July 29, 2003

Church broadcasts scathing attack on

Church broadcasts scathing attack on geekdom.I
suffered quite a shock this morning. As I drove past the Apostolic
Lighthouse, our local hand-clapping, knee-slapping church (for more on
which, see below), I was horrified to read the following on their
"moral of the week" message board:
Aside from the dubious logic employed in this phrase, I mean, WTF???
What about Powerbooks? What about portable MP3 players? Linux? What
about aquarium PC case mods? WiFi? What about *Minis*, fer
Are these not things? And are these, indeed, not the *best* things???

Posted by dettifoss at 10:15 AM

July 12, 2003

"Moblogging" and one Howard Rheingold.Well,

"Moblogging" and one Howard Rheingold.Well, who'da
thunk? Seems like the idea I was ruminating about below was an old one
:-( Apparently Howard Rheingold already predicted folks uploading video
"journalism" to the web in his book "Smart Mobs" of some years ago,
according to this article: Moblogs Seen as a Crystal Ball for a New Era in Online Journalism.
I've never read the book, honest! Heard about it, but never had the
interest to read it. Oh well. I'll console myself with the notion that
it's all but impossible to have an original thought in this post-modern
world :-) That and the virtual certainty that, if somebody were to have
an original idea, that somebody would not be me!

Posted by dettifoss at 03:23 PM

July 11, 2003

From piscicidal maniac to patron

From piscicidal maniac to patron saint of tortoises.

Recently I seem to have seen a lot of tortoises, or Eastern Box Turtles,
to give them their proper names, crossing the road I live on. Each time
I saw one, I was thinking, Oh shit, some creep in an oversized pickup
is gonna come screaming down the road and pancake the poor sucker. So I
made a decision that, each time I saw one, I would stop and give the
little guy a hand. regardless of how late I was for work or how
desperate I was to get home to the porch and my evening latte and
Salems. After all, it's fine to feel bad for the poor creatures as you
sail past at 60mph, different altogether to take the time to stop and
do something about it. The trivial nature of my decision is not lost on
me, nor is the fact that taking a couple of minutes out to do something
as trivial as this - as a matter of principle, a kind of promise, if
you like, as opposed to a casual act of benevolence when one happens to
be in the right place at the right time with nothing better to do - is
something that the clock-driven, calendar-planned world of the 21st
century professional guy doesn't really allow for. After all, what
about that 9am meeting you're already late for?
I guess the question for me is, and always has been, which is more
trivial: the 9 o'clock meeting, or the ponderous little creature trying
to make its way across a winding, woodland road? It might have taken
that turtle 20 or 30 years to get to this point. It takes 'em a long
time to do anything! :-) The meeting, on the other hand, will be over
soon enough, will have bored the pants of every sensible person in the
room and, if it's like most meetings I've been to or heard of, will
have made very little progress, if any, on the issues it was supposed
to resolve. We all know this is what happens at meetings, we all hate
them, and yet we all indulge in the same group delusion that, somehow,
they're important - mustn't miss 'em!
As it turned out, the day after I made my decision, I was able to put
it into practice. Late for work yet again, I sped past another tortoise
crossing the road. So I slammed on the brakes, pulled the car over as
best I could (there's not really a shoulder as the woods come upto the
road on both sides) put the hazard lights on and got out. It came as no
surprise to find he was still there :-) So I picked him up, carried him
over to the side of the road he was pointed at (I know it's never a
good idea to make assumptions, but I figured, under the
