Tuesday, December 28, 2010

In Tennesee, Headed Toward North Carolina

Frequently pictures taken from a moving vehicle don't turn out very well, but I thought this one taken by our very own Patti Anne was interesting.  This picture was taken on the afternoon of  Dec 23rd, on our return from Kentucky.  It's on I-26, and by the looks of the sky I'd say it's in Tennessee, somewhere past Erwin, but not quite in North Carolina yet.  The area between Erwin, TN & Asheville, NC is an area of not very much other than an interstate highway cutting through the mountains.  It's quite scenic.  By the time we were past Asheville the clouds were completely gone, and it turned into a bright sunny day.  The calm before the storm.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Pre-Christmas Kentucky Trip

Merry Christmas, everybody!

We took a quick pre-Christmas trip to Kentucky to see the folks. 

I took this picture from my brother's property.  My father lives in the house in the lower right corner.  My brother & father essentially share a drive way, and it is quite steep.

The small house just to the left is where my Grandparents spent their final years, after they sold their place on Montgomery Creek to one of their sons.  The house is currently owned by an uncle who has spent the last couple of years in a nursing home, so it has been unoccupied for awhile. 

A little further down the road & you can't quite see it because of the trees, my aunt has a large house.  She is elderly and someone stays with her all the time now.  I visited her while I was there, and she seems pretty weak, so I'm kind of worried  about her.  A first cousin & her family lives right next door, in a house my aunt & uncle used to live in before they built the "new" house. 

Across the small valley is what used to be the main road through Knott County - it runs along Troublesome Creek.  Around the curve of that road is Hindman Elementary school, where I went to first & second grade. Up on the hill across the road is a cemetery where my grandparents and some other relatives are buried.  Less than a mile down the road is the cemetery where my mother is buried.

I guess it's home.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Avoiding Sleep Rhyme Time

I thought up these little rhymes last night, while trying to avoid going to sleep. 

1.  I wish

I wish
I were a fish.
I'd swim around
Without a sound.

2. If I were a fish

If I were a fish
I'd bet I'd be a sturgeon,
I'd swim here and there
and make things right,
I'd be a sturgeon surgeon.

3. Old Squirrel

I saw a thin and sickly squirrel
Limp across our field.
I surely thought he'll soon be dead
of age, or perhaps killed.

For neighbor cats troll this field
to look for things to eat.
An old, thin, and sickly squirrel
provides a bit of meat.

It trudged slowly toward a tree,
For him a cruel place,
Thin and weak, painfully tired,
To stare death in the face.


editorial note - I'm just having fun with this, I know it's very doggerel-ish, and I could do much better with the last stanza of the squirrel poem if I put my mind to it. I also know that field and killed don't really rhyme, but I'm from Kentucky & living in North Carolina, so you have to make allowances for accents and stuff.  It's been pointed out to me that words like ten and tin, pen and pin etc are actually pronounced differently.  I can't prove that, but that's what other people have told me.  On the other hand, I easily hear the difference between "right" and "rat", but apparently sometimes when I say it people from up north have trouble figuring it out.  But I'd never try to rhyme those two words. 

Enough of this, time to get to work.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

An Examination of a Bad Joke

Introduction

This is an examination of a bad joke.  I know it's a bad joke because I thought it up not too long ago, and I've never thought up a good joke in my life.

The Joke

Q:  If E.T. were very religious and landed in Italy, what might he do?
A:  Phone Rome.

Cultural Background Required

In order to grasp the intricacies of this joke, you need to have certain levels of knowledge.

First, you need to be able to at least read and understand English, and an ability to speak it would be even better.  If you're reading this, chances are you meet that requirement. 

Second, you need to know who E.T. was.  This of course was a movie about an extra-terrestrial (an alien from outer space), who found himself marooned on Earth for awhile.  He was a gentle sort and it was a nice movie.  It would help immensely if you've seen the movie, but that is not absolutely required.

Third, you need to understand Western cultural traditions enough to know that a very religious alien who found himself in Italy would probably try to contact the highest echelons of the Roman Catholic church.  Those people reside in the Vatican, in Rome.

Fourth, you'd have to know that after the movie, in North America at least, all kinds of bumper stickers and signs sprang up for awhile with the slogan "E.T. - Phone Home".

