Friday, December 29, 2006

2006: the year in review 

2006 got derailed for me within its 1st few days by the revelation that my mother has stage 3 breast cancer; this year she went through chemo, surgery, radiation, pneumonia, and currently a blood clot in her lung. She's feeling well enough to work, though, and we're crossing our fingers that her upcoming test to see if there are cancer cells in her blood comes out clean; thank you, again, to those of you who have been praying and sending out + thoughts for her... and thanks from her also (it amazes her that total strangers would take the time to be interested in her illness, but that's because she doesn't know the blogosphere).

The stress of all this knocked out my immune system, giving me the worst flu of my life (it may have been pneumonia given the chest pain I had with it, but I never went to the doctor so I don't know) accompanied by my worst-ever case of hives; the latter continues to the present day (4 months and counting), although thankfully only 1 or 2 at a time now rather than dozens... and I've had hives in places you never thought hives would be, like right under the elastic of my panties (nothing like hives where you can't scratch them in public) and buried so deep in my navel that it took major skin stretching to see it much less scratch it. Even worse was food poisoning so horrible that my husband nearly took me to the emergency room; that was the sickest I'd ever been from any source in my entire life. Almost as bad was that my husband, who normally NEVER gets sick, ended up with the flus (we got 2 within a few months) and food poisoning too, although of course he never got as sick as I did; my #1 hope for 2007 is that the health of my immediate family will be FAR better than it was this year.

The next biggest change for me was that, after 2 solid years of posting on this blog every day, I was so exhausted, and so behind on my reading and everything else in my life, that I reluctantly scaled back to every 2, 3, and eventually 4 days; it was a major shock to my system, but unlike the many who are "addicted" to blogging I never missed it or felt any desire to return to daily posting. The good news is that because of that decision I'm alot less sleep-deprived than I was and have gotten alot done; the bad news is that this and the added stress seem to have dried up my spiritual progress. My spirituality isn't based on subjective feelings (I've never felt "oneness with the universe" or anything like that-I'm a very unmystical mystic), so it's not that I don't "feel it" anymore; it's that the intuition that allowed me to see how things fit together stopped its flow of revelations into my conscious mind, or maybe it's that when I was tired the barriers got thin and allowed it to slip through, and now that I'm less tired my conscious mind is blocking it. I've belatedly realized that I'm going to have to start making a conscious effort to glimpse behind the curtain of what our primitive senses and data-editing-and-distorting brains tell us is reality if I want to keep evolving spiritually, and I'm going to push myself to do so in the new year.

On the + side, despite my dropping down to only posting a couple of times a week I somehow managed to be "promoted" to a Google PageRank 6, which is mind-blowing for a little niche blog that features long posts and atypical topics... oh, and doesn't have a fancy template (this shouldn't make one bit of difference, but apparently it's a major issue for some). With the ever-increasing focus of the blogosphere on news (technical and entertainment as well as the standard kind), I know I can't expect to keep it forever, but it's sure nice to have it now... and it's even possible that the existence of fewer "non-newsy" blogs will increase demand for long, detailed essays (hope springs eternal, lol).

This was a big year for critters: The sad part was the gradual, and finally permanent, disappearance of our little possum friends; we don't know if they just moved along, as is standard for their species (possums won't normally hang around for more than a few days), or if they're


living in some wilderness area now because they got relocated for eating pet food on someone's patio. The possums were clearly as dumb as rocks (except for the little female, of course), but they were sweet harmless creatures, and they'd smile at me when I spoke to them, especially the alpha male (who would come right up to the sliding glass door and look around for me if I wasn't where he expected me to be, which always melted my heart).

The wonderful part was that for a couple of months we were receiving a variety of raccoon visitors; as with the possums, the group seemed to be all male except for one beautiful female. I was told that the raccoons live in a nearby area where some construction was going on, and that the upheaval had caused them to branch out temporarily in search of calmer places to find food; we'd hoped that they'd become permanent visitors once the hooraw was over, but they must have decided in favor of sticking closer to home, because they all vanished at about the same time... and nothing, not relocaters, rock-throwing kids, unchained dogs or anything else could eliminate

(or kill)

a group of adult raccoons within the space of a few days. We've also had some skunks this year, including one female who comes regularly and shows no fear of me whatsoever; she's our only mammalian visitor currently, but I'm hoping that as it gets colder more of the local wildlife will start showing up to have easy access to food.

I went to my 1st-ever punk show this year; yeah, it's odd at my age, but it was a blast. I can't tell you directly who I saw, since it's a vaguely obscure band and if my friends look them up online I don't want them ending up here, but you can find out who they are and listen to their best song in its entirety at this URL


Go down to "Update 4" and click on the link AFTER the one for Iron Maiden; it'll sound awful for about 30 seconds, but that's on purpose (it's part of their shtick) and not indicative of the brilliance of the actual song, trust me... this is about the only band I'd go to see in concert that wouldn't require a time machine.

If I DID have that time machine, I'd go to see a band that I'd never experienced before this year; Pantera... the time machine would be necessary because Dimebag Darrell, the greatest guitar player who ever lived and the soul of the band, was murdered 2 years ago. I discovered them while watching Metal Mania on VH1 Classic; they played the video for Pantera's biggest hit, "Walk," which you can hear here


and my heart stopped in my chest... it was that powerful. I remember shrieking "WHO IS THAT?!!" and being crushed when I found out the band's name and connected it to the memory of a news story about the murder of the man whose guitar playing I'd just discovered and become instantly obsessed with. I'd barely even heard of Pantera before this year, and now they're one of my all-time favorite bands.

VH1 Classic, to which I'm eternally grateful, was another new addition to my life this year; most of the videos they play (and they DO play almost exclusively videos, unlike MTV) are from the 80's, which is "my decade" musically, and since I hadn't seen any of them since I stopped watching MTV in 1991 (I couldn't take the grunge and the speed metal) it was pure ecstasy to see them again. I watched the channel obsessively for weeks, but eventually tapered down to just Metal Mania and usually Rock Fest... and am still loving every minute of it.

This was also the year I realized that I had a closet full of shirts that no longer fit over my boobs and/or are too "young" for me to wear anymore without looking silly, and that because of being a geek and being able to dress like one all the time I'd never acquired the wardrobe for the different sorts of occasions that someone my age would be expected to be able to get dressed for without needing to run to the mall... and thus began a frenzy of eBay clothing purchases that dwarfs the underwear-related early midlife crisis I had last year (see my post of 8-19-05). I gave *78* shirts/sweaters and a pile of pants to Goodwill, and replaced them all with new stuff... and now I have age-appropriate clothes for every possible occasion that doesn't require a ball gown, for every season of the year.

That's about it for major events for 2006; if you ignore the illness-related stuff it was a pretty good year... hopefully, 2007 will be even better.

Monday, December 25, 2006

"Bloggers' Night Before Christmas" and other holiday humor 

Since my last couple of posts have been kinda downbeat, I'm making up for it with some humor for Christmas. First and foremost, I've written a little spoof on the classic poem "The Night Before Christmas," which non-Western readers can find here


along with a description of where it came from (did you know that the concept of flying reindeer was invented in this poem?). I didn't spoof the entire thing because it's LONG, and, while regular readers are aware that I don't shy away from long-windedness, I read some other spoofs that were full-length or close to it and found that even the cleverest of them stopped being funny after a certain # of lines, so I created accordingly. I used the same # of syllables per line as the original, and the same rhyme scheme until the last couplet; I didn't stick to the meter too closely, because that would've taken alot more time, and no one would notice much less care... you probably don't care about the technical points of the poem either, lol, so without further ado here it is:

Bloggers' Night Before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas, and inside each house
Was a blogger quite busy with keyboard and mouse.
A post each one published on Blogger with care;
Then viewed the results with a horrified stare.
They wistfully thought of their comfortable beds
While dealing with problems that each blogger dreads:
The bloggers on Beta are caught in a trap
They cannot revert though their blogs turned to cr*p.
Blogger has always got something the matter
Both versions have problems, not just the latter:
Our lengthiest posts disappear in a flash
To see our file uploads we must delete cache
The style sheet's gone crazy, but why we don't know
The sidebar's no longer beside, it's below
Your blog skin and link list may soon disappear
Along with your archives for most of the year
Unless you go back up your template, and QUICK
You might lose it all with just one ill-timed click.
And if all of that is too much of a pain
You'd better ask Santa for your own domain.

I hadn't intended to write anything myself originally, but when I was going through a huge list of spoofs of the poem I was stunned to see that there wasn't one for bloggers, or Blogger, and possible lines started buzzing in my head, with the above result. I DID find a computer-related spoof of a different poem, though:

The Twelve Bugs of Christmas

For the twelfth bug of Christmas, my manager said to me
Tell them it's a feature
Say it's not supported
Change the documentation
Blame it on the hardware
Find a way around it
Say they need an upgrade
Reinstall the software
Ask for a dump
Run with the debugger
Try to reproduce it
Ask them how they did it, and
See if they can do it again.


And finally, one other thing that I thought was particularly funny:

Why Santa Is A Woman

I hate to be the one to defy sacred myth, but I believe he's a she. Think about it. Christmas is a big, organized, warm, fuzzy, nurturing social deal, and I have a tough time believing a guy could possibly pull it all off!

For starters, the vast majority of men don't even think about selecting gifts until Christmas Eve. Once at the mall, they always seem surprised to find only Ronco products, socket wrench sets, and mood rings left on the shelves. On this count alone, I'm convinced Santa is a woman. Surely, if he were a man, everyone in the universe would wake up Christmas morning to find a rotating musical Chia Pet under the tree, still in the store bag.

Another problem for a he-Santa would be getting there. First of all, there would be no reindeer because they would all be dead, gutted and strapped onto the rear bumper of the sleigh amid wide-eyed, desperate claims that buck season had been extended. Blitzen's rack would already be on the way to the taxidermist.

Even if the male Santa DID have reindeer, he'd still have transportation problems because he would inevitably get lost up there in the snow and clouds and then refuse to stop and ask for directions.

Other reasons why Santa can't possibly be a man:
-Men can't pack a bag.
-Men would rather be dead than caught wearing red velvet.
-Men would feel their masculinity is threatened having to be seen with all those elves.
-Men don't answer their mail.
-Men would refuse to allow their physique to be described even in jest as anything remotely resembling a "bowlful of jelly."
-Men aren't interested in stockings unless somebody's wearing them.
-Having to do the Ho Ho Ho thing would seriously inhibit their ability to pick up women.

Finally, being responsible for Christmas would require a commitment. I can buy the fact that other mythical holiday characters are men.......
-Father Time shows up once a year unshaven and looking ominous. Definite guy.
-Cupid flies around carrying weapons.
-Uncle Sam is a politician who likes to point fingers.
Any one of these individuals could pass the testosterone screening test. But not St. Nick. Not a chance.


Merry Christmas from the Omniverse!! xo

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas past, Christmas presents 

If you're expecting warm and fuzzy reminiscences about happy family times, you must be new here; this isn't a Hallmark special, it's another dark fragment of my past:

When you were a kid, did your parents know what you wanted for Christmas? If you were raised by human beings instead of by pod people like *I* was, you answered "yes"; maybe your parents couldn't always afford to get you what you wanted, or didn't think some of those things were appropriate for you ("You'll poke your eye out"), but they KNEW, and more importantly, CARED. MY parents had total recall of every imagined wrongdoing of mine for my entire life, and of every penny and minute of effort they ever "wasted" (their word, not mine) on me, so how is it possible that they never knew what I wanted for Christmas, even though I went on and on about each desired item like any other kid? Actually, it's theoretically possible that my father might have known, but since gift-buying wasn't his department (he's a traditional man, although without the nobility that usually includes) it wouldn't have benefitted me; my mother, though, who was a stay at home mom with so little to occupy her mind and time that she spent most of each day watching soap operas, reading mystery novels and shopping, either was somehow organically unable to retain information in this one area or had decided, consciously or unconsciously, to use the gift-giving holidays that are all-important to a child as an exceptional opportunity to abuse her power to mess with me... it's a sad commentary on her that the best we can hope for is that she was too blind and stupid to realize what she was doing.