circumstances...) and deposited him a few yards away from the road. The
next move was upto him - I was late for work :-)
Come to think of it, this isn't the first time I've done something like
this. A few years ago, same road, different place, I was driving home
from the store when I saw a medium-sized snapping turtle, of all
things, in the road right in front of me. This was a surprise, as it
was a good way from any water. I decided I'd better move this guy, too,
and for the same reason, despite their reputation for a nasty
disposition. This was not quite the cakewalk I had with the little box
turtle, though. This creature's shell was about 10" to a foot long (so
he wasn't huge, for a snapper), and I approached with some caution,
because the only thing I knew about snappers was a maxim I learned from
an old farmer I used to rent a house from: Once they bite, they don't
let go. Given this, I figured the best way to move him was to get him
to bite on a stick, and then drag him to safety. Talk about quick
thinking! Nothing doing: I guess the maxim was wrong. Oh, he bit OK,
but when I tried to pull, him he let go. Bugger. Plan B: get hold of
the sides of his shell from behind, hopefully far enough back that his
iron jaws couldn't reach, and pick him up.
It was at this point that I discovered how incredibly fast these
creatures are. I couldn't get behind him. I ran round to one side, and
he just spun around to face me. Back the other way, same result. So
here we were, doing this absurd dance in the middle of the road
(there's not much traffic on my road - did I mention that?), him
thinking I was gonna eat him, I guess, and me scared he was gonna sink
his gums into a soft part and not let go. So I had to stand back and
scratch my head... Of course, I tried persuasion ("Look, asshole, I'm
trying to HELP you!"), but that did about as much good as I had
suspected it would.
Finally, I adopted plan C. Something else I discovered, during our
dance, was that snappers have long tails which they don't seem to be
able to pull into their shells. I decided this was my best bet. I
jumped over him, grabbed his tail, and literally flung him into the
woods. Yeah, he may have had a hard landing, somewhere, but at least he
wasn't sandwiched between the pavement and a one and a half ton truck
Do I brake for other animals? Well, no, not really. I mean, most times,
if you hit a deer or a squirrel, it was already too late to have
avoided them and, let's face it, they're mostly quick enough to get out
the way, too fast to pick up and carry across the road, and
comparatively short-lived and numerous, too. They're not gonna go
extinct because a few of them are unlucky enough to run the wrong way
when a car comes along. Tortoises are different, though. I mean, let's
face it, what can they do when they get buzzed by a car? Tuck
themselves up in their shells and hope for the best! I once found one
when I was walking in a park, and I picked it up cos I wanted a closer
look. I was surrounded by deer flies and all sorts of other bugs, so I
ran a few yards to shake them off, tortoise in hand, then put him down
on the ground and sat down to watch. He didn't even poke his head out
for 20 minutes! So, you have a 20-year-old tortoise. It's gonna take
him, what, 5 minutes? to cross the road under ideal circumstances. And
every time he gets buzzed by a car or truck, you have to extend that
time by 20 minutes while he regains the courage to continue. The deck
is trully stacked.
They're like trees: an age in the making and so quick to destroy. So
it's worth being a couple of minutes late for that meeting, I think.
(Saw one laying it's eggs once - it was a miniature of the ocean
turtles folks cordon off beaches for. It had dug a hole in the mud,
dropped its eggs in, and was covering them again with its hind legs.
Maybe that's my point - the big ones go first, get noticed first, but
the little guys can't be far behind.)

Posted by dettifoss at 09:50 PM

July 06, 2003

(Potential) piscicide, and things that

(Potential) piscicide, and things that suck.Recently
I was faced with the unenviable task of committing piscicide. Let me
explain. I have a ten gallon fish tank (I'm not convinced that a tank
with a ten gallon capacity deserves the name "aquarium", so fish tank
it is). It's a tank which, a couple of years ago, I bought for my
daughter and which I got to keep (talk about a stroke of luck! :-| )
when she and her mother and brother moved out last year. I'm not going
to get into Big Family Issues here - the only reason I mention this is
to serve in some kind of mitigation of both the nature and the naming
of the tank's inhabitants, of which there were six: Bumble, Bramble and
Ba-ba-ba (the last one named by my then one-year-old son :-) ), who are
fantail goldfish (absurd looking, bloated orange creatures with
ridiculously large fins and tails); Blackfish-bobbly-eyes and Osama,
who are black moors (just like fantails with the exception that they
are black, not orange, and with the addition of enormous, protruberant
eyes). Osama was named by me in the wake of 9/11, in an act of
convoluted patriotism, the logic of which worked something like this:
If Osama, the fish, were to die soon - which, I thought, he surely
would - then Osama bin Laden, the man, might be caught or killed. Maybe
I wasn't so wrong, since both fish and man seem to continue to
But I'm getting off the point. The final inhabitant of this small and
increasingly cramped container was a pleco
by the name of Sucky. It is Sucky whose fate I'm describing here.
How does a pleco get into a goldfish tank? It's dead simple. You buy
the tank, put the goldfish in, and before long, you notice that the
sides of the tank, and everything else in it that doesn't move
(fantails and black moors do move. Just. Sometimes.) is getting covered
in green slime, known in botanical and aquarist circles alike as algae.
After a few weeks of scraping this stuff off, you throw your arms up in
a sort of white-collar, middle-class approximation of desperation and
dash back to the pet store to whine about it. And they have a solution!
A fix that is not only quick and cheap, but ongoing: "You need a
pleco", they smilingly say, motioning you toward a tank which contains
a couple dozen small, brown, docile, catfish-looking things, which cost
only $5 a piece and actually EAT algae! That's right: they *live on*
that green slime that's been haunting you! They even *relish* it! Oh,
So that's how they get into your goldfish tank. They're quite
interesting, too: they are neither bloated nor orange; their fins are
in a fairly decent proportion to the rest of their bodies; they change
color a little, from time to time; and they are very diligent. You can
watch them doing their little sucking routine, day in, day out, all
over the tank, keeping it free of that stuff you'd grown to loathe,
even fear. In short, doing your job for you, for free, making a better
job of it into the bargain and (unsettlingly) providing you with an
excellent role model for how you should approach your own work... They
have beady eyes, though. Eyes that could lead the more paranoid among
us to suspect that they might have a hidden agenda.
And it turns out that they do: they grow. And grow. And grow.
Unfortunately, they're not alone in this: the other fish in the tank
(Bumble, Bramble, Ba-ba-ba, Blackfish-bobbly-eyes and Osama) were
growing, too, and resolutely refusing to proffer their lifeless bodies,
floating, belly up, even in the cause of national security. It was
getting to a point where there was hardly any room for water in the
tank (that's an exaggeration, of course, but, you know...). I even felt
compelled to remove my porcelain SpongeBob figurines to give the fish
more room. Over time, however, the more absurd fish in the tank seemed
to reach a compromise between their instinctive urge to bloat and the
physical constraints of their environment.
This was when the devious Sucky put his sickening plan into action: he
kept growing. Not only that - he became less diligent. And more ornery.
His policy shifted and he adopted a very simple, two-point strategy:
skulk; get bigger. Which is to say that he had taken me as *his* role
Clearly, my time to leap into action had come. I could get a bigger
tank - yeah. Maybe I haven't made it clear, so I'll spell it out:
caring for these bloated, absurd creatures that yell at me for food
every time I pass them (they do! They yell! Insofar as it's possible
for fish to do so...) is not a huge priority for me. I'm not going to
indulge them by rewarding their bloatedness with a bigger tank, and
with it an opportunity to resume their pursuit of perfection
(spherical, frilly). No. Somebody had to go, and since it was Sucky who
was most flagrantly flouting the unwritten law of equilibrium, and
slacking on the job, to boot, he was it.
(I should add: Yes, I am bloated, and my cat, Larry, is bloated. Your
I'm not totally without scruples, though. I had a plan: try the humane
approach and, *only if that failed*, try the toilet. So I went to the
pet store to buy a more modestly-sized replacement pleco. I explained
to the guy there that I had this enormous, 7-inch leviathan in my
little 10-gallon tank and asked, would they take it? Free? They could
sell it on, I didn't want a penny. The reply: "I'm sorry, sir, we can't
do that." I played my trump card: "So it's the toilet, then?" I was
shocked at the callous indifference of his response: "I guess so."
That was only the beginning. He then went on to tell me that plecos,
these quirky little creatures they chirpily sell for $5 as a panacea
for all your algae-related woes, can grow UPTO FOUR FEET LONG!!! Well,
maybe they could've mentioned that when I shelled out my five bucks.
But no, it was "Oh, you need a pleco" (smile, point), not "Oh, you need
one of these apparently cute little guys, but watch out, because in a
matter of months it'll transform into a four foot long, sucking monster
that'll crawl out of the tank and terrorize your family, devouring your
children and pets and enslaving you to it for the rest of your life (if
it doesn't suck the breath out of you as you sleep first)".
My course was clear. I shelled out another $5 for a cute, small pleco,
and then went home to deal with The Monster. It wasn't easy - to catch
him, I mean. Water was splashed, bloated, frilly creatures sent into a
state of panic (or their sedate approximation of it, at least).
Finally, when I had him in the net, I hesitated, just for a moment: in
his hugeness, should I flush him or filet him and fry him up for a
good-sized lunch (invite some friends round, too)?
The toilet it was, and now Sucky lives in the septic tank, out of
sight, out of mind, while his tiny successor, Mini-Me Sucky, works
diligently in his place, restoring the equilibrium in the little tank
and once more setting a good example to me as to how I should approach
my work. The bloateds seem much happier - I think Sucky was terrorizing
them behind my back. Hell, he was terrorizing me to my face!
My one lingering doubt: some day, in a few months, maybe a few years
time, as I'm sitting there, casually flipping through the pages of
National Geographic, Sucky, having attained his full, monstrous size,
will rear up out of the pan and suck my balls off.

Posted by dettifoss at 12:51 PM