Fifth, in English, Rome rhymes with home, thus the punchline, hilarious or not.

Why This Works in English

This works in English precisely because Rome rhymes with home, so an English speaker may find some spark of humor in that, assuming they have the cultural background listed above.  In two other languages I'm somewhat familiar with, German and Russian, it doesn't quite work.   That is because the German word for Rome (Rom), does not rhyme with their word for home (das Haus or zu Hause or something like that).  You run into the same problem in Russian.  In Russian, Rome is Rim (or something similar) and home is "doma", or maybe "glavnaya", probably depending on if you're taking about a physical place or state of mind.  I'm not fluent in either language, so I don't really know.  But in neither language does their word for Rome rhyme with their word for home, so they fail miserably to hark back to North American bumper stickers popular before most people alive today were born. 

In Conclusion

This is not a good joke, but it requires a deceptive amount of knowledge and specific cultural experience to even begin to groan.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Lack of Topicality in this Blog

I'd like to start by saying that I'm pretty sure topicality is a word.  It's one of the many words that I don't use very often.

This little blog churns on with it's occasional posts, almost always blissfully ignoring any current events.  Politics, holidays, scientific discoveries, virtually everything is eligible to be ignored in this blog by yours truly.  It's not something I have to work at, it just seems to come natural. 

It's not that I am unaware.  I know for example, that in parts of Europe and in certain churches, December 6th is an important day.  I know that 69 years ago on December 7th, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor drawing the USA in to WWII, and I know that like most things in history, the events leading up to the attack were more complicated than most school history books will tell you - it was a surprise attack, but it wasn't out of the blue.  I know that 30 years ago on the evening of  December 8th John Lennon was murdered in New York City.  Any of these would have been good topics for a topical blog post.

I am also aware of the current domestic debates concerning extending some tax cuts and extending employment benefits, immigration reform and possibly repealing DADT.  I've followed the wikileaks news, and my first thought on that is that the Army PFC who provided the information will probably spend a good long time - perhaps the rest of his life - in prison, so I hope he thinks it was worth it. (OMG an opinion!)

One of the neat things I know is that a person who calls himself a liberal in the UK is quite different than a person who calls himself a liberal in the USA, and that is certainly worth a paragraph or two, because it's fascinating how two words spelled the same and pronounced the same mean two very different things by people who supposedly speak the same language.  But it's not so strange when I think about it - I've been in England, and I know with a certainty that what they call pudding and what we call pudding are not at all the same things. 

It's perhaps a simplification, but I believe a UK liberal would fit in nicely with the USA Libertarians.  In the USA the libertarian party is somewhat (to put it mildly) right wing, especially when it comes to fiscal priorities, but libertarianism as an overall political philosophy is not necessarily right wing at all.  In fact it can be extremely left wing.

See, I know all this crap.  I been edumacated good, by some of the more mainstream state supported institutions.

Normally I don't write about this stuff.  I was thinking about why that is.  Why don't I dive in and take on the issues of the day? I suppose it's because I just don't want to.  Not a great reason, but the only one I can think of.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Thinking warm thoughts

Our love was like a burning ember
It warmed us as the cold wind blow
We had springtime in December
And grew our roses in the snow.

(Thank you Emmylou Harris & Ricky Skaggs)

It is really, really cold out.  Not only is it cold, but the wind is blowing.  Pickles the dog doesn't seem to care one way or the other, but for the humans in the house, it's an issue.

Where did those warm November days go to?  And when will they return?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The World is Round

I've spent a long time reading 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and I'm nowhere near done.  I blame this on the new glasses I got a little while ago.  I have to wear these things almost all the time, and by evening, when is which I do most of my reading, I just want to take them off.

So I've taken a bit of an unintentional hiatus from reading this book. 

I have no idea how the book will end, but the first part has been interesting.  It may very well land somewhere on my "Kafka" scale, an informal listing of books that are difficult for me to understand.   But maybe not.  My big fear with my "Kafka" scale is that I won't be smart enough to realize I don't understand.

