. People who dislike Davis, if the race is tight enough, will vote for him anyway just to keep Simon out of office -- and vice versa.

This sort of meta-voting destroys the point of voting on the first place; it confuses the message that a vote sends. How is it possible to tell what percentage of the people who voted for the winning candidate really would rather have someone else in office? Do we really want someone in office who doesn't have a clear mandate -- if they win with less than fifty percent of the vote in the first place, and then on top of that are getting some percentage of their votes from people who don't like them but don't like their opponent more, can they really represent California?

It really raised my hackles after the 2000 elections when accusations started flying about minor-party voters, especially Greens, "costing Gore the election." It may sound entirely reasonable to say that "Gore would have been better than Bush, so you should have voted for him so Bush didn't get into office" -- but that relies on the assumption that we have a moral imperative to vote for the candidate best matching our ideals that has a chance of winning. And how do we know someone's chances of winning? By listening to the polls, of course. This gets right back to the idea of meta-voting; you're not voting to express your voice, but voting to play the system by second-guessing how other people are going to speak up.

Democrats complaining about Greens not defecting is all well and good, but the same criticism can be turned around in exactly the opposite direction: American Independent and Natural Law voters may have also cost Gore the election by compromising their principles and "meta-voting" for Bush in great enough numbers to give him the upset. If they'd just stick to their guns and voted for their third-party candidate, Bush would have lost that tiny winning edge of support.

The truth is that nobody cost anyone anything. The problem isn't with people voting their conscience; it's with the expectation that people should be expected to compromise their conscience and choose between the lesser of two evils.

Davis is leading Simon by about 7 points, yes -- but those 7 points are, roughly, 40 percent to 33 percent. That leaves 27 percent who can't stand either one, even in a race where the other candidates might as well be shadows on the wall in the back room of a jail in the media's basement. If those polls didn't exist, and if people thought a third-party vote might make a difference ... we might be seeing 40 to 33 to 27, instead of a two-way race. And how many people would abandon the Davis camp for the Greens if they thought Camejo had a chance? How many Republicans would dump Simon and write in former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan, the person who many feel should have won the primary? What message would we send the state if the race ended up 23 to 22 to 19 to 16 to 14?

How many more people would go to the polls if they knew that they could vote for someone they genuinely wanted to win, instead of the lesser of two evils, as the system is set up for today? If not only Simon but three other third-party candidates were within striking distance of our state's incumbent Democrat, how many people would truly vote their conscience instead of supporting Simon just to kick the bum out?

Me, I'm an idealist. I'm voting Libertarian even though polls show a Libertarian doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of being elected this year. I'd rather make a statement than "go with the other guy". But not everyone is going to make that choice -- and quite a few people are going to stay home, disillusioned.

I'd like to see that fixed.

And the best first step to take would be to stop obsessing over the polls showing "who will win" come election day. We're not going to be able to stop those from being broadcast, but at least we can stop listening ... and, maybe, make a difference.

November 5, 2002 ... "I'll take 'onomatopoeias' for $400, Alex."





"What is the noise a newspaper designer makes, from the vicinity of the floor, shortly after deadline on the evening of Election Night?"

"Correct. The board is yours."

... I laid out six pages of an eight-page section; the other two took the office's other two design-capable editors the better part of the evening. Election results. *twitch*

They moved deadline back an hour, to 12:30 AM, so that we could include early results for local and statewide elections that were even vaguely accurate. Even so, it was a mad rush -- we barely pushed the paper out to pre-press by 1 AM, due to late-breaking Associated Press updates and the difficulty of laying out stories that haven't yet arrived; there was a "stop the presses" moment when we discovered that one of our sister papers (that uses the same printing press and is put out by the same media company) had a front-page story proclaiming the wrong candidate won the California governor's race; and I'm hoping that we didn't have any results from Weimar, because we barely had the time to print out page proofs, much less double-check like I'm accustomed to doing. Score one for the shifting job description from "copy editor" to "page designer."

I'm afraid I'm going to have to cut this post short and try to get to bed before sunrise tonight. Heaven knows I came home late enough.

November 6, 2002 ... As election results start being finalized, I keep finding little tidbits of information that really give me pause.

Take Nevada. There were two constitutional amendments on their state ballot; one was to legally restrict marriage to heterosexuals, and one was to completely decriminalize marijuana. You would think that the first one would be voted against by every liberal with a conscience, right? And that, despite their best intentions, even liberals might think twice about completely opening the door to pot ... right?

The marijuana measure, predictably, fell, by a margin of 61 percent to 39 percent. The other measure passed ... which, okay, conservatives happen; it's disappointing, but not a shock. What floored me was that the measure passed 66 percent to 33 percent -- by a wider margin than the drug question.

What the fsck? On the one hand, you have a measure which is blatantly reductionistic to "Let's deny equal opportunity for domestic partnership and legal recognition to homosexuals." On the other hand, you have a measure which says "Let's flood the streets with cheap marijuana." (Personally, I'm in favor of legalization; I'm just trying to point out the popular perception here.) And which one inspires more argument, more doubt, and a tighter race?

Think of it this way. At least six percent of Nevada voters went to the polls and sent the following message to the government: "I don't care what people do in their free time; let them pollute their bodies with junk currently classified as illegal. Oh, yeah, but give gay rights a kick in the ass for me, would you?" It comes across as a sort of schizophrenic Libertarianism -- one where the voices in its head tune between a Jerry Falwell sermon and a '60s concert.

As a dyed-in-the-wool believer in social freedom, I of course view Election 2002's Republican surge with disappointment -- perhaps even as a step backward for our society toward the sort of religious-absolutist provincialism that Americans have no qualms complaining about when they see it in fundamentalist Islam. But no vote in the country struck me as more of an indicator of just how far we have left to go than the pair of measures outlined above. Sure, voters may be willing to stand up to the government when they see it unfairly penalize someone for doing something harmless ... but take one step perceived as undermining Biblical values, and watch the dogs start to snarl. Gay marriage? Forget it. Out of the question. Marriage is one man and one woman; if they're going to live in sin by being homosexual we should at least call it living in sin instead of trying to disguise it as something sanctioned.

Let's conveniently ignore the fact that married couples get all sorts of secular tax breaks and legal benefits that singles are denied; let's conveniently ignore the fact that telling two people they can't marry because of their gender makes these civil benefits blatantly discriminatory. Heck, let's even be kind to the fundamentalists and ignore the people who acknowledge that it's discrimination and justify it anyway because the alternative would be "normalizing homosexuality," which is of course bad because removing non-Biblical role models from our society is more important than letting people make their own decisions and learn from their own mistakes.

Let's focus on the issue here: We don't care what other people do, as long as it doesn't provide an environment that tempts our children out of a Christian lifestyle. We don't care if sinners make it big in public life, because they're people like us, and chasing fame is what America is all about -- but we can't possibly remove "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance, because our devotion to God is what America is all about.

... I'd better stop this rant before I start frothing at the mouth. Besides, there is hope: California, at least, elected two openly gay men to the Legislature. It may take a decade, it may take a generation ... but the cracks in the wall are starting to show. And I have faith we will continue moving, slowly but surely, toward liberty and justice for all.

November 7, 2002 ... Hey, you. Yes, you. The one sitting at the computer, right now, reading my journal.

I've got something for you.

I went to a Mongolian grill in downtown Auburn today for lunch. They handed out fortune cookies after the meal. They gave us (my coworkers and I) an extra fortune cookie. I grabbed it, because I knew you'd want one.

This is what your fortune said:

'You have so 
much to be thankful for.'

You know something?

It's right.

November 8, 2002 ... Just to clarify my recent post's rant on the "religious-absolutist provincialism" of America's conservative Christian politics: It's not Christianity that is the problem. It's the reactionary attitude that doesn't allow for non-Christian behavior or lifestyle in one's neighbors.

I have no problem with your religion. However, your religion is not sufficient reason to take away my freedoms, for the same reason that mine is not sufficient to restrict yours.

At any rate, just one more day of work until my weekend ... then I get to play catch-up, and try to cram all of the things that I've wanted to do for the last week into forty-eight hours, minus sleep and social obligations. At least it's started raining here, finally, so I'll have a reasonable excuse to stay indoors at my computer.

November 9, 2002 ... "Nine-one-one," the voice at the other end of the line answered.

I hadn't been quite expecting that when the man at the sheriff's office told me that he'd transfer me to the California Highway Patrol, but I figured he knew what he was doing, and if the emergency number 911 was who he wanted me to talk to, then 911 was who I would talk to.

"I'd like to report someone driving suspiciously," I said.

I was placed on hold briefly; the operator returned and apologized. "What location?" she continued.

"Along Highway 20, in Penn Valley, near the Spenceville Road exit."

"What type of vehicle was this?"

"A grey car. I'm not much good with makes or models, but I got the license plate number." I gave it to her; she misheard me say b-as-in-boy when I meant to say v-as-in-victor, so we went back and forth and clarified that.

"And how was he driving suspiciously?" she asked.

I absent-mindedly scratched the kitten that had followed me into the bathroom, where I had retreated so as to be able to talk on the phone at 2:15 AM without waking up my roommates. "Well, I was on the road near this car for about five minutes, going westbound on 20, and the entire time he was sitting right on a second car's bumper. I mean, within two car lengths. Consistently. Even when there was a passing lane. In fact, at one point, I was in the right lane, and both cars passed me in the left lane and got back over to the right, still maintaining the same formation, the first car less than two car lengths behind the second."

My first clue was when I got onto 20 from 49 in Grass Valley. I saw headlights in my rear-view mirror -- what looked like three lights abreast. It seemed a logical conclusion that the third headlight was from one car partially hidden behind a second car, but as they got closer and I was able to make out details a little better, the spacing of the lights indicated that the cars had to be practically right on top of each other. The road was two lanes each way at the time; I can maybe see someone tailgating that doggedly if they're waiting for an opportunity to pass, but with two lanes of open road at two in the morning, there was no plausible excuse for that behavior.

Two drivers caravaning? Perhaps, but no sane driver would follow that closely, especially that late at night, where it was inconceivable that they could lose each other in traffic. And I wasn't kidding about the driver riding #2's bumper, either; I half-convinced myself at one point that the leading car was somehow towing the following car on a tow rope (which turned out not to be the case).

I had no way to confirm it, but there were some good clues that the driver I phoned up the sheriff's office to report was inebriated. For one, the car seemed to be weaving back and forth slightly. Two, the following distance, on its own, seemed like an indicator; alcohol does affect judgment. And three, I discovered when I briefly pulled up alongside the car (at the stoplight where I turned off of the highway) that the driver had his window rolled all the way down, and was driving with his elbow lazily hanging over the sill, wearing a T-shirt out in the 45-degree night air.

It didn't look like a case of road rage -- both T-shirt Guy and the driver he was following seemed a little too laid-back -- which would have been my other guess for that sort of behavior, i.e., sitting very deliberately on someone's bumper despite ample opportunity to move around them. The lead driver, too, seemed unconcerned. But it's hard to make that judgment out on the road, which is why I was hedging my bets by informing the authorities. It's their job, after all, to keep the roads safe.

"And when did you last see the car?"

"At 2:05. That's when I had to turn off the road to get home." Another late night at work. Another one-and-a-half hours of overtime. Hey, it's good money, I won't complain.

"And what is your name?"

"Um," I said, not knowing if they were going to want first and last for an incident report of this nature, "Tad."

"Alright, I'll inform an officer in the area," the 911 operator told me. "Thanks for letting us know."

"Good night," I said.

"Good night."

Very soon, I'm going to crawl into bed, and snuggle up with Thea; it will in fact be a good night for me. I can only hope the same will be true for the poor fellow who was being tailgated. I can only hope that, if there was something there beyond a random incomprehensible act of stupidity, it was my call that made a difference in whether everyone involved left the rain-slicked roads in one piece.

And I definitely hope that, if I were the one being tailgated like that, someone else would do the same and pick up the phone on my behalf.

(This entry was posted the morning of the 10th due to a network outage at the time of its composition. I'm still counting it toward the 9th for BaMoJoEnt purposes.)

November 10, 2002 ... In your stereotypical fantasy setting, life centers around dragons. It's not that your average fantasy-kingdom denizen is obsessed with them, but after all, you really tend to stop and take notice when something flies overhead that's as big as a house and with teeth, claws and fire breath to match. When a dragon arrives, it's the only thing on people's minds. When a dragon leaves -- or is slain -- it changes everything.

There's a vague sense of appropriateness, then, that my computers are all named after dragons. We're a technological household here. Each of us spends a great deal of time online or otherwise at the keyboard. When new computer equipment arrives, everyone takes a look. When a computer dies, we all scramble to compensate.

Ouroboros met up with a wandering knight this morning.

I posted the previous night's journal entry, then shut the machine down so I could open it up to install a USB card. While the case was open, we took the opportunity to add a 4-gigabyte hard drive to the internal IDE chain. When Lox had finished with the drive installation, I plugged it back in and attempted to boot it. ... To be met with resounding silence.

Amazingly enough, the upgrade work appears to have had nothing to do with the machine's failure. The problem is the power supply. When plugged in, it makes a steady buzzing noise that doesn't sound healthy. The fan on the supply, too, is completely dead; so locked up that it won't rotate without steady pressure. It will need a new one. It will be several days at least until I can get a replacement; more likely several weeks. Until then, the dragon lies dead, awaiting resurrection.

I can't help but think that it would have kept working fine if I'd just let it sit there on the desktop and not touched it, but blaming the upgrade work for the machine's death is a little like blaming knee surgery for someone's appendicitis. More likely, what happened is that the machine -- which has been continuously on for the better part of several years, only being shut down for the occasional reboot and the very infrequent overnight nap -- simply 'got used' to being on, and the capacitors (or some similar part) gradually degraded from the continual current, and it finally snapped when I shut it down for the final time this morning. It probably didn't help that the fan appears to have been gummed up for some time now; the machine's been running quite hot, I'm certain, and that can make the electronics unpredictable.

This now makes my computers 3 for 3 on power problems. My original computer, known at the time as Dragonslair, had its internal battery give out while I was in Seattle. This was for some obscure reason keeping the machine from booting, so I had to take it in to the shop for a diagnosis and replacement part. Sairys, my laptop, on which I am writing this right now, has a docking bay that transforms it into a desktop unit; that dock contracted, a long time back, a case of the "Tick of Death" -- a fatal ailment in which a capacitor in the Duo Dock's power supply gives out, preventing the dock from seating the laptop, and thus preventing me from getting any useful Internet work done on it (since the Duo itself has nothing on the back but a serial port and an AC adapter plug). Now Ouroboros has likewise lost its power supply. I'm beginning to wonder if there's a trend here. It's like I'm burning out motherboards by overclocking, except replace "motherboards" with "power supplies" and "overclocking" with "doing something that makes power supplies implode".

At any rate, Kras and Lox helped me out with a huge computer upgrade and repair binge today; Kras fixed the Duo Dock's power supply (after some elbow grease and judicious application of a soldering iron), and Lox swapped around some hard drives, upgrading Dragonslair -- which will receive a new name if I'm going to start using it again -- and jacking up the capacity on my external drives to where I can actually start using them for media storage. Ouroboros remains silent, but hopefully I can use my backup machines with a minimum of fuss in the meantime. The only significant downside to the switch is that Ouroboros' internal hard drive, which contained a great deal of personal data, is IDE and the rest of my Macs accept only SCSI -- meaning that I have to come up with some laborious workarounds to reach things like, say, my Tomorrowlands story archives. (The data is not lost; the drive itself is OK. I even have a fairly recent backup on CD, if worse comes to worse. But it's more inaccessible than I'd like. I may have some problems following through on the projects I've been handling recently.)

It's also going to take some adjusting to move back to one of my older machines. Ouroboros was pretty maxed out for as old as it was; I had brought it up to 160 megs of RAM, and the processor, while no speed demon, was able to handle playing MP3s while surfing the Web and reading e-mail. Even Sairys, my next newest, is running at half the speed and with a paltry 32 megs of RAM, hardly enough to load the system without swapping into virtual memory and bogging things down.

Aside from that, life's been okay. Last week at work involved a great deal of overtime. It's hard to have anything overly exciting occurring in your life when you're spending most of it either working or trying to catch up on personal correspondence. I guess I should count myself lucky that I can make my life sound more interesting to the reader than it really is.

November 11, 2002 ...

Personal to FC -- If you read this, please send me an alternate e-mail address I can reach you at. I've received your letters, but your satexas account is bouncing my messages.

At any rate, I have decided to treat you all to a quick seminar. It's called "How To Strike Fear In Your Enemies and Inspire Confidence In Your People," by lecturer G. W. Bush. (Part 152 in a long series.)

Today's lesson comes from a speech he gave several days ago; it was rebroadcast on the BBC's radio news hour, and I heard it while driving in to work. Bush said, with his typical eloquence:

"Once again, we expect Iraq to disarm. This is the seventeenth time we want them to disarm. This time, we mean it."

Don't know about you, but I'm inspired.

(Note: Even given the BBC's sterling reputation, I thought the sound clip might have been some kind of political parody. But no, he said it.)

November 12, 2002 ... Your radio quote for the day:

"That's what Americans do when we find someplace really special: we go there and act exactly like ourselves. We are a nation of fun-loving dopes."

(Wish I could source it for you, but my efforts have turned up fruitless. I checked KVMR's online schedule, and they had no information on who hosted the Tuesday 1:00-2:00 PM slot, or what she was reading from. The program itself was about the underground restaurant in Carlsbad Caverns.)

At any rate, speaking of caves, and other such dragonly things: I have finally accumulated the beginnings of a proper hoard.

Of course, I have a proper hoard; that's what all the books and music are for. But ... well, you know, me being a dragon and all, when I say "hoard" people are going to assume I mean a pile of gold to sleep on. And ... yep.

[two very tiny gold flakes] Those little dots you see to the right, despite the poor quality of the scan, are in fact gold. The dime is included for scale, both sizewise and as an approximation of monetary value -- if this page's suggestion is accurate, that a single flake of gold a few millimeters across weighs about 0.01 grams, then at the generous price of $350 an ounce ($12 per gram) the worth of the two flakes shown is on the order of magnitude of ten cents. Of course, it's not the value that's important, it's the principle of the thing. I'm a dragon. I've got gold.

The really impressive thing is that I just walked down to a river -- the South Yuba River, in the middle of California's gold country, just a few miles away; which Kai and Kras and I visited Monday for a quick tour of the local state park -- bent down, checked the sand, and picked it up. Normally one has to sift around for a while with a pan to get that sort of action. I guess that my super-powered DRAGON PRECIOUS METAL RADAR (Baxil says, tongue planted firmly in muzzle) is operating at its finely-honed full capacity.

At any rate, I found this flake (which later broke apart into the two pieces shown, both of which I saved). I very carefully brought it back to the car with me, took it home, and have preserved it between two pieces of Scotch tape, where it will be harder to lose. So ... I've got gold.

I suppose, if I really want to harmlessly indulge the stereotype, I should tape the flakes to the underside of my bed.

November 13, 2002 ... In celebration of finally hooking my flatbed scanner up and starting to dig into my backlog of materials to digitize, here's a POP QUIZ!

I came into possession, fairly recently, of a magazine insert card advertising a subscription to "Dungeon" magazine (it's a role-playing game aid, in case your mind's in the gutter). Click on the following image for a close-up, and then tell me ...

[Dungeon advert]

... What's wrong with this picture?

(Hint: I know the average American is bad at math, but this goes far beyond the call of duty.)

November 14, 2002 ... In lieu of a more time-consuming entry (I have to be at work in six hours), here's your horrible pun for the day.

Seen on the shelf of a local grocery store's pasta display:


November 15, 2002 ... If your schedule is anything like mine, and if you watch TV at least occasionally, you've seen dozens of commercials for Miss Cleo, the alleged Jamaican psychic who's just waiting for you to call her 900 number and be charged a few bucks per minute for advice that sounds like someone opening a bunch of random fortune cookies.

Apparently, someone at the Federal Trade Commission did too. The government group filed a suit against her, which was recently settled for $500 million and a promise to discontinue the service. While fans of Miss Cleo may be disappointed, it is at least consolation to know that the suits had a sense of humor about the whole affair. "I'm no psychic," said Howard Beales of their Consumer Protection Bureau, "but I can foresee this: If you make deceptive claims, there is an FTC action in your future."

Speaking of people saying witty things that have been in the news -- apparently the Pope was in rare form on a recent visit to Italy. He dropped by the country's parliament, gave a speech about random popish things (such as encouraging Italians to breed more) ... and what happens? A former Mob boss hears him, is overcome by guilt at his transgressions, and turns himself in for a 30-year jail term.

I don't know. Maybe it's something in the water there. Maybe the Pope was honestly having a big mojo day. Either way, you go, John Paul.

Meanwhile, on a more personally disturbing note, I believe that the spotlight morons that I mentioned in passing when I took my beach walk a month and a half ago were actually in the news. (If not them, then their neighbors, because I believe I was right at the base of the sea wall when my incident occurred.)

Why were they in the news, you might ask? Well, because some other people were morons and tried to go surfing in a big storm. The surfers got trapped behind the sea wall at the base of the cliffs. The morons (the original set, not the surfers) sat there, watched, and decided to play music to lighten the mood of the rescue effort. Which actually doesn't seem like a particularly moronic thing to do, given the circumstances described by the linked article. It grates, though -- here is a situation where the most appropriate bystander response actually was the frat-boy party-first knee-jerk reaction. ("Dude! Rock! Let's put on some music and order a pizza!") To admit that that sort of behavior actually has done the world some good is a humbling conclusion to reach.

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