My mother approached Christmas like she did everything else that wasn't for her exclusive benefit; with the intention of investing as little of her time, effort and $ as possible, and with all aspects of it subject to her ever-changing and usually unpleasant whims. She'd embraced the standard parental cheat of wrapping up clothing items (that should just have been bought and put in the kid's closet like all other clothes) and passing them off as gifts for children too young to care about such things, and apparently saw the commonness of this shoddy scam as evidence that the whole point of Christmas gifts was to put a reasonable amount of stuff under the tree but give the kid as little as possible of what they wanted; if they ever make this an Olympic event, she's a shoo-in for the gold medal.

When I was very young, ignoring what I wanted was trivial for her to handle; she'd contemptuously insist that she hadn't known I'd wanted this or that, and deny all knowledge of the 5000 times she'd been told. When I got old enough to remember this claim from one holiday season to the next, and started making more of an issue about what I wanted to attempt to counteract her inexplicable memory lapses in this area, her response was to bark that I didn't need to keep telling her; when I pointed out that, based on her story from the previous year, I obviously DID need to repeat myself, she retorted with what SHOULD have been the end of her nonsense... that I should just write out a wish list and give it to her, and that would be the end of it. Foolishly, I accepted this as a valid solution; I didn't know her then like I do now.

Although we were far from poor, I grasped even as a little kid that anything bought for me would come from Kmart or the military Exchange, and only from the lower end of what was available there; it hurts now to look back and see how unquestioningly I accepted that the natural order of things was that that was all I should have to choose from... to this very day, I often have to push myself to get nice things rather than deciding that I could get something like it cheaper at WalMart. When I made my list, I didn't put anything fancy on it even as a wild hope; everything was at "my level," and had been verified to be in the approved stores (which I was routinely dragged through on weekends to keep her from having to pay a babysitter while she shopped). I handed the list over, and...

Well, there IS a little bit of good news; on most Christmases after that I got a "special gift," which didn't mean that it was a better grade of present, just that it bore significant resemblance to something I'd asked for... I think once she actually relented and got me the EXACT thing, an electronic game where you tried to guess the # the machine had chosen, but generally she managed to make the item different enough in style, color, or whatever that my initial burst of joy when I thought I had something I wanted would fizzle out in disappointment when I saw what it really was. Still, it was progress.

Along with the ugly polyester clothes, and odds and ends that I didn't remotely want or like but had been on super-sale and thus been ideal in her mind as filler, would be things that were from my list only in her warped mind: If I wanted a toy that was a set of items, she'd find a store that had just the central item and that'd be all I'd get; the idea that the point of having the items available individually was to let you to pick and choose a BETTER set for your child's tastes, NOT to sidestep paying for a set, never occurred to her, or if it did she was too cheap to care. If some company was ripping off a popular toy by making a conceptually similar but far less appealing item for less $, my mother thought she'd really accomplished something by getting me that rather than the good one... she was especially proud of my fake Barbies. If I wanted a specific baby doll, I'd get the cheapest one she could find instead, because "a doll is a doll." If I wanted a specific stuffed dog, she'd find a different one that was half the size and price; after all, it was still a dog, wasn't it? If she'd put a fraction of the effort into getting me what I wanted that she did into the mental contortion acts and hours of extra shopping necessary to get me the substitutes, I'd have been the envy of every kid I knew.

Perhaps her most psychotic category of purchases is one that just occurred to me as I've been writing this; the games. A game is a perfectly reasonable gift for most kids, but from the time I was about 9 onwards there were few, or no, kids my age living near us wherever we were stationed, so what was the point of giving me games that required 4 or more players when there were never that many kids in the house, or even games that TWO could play when I didn't have ANY kids in the house most days (I assume I don't need to explain why MY house was the last one anyone wanted to go play in)? I'm not talking about some clueless, distant relative who sent a game with good intentions because they didn't know the score, I'm talking about my MOTHER buying them... was she expecting angels to come and play them with me, or perhaps aliens? Even scarier was that she didn't seem to understand what it MEANT if something was a game; I remember sitting around bored once (because there was nothing on TV and I'd read every book I owned 100 times), and she marched in and demanded to know why I wasn't playing with one of the games... and when I pointed out that they all required additional players, she DENIED it. I literally had to pull them off the shelves one by one and read the # of players each called for off of their boxes; I know she eventually saw that she'd been proven wrong because she did her usual sudden and swift departure without addressing what had been said, with a final snippy comment ("just play with something, I don't care what") and angry look. Scariest of all was that we went through several additional rounds of this where I had to make the same assertion and actually reach for a game to prove it before she'd bolt from the room; is there anyone besides me whose mind is boggled by the fact that someone who pinched every penny repeatedly spent $ on things she should have KNOWN I'd never be able to use?

People from saner backgrounds, who perhaps would prefer to believe that my mother was just a blithering idiot rather than someone making deliberately unacceptable choices, might be wondering why none of my unwanted gifts were ever just taken back and either replaced with better ones or the $ given to me to spend as I chose; while any gifts that she or my father got that they didn't like WERE returned and replaced with other things, the rule for ME was that if anything was outright rejected she took it back and kept the $, and I ended up with NOTHING... and to a kid with so little she cared about, it was better to have unwanted things than nothing.

Once I got to my teens, the problem became that she didn't want to pay for something as "expensive" as a record, and so would get me cheap little novelty geegaws along with a few paperback books and the annual dose of Kmart clearance-sale clothes; I finally bluntly pointed out that for the same amount of $ she'd spent on useless junk she could've gotten me several records, and saved shopping time in the bargain... she was petulant and dismissive, but since it DID save her a significant amount of time she did start grudgingly buying some albums... which had the added benefit of being foolproof gifts, since there were no substitutes or cheaper versions that she could get me. Come to think of it, she DID put forth an argument for just getting the singles from the bands I liked rather than paying more for whole albums, but when I pointed out that there'd be MULTIPLE singles from each album, and that buying them all would cost MORE than the album did, that was the end of that.

The funny part of all of this is that now, when I have mountains of stuff and don't depend on her for what I get or even WANT anything from her, she spends far more effort and $ on getting me nice gifts than she used to... although when she got me a mini display cabinet a few years ago that was too shallow to accommodate any of my collectibles and I gave it back, she DID just keep the $... some things never change.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Bah humbug (mostly) 

It doesn't even seem like the holiday season in the Omni abode; we don't have a single Christmas decoration out yet... heck, we still haven't put the ones from Halloween and Thanksgiving away. As always, I'm held hostage by the disinclination of my lazy and procrastinative husband to tackle the floor to ceiling stacks of huge boxes that all our holiday paraphernalia is in so that stuff can be packed up and replaced with, er, other stuff; I'm not remotely strong enough to shuffle the stacks myself, and I'm not QUITE willing to hire a handyman to help me, so I'm stuck in a holiday display timewarp until I can scream loud enough and long enough for my husband to give in and take time out from screwing around on forums and do his 5 seconds of work so that *I* can spend several hours tearing down old displays and then putting out my most elaborate one of the year... which, if I'm lucky, will occur BEFORE Christmas day.

The real bummer is that my spectacular Christmas tree is absent this year; I finally wised up and changed my policy from screeching and battling every day for 5 weeks over getting the many boxes involved brought out and the tree constructed and wired up, leaving me stressed and cranky for the entire holiday season, to a decree that from now on if the tree isn't up by the end of the long Thanksgiving weekend like everyone else's there would just be no tree for that Christmas... and guess what. Although usually ebullient when he gets out of doing anything, my husband looks sad and guilty over this one, so I'm guessing he'll bestir himself next year... which doesn't help much THIS year.

The Christmas cards are done, but just barely; he managed to get through last weekend without digging them out for me with his usual chant of "later later later" and leaping into bed without saying goodnight to avoid being asked to do any last-minute tasks, which meant that I didn't get the frigging cards done, which meant that I had to give up a bunch of sleep and scramble to do them during the week... and if you're wondering why HE doesn't do any of the cards for people that are also HIS family, you must not be married. Whose idea was it to require us to send these stupid pieces of paper to everyone we know at Christmas, anyways? Does anyone ENJOY getting the cards, or their attendant letters describing every trivial thing each member of those families did in the past year? It's not like the cards are great works of art or literature, and it's not like they contain true and heartfelt declarations (for the most part), so what is the POINT? I've seen easily a half dozen bloggers with requests on their sites for people, STRANGERS, to email them their addresses so they can exchange cards, and I don't know whether to laugh or cry; how much time do these folks have on their hands, that they're looking for more people to swap cards with than they've already got? Is there some pleasure to the endless looking up of addresses, message writing, stamp sticking and envelope licking that I'm unaware of? Is it that they're eager to RECEIVE more cards, so much so that they'll beg for them from the blogosphere? Are they in competition with their friends as to who gets the most cards? Are their lives that empty? Do they dance with excitement when new cards arrive in the mail? *I* groan out loud, because they might be from people I didn't already send cards to, which means that all the supplies will have to come back out so that I can put together cards for them; I sure wish I knew what drug it is that turns this chore into a joyride.

At least I don't have to worry about gift-buying; I had all my gifts bought by June, as usual. Shocked? You shouldn't be; the preferences of one's intended gift recipients don't suddenly change on Black Friday (aka the day after Thanksgiving and the biggest shopping day of the year), so anything you're frantically looking for for them now could have been bought months ago... except for things that are deliberately released for the holiday season, which you can get far cheaper after the 1st of the year and give as birthday gifts if you really feel the need to purchase them. Where did we get the idea that we "can't" shop for Christmas gifts before the end of November? I learned from watching my mother that gifts should be purchased for everyone on the list year-round, and then parceled out for each gift-giving occasion as it arises; we NEVER have to race around at the last minute trying to find something, ANYTHING for someone in the hours before their birthday party (or whatever).

I owe my mother for another gift-related thing, too; she announced about 30 years ago that it was ridiculous to try and purchase gifts for geographically distant family members when we had no idea what any of them needed, wanted or liked, and then go through the trouble and expense of packing and shipping guesswork items which would undoubtedly get lukewarm receptions, and therefore our sub-family wasn't going to send any more gifts and didn't want to receive any, either... so the only family gifts I need to worry about are the ones for her (my husband and I don't bother getting each other gifts-we already have pretty much everything). There are only a few friends we see around Christmas, and they're easy to shop for (I got their gifts on eBay), so while the rest of the country is busily grabbing everything off the department store shelves, I'll be... on the computer, what'd you think?

My husband redeemed himself somewhat while I've been typing this; we're watching a DVD from the 2nd season of "Pinky and the Brain," and he noticed that, during the introduction, when Brain is doing math on his chalkboard under the heading "The Theory of Everything (Made Simple)," he comes up with the solution "THX=1138," which is a reference to the 1st movie made by series producer Steven Spielberg's long-time friend George Lucas, "THX 1138"


and also a little poke at him for incorporating similar references into some of his own movies (for example, one of the cars in "American Graffiti" has the license plate "THX 138").

Wait, there's an even better husband story: Late this afternoon, I noticed a lack of happy tweeting on the patio, and looked out to see an enormous RAT inside the birdfeeder, gorging on the seeds meant for my little avian friends while the latter cowered in the bushes; I shrieked for my husband to go evict the rat, and he charged heroically out there, risking the filthy rodent jumping on him so that the tweeties would be able to resume eating. He was laughing when he came back in, and explained incredulously that a cat, which had been hiding in the junk pile, had come shooting out when it spotted him and rocketed over the fence, and he'd had the brilliant idea of taking the feeder to that same spot and dumping the rat out above where the cat probably still was... after which he heard a ruckus that made him think that the cat, which like the others that hang around here had previously shown no ability to catch anything, had in fact managed to dispatch the rat. I sent him back out to go and check the other side of the fence, and he reported that the cat WAS in fact consuming rat tartare... and probably planning to tell its buddies about its superlative hunting abilities (it's not like it'd admit that it only caught the rat because it fell on him).

The other good thing today was the arrival of my package from Amazon, which contained the awesome new CD "A Twisted Christmas"


which features classic carols done 80's metal style by Twisted Sister... including a version of "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" (seamlessly blended with chunks of "We're Not Gonna Take it") that elevates frontman Dee Snider to demi-godhood; that was always one of my favorite carols, I think because it talked about being "joyful and triumphant," which I could only dream of being as a child... and so often am now.

I guess Christmas isn't really THAT bad...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Blog service blunders and a couple of updates 

I mentioned in my post of 9-28-06 that Webring had announced their intention to switch from free for everyone to paid for all but those few that were only members or managers of a handful of rings; I predicted disaster at the time, and it turns out that I was right... which isn't a cause for pride, since anyone OTHER than the owners of Webring would have been able to predict that going from free to paid would make them hemorrhage members and rings, especially given their poor record of handling technical issues and the downright nastiness of their so-called support department.

Mind you, I WARNED them about what was going on when I started getting flooded with emails from ring managers announcing their intention to delete all their rings and referring repeatedly to a mass exodus from Webring; the admin who responded to me denied that any such thing was going on. I forwarded him a bunch of the emails I'd gotten as proof; he never wrote me back, naturally. Eventually, though, they were unable to keep denying reality, because a couple of months later they finally announced that they would NOT be eliminating the free service, and that only those who wanted their fancy new features would have to pay. It was too little too late, of course; I went to their site to have a look around, and discovered that, although there were still 2 months to go before payment would have started being due when the announcement was made, both my personal ring list and their directory have been GUTTED... about 2/3 of the rings are GONE, with lots of those remaining having wildly reduced #'s of sites in them. I mourn the loss of all those excellent rings, and feel terrible for the many ring managers who had put so much time and effort into rings that they needlessly deleted... imagine how they felt when they learned that if they hadn't been in such a rush to bail out in their understandable anger they could've kept their rings.

Even when $ isn't involved, any change to an online service is cause for dismay, because there's usually some sort of disaster involved in the implementation, usually because of a lack of thinking things through; BlogMad's recent attempt at "upgrading" is a perfect example. They'd mentioned that their new credit allocation system was available, and somehow thought that meant that every user would rush to adopt it even though the old system was still working, and therefore that they could eliminate the old system WITHOUT PRIOR WARNING at their whim and all would be well; as you've probably already foreseen, the result was that most members were getting no BlogMad hits because they had NOT adopted the new system, and the few who HAD made the switch were having all their credits sucked up because only THEIR blogs were in circulation. The BlogMad team is as bright, hard-working and user-friendly as can be, but while they mastered the technical elements of their service they forgot about the human ones.

NeoWorx (the site from which I get the sidebar doodad that shows the flags for the countries of my online visitors), in contrast, instantly alerted the users to THEIR new system by changing our displays into requests to log in and get new code, but reached stunning depths of technical bungling with the setup they had for us to format our new displays: They'd replaced the old, well-designed small ones with huge ones, some with elaborate Flash skins and some plain; since a big, mostly-empty solid-colored box wouldn't look too nice, I went right for the Flash designs. I spent about an hour trying to come up with a combination of patterned, shifting background and text color that was readable; I didn't really succeed, because all of the designs were such that the text had to overlay artwork with both light and dark elements, meaning that no color showed clearly in all areas... VERY poor implementation of what could've been a neat idea. Having decided that I'd done my best, I generated the code, installed it... and got a solid green box. Several more attempts with other Flash skins got the same result; it's possible that those choices are only for paying customers, but if that's the case they shouldn't have been options in the "edit pages" of non-paying users, grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

It might just have been that the system wasn't fully set up to create the proper code for the Flash options, because, as it turned out, there were several other options that weren't there when I started struggling with it that gradually got added to the control panel... or maybe had been there originally but vanished before I logged in and later returned... in any case, it was absolutely surreal trying to design a usable display with everything changing constantly. There wasn't an option to reduce the height of the box at first, so I altered the final code to crop most of it off; sadly, the border was set up for a full-sized box, and so the bottom border was missing. I changed the color of the border to white, which eliminated that problem but gave me text floating in a bunch of odd-looking blank space. I then changed the background color for the display so that it'd show as something separate from the surrounding sidebar; inexplicably, none of the choices offered were light colors, and the color isn't included in the final code (because even the plain boxes are Flash and so the color is stored in the system) so I couldn't just edit in what I wanted later... and was thus stuck with a too-vivid lavender as my best choice.

I thought I was done, but a couple of hours later my display had totally changed, and the link to get to the edit screen on the NeoWorx site had disappeared; an email to tech support got the right display back eventually, except for the width which I was able to fix myself because the edit link was back. Weirdly, a series of new border-related controls had appeared in the interim; none of them fixed my problem, but they made me realize that, unbelievably, the edit page was still under construction although users had been instructed to use it all day long. I saved my width change, republished, and was done... until a few hours later, when the display changed AGAIN, to another totally different design. I went back to the edit page to re-redo it, and a new column had been added to one of the tables of choices; a HEIGHT control, at last!! The field to enter it was only 1 digit wide, although the width in pixels had to be THREE digits, but it was THERE, and it worked (it accepted 3 digits, it just could only show 1 at a time)... which meant that I could have my border back, which meant that I could get rid of the lavender background, which meant that I had a decent-looking display again.

I had to struggle with that @#$%^&*! thing ALL DAY LONG in order to duplicate the perfectly good display I'd had before the system change... except it's not as good as it was, because before the box resized automatically to fit the # of countries being displayed, and now the box size is static so I have to have a chunk of wasted space most of the time to accommodate the sporadic bursts when I've got 4-5 countries being represented at once. All that effort from NeoWorx to switch from an excellent system to one that's fancier but doesn't do its JOB, providing a useful listing of online countries, anywhere near as well. I'm sure there's some valid technical reason for why it ALL has to be Flash now, and why the boxes can't resize... well, I'm not really SURE, but I'll charitably assume that it's at least likely... but couldn't they have TESTED the new system before they threw it at us, making sure that everything on the edit page was present and properly designed, that the Flash skins could be turned into readable displays that would actually appear on users' sites, and that the designs people created wouldn't be replaced at random with other ones? (Edit: NeoWorx sent out an email to all the members a few days after I wrote this announcing that the display that'd be for free users henceforth would be... the one I originally had!! AARRGGHHHHHH)

And here's the updates:

The good news: We haven't seen a single rat on our patio before it's been fully dark since one of their loathsome brethren got killed by a hawk (see my last post); we don't know if the scent of the hawk on whatever surfaces it touched is scaring them off or if all of the rodents who'd been coming in the late afternoon happened to be there to witness the attack and have re-thought the wisdom of coming out of hiding during daylight hours, but either way it's allowing the birds to have their dinner unmolested, at least for now.

The bad news: Christmas has come early for my mother; first, they thought she had pneumonia AGAIN, but, even worse, they eventually decided it's a blood clot in her lung instead... and since she's elderly, a breast cancer patient (stage 3), and is recovering from surgery and radiation, they kept her at the hospital overnight for observation before sending her home with painkillers and various other meds. She's endured blood thinners before, and had an awful time on them (she got massive rashes and couldn't even brush her teeth without bleeding profusely), so she's EXTREMELY unhappy.

I suspect that there'll be very little fa-la-la-la-la-ing in the Omni family this holiday season...

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Hawk 1: Rat 0 

Long-term readers will recall that my patio has been swamped with a Biblical plague of rats and mice for the past year and a half; they come to consume the seed and water meant for the many little birds that flock here every day, and like the birds probably enjoy how the patio area is enclosed by the cover, fence and landscaping, making it sheltered and safe. Because we're concerned for the safety of the tweeties during the day, and the raccoons, possums and skunks that periodically visit us at night, we can't do what most folks will when plagued with vermin; if we mined the feeding area with traps and/or poisoned baits, we'd kill some of our beloved visitors, which means that the UNbeloved ones have had free reign (as long as they stayed out of the shed, where we CAN safely put traps-we've gotten a few in there, but not many).

Rats are sneaky little brutes, and so normally come to feed under cover of darkness; in the past couple of months, though, I've been spoiling their fun with something my husband cooked up... a remote that turns on sprinklers that shoot water up into the foliage they hang out in and then drop it down onto the feeding area, scaring the rats out of their pestilential wits. Now, instead of sauntering in and hanging out as long as they want, stuffing their faces at their leisure, the rats spend their nights running up and down, up and down, up and down the bushes, with breaks to frantically groom their soggy fur; this has led to them getting progressively more hungry, but rather than just finding somewhere less challenging to swarm they've started coming while it's still light, climbing down to the feeder (which we remove after sunset every day to keep them out of it, and re-hang once the sun's up for the birds to use), and gorging themselves while the poor hungry tweeties chirp agitatedly from the landscaping. My husband and I have expressed puzzlement to each other several times as to how the rats dare leap around during daylight hours when we've got so many hawks in this area; I don't know what, if anything, the latter have done previously, but today I saw proof that the local birds of prey have NOT failed to notice the change in the rats' behavior.

I was at my laptop in the family room just as it was starting to get dark, and was interrupted by a ruckus on the patio; the thumping and crashing noises made me start dragging myself up to, I assumed, chase away one of the rotten stray cats that periodically show up to stalk the birds and knock over my husband's junk piles, but a barrage of screeches kick-started my adrenal glands and sent me rocketing to the window knowing what I'd see... a hawk. The sturdy raptor wasn't perched on the fence, or up on a branch, as one would reasonably expect; he was standing on the patio tiles... with something struggling in his talons. Although a hawk can do real damage to a person, and would certainly attempt do so if he felt like he, or his dinner, was at risk, my mind immediately swam with ideas about how I'd separate him from the precious tweetie that I assumed he was holding; the 1st step was to pound on the window and scream at him, which had worked when a hawk had tried to snatch a bird that had flown into a window and was laying stunned and helpless beneath it (see my post of 10-20-05)... but before my fist hit the glass I realized that the predator's prospective meal had too many legs to be a bird, and therefore was a filthy RAT.

Relief that an innocent tweet hadn't been caught mixed with exhilaration that a loathsome creature was about to get its just desserts for its arrogance in stealing food before nightfall and for being destructive to my patio area... and amazement at seeing this scene out of a nature show in real life, only a few feet away. The hawk had obviously seen me, but showed no fear, which is typical of them; he barely spared me a glance as he pecked and squeezed the still-twitching rodent until it lay still (I never saw blood or wounds, so he must not have wanted to pierce the skin until he had the rat in his nest). He took a grip on it, shifted his wings, and... nothing. He looked around, his sleek head bobbing and twisting, got a new grip, and... nothing. It took me a minute, but I finally realized what the problem was; from where he was standing, the only way he could see where he could be sure he'd be able to fly out was a narrow slit between the patio cover and the fence that was mostly screened by branches and wind chimes... fine for little birds, but not for one with a 6-foot wingspan and a huge rat hanging from his claws. (I'm guessing from the noise I'd heard earlier that he crashed through some branches to get into the patio enclosure, probably after a dive to grab the rat while it was on the edge of the patio cover preparing to swing underneath it to get to the feeder, so he couldn't leave the way he'd gotten in.)

For about 10 minutes I watched the hawk looking all around, sometimes shuffling his feet on the rat, sometimes dragging it a little ways, and sometimes hopping a short distance away from it, obviously trying to figure out the best way out. It was getting darker, and I agonized over whether or not to turn on a light; it'd help him see his potential exits better, but it might also startle him enough in his agitated state that he'd abandon the carcass in favor of getting home before it got too dark to fly... and under no circumstances did I want him to miss out on discovering how plump and juicy that rat was, because I wanted him to come back every day and hunt the evil rodents, ideally killing them ALL. Luckily, birds of prey are SMART; as I saw last year when a smaller one invented several non-instinctive strategies to try to reach the tweeties (see my post of 8-17-05), given enough time they can figure their way out of even those situations that their hunting instincts didn't prepare them for... and this bold specimen was no exception, because he eventually took a lunge upwards to the only space that was nearly wide enough, made it to the fence with his prize, rotated a bit to fit around the branches, jumped off, flapped his enormous wings and was gone.

As always, I was awed to see such a spectacular bit of the wild world in action in my own suburban yard; this time, though, my primary emotion was delight at the thought that, now that the hawk had found where to come to get the biggest, best prey in his territory, the rat population was FINALLY going to take a beating.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Husband humor 

My husband and I have had the flu for the past week or so; can you believe we're both sick AGAIN? Between this flu, the prior one (see my post of 9-8-06), and the food poisoning (see my post of 11-11-06), we've been sick more in the last 3 months than in the last 5 YEARS... him especially, since it's usually just me who gets sick (he says that germs can't approach him because they don't have gas masks, lol). The really grim thing is that we'd just gotten back to normal eating and excretory functions a week before the flu hit (yes, the food poisoning knocked us out for 2 WEEKS), so it was with GREAT dismay that we faced having to switch back to "sick food" again. We didn't have much left, so we wearily started putting together a list of what we'd need from the grocery store before we got too sick to go out; this shouldn't have been a big deal, but my husband is legendary for slurping up most or all of a bunch of food items and then developing amnesia about it... which doesn't stop him from claiming that he didn't consume the stuff, and that he "knows" how much we have of everything, with such certainty that he'll resist checking it out, or even letting ME check it out. Luckily, I've learned over the years that he's only sure about things that are totally UNsure (and vice versa), so:

Him: We have enough bread for us and 3-4 other people to have the eggs on toast meal, so we don't need to get more.
Me: We didn't have that much the last time I saw the loaf, so how could we have that much NOW?
Him: Yes, we did, you're just not remembering correctly.
Me: Oh yeah, THAT'S likely. Even if I WAS misremembering, I know you've eaten some in the interim, so we STILL wouldn't have enough.
Him: Yes we do!! I told you that we have...
Me: Yes, and if I didn't KNOW you I might believe that. Check the loaf and see how many slices we've got left.
Him: No!! I know we've got...
Me: Then I'LL check. {getting wearily up from the floor}
Him: NO!! I'll look!! {lunging for the fridge, since, inexplicably, he'd always rather do things he's refused to do than have ME do them for him}
Me: Well?
Him: I don't understand... there's only a couple of slices left!!
Me: Told ya.
Him: But I could have sworn...
Me: Same as always, yes. How were you envisioning us and 3-4 other people making a meal out of that?
Him: Er...
Me: And if I'd been foolish enough to trust your assertions, what would we have done at dinnertime when it turned out we only had 2 slices of bread instead of the 6 we need?
Him: Um...
Me: {sighing} Just put it on the list. How are we doing on saltines?
Him: Oh, I'm sure we've got plenty.
Me: grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

That's not the only thing I've been irritated with him about; he got sick several days before I did, so HE did this to me... he must have coughed around my computer or failed to wash his hands often enough or some such thing, because I wouldn't let him anywhere near me in an attempt to not catch this flu. Since he prefers to isolate himself when he's sick, he had no objections to being banished to sleep in his study, but he clearly wasn't taking "Operation Protect Omni" seriously, because when I went to the study to say goodnight:

Me: Do you need the nose spray or anything else from the medicine cabinet?
Him: Nope, I'm all set... what are you looking around for?
Me: The dirty clothes are piling up...
Him: Well, if you come in here tomorrow in your incarnation as "Laundry Girl," remember not to touch any socks.
Me: HUH? Why would I not... oh no, are you blowing your nose on your SOCKS again?!!
Him: Uh-huh, lol.
Me: You disgusting creature!! Just put a box of tissues in the room!!
Him: No, I like the socks better-they're softer.
Me: You're REPULSIVE!!
Him: Yeah, so watch out, or you'll find a crusty sock stuck under your door when you wake up.
Me: EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!! That's GROSS!! You stay in this room and don't come out until you're healthy... and maybe not even THEN!!

He wasn't quite done with his mucous-related "humor," as it turned out; a few days later, when I was having to blow my nose every 5 minutes, and was cursing HIM even more frequently, he came into the room while I was blowing, and blowing, and checking to make sure a LUNG hadn't come out, and blowing, and blowing:

Me: All this blowing and wiping is making my nose sore.
Him: Would you like a sock?
Him: lol

Imagine how much I must love him to let him LIVE.

On a less revolting note, he really tried to pull a fast one on me a couple of days ago: He was going out to run some errands, and we'd laboriously compiled a list of things for him to get (this is necessary because if he's sent out to get even TWO things he'll only remember ONE); given the frequency with which he's traditionally been able to mislay lists in the 5 minutes between their completion and his departure, before he went out the door I demanded visual verification that he had the list:

Him: I've GOT it.
Me: Good, then let me see it.
Him: No, really, I've GOT it, and it's getting late, and...
Me: And you're not leaving this house without showing me that you've got the list.
Him: {sighing and pawing ostentatiously through his pockets} Ok, ok, see, there it is. {flashing the edge of a crumpled bit of paper}
Me: Oh no you don't!! That's NOT the list!! The list is on white paper, and THAT paper has colors-it looks like the coupons on the back of the grocery store receipt!!
Him: Well, it was worth a try, lol.
Him: I've got it, I've got it.
Him: It's all in my head, it's...
Me: Do I LOOK like an idiot? Go find that list!!

He went off, grumbling, and after several minutes of banging around returned with the list, which, once I'd verified that that's what it was (as opposed to a random piece of white paper), got stowed safely away. Then:

Me: Ok; have you got $ on you?
Him: Yes.
Me: Let's see it.
Him: {fumbling through his pockets again} Yes, here it is.
Me: Let's SEE it.
Him: sigh {starting to pull his hand out of the pocket}
Me: And DON'T show me that same receipt.
Him: SIGH!! {goes stomping off to find his $}

Whoever it was that said "you never really know another person" needs to come spend some time at MY house.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Group vs one 

I saw an episode of M*A*S*H recently in which a new nurse who'd decided to try to become a doctor had joined the staff, and the other nurses, far from being supportive and proud as they SHOULD have been, treated her like dirt for daring to try to better herself. Major Houlihan, who's as smart and tough as they come, analyzes the situation and tells the innocent nurse that, since the nursing staff had been running smoothly before SHE showed up, she must somehow be to blame, and she'd better find a way to magically make all the other nurses stop mistreating her or else... and at no point is there any indication that the Major said a single word to the actual wrongdoers about their catty, belligerent and therefore utterly unacceptable behavior, or even suggested that they should take any part in rectifying the situation (that THEY had created) as part of being "team players."

Unfortunately, the way that problem was (MIS)handled on the show is perfectly in tune with how these things get dealt with in real life, and we're so used to this grossly unfair and stupid judgment of "group vs one" situations that the M*A*S*H writers felt comfortable incorporating it into the plot without fear that anyone would find anything wrong with it... and that's what's so grim, that nobody would have a problem with even a top-notch officer like Margaret failing to grasp the real problem and do the right thing.

The central issue here is so important that I'm going to "shout" it:


Actually, it's more like a 99.999999999999999999999999999% probability... and it'd be 100% if not for online trolls and the 1 case in a million where people gang up on an actual wrongdoer (as opposed to winking and nodding at them or rewarding them like they usually do).

Do you doubt that? Think back to all the many times you've seen a group against one; how often was that one someone who'd done something wrong for which they were getting well-earned retribution? NEVER, right? From earliest childhood, when someone became the target of group abuse it was because they were fat, or bespectacled, or short, or tall, or homely, or dressed poorly, or bad at sports, or "too smart," or spoke with an accent, or were a different color or religion; did it ever consciously occur to you that none of those things constitutes wrongdoing, and thus they're NOT valid reasons for doling out abuse? By the late teens, some of these "reasons" (in quotes because they're lame excuses, NOT actual reasons) for ganging up fade away, but not many, and new ones get added, such as; being gay (or suspected of being gay, or not stereotypically "masculine" or "feminine" and so assumed to be gay), not wearing the "right" brand of sneakers, being a slut (aka female and "too sexually active," or believed to be), being a geek, not developing as fast as the majority, or simply being different in any way. Once adulthood is reached, most of these things stop being socially acceptable "reasons" for taunting people directly or for forming groups to oppose them, and get demoted to merely being "reasons" to dislike others or to badmouth them behind their backs; some, sadly, such as race, religion, and sexual orientation, do persist as "reasons" for groups of unpleasant types to be openly hostile to, or openly "against," given individuals within certain social circles.

Bigots and such aside, it'd be nice to think that part of being an adult is having the maturity to not be interested in playground-type gang-ups, but cyberspace teaches us that, for many people at least, what happens is that they learn through observation that they have to stop doing it in "real life" or be seen as IMmature, but the DESIRE to form attack groups remains... we can see the proof on nearly any forum, message board or other internet gathering place that isn't relentlessly moderated. While there are certainly cases where someone gets gangbanged online because of, say, their religion or ethnic background, the overwhelming majority of group attacks occur for one reason; the victim expressed an opinion contrary to theirs. It doesn't matter how politely the contrary opinion is expressed, how dispassionately, how logically and reasonably it's laid out, it doesn't matter if no disrespectful insinuation is made about previous commenters, or no reference to them or their remarks is made at all, or even if no one else has yet expressed the opposing position; an astonishing # of people respond to anything posted that's contrary to their views with vicious attacks, including personal remarks, foul language and insults... and if there's more than one of them around they instantly bond together, even if they're total strangers, and launch a flamewar against the innocent commenter.

Sometimes, the attack doesn't start until after the commenter has had the unmitigated gall to, GASP, rebut the responses to their post; I don't think that people who'd have been satisfied if the commenter had humbly caved in after their sacred responses, and so wait until "round 2" to start attacking, are any better than those who attack instantly... they're WORSE, really, because of their arrogance and irrational expectations. Perhaps the most contemptible of all are those who start out at least pretending to have a calm discussion, or even a heated but properly-done debate, against one person, and then, once it becomes clear that they're being out-argued, or, just as bad in their minds, that the victim is showing no signs of conceding or giving up no matter how many times they're hammered, start getting ugly, rapidly escalating to full-out flaming if the commenter stands their ground instead of heading for the hills; this is nothing but a petty, childish desire to hurt someone who isn't doing things their way. Regardless of which version of this concept is being played out, the commenter isn't guilty of ANY wrongdoing, and the central truth is the same; a group against one person = attackers against an innocent victim, which means that the members of the group are the bad guys, NOT the victim... despite the inexplicable tendency for all observers, including the authorities, to assume otherwise.

As mentioned earlier, there ARE exceptions, but they're so easy to spot that you don't have to worry about them: Should you ever encounter a group of people harassing someone because they're a convicted child molester rather than because of their race or religion, that'd be an exception. Online, if someone shows up on a forum and starts posting incoherent insults (usually in all-caps and without benefit of a spellchecker), and people decide to respond protractedly in kind (which they almost never do, have you noticed?), that'd be an exception; be aware, though, that most people who get labeled as trolls are simply those who voiced contrary opinions and then defended them, and/or defended themselves when the personal remarks started flying, so don't buy it when the attackers call their prey a troll... scrolling back to the beginning of the battle will virtually always reveal that the victim was NOT trolling when they got jumped on, and neither refusing to change an opinion nor lashing back when insulted makes them trolls at any point in the fight.

Why is it that those who disrupt a forum with a mass attack on one person never get called trolls, which they in fact ARE... but if they label their target a troll people believe it? Why is it that those who gang up on one person in real life never get seen as troublemakers... but their victim often DOES? If we observe ONE person attacking another, although we tend to side with the attacker and to see the victim as a loser we do at least usually grasp who's at fault even if we don't pass the correct judgment based on it; however, we foolishly refuse to accept that it's not only possible but COMMON for multiple people to collectively decide to kick the butt of someone who hasn't done anything wrong... despite all our personal observations to the contrary, we're sure the victim MUST have done something awful to have a whole group attacking them at once.

What can you do about all this? When you witness a group attack on an individual, take an honest look at what judgments you automatically passed, and then consciously alter those judgments to the correct ones. Make note of who the attackers are; they're bad people, and you'd do well to remember that if you're ever tempted to hang around with them. Last but far from least; if you want to be able to consider yourself to be a good person, you have to do more than look and think... you have to interrupt the assault and demand that it cease. This might be scary the 1st time you try it, but fear not; the psychology of the situation requires that the victim be fighting alone (yes, this means that the attackers are cowards as well as cockroaches), and if even 1 person intervenes it'll nearly always bring the action to a screaming halt... the best they'll ever manage is the occasional attempt to protest that the victim had it coming (usually "because (s)he won't stop arguing," although THEY are arguing every bit as much, the hypocrites), but when you dismiss that with the contempt it deserves that'll be the end of it.

Aside from the justifiable pride you'll feel for defeating evil and protecting the innocent, taking action against bullies will be good for your karma; the next time YOU get ganged up on, you want someone to jump to YOUR defense, right?

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