My favorite part of the book so far is when Jose Arcadio Buendia discovered that the world is round.   Every year or so a group of gypsies passed through the very isolated village of Macondo, and basically put on a show, displaying earthly wonders (like ice) and other delights for a fee.  Sr. Buendia was very impressed by and recieved something of an philosphical education from one of the more mystical of these gypsies.  One year he bought some instruments from this gypsy (sorry, I cannot spell his name from memory) and began studying the sky.  After a year or so he came to the independent conclusion, without the aid of an education, books, knowledge of history, or space travel, that the world was round. 

This is humorous because he pretty much reinvented the wheel, putting in a tremendous amount of effort to learn something that had been part of the overall body of common knowledge for centuries.   Christopher Columbus was acting on the theory when he sailed west with the idea of finding a water route to the east, and I'm sure Columbus wasn't the first to conclude that the world was round. 

But it is also fascinating.  If we didn't have the body of knowledge, if we weren't literate, how many of us would realize or even give the shape of the world a second thought.  When you stand on this planet no matter where you are the ground is below your feet and the sky is above your head - it looks flat (and frankly I've always wondered about that, but only because I know the world is round).  To be uneducated and living in the middle of a large land mass and come to any other conclusion is remarkable.  There was something to Jose Arcadio Buendia.

I'm looking forward to finishing this book at some point.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The End of November

The end of another month, and of course this puts me in mind of our eBay sales.  Not so much of the actual sales, but I'm always trying to figure out the why's of it all, and it's not easy.  Although I won't have all the info I need until tomorrow, I have enough info to think about it today, not that it makes a difference.

We mostly sell postcards and antique photos.  The postcards we sell are the standard/chrome and earlier, so from the early 1900's to the 1970s or so.  The antique photos are from the 1860s to 1920s for the most part.  There are always exceptions.  We also sell snapshots, and those may be mid century or later, and we sell Victorian Trade Cards, which date from the 19th century. 

Sales rise and fall from month to month, but over all in 2010, sales have increased since June.   January thru May was at one level, from June on has been at a higher level.

Our sales this month are 20% higher than in October, but about 6% lower than September. (October was a bit slow, for some reason).  Our sales in November were going pretty good until Thanksgiving, then we had very little activity for 3 or 4 days.  It picked right up again Monday - had that period of inactivity not happened, we would have outsold October.  Of course if a toad had wings it's tail wouldn't bump the ground.

I keep a lot of metrics, more than perhaps I should.  And I can run some reports, but I don't really have the means to dig up detailed trends in the world wide postcard and photo collectible market.   We've learned some tricks to (we hope) make our items more visible - paying attention to titles, item specifics and such, and try to provide good pictures and descriptions.

I even know 4 or 5 reasons most people buy postcards - and that's good stuff to know, though there are a million other not so major reasons someone may buy a postcard.   I've learned that some subjects sell better than others, though it's rare that I can look at a card and say with any certainty that it will sell.  Or won't sell for that matter. 

My favorites are the old cards - but I've learned that many people prefer the "newer" cards (newer being 'only' 50 years or so old)

When you get right down to it, I'm surprised we sell so many.  I wish I could get some definite answers as to why.  Or how to sell even more.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Saturday Thoughts.

I have glasses now.  For the first time in my life I'm expected to wear glasses all the time in order to see things clearly.  Without glasses I cannot read.  Also, without glasses things don't start looking completely in focus unless it's a large object way out in the distance somewhere.  The moon would be a good example.  I can see the moon clearly, without glasses.    I've had them since Wednesday, they are no-line "progressive" bifocals, and I'm not used to them yet.  Things are better than yesterday, but I've realized to my horror that I have to look directly at something for it to be in focus.  Most of my life I've had very good vision, it'll take me awhile to get used to this.

Had Thanksgiving dinner at some friends house - they have a big chocolate Lab, still a puppy.  Friendly dog, but even though he's still a puppy, he's somewhat calmer than ol' Pickles.  And that's good, 'cause he's a big dog.  Not that Pickles is small, but he's big.  Pickles gets exercise - she's just a high energy dog.  She could go all day and still want to play afterwards.  She's also a very funny dog, if you pay attention.  Some of her dog humor will go over your head if you dont.

I've been to lots of places in my life, but I've never been to the Fiji Islands.  Or Iowa.  Not sure how I missed Iowa.

I like how movie Fred & movie Ginger always seems to work things out.

