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I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.

                     T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

30 December 2006

Scared? Get a dog.
John Grogan is a guy who knows a little bit about dogs. His fascinating column in Friday's Philadelphia Inquirer ought to be mandatory reading for all the folks who think the way to make the world safer is for everybody to pack heat:

When the kidnapper slipped into 8-year-old Laura Staples' bedroom on that Sunday night in 1998, he failed to consider one important point.

The Stapleses' Hatboro home was armed with a powerful secret weapon hardwired to prevent just such a crime. A weapon at once potentially deadly but guaranteed to never accidentally harm a family member.

The weapon was not a handgun or assault rifle or howitzer. It didn't answer to the name of Glock or Colt or Ruger.

It answered to the name of Rocky. And it was 120 pounds of finely tuned, rippling-muscled Rhodesian ridgeback dog.

It's the sort of story that ought to make the firearms fanciers think a bit. Unfortunately, past experience indicates that it will instead just make them mad. A lot.

[posted by Jack Curtin 2:26 pm edt




24 December 2006

Christmas Eve reading list.
Two pieces in the morning papers caught my eye and I commend them to you, assuming you're not one of the poor souls out there running around desperately at the last minute looking for gifts. In another life (one of a series, collect 'em all), I owned a small bookstore and I can tell, by late afternoon Christmas Eve, customers will buy Anything. It's sad. Profitable, but sad.

Anyway...

Frank Rich's column in this morning's New York Times (the link takes you to a site which breaks through that silly NYT firewall, just scroll down to the second item), turns Time Magazine's silly "Person of the Year" award for 2006 on its ear and suggests they made "made the right choice, albeit for the wrong reasons". Yes, it's a little bit political and I have moved that segment of my online commentary over here as promised, but I commend it to you for its larger point, how we citizens of the digital democracy are perhaps using the internet the way an earlier generation used drugs--as an "escape hatch" from a world we don't like much. I guess one opiate is as good as another, although I do miss the mindless sex part (the real stuff, not the kind you look at).

A more serious take on an equally vexing problem can be found in Stephen A. Smith's column in this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer, wherein he writes about the fiasco that has been the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case, mostly due to the efforts of a prosecutor who is either inept, politically motivated or just a little bit nuts, or maybe all three. Smith suggests that the black community (of which he is a part, let's note up front) needs to take a lesson from what happened here and to be careful which battles its "leaders" attempt to fight. It's a touchy subject but Smith, who can admittedly go over the top now and again, seems to me to be right on target this time.

[posted by Jack Curtin 11:00 am edt




17 December 2006

An honored citizen of the "new digital democracy."
Okay, we all knew it had to happen, right? I have just officially been chosen as Time's Man of the Year for 2006.

Then again, so has just about everybody else:

The annual honor for 2006 went to each and every one of us, as Time cited the shift from institutions to individuals -- citizens of the new digital democracy, as the magazine put it. The winners this year were anyone using or creating content online.
I am so humbled. But I do have to say, it's about...er...time.

Living what I preach.
Yesterday I noted that I am a fan of the short-short story. Here's living (or electronic) proof, a story just uploaded here at the site. Finis was an attempt to be innovative and do three, count 'em three, stories within a prescribed 500-word limit, The version this links to is five words over that limit, which may make all the difference, Or not. [UPDATE: Given the anal retentive nature I'm developing in my declining years, I've just now gone back and reworked the third story in the set to a) get the whole back to exactly 500 words and b) change a couple phrases and words I have never been completely satisfied with.]

In any case, The judges were apparently unimpressed with the original. So it goes.

[posted by Jack Curtin 8:00 am edt; UPDATED 12:10 pm edt]




16 December 2006

"A kind of passing."
I was all over the sale of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News several months back, buying in to the new owners' promises and enthusiasm, despite some concern about the background and political partisanship of lead guy Brian Tierney.

Now, not so much.

Negotiations for a new labor contract, to be voted on Monday and not at all certain to pass, seem to have revealed something less than a real dedication to making the papers both viable and important and suggest, to me at least, that ownership is coming to realize that they may have overpaid.

Philadelphia Weekly has the story of the night the Newspaper Guild presented the contract to the small portion of the membership who cared to attend in a meeting this week.

What I read.
I finally got around to reading a book that's on just about every "Best of the Year" list for 2006, despite having purchased it months ago, Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir Fun Home.

At least one graphic work, fiction or non-fiction, is almost de rigueur these days on "Best" lists, given the emergence (finally) of comics art as a medium which can, and often does, rise above mere pop culture status, and it would be easy to think that Fun Home is just the current "fill the slot" flavor of the year. Not so, not at all.

Subtitled "A Family Tragicomic," this is a marvelous and moving story of growing up in a family in which the father was a closeted homosexual often involved with young males and how that secret came out at just the time the author herself was coming to grips with her own homosexuality. It is a tale in which the prose is as powerful as the art and where the two in combination create an unforgettable piece of autobiographical literature.

This past week I also found "Very Short Stories", a collection of "6-word science fiction stories" by 33 writers in the pages of Wired Magazine, a subscription to which I took as one of my bonuses for renewing my online membership at Salon. The link above takes you to all those, plus others which don't appear in the print edition.

I've become fascinated with very short, or "Flash," fiction in recent years, participating in, with varying degrees of success, various competitions which call for stories of not much longer that 1,000 words and often less. Much less, as these stories indicate. They are the shortest I have come across and, I'd guess, about as minimalist as things can go.

You can read them all and pick out a favorite. For what's worth, I thought the entry by Alan Moore was absolutely brilliant.

But then, what else is new?

Standoff a TV standout.
One of the surprises successes of this TV season marked by dreadful disappointments and rapid cancellations, and (equally surprising to me) one of my favorite new shows, is the Fox-TV drama Standoff, the story of two FBI crisis negotiators played by Ron Livingston (Matt Flannery) and Rosemarie DeWitt (Emily Lehman).

As described before its debut--the story of two professionals who become romantically involved, which is against policy, but somehow keep their jobs and make it work--Standoff seemed to offer little promise, especially with a premise which seemed sure to go stale rather quickly. How many hostage negotiations in a row could even the best writers make interesting?

Every one so far, as it turns out. The program has been remarkably inventive, with each situation strikingly different from the last, and each with a special twist. This past week, as an example, they reversed the standard situation, with the two stars trapped in a shack in Mexico, surrounded by a drug gang intent on killing them and the two rouge DEA agents they'd followed across the border to capture a fleeing suspect whom they now had to use as a hostage to save their skins.

The two leads are as appealing as the stories are captivating, especially Ms. DeWitt who, as a piece on Salon recently noted, is quite attractive but not in the usual Hollywood style. She looks "real" rather than merely beautiful. Livingston is not your standard leading man type either, but I'm not the best to judge that.

Add this show to Prison Break (which I found only so-so last year but which got my attention with a shocking and unexpected ending to its season opener this year) and Bones (in which David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel play another offbeat heroic duo; she's just plain fascinating and he is on track to emerge as one of our best comedic action stars), along with the cult-favorite 24 (another show with an early premise that seemed unlikely to hold up, but oh how it has), and I might even find myself forgiving Fox for its appalling news division.

I said "almost."

[posted by Jack Curtin 9:52 am edt]




10 December 2006

All hail Computer Dan.
This will be, promise, my next-to-last comment on my recent computer woes. It would be the final one, but I want to devote a bit of time and space to my new bestest pal, Computer Dan, and I need to talk with him about it. It would be really unfair to call him on a Sunday, given all the time and effort he's already devoted to my needs of late.

Here's what the man did for me, delivering my repaired and upgraded system on Thursday evening:

Installed a new power supply;

Recovered and repaired the Windows operating system, including updates to the latest service pack;

Recovered, except for a small glitch here and there (and anything "missing," it seems is on the drive somewhere, just not where I expect it to be, all my hard drive data;

Replaced my old 80 gig hard drive with a new 120 gig one, onto which he cloned the old drive;

Externally Power Defragged the entire drive;

Replaced all interior 40-pin cables with new 80-pin cables;

Repartitioned the new hard drive to take advantage of the increased space and give me a lot more working room;

Replaced my failed CDR Drive with a new, better one (now all I have to do is find software to make it work, as my old, really old, software can't seem to figure it out);

Blew out (at my request) the memory hogging and increasingly annoying Norton AntiVirus software and installed the incredible Avast! 4 in its stead.

The only issue he couldn't solve entirely is that my rather ancient motherboard doesn't work correctly with newer power sources. That means that it doesn't actually start up the first time I press the Start Button; I have to reach around and turn the computer off with the switch on the rear panel, then hit Start again and all is well.

This situation has been the case for a couple of years now (although it sometimes took several tries), starting when the original power supply died and MicroCenter put it a new one. Neither they nor (certainly not) I ever figured out it was a motherboard issue and I learned to live with it. Still can, a lot more happily now.

It would probably be a bad idea to tell you what he charged me for all this, so I'll just say that pretty much any one of the things on that list above, surely two or more of them, would have cost me at least as much if I'd taken this to almost anyone else.

Back soon, and back onto other topics, except for that Computer Dan promo piece. Right now, I'm starting to design the laptop I plan to have him build for me in early 2007.

[posted by Jack Curtin 11:35 am edt]




2 December 2006

The end is in sight.
It's unfortunate that this relaunched version of Mermaids has been, for the most part, a report on my computer problems, but if this time around the page is supposed to be about my life, then that's definitely a function of carrying out the mission.

Dare I say...oh, why not?

Mission Complete.

Okay, not quite done yet, but the (I'm still hopin' & prayin' here, 'cause I ain't actually seen nuttin' yet) amazing Computer Danny called Thursday to say he'd been up all night working on it and, wonder of wonders, had restored my files and data and rebuilt portions of my computer. "A few hours ago I was gonna call you and say it couldn't be done," he admitted, "but then I had an idea. To tell you the truth, I don't think there's anybody else who could have done what I've done."

Okay, modest he ain't. Good we sure hope he is. And did I mention incredibly affordable?

The oddest thing about the many problems Danny found was that I was running, at the time of the crash, the original Windows 2000, a program more than six years out of date. All the service packs and updates I uploaded over the years weren't there. How that happened, best I can figure, is that I was regularly using the "last good configuration" option to boot up in recent months because the system wouldn't react to a normal boot-up. Each time, I apparently moved back to an earlier configuration until I was way back where I started from and, unable to deal with everything that now existed, the registry finally gave up and went nuts, shutting me down.

I don't know if that makes any sense but, then again, it's about the only explanation there is. You know the old saw: when you've eliminated everything else, what remains is the answer.

Other issues included the use of 40-pin instead of the called-for 80-pin cables within the computer,a read/write CD-Rom drive gone bad and the stress and strain that I'd put on a hard drive that is, according to its serial number, about eight years old. I should note for newcomers that my son built the original machine for me using parts from a lot of sources so these oddities are not evidence of some rip-off by a computer manufacturer.

Given that last bit of information, I authorized Danny to clone my current main drive onto a new, larger one in addition to replacing the cables (which he'd already done, at no cost) and adding a new CD-Rom drive. I should have the machine, working like it should, back Monday or Tuesday. That will definitely be my most prized gift of the holidays.


Archived.
The complete November 2006 postings (such as they were) have been archived here.

[posted by Jack Curtin 9:25 am edt]

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