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Friday, October 31th, 2003

Sunny and seventy five degrees on Halloween.
Now that's what I'm talking about!

At least a third of the leaves are still on the trees, mirroring colors into the Monongahela. It has been a spectacular day here in the city.
Alas, I've spent almost all of my day squinting my eyes to read through the bright golden autumn sunlight that is reflecting onto my computer's monitor. By the time I get outside it will be dark.
Well, it is a notch above being a prisoner I suppose.

The earth has been pummeled with powerful solar winds this week. The sun's charged particles have hurtled millions of miles across space and bounced off of our magnetosphere in a wondrous display of colors.

Solar Storm

This display is the aurora borealis, or northern lights, and last night the sun storm was so powerful that I was able to see red and green streaks in the sky.

Solar Storm graphic

I wish I could have photographed it, but by the time that I'd set up my camera, I would have missed most of it.

Aurora Borealis

I grabbed the picture of the aurora borealis as seen in Alaska (above) from an online news service. It is about seventy-five percent brighter but otherwise offers a rough approximation of what I saw from my own balcony last night.

Thursday, October 30th, 2003

Early this morning I had to attend a conference on a quality control process called, 'Six Sigma' at a local Radisson hotel.

As my colleague and I drove to the meeting we passed a sign that read in fifteen foot tall letters, 'Starving'.
In an instant the word, 'starving' conjured up images of emaciated children struggling to stay alive.
As I read the rest of the sign in the next moment I saw that the billboard was advertising 'The Outback Steakhouse', and invited motorist to pull over at the next turn for some food.
The nearly instantaneous juxtaposition of the concepts of starving and restaurant marketing gave me an intense feeling of being extremely fortunate and privileged.

During the meeting of business people discussing the quality control process, a suited executive advocated the system because it reduced creativity in workers.
Just what we need, less creativity.

The meeting wasn't a waste though because I did enjoy encountering some new bathroom technology at the Radisson. As I was washing up in a restroom, I was surprised by a motorized whirring next to me. I looked over and saw that the paper towel dispenser had a motion detector on it and had dispensed a neat serving of recycled brown paper for my drying pleasure.

And so the surreal life continues...

Tuesday, October 28th, 2003

The Blue Man Group, 'The Complex' tour revisited Pittsburgh last night.

I've seen (and loved) the Blue Man show at Las Vegas' Luxor on two occasions. However, I've been watching the budget and I opted out of 'The Complex' tour when they visited Pittsburgh's Star Lake theater this summer.

Later I heard from friends who attended that the show was very enjoyable, and worth the money; so when the tour returned on its second leg I chose to splurge and buy tickets.

Now, I suppose that by many people's standards I'm something of a crank when it comes to concerts (and shows in general, including movies.) I have a hard time relaxing given the inconvenience and masses of rude people that one normally is forced to contend.

My ill-humor started well before the concert with Ticketmaster: the monopolistic institution that charges its customers $7.50 PER TICKET 'convenience fees' for the privilege of using their service. This fee is in addition to the percentage of the ticket sale that they take.
Since I ordered the tickets online, Tickemaster automatically subscribed me to a mailing list that doesn't let users opt out. (Fortunately I'd set up an email alias just for them, and turned it off once I received my emailed receipt.)

Arriving at the show we stood in a very long line that wound part way around the A.J. Palumbo Center. By the time we entered the building the lights were off, and no ushers were to be found; so squinting in the dark and crushed by the crowd, we struggled to find our seats.

Finally we found our row and three of us barely squeezed onto the bleacher styled benches. Worse yet, we were expecting a fourth person.
We checked and double checked our seat numbers and asked those around us to squeeze down and make room. When our last person arrived she was unable to sit on the bench so she found an usher for help.
When the burley usher finally arrived he started checking the tickets and discovered that the schmucks next to us were in the wrong seats, and that their seats were in the back.
Normally I would be charitable about such mistakes but I heard one of the seat stealing cretins exclaim, 'Well, it was worth a try.'
That's right. These bastards watched us struggle to squeeze onto the bench, inconveniencing those around them, but kept their dumb asses in seats that they knew weren't theirs.

Finally together and seated we were able to partake of the neck and back pain created from the backless, cushion-less, bleachers with their ten inches of leg room. By the end of the show people were limping away out of the venue.

The corporate, monopolistic theme was continued when the intercom announced that the show was sponsored by the evil, censoring Clear Channel.
I booed them heartily. That'll teach 'em.

During the show a self centered, and dull witted woman sitting in front of us kept talking during the entire performance.
Now, silly me, when I pay for a show, I want to see and hear the show. I do not want to hear the insipid, idle chatter of show goers from the shallow end of the gene pool.
Cantankerous of me, isnt'it?
I may need to move to Japan where I understand crowds actually behave politely when attending a show.

But all of these irritations aside, I really enjoyed the performance.

I'd been afraid that the show's style would be seriously compromised by a tour since the Blue Man Group is about visuals at least as much as music. I was very surprised to see what a wonderful job they did bringing their unique atmosphere with them on the road.

Although I loved their first album, 'Audio', I wasn't such a fan of the new album.
But I grew to appreciate the new music after hearing it in concert where I was able to get a better sense of the context.

Many people have debated whether 'The Blue Man Group' are true avant-garde performance artist or thoughtless pop.

I have to say that I agree with the former view, and this tour and album reiterated the that thought.

Much can be said about the commercial nature of the Blue Man Group. The group's three original three members have done Intel and other TV commercials, and in fact outsource their shows to other performers in the cities where they play.

But I grant them the title of artist because the nature of their performance is about commercialism, and humanity in a technological age. They are very self aware, and use their deprecating humor on themselves and their audience. We expect our performers to relate to us as if we were personal friends, and we imagine that artist are not concerned with money. 'The Complex' show challenges these ideas, and others with satire. Hokey as it may sound, their commercialism is part of their art, popular or otherwise.

Besides the humor the show had a subtler depth with the haunting requiem for September 11th in the song, 'Exhibit 13'. The surreal nature of the performance lent itself to the haunting memory of that now infamous date.

Hassles or not, the money was well spend, and I'd gladly go see The Blue Man Group again.

Friday, October 24th, 2003

My waistline has continued to grow. But last night I avoided the couch long enough to actually exercise for about 25 minutes.
I'm not saying that I'm turning over a new leaf, but perhaps Newton's laws work for human initiative as well: objects at rest tend to stay at rest, objects in motion tend to stay in motion. I just need inertia.

I find myself a bit obsessed by the weather. This week we felt the real autumn: people are wearing gloves, and are walking stooped with quick gaits.

Every morning it is darker and darker and I find it harder and harder to pull myself from bed. Even with the clocks being adjusted this weekend, I know that when winter arrives it will be like wrenching myself from a grave.
In a month, the mornings will find me as walking undead, with all of the good cheer of a zombie. Hissing and growling I'll raise my squinted eyes to the bleak, dark skies, and I will curse the wretched winter.

Current Pet Peeves:

  • Offer someone gum, or a mint; they take it and don't thank you.
    I'm not talking about an occasional oversights, I'm talking consistent bad manners.

  • There seems to be a growing trend among customer service people not to acknowledge a person when you say, 'hello' to them. They fix you with a blank stare until your order your cheeseburger and coke.
    I don't understand that, I'd think they'd really appreciate being treated with some dignity, and not like automations.

  • I've tried arranging some get together with people lately, and I usually send out emails with RSVP in the title. I'm almost always disappointed by the large number of people who don't bother to respond.
    I am by no means a master of etiquette, but if I'm invited someplace, I usually try to acknowledge the invitation even if I can't attend. I allow that some people don't check email regularly, but I try to send my invitations out at least a week before an event. And I'm not so intractable as to not forgive the occasional oversight, but not responding seems to be a regular habit for a lot of people.

    Ah well. In the grand scheme of things I don't suppose that these are important considerations (unless they are tiny indicators of a growing decline in civility). I'm just giving myself unnecessary anxiety, so I had to vent: pssssss - the steam is released, fists unclench, doves flutter before my eyes. The weekend is at hand.

  • Thursday, October 16th, 2003

    Many people wonder why having prayer in school, and religious iconography in government institutions (in direct contradiction to our Constitution) is such a big deal. Scoffing to the objections, they wave their hand as if shooing a fly. To that point, I present a shining example of what happens when we mix church and state.

    From TheDeverChannel.com:

    Anti-Gay Minister Wants Monument Celebrating Gay's Death
    Fred Phelps Calls Casper, Wyo. 'Evil'

    POSTED: 1:40 p.m. MDT October 3, 2003
    UPDATED: 1:54 p.m. MDT October 3, 2003

    CASPER, Wyo. -- A controversial anti-gay preacher from Kansas wants to erect a monument in a city park celebrating the death of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard five years ago.

    The Rev. Fred Phelps has led protests in Casper and Laramie (pictured, left) on the anniversary of Shepard's death since 1998, when Shepard was lured out of a Laramie bar by two men, kidnapped and beaten into a coma.

    Shepard, 21, died at a Fort Collins, Colo., hospital five days later. Police have said he was targeted in part because he was gay. His attackers were later convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

    In a letter sent to Casper officials Thursday, Phelps said he wanted to erect a stone monument in City Park with a bronze plaque bearing Shepard's face and an inscription reading "Matthew Shepard, Entered Hell October 12, 1998, in Defiance of God's Warning: 'Thou shalt not lie with mankind as womankind; it is an abomination.' Leviticus 18:22."

    Phelps said he wants the monument in Casper because it is Shepard's hometown, where he learned it is "OK to be gay."

    "(Shepard) was not a hero," Phelps said. "This is a great monster sin against God. It is not an innocent alternative lifestyle. And all that has come down in that one little evil town called Casper, Wyo. And we can't ignore that."

    Phelps has proposed putting the monument in a part of City Park that Casper officials are considering selling to avoid removal of a Ten Commandments monument that has drawn fire from another religious group.

    The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation has threatened legal action if the city does not remove the Ten Commandments monument.

    Earlier this week, the City Council decided to explore selling the park land rather than removing the monument despite opposition from some councilors, who fear it will draw interest from people like Phelps.

    "I think (the Ten Commandments monument) should be there, but I am voting to remove it if it has to be for this very reason, for the prevention of people like Phelps," Councilor Renee Burgess said.

    Others said they would not be persuaded by hate to remove the Ten Commandments monument, which has sat in the park since the 1960s.

    "I think the hate language will find a very cold reception in this community," Councilor Paul Bertoglio said. "I think this community's backbone is going to come up and say 'We are not going to accept it."'

    Phelps said he was exploring alternate sites if the Ten Commandments monument was removed.

    "There may be nearby private property that we could buy," he said. "I mean we have to see what turn this takes and how it develops."

    Phelps is a disbarred lawyer and the minister of a small church in Topeka, Kan. The congregation is made up mostly of his 13 children, 45 grandchildren, and relatives, according to reports. Eleven of the children have law degrees. Phelps and a handful of supporters also picketed at the funerals of Barry Goldwater, Sonny Bono, and Bill Clinton's mother.

    Tuesday, October 7th, 2003

    We are already a couple of weeks into Fall. The season started unseasonably cool (ten to twenty degrees below average), but this week is sizing up to be very pleasant. Temperatures are predicted to be in the seventies. Today the sky is crystal blue, with naught a cloud in sight. Although the evening critters have stopped their raucous singing and chirping, the leaves are still green and bare only a hint of the fiery yellows and reds beneath.

    If Autumn would only stay like this... But it won't. And it is a doleful season because we know the ending is worse than the beginning.
    Although every year I become more and more of a summer person, I'm trying to concentrate on the crisp charms of fall: pumpkins, dry rustling leaves, dramatic skies, fables of ghosts and goblins.

    October: bitter and sweet.


    Monday, October 6th, 2003

    I've recently heard from a friend in New York that an acquaintance of his believes in all manner of supernatural and pseudo-science bunk. This credulous individual has most recently purchased a 'ghost detector'.

    eBay 'Ghost detector'
    'Ghost detectors' are readily found on eBay. This particular model (shown above) has a starting bid of $25.00. I'm sure that it is well worth the money because according to the description, the device is also, "Perfect for Feng Shui". (Cough, cough.)

    Most commonly these 'ghost detectors' are nothing more than e.m.f. (electric magnetic fields) detectors.

    Every modern electrical convenience, from microwave ovens to cell phones to computer monitors, generates such low-frequency electric fields. Electric, magnetic fields are not only real, they are ubiquitous, although e.m.f. is all too often used as a nonsensical buzzword by the pseudo-science and supernatural crowd. (Quantum mechanics is another VERY popular, and oft abused science purloined by the credo-philes.)

    The ghost detector advocates make the illogical leap to assume that e.m.f. has something to do with ghosts, and yet they provide no evidence of causation. One could just as easily state that a smoke detector is attuned to the undead among us, and then use it to 'prove' that spirits must be fond of smoky bars.

    "Listen! It's squealing again! Uncle Frank? Is that you?"

    "Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate" .
    ("Plurality should not be posited without necessity.")
    (i.e. 'Occam's razor')
    - William of Ockham, Quodlibeta

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