North Carolina turned a tad cool-ish yesterday evening & this morning.  It was fairly warm up to then.  Of course, cool and warm are, as always, relative terms.  This is what feels cold to me.  50 degrees and breezy.  Almost all the leaves are off the trees now.  It took 'till almost December for that to happen, but finally it has.  That also makes it seem colder.

Now, my first and only generalized observation about women.  They like to move things around.

I dont know where the saying loose as a goose comes from, and I dont know what it means.

Every what the BBC program Hercules Poirot?  Ever seen him in bed asleep?  Ever try to sleep like that?  It's not comfortable.

Time is made up.  It is not real.  Clocks and calendars do not measure time, they're just a standardized measurement of the earth's rotation around the sun, broken down in to agreed upon units.  From seconds to centuries, it's all made up. Just something so humans can wrap their brains around the fact that things change.  And change also is not time.  Change may be entropy, but it's not time.   I'm not sure time exists. 

I am positive that I'm here, right now though.  What I'm not sure about is if I'm also somewhere else, a different universe so to speak, living out the results of a different life choice. 

Maybe.  Maybe not.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thoughts on a threatening voice mail

I'm very good at not answering the telephone.  I can easily not answer the telephone for months or years - we have caller ID, if it's from a toll free number or if I don't know who it is, I don't answer it.  They can leave a message if they wish.  Of course I can't quite remember how to access the messages, but that's another issue.  I have it written down on a post-it note somewhere.

We've had the phone for about 3 years - I wasn't even sure we needed a land-line phone, but when we bought the house and set up TV and internet, it was part of the package.  It's a good back up.

Pretty much from Day 1, we've received calls from debt collectors.  Back in the begining Patti Anne would answer the phone and talk to them, and they'd always be trying to get in touch with someone we never heard of.  In fact, they'd run down a list of names they had associated with our phone number, none of whom we had any clue about.  So the calls died down for awhile, but now they're coming back.

So one of these people left us a very threatening voice mail.  Although when you think about it, the whole thing shows just how impotent the caller really was.  He never identified himself or his company, he never said what it was he was calling about, and he never said what was going to happen if we didn't respond, and I'm not sure, but I think that might be illegal.  He just seemed very angry that we hadn't returned any of his previous calls (which neither of us were even aware of), and said that if we didnt return his call he was going to take some (unspecified, of course) drastic action.

I thought, why bother telling us?  Take you're unspecified drastic action.  We don't have the need to know. 

I'm not stupid, this was a debt collector trying to collect money from somebody who had given this number, most likely at random, as contact information.  And I'm also not threatened. I know that if he had any real ability to collect money from whoever it is he's trying to collect money from, he wouldn't be calling us.  And if someone really was trying to get money from us, they'd send us registered letters, things we'd have to sign for, with written threats and lawyers' names and pending legal actions and such.  That's a much better threat than an angry voice mail.

I'm really very, very good at not answering telephones.  It's part of my nature.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Eye Exam

So yesterday, our little routine was interrupted by driving all the way to Rutherford College (3 - 4 miles, give or take) to get an eye exam.  I had not had an eye exam in many, many years.  I actually had a prescription for glasses back in the '90's, and I managed to lose them after 2 months or so.  I've been using over the counter reading glasses ever since.  I could probably exist on them a while longer, but my distance vision is not near as sharp as it used to be, so I figured it was time to bite the bullet. 

It had been so long since I had an eye exam, I had forgotten what was involved.  I had forgotten about all the drops, dilations and bright lights, all the look heres, look theres, all the "which one is better" questions, which at some point become hard to answer.  Part of the exam reminded me of A Clockwork Orange (oh me droogs) where Alex's eyes are forcibly held open during his violence aversion therapy while he is in prison. 

It was not fun, and that is an understatement.  But I have a really neat pair of paper sun glasses now, and a new pair of glasses coming next week.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Driving Miss Pickles

This is Pickles the Dog in the front seat of our old truck, keeping a careful eye on my maneuverings.  I took this picture a few days ago, back when the sun was shining.

I bought this truck in November 1994, so this is its 16 year anniversary.  I'm not sure if it has achieved clunker status yet, but it does have a large dent on side, caused some years back by a disagreement in a parking lot apparently.  I never got it fixed, having moved beyond putting a lot money into this particular mode of conveyance.  It is in semi-retired status, rarely being driven further than Morganton, and most times not even that far.

Pickles usually rides with her head out the window, ears flying back, big smile, happy as can be.  But sometimes she sits like this, just watching were we're going, as if she could give directions or advice.  

She's very routine oriented.  We make the trip to the post office everyday, for example, and she'll give me a look if I take a different route back.  Never fails.  She also doesn't like it if I go too fast - apparently it makes her sneeze.  All in all, she seems to like going on rides.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Anybody up for some written French?


You don't see many postcards like this anymore. 

I translate the title as "A Tribute from French Artists and Writers to the United States of America".  I don't speak French though, so I could be wrong.  The whole card is an excerpt of something written by Denys Cochin, who was a deputy of the French Academy (of Sciences, I reckon).

Denys Cochin was a writer & politician, and apparently a defender of the Catholic Church in France, which I found interesting.  I'm no expert in French history, but I thought with the exception of a few violent periods, the Catholic church was a dominant institution in France, especially since the time of Louis XIV.   To me defending the Catholic Church in France would be like defending the Communist Party to Josef Stalin. 

OK - I am NOT equating the Catholic Church with communism or anybody or anything to Josef Stalin.  I'm just wondering what he felt it necessary to defend it from.  Of course, we're talking late 19th & early 20th century here, and there were lots of things going on then in Europe.  I'll put this on my list of things to read up on.

I don't know the exact age of this card, but there's a good chance it is pre-WWI.  And it's for sale.  If you're interested, click on the title.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A word about my previous post

In my previous post I wrote about once again dealing with a "Rogueware" caused by a Trojan Horse of some sort.  I just want to clarify a couple of things.

This seemed to happen while I was dropping on blogs via Entrecard.  I don't know that entrecard or the blog I was dropping on had anything to do with my problems, it's just what I was doing when this happened.  I've had this happen 3 times in the last year or so, and at least 2 of those times I was dropping when the problems first showed themselves.

Resident Shield is a valid part of my AVG, but I don't know that what it was displaying (Trojan Horse Dropper.Generic2) was valid.  That whole situation, frankly, is very confusing to me.

Things seem to still be stable, so that's good.  Basically I booted in safe mode, did a system restore & ran  scans.  I don't know if this actually fixed anything or if it is just masking the problem.  There could be stuff lurking out there that nothing is picking up. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Trojan Horse Dropper.Generic2 - Hopefully fixed

Dealt with a Trojan Horse infection this evening -  this makes the 3rd one in a year or so, and hopefully I've got it fixed.  At the moment - its been all of 30 minutes, things seem stable.  

Here's what happened:
  •  I was dropping on Entrecard. 
  • After a drop my computer locked up & Windows media launched.  At this point I didn't suspect anything, I just didn't want to watch anything on windows media, so I attempted to close it down.
  • After dealing with Windows media, I left the room
  • Came back after 45 mins or so, and saw the the following messages & displays:
Resident Shield Found Trojan Horse Dropper.Generic2.BPJX  (this message displayed twice)  Located in C:\Documents & Settings\Owner\Local Settings\Application Data\syssvc.exe (Object is inaccessible)

  • Also I noted behind the Resident Shield Display (Resident Shield is part of my AVG anti-virus software) was another display, with a name something like Anti-Virus Pro (I think), and a list of stuff detected.
  • There was a balloon a the bottom task bar saying that my computer was infected, and I needed to run a scan - this was from the Anti-Virus Pro (or whatever - for the life of me I can't remember the name and I didn't write it down).
  • When I clicked on the AVG Icon, nothing happened
The Resident Shield Display was valid.  The Anti-Virus Pro was not.  Anti-Virus Pro (or whatever it's name was) is "Rogueware".

What I did:

  • Shut down the computer.  I did this by pressing and holding in the power off button.
  • Booted up computer in Safe Mode
  • Ran a full "Command Line" AVG Scan. 
  • The scan came back clean (which I did not see as a good thing); also there were a lot of system files and such that were "locked" and weren't tested. None of this gave me confidence.
  • Did a system restore to a previous date, several days ago.  It's possible (nay, even probable) that I should have done the sytem restore before the scan.  Anyway.
  • Restarted computer in normal mode
  • AVG Kicked off a scan automatically.  That was a good thing - normally these trojans more or less disable the anti-virus software.
  • AVG finished, detecting some tracking cookies, but no Trojans
  • Updated & Ran MalwareBytes - full scan
  • MalwareBytes detected "Trojan.Agent", located at C:\Documents and Settings\owner\local settings\temp\pdfupd.exe  (I hate pdf's!!!)
  • Quarantined and deleted file
  • Restarted computer
The last scan ended less than an hour ago.  I've been online since and all seems stable, but I'm never confident about this stuff.  I have no idea if anything is really fixed.  Time will tell I suppose.  I don't like this at all.

So, to sum up:  I shut down the computer, did a system restore, ran scans & things seem stable.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Need help with a 19th Century London Address......

I have a question about a 19th century London address - maybe someone can help me with it. 

This is a CDV of a woman, probably from the 1890s, taken by a W. Wright.  His business address is listed as "83 Bishopsgate ST. Without, E.C.   It may be hard to see, but it's down in the lower right corner.

We've done some research and found out quite a bit about the photographer.  We've also come across addresses listed as Bishopsgate Within, EC. 

We're not 100% positive what the Within, Without & EC mean.

This is what we think - if someone could either verify this or set us straight we'd appreciate it. 

We think "EC" refers to East Central London- kind of like an early postal code.  We also think the "Within" and "Without" refers to the street's location in respect to the 1 square mile (give or take) City of London - part of the street is within that area, and part of it isn't.  I believe the good ol' Romans walled that area off centuries ago. 

Are we on the right track or anywhere close? Sometimes finding out something simple like this is like pulling teeth. I'm sure it's extremely well known to anyone familiar with the area, but to us sitting here in Valdese, NC, it can be confusing. If anyone could help us with this we'd appreciate it.

Oh, and this CDV is for sale if you're interested - just click on the title to go to the listing

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Aint that tweet - an observation

I use twitter, and I like tweetdeck, sort of, because I see tweets in real time even if I'm on another application.  I "watched" a couple world series baseball games like that.

Anyway, I set up columns to follow things I'm interested in, and a couple of things I keep coming back to are the #amwriting & #amreading people.  I assume these are writers and readers.  I like doing both, (but I'm only really semi-good at reading) so I follow them as the mood strikes.

My observation so far (completely non-scientific with no attempt at verification) is that the #amwriting people tweet a LOT more than the #amreading people.  I suppose that's reasonable.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Florence & Felix Leger

First I want to apologize in advance to any Leger's living in the in the area - I mean no disrespect, none at all.

One of my frequent dog walks is what I call the cemetery route.  It's up on a hill, it has well defined walking areas, it's peaceful up there and you get beautiful views in every direction.  It's a nice walk.

I pay attention to the headstones and frequently wonder about the lives of the people buried there. One that has repeatedly drawn my attention, and my wondering, has been the marker for Florence and Felix Leger, who both died young, within 7 months of each other. 

First, I assumed they were married.  They share the same last name and the same headstone, Felix is somewhat older than Florence so it fit nicely with preconceived notions and assumptions.  But you wonder what could cause a husband to die just past his 33rd birthday, and a wife to die 7 months later a month shy of her 24th birthday?  My thoughts were accident or disease, not entirely original thoughts, or even hard to think of thoughts.  Anyway, I've been walking up that way for some time now, and I've frequently wondered what happened, but I just let it go.

Well, I mentioned this to Patti Anne and she did some quick research.  Her research turned up some interesting things and some discrepancies, as research often does.  Had we the money and inclination (we probably do have the time, now that I think about it) we could research this much further and maybe find some definitive answers to things, but I believe what Patti found is good enough.

Apparently Florence and Felix were not married - they were brother and sister.  Felix died of kidney disease, and Florence died in what must have been a horrific automobile accident, so their deaths were completely unrelated, just one of those terrible random tragedies that sometimes strike families. 

There are a couple of discrepancies - the headstone list's Felix's birthday as Sept 5, 1907, while other documents lists his birthday as Sept 5, 1908.  Also, the first initial on the tombstone (M. Felix Leger), does not agree with a census entry which lists his name as Wilburn Felix Leger.

So...... a couple of possibilities. 

First, back then all these documents, census entries, birth & death certificates etc, were hand written.  And as I recently found when one of my older relatives died, there is sometimes disagreement among relatives on the actual date of birth, so a year's discrepancy on a headstone is easily explained.  But the first initial I wonder about.  Is it possible for someone to mistake a "W" for an "M"?  Is is possible for someone to write down Wilburn in a census, when perhaps his name was really Milburn?  Sure it is.  Or could someone had made a mistake when carving the name into the marker?  Maybe "W. Felix Leger" was written, but whoever was doing the work read the "W" as an "M".   Maybe the template was turned upside down.

The second possibility is all our assumptions are wrong.  Possible, but I don't think so.

Back in late 1940 & early 1941 this family went through a pretty rough time.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Finished "Life: A User's Manual" by Georges Perec.

I'm not going to review this book because I'm positive I could not do it justice.  And I'd hate to spoil it for the legions people who read this blog (ha!) who may feel inspired to tackle this book.  But I'll write just a bit about it, and it's possible this may turn into a lengthy post. 

This book is about the current and former occupants of an apartment building in Paris, as well as the building itself, located at 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier.

First, physical characteristics of the actual book I read:  it is paperback, measuring 9 1/4 x 6 x 1 3/8 inches - so it's quite a bit larger than your typical mass market paperback.  It weighs 30 ounces - almost 2 pounds.  The "story" part of the book is 500 pages, divided into 6 parts, 99 chapters & an epilogue.   In addition to these 500 pages, there is a table of contents, a preamble, an outline of the apartment building at 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier with notations of current and former residents, an extensive 58 page index of people, places, and other items in the novel, a chronology starting in 1833 and ending in 1975 (the books 'present time'), and an alphabetical checklist of some of the stories narrated in the novel.

This novel is a challenge to my intellectual abilities, and I'm not just talking about the author's use of big words.  The story is not straight forward, in fact the first time I read it I didn't even realize what the story was until near the end.  And the author assumes a the reader has a very high level of cultural knowledge.  Not only of things like history & literature, but also science, medicine, economics, religion, various world wide cultures - from highly advanced civilizations to tribal organizations past and present, languages, the ancient Greeks & Romans, Mathematics, music and on and on.  It seems endless. 

There are a couple of interesting things about this book, and I shall mention them right now.  Puzzles play a large part in the story, particularly Bartlebooths puzzles created from him by Gaspard Winckler.  All told, Bartlebooth commissioned 500 puzzles.  500 puzzles, 500 pages.  From what I know about Georges Perec, that is probably not a co-incidence.  But why?  And the next, and this is really odd, has to do with the chapters.  There are 99 chapters, so they tend to be short, only a few pages a piece.  They are titled with the chapter numbers & a subtitle, followed by a number to indicate how many times this subject has been covered.  So chapter 41 is written as "Forty-One On The Stairs, 6",  Chapter 42 is "Forty-Two, Foulerot, 2" and so on.  All 99 chapters are written in that format except chapter 51.  For some reason it is written as "The Fifty-First Valene, (Servants' Quarters, 9)".  Why is it written "The Fifty-First" and not "Fifty-One"?  This isn't an accident, but I don't know the reason.

There are lots of stories in this book about the current and previous occupants of the apartment building.  The stories are interesting and exhausting at the same time.  One of the stories is a very detailed examination of a map on Bartlebooth's wall.  It is an antique map of the New World, I believe from the very early 16th century, just after it was discovered by Europeans.  The story includes the historiography and scholarly debate about Amerigo Vespucci's role (or lack of) in lending his name to North and South America.  After several pages of this I was wondering what in the heck this story had to do with anything.  Turns out, this was the only officially commissioned map which had a name other than "America" for the new world, and as such was purchased by Bartlebooth's great Uncle James Sherwood, who collected unicum - objects which are the only ones of their kind.  James Sherwood was the ultimate source of Bartlebooth's great wealth.  Suddenly, the whole map story sort of made sense.

It is very tempting to skip over large sections of some of these stories - when the author decides to list the contents of the various cellars, for example, or when he lists 179 subjects & scenes Valene the artist would like to paint.   But my advise is to not skip a word.   There is a fair amount of humor & satire in this book, but it's not going to knock you over with obviousness. You have to recognize it when you see it, and it pops up when you least expect it. 

The book has a story - rest assured.  It's a very strong story and I could tell it to you, but I aint gonna. If you've never read it before you won't know what it is for a long time, but it is there.  It's neither a happy nor sad story.  It's life, I suppose.  The creation theory or big-bang theory aside, life is life.  The world chugged along happily before anybody who is alive now was born, and will not stop when everyone who is alive now is dead. 

This is one of my favorite books, ever.  It just blows away most other books I've read.  It's not easy to read, but it's worth it.  It's entertaining (I especially liked the story about how the Danglar's (a staid & prominent couple who occupied Bartlebooths apartment before Bartlebooth did) found their kink), and it's thought provoking at the same time.  It's actually kind of mind blowing.  When you think about it.

I bought this copy off eBay for just a few dollars.  You can also get it cheaply on Amazon, or if you're lucky you could find it at a thrift shop for a couple of bucks.   It is well worth the investment of time it will take to read it.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Accents

When I was young I didn't realize I had any kind of accent.  I could not hear it in myself or others, even when I was removed from my native Kentucky environment.  When I was 11 years old, I found myself living near Glasgow, Montana, the definition of the middle of nowhere.   It was there that I had perhaps the first inkling that I grew up speaking a different way than most of the people I was surrounded by.  I still could not hear it - the people there sounded normal to me and I thought I sounded normal to them.  Even when we took trips up to Saskatchewan, I couldn't hear any difference in speech.  Maybe I wasn't paying attention, or maybe I was a child. 

Children are like that. 

The inkling about my speech pattern came from 2 sources, one at school and one back home.  I was sitting in a 6th grade math class way up in the frozen tundra of eastern Montana, a class taught by a very strict teacher I didn't like (Mr. Bach - pronounced just like the musician), when I was called on to answer a math question.  I was very quiet & I never volunteered, so he actually called on me.  It just so happened that the answer to the question was "nine".  Mr. Bach made me repeat "nine" 3 or 4 times, because he couldn't believe what he was hearing.  And you know how kids in a classroom are, they start to giggle and stuff.  I remember I finally spelled "n-i-n-e" which just made things worse.  I didn't realize that he understood me perfectly well, he just thought the way I was saying it was odd.

Anybody familiar with North American English knows that most native speakers born & raised south of the Ohio River tend to elongate and flatten out words with a long "I".  It's like a marker, and if you're losing a southern accent without realizing it, that is apparently one of the last things to go.  Apparently in Montana that kind of speech was a novelty.

A little later, when we had gone back home for a short visit, an aunt told me my accent was changing.  I'm sure it was, but I didn't have a clue.

From that point on, I felt like I was in a speech pattern no mans land, though I still wasn't particularly conscious of my way of speaking.  In the South people thought I came from the North, in the North they thought I came from the South.  When I was 16 or so and my father had been transferred to Germany, I remember asking one of my friends one day where he thought I came from.  Without hesitation, he said Tennessee.  That was actually pretty close, the speech patterns in the area of Kentucky I come from are extremely similar to the patterns in eastern Tennessee (or Western Virginia, or western North Carolina). 

At some point I began to be able to hear accents in other people.  When I went back home, the accents were so strong they'd knock me over, and I began to understand what my aunt had meant when she told me my accent was changing.  The people back home hadn't changed, I had.

Here are ways of speaking I never lost, no matter how long I had lived away from Kentucky.  I've always said "you all".  I've always had a great tendency to say "I reckon" instead of "I think" or "I guess so".  It's just so familiar to me.  I elongate and drag out words with a long "I" in them (nine, time, fine, mine, dime, night, fight, delight etc).  I've always had a tendency to place an accent on a first syllable of some words that others might not (IN-surance, UM-brella).  Depending on my level of anitmation (which is generally pretty low) I can easily turn one syllable words into multiple syllable words.  Words as simple as "this" and "that".   There are probably other things going on I don't realize. 

Speech wise, I do not feel out of place living in western North Carolina. People who lived around here all their lives may or may not know I'm from somewhere else, but they certainly won't think that I'm from Pennsylvania or anything like that.    It's not hard to find people around here who are from way north of the Ohio River, and speech wise it's very noticible.

You people from Iowa don't think you have an accent? Guess what - you do.  And it's very strong.  Same to you all in Montana.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Things we did today

The highlight of the day without a doubt was the flu shot.  We went to a Walgreens drugstore in Hