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I think, by an odd coincidence, two special ladies whose birthdays are right around now are among the relatively few still on (or at least branching to) LJ. And a happy birthday to them, in spite of the year's various tribulations, from the frozen north, which right now is more than usually living up to its name (it's -3° F outside right now). <3 :)
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Twenty years ago, right about now.


I can't quite believe it, but it's true.

I miss you, man. You could have made this shitty year seem like it was worth experiencing, somehow.
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Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era—the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run... but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant...

History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of "history" it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.


There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda... You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning...

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave...

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

Hunter S. Thompson
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream
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The guitar I mentioned in my last post came back from rehab. It took Dallas (the guitar repairman) a week, in amongst the other jobs he had on, but he and blind chance between them worked a minor miracle, because the Giannini is playable.

Pictures and elaboration behind here.Collapse )

The damage is still a Sad Thing that didn't need to happen, and I'd still like to give the person responsible a whupping, but it's a better outcome than either Dallas or I were expecting when we started. I'll have to be gentle with it, but then, you're supposed to be gentle with classical guitars anyway. That's how we got into this situation in the first place.
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Today I have re-learned an old lesson, namely that finding out you only thought you had something is worse than just not having it, even though the net effect is the same. To wit:

SPOILERS: It's about a guitar.Collapse )

Current Mood: wrathful

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... my ice maker breaks down.

What kind of mocking god, etc.

(Fear not, I have an appointment to have someone come and fix it, although since I live in darkest Podunk, they can't come for more than two weeks.)

Current Mood: hnnngh

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When I was a kid, there were certain things we didn't have. Not because we couldn't afford them, this isn't that kind of anecdote, but because my father, for one reason or another, wouldn't buy them. He had this weird economical streak that would come out in response to particular stimuli, to wit: He hated to pay for optional features on anything. The very thought burned him, like battery acid. His rationale behind this, when questioned, was a sort of two-pronged logic assault:

1) They cost extra and you can buy the product without them. Therefore, they're not necessary and are just a way for the manufacturer to chisel some more money out of you, which is morally offensive.

2) They're just another goddamn thing that'll break, and then you either won't have it anyway (so you could've saved your money) or you'll have to get it fixed (more money, and probably another piece of the conspiracy cited in 1) above, plus it's a hassle).

For this reason - despite the fact that he was a working professional engineer and making pretty good money - until I was in high school we never had a car that had electric windows or air conditioning; we didn't have any sort of automatic heating (or cooling of any kind) in the house; we didn't have touch-tone telephones, although, in fairness to Dad, those didn't work in the town where we lived until I was in the 11th grade anyway. He extended this policy even to items based on technologies he didn't understand, balking, for instance, at buying a computer with more than the stock bare-bones amount of memory in it.

That's the background you need to understand this next bit. When I was six or seven years old, my favorite aunt Dot started dating a guy called Mike, who flew a crop duster for a living. Not sure if you knew this, but those guys make some pretty good money too, and unlike my father, Mike liked to get top-of-the-line stuff (I guess when you work in aviation, you tend to associate anything less with a higher probability of being killed at work). He had a refrigerator at the house where he and Dot lived that had features I had never even imagined as a seven-year-old. The freezer went all the way up one side of it, and in the door there was this thing you could put a glass into and crushed ice would fall into it.

Crushed ice. From a slot on the front of the fridge.

This was witchcraft to a cold-beverage-loving kid whose father had a philosophical objection to electric windows in cars.

For a few years, I assumed that you had to live in a special kind of house or something in order to have a fridge that did that. Once I outgrew that admittedly weird idea, I assumed for several more years that fridges like that must cost a fortune, and so were the kinds of things that only doctors, other people who could afford to drive Mercedes-Benz sedans, and people who won them on The Price Is Right could own.

Then, one day, I was dawdling around the appliance section at Sears, bored to misery by the length of time it was taking my mother to decide not to buy any of the vacuum cleaner models they had on offer, and I discovered that they sold such refrigerators... and that, yeah, they cost more than the normal fridge-over-freezer ones like we had, but not that much more. I mean, I had been assuming that they must cost $10,000 or more, not an extra couple hundred bucks. I immediately began lobbying for us to get one.

Naturally, we never did. To make it even worse, the ordinary fridge we had was equipped to accept an optional ice maker, which was advertised with a giant label on the inside of the freezer compartment. It wouldn't have dispensed ice, the doors and the layout were all wrong, but it could at least have made it without us having to fart around with ice cube trays and all that business.

We never got that either, and the sticker advertising its availability remained, taunting me, for my entire childhood and adolescence.

Then I grew up and moved out on my own, but I was always renting and every place I rented already had an ordinary mortal refrigerator. (My place in California had one that was genuinely an antique, the kind where the freezer is a separate compartment inside the fridge and the door has a mechanical latch on it, so curious children can get trapped inside and suffocate.) When I moved back to Podunk and into the house where I live now, I was bemused to discover that this house had a fridge of precisely the same model as the one we'd had when I was growing up.

It even had the label in the freezer, advertising the optional ice maker it did not have.

Meanwhile, my mother had moved out on her own, and she had a fridge with an ice dispenser, because no longer required to listen to Dad when making big-ticket purchase decisions.

Well, yesterday, a truck from Sears came and delivered unto her home a new refrigerator, one of those giant chrome Fridge Of The Future deals with the double-secret special outer hatch (so that you open the door and the shelves-in-the-door are still inside the fridge - witchcraft, and the computerized what-kind-of-ice-and-cold-water-do-you-want selector panel, and the freezer that is a giant drawer (so the ice is coming out of a door that doesn't even back onto the freezer - witchcraft). And when the sweaty and out-of-sorts (it was a beastly hot day, as is today) but very obliging fridgermen were done installing it, they took her old fridge...

... and brought it over here, where they put it in place of my even older one and carted that one away.*

This was an unauthorized extra job for which they are heroes, even though they didn't have the time or the parts to do the plumbing. Dad - whose attitude toward such things has softened markedly as he's approached retirement age, may I just note - came and helped me hook it up today. In the process, we deranged all the plumbing lines in the house, and the faucets (and the cold water dispenser on the fridge) were producing this terrifying yellow water for an hour or so afterward, but that seems to have run its course now.

I turned 41 a couple weeks ago; I've wanted a refrigerator that dispenses ice from the door for well over 30 years. It's in there making its first batch of ice in its new home right now.

In an hour or so, I shall have crushed ice any time I damned well want it.

This may be the most ridiculous lifelong-dream-achieved story you read all year, but I don't give a damn, because I have my ice-dispensing fridge.

* Yes. That is a Spider-Man action figure with magnets in his feet. Every refrigerator should have one.

Current Mood: hell yeah ice-dispensing fridge

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Today is June 6.

Ten years ago, I wrote a piece for the newspaper I then worked for commemorating the 60th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, one of the pivotal moments of the Second World War. I've repeated it on this journal every so often since then. This may be the last year I do so; today, most of the people I had in mind when I wrote it have gone.

Here it is again.Collapse )

Also in audio form, if you like.
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One dark night in 1982, a British Airways 747 unwittingly flew through the ash plume from the eruption of a volcano in Indonesia. This had, as you might expect, a somewhat deleterious effect on the performance of the aircraft, to wit: It conked out entirely. While his command cruised relentlessly toward the Indian Ocean, and his first officer and flight engineer labored mightily (but as of that moment fruitlessly) to restart at least one of the 747's engines, Captain Eric Moody got on the public address system and calmly made what may well have been the greatest announcement in the history of airline travel:

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem: All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them going again. I trust you are not in too much distress."

And that, boys and girls, is how you do that. That's right up there with, "I am just going outside; I may be some time." (Albeit with a happier ending, since Moody and his crew did eventually get the aircraft working again and were able to limp into Jakarta with no casualties.)
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I don't like flying commercial very much. I did the vast bulk of what airline flying I've done before 2001, and I wasn't a fan of the procedures and delays even then, but mainly what I don't like about it is that it makes me ill. Not "eew, recycled air, gerrrms" ill (although that has happened), but ill as a consequence of the experience itself. My eustachian tubes don't work very well - some days the right one doesn't work at all - so the pressurized cabin experience (band name!) is always a bit of an ordeal. I generally land mostly-deaf (not Mos Def) in one ear and feeling like someone hit me in that side of the face with a shovel, a condition which persists for the rest of the day.

However! That said, I was having a conversation the other day about air travel, and in the course of the chat it occurred to me that, in fairness, I have had a few good times on airliners. For instance...Collapse )

1 Or a cold. And to be fair, I probably got that at the con.
2 Not in that way. She wasn't that bored.
3 Silly me, I went to the gate printed on my boarding pass expecting it to be where my flight home was going to leave from! Ha ha! I know, right? Almost got onto a flight to Santo Domingo instead. I don't want to go to the Dominican Republic. Does it really need mentioning at this point that the new gate was approximately as far away as it was possible to go and still be in Orlando, and that the departure time itself hadn't changed? Of course it doesn't.

Current Mood: reminiscin'

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In 2005, American writer and founding gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson (author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) committed suicide. Shortly thereafter, I somewhat belatedly discovered his work and bought everything of his I could find in print, including the first two volumes of his collected correspondence, which together covered his life and career from 1955 to 1976.

A third volume, The Mutineer: Rants, Ravings, and Missives from the Mountaintop, 1977-2005, appeared for preorder on Amazon a while after his death, complete with sample cover art that was in the same style as that featured on the first two volumes and a street date sometime in the summer of 2008. I placed a preorder for it sometime, if memory serves, in early 2007.

Ever after, every six months or so, I would get a polite email from Amazon informing me that the release date of The Mutineer had been delayed by about another six months. It became a very slow metronomic ticking, a little recurrent prickle of first disappointment, then annoyance, and finally a sort of tragicomic, headshake-with-a-grim-smile resignation.

Today, I received the following:

Due to a lack of availability, we will not be able to obtain the following item(s) from your order:

Hunter S. Thompson "The Mutineer: Rants, Ravings, and Missives from the Mountaintop 1977-2005"

We've canceled the item(s) and apologize for the inconvenience. We must also apologize for the length of time it has taken us to reach this conclusion.

If you are still interested in purchasing this item, it may be available from other sellers.

It's depressing, but at the same time darkly funny. Particularly that last part. It is, in fact, not available from "other sellers", because insofar as I am able to determine, and despite the fact that it has what appears to be a perfectly legitimate ISBN and therefore appears in such places as HST's bibliography page on Wikipedia, it does not exist - has never existed. I fear it is destined to become one of those friend-of-a-friend items that turn up now and then in American popular culture. Remember the "Gloria Baker and Shark" M.A.S.K. toy? Of course you don't, Kenner never made it, but we all knew that one guy who swore he had a cousin in some other town who knew somebody who had one. :)
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Just for fun, I'm going to answer all the rhetorical questions currently visible as headlines on CNN's front page. I've just noticed that some of my remarks aren't safe for work, so you may as well have a cut.Collapse )

Current Location: ye toole cribbe
Current Mood: not impressed
Current Music: the siren song of the machine tool lab

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The 209-foot length and 213-foot wingspan of a Boeing 777-200ER airliner delimit a rectangle with a surface area of 44,517 square feet.

The Indian Ocean's surface area is 28,350,000 square miles, or 790,352,640,000,000 square feet. That's enough space to park 17,753,951,074 777-200ERs without overlapping them.

As such, no, actually, I don't consider it particularly shocking that no one can seem to find one in the other.

News flash, modern timers: that "telecommunications makes the world smaller" thing is a metaphor. The world is the same size it's always been; that is to say, on the scale of human perception and interaction, pretty frickin' big.
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Actually not the absolute best Amazon catalog fault I've ever seen; that honor goes to this little gem from a few years ago.

Current Mood: amused amused

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I totally want cake now.

That's ladysprite's fault.

Also, the other day I saw a bundt cake in a store and thought, "... Nah. I've had the Platonic ideal of bundt cake. That one would just disappoint me."

That's actually keshwyn's fault.

I guess basically it all comes down to cake with me and the ladies.

That is all.

Current Mood: philosophizin'. also craving cake.

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I had a dream about an hour ago (shut up, I'm on break, I can sleep until 11 if I feel like it) in which ladysprite, Truss, a favorite character from TV, and I were attempting to get to some scheduled occasion (movie, play, Klingon opera, I don't know; just that we had tickets to see it). I think the car we were driving was mine (it was one of the new Fiat 500s with, presumably, the optional TARDIS interior, since it had me and three other people in it), but ladysprite wanted to drive because they installed a neuroprocessor with a GPS widget built in while they were doing her bionic spine replacement and she hadn't actually tried it out yet.

You know how people's GPS navigation devices will occasionally lead them astray, causing them to drive off boat ramps or attempt to get onto the Interstate at a place where there's actually just a flyover, not an interchange? Now imagine how much worse that is when the navigation system is a cerebral implant designed to have a "seamless user experience", which means that instead of providing a map and spoken directions, it just makes you think you know where you're going. We ended up following a railway line instead of a road for cars. One equipped with all sorts of bizarre automatic countermeasures intended to prevent people from driving cars alongside it. Fortunately, it turns out ladysprite learned to drive from the same people who taught James Bond, and the Fiat had a number of interesting abilities not usually found in small, cheap Italian automobiles (a maglev mode, for example, which was useful for bypassing the pop-up Severe Tire Damage spikes). And to be fair to her cybernetic GPS, the route it suggested did get us to the venue we wanted in plenty of time for whatever occasion it was.
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A little background: I'm an atheist. Have been for as long as I can remember. I haven't abandoned a religion or suffered a crisis of faith; I never practiced one or had any.

My mother, who never showed any particular signs of it when I was growing up, has lately taken to claiming that she's always been a churchy type and had been suppressing it in the family context because of "things that happened before you were born". As she ages she gets more stroppy about it, and in the last couple-three years we've had some pretty towering rows as she's tried to church me up and I've made it as plain as possible that I'm not having any.

The last time this happened she decided to go on the offensive and demanded to know, if I don't believe in her brand of woo-woo, what DO I believe? The standard "now you're on the spot, smart guy" thing churchy people like to pull. "If science knows everything, where do you people who believe in it go when you die?"

So I mulled it over for a while, and ultimately came up with the following.

Each human mind is a unique, irreproducible,* complex collection of electrical impulses and patterns. We are information, recorded on a fragile, volatile storage medium imperfectly maintained by an unreliable organic machine, and when we die - when the machine stops working - that information is lost. (Sometimes it's lost well before the machine stops.)

This is the fundamental nature of the universe - order into disorder, loss of information. We are temporary self-ordered states. Anomalies. Errors for which entropy eventually, inevitably corrects. It's not in any way reassuring, but it's how things work in the real universe we're all stuck in.

* with current technology

Unsurprisingly, she didn't like my answer.

Current Mood: fatalistic

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While cleaning out the aforementioned pirate chest in preparation for the lock replacement operation, I rediscovered a number of items I had stashed in it some years previous. Some of them I knew were in there (my childhood security blanket, for instance - not likely to forget where I put that!), but others I had forgotten about entirely.

One of those items is a book. It rather depresses me now, for reasons that should be obvious in a moment, but in my youth it was a favorite of mine. It's a large-format, glossy paperback, liberally supplied with photographs, called Your Future in Space, and is essentially a very large advertising brochure for U.S. Space Camp in Alabama.

Now, despite my long-standing fascination with space exploration and all its various appurtenances (which I think can be traced back to my father's interesting decision to take me to see The Right Stuff when I was 10), I was not one of the kids who actually wanted to go to Space Camp. Being a comedically nearsighted asthmatic, I knew I would never be an astronaut, and so I found no particular attraction in the idea of going to the Deep South and pretending to be one for a couple of weeks. (It could be argued that this was missing the point, but that's how I felt about it at the time.) I did think the concept was cool, and I certainly didn't have anything against those kids, so when someone (presumably one of my parents) presented me with a copy of Your Future in Space because "you like space stuff," I enjoyed it very much.

Like I say, it's kind of a depressing read now. It was prepared in 1985, when the STS program still seemed invincible, and there's a lot of that standard boosterish stuff (presenting the Space Campers covered in the main narrative as "future shuttle commander So-and-so" and the like) that really rings awkwardly to modern sensibilities. The thing was, it rang awkwardly at the time, too, because due to the way book publishing worked back then, Your Future in Space wasn't actually published until 1986. When the STS-51L debacle happened in January of that year, they had only enough time to insert a memorial page in the front of the book; no revisions could be made to the internal contents.

Which was a little unfortunate, since one page contains a big photo of Ron McNair playing the saxophone in microgravity from a previous mission.

So, to recap, this book is in essence a large marketing exercise for a product I wasn't particularly interested in which was overtaken by history before it even reached the public. And yet I remain weirdly attached to it. I think this is mainly because the kids in the photos are clearly having the time of their lives. It's all rendered unrelievedly poignant now, because you look at them and you're aware that, in those moments, being photographed for a book on the Space Camp experience in the summer of 1985, they don't know that it's all about to go horribly wrong, that vanishingly few of them are ever going to be astronauts, that the Shuttle will kill 14 people in the next 18 years, and that American manned spaceflight itself will be over by 2012.
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A bit of background: Many years ago, my grandfather - carpenter, furniture builder, toymaker, all-around woodworker par excellence - made a pirate chest for me. One of its features was a padlock hasp. Though this was never intended for any sort of real security - it was part decorative and part just to keep the lid shut - I was the kind of child who insisted on putting a lock on it anyway.

And the kind of adolescent/young adult who inevitably lost the key.

Pictures accompany the rest of the explanation, so here is a cut.Collapse )

This was far from the most challenging project ever undertaken in the history of man, but I'm pleased anyway, because, well, it was long overdue and I went and did it. Adam Savage I ain't, but at least I've fixed a box. :)

ETA: Oh, if you're wondering why there's a roll of toilet paper on the headboard shelf of my bed, it's because I sometimes have nosebleeds in the night and I don't have any box napkins in the house, not because I have some on-label need for bedside toilet paper. :) Unavoidable hazard of CPAP therapy, though the incidence is much lower now that I've started using a flow generator that has a heated humidifier attachment.
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So I bought a leather bag today, and as I was unpacking the tissue paper from its various compartments, affixing the shoulder strap, etc. - all the little rituals one does with a new piece of luggage - I noticed that one of the several tags it came with contained the following disclaimer:

This leather is a natural material and therefore subject to change from hide to hide and with daily use. The distressed appearance with occasional blemishes and variance in color is normal. Variances in the consistency of this leather are inherent of its natural beauty and personality.

And I thought, Really?!

People need to be warned about this? "Hey, this bag is made of leather. That means it won't look 100% exactly like any other one, even the very next one off the production line, which is the same model and listed as the same color in the catalog. And you know what else? In a month, it's not going to look exactly like it does right now. And a month after that it won't look like THAT. And so on. Welcome to the real world, kiddo!" Are there people old enough and capable enough that they can buy leather valises for whom all of that is not intuitively obvious anyway? Really? Are there actual grown-up bag-buying people out there who get angry when their bags patinate and send them back with angry letters about product quality? I can only assume something like that is what motivated the company to go to the trouble and expense of procuring these tags and including one with each bag, after all.

Shit, man, when I was a kid, someone with a shiny, stiff new leather bag or jacket was an obvious amateur, deserving only of ridicule (or at least pity), until such time as the item broke in and started to look like somebody actually owned it. Now it's considered enough of a flaw that leather-goods manufacturers feel a need to apologize for it up front?

I don't get it. I just don't.

Current Mood: confused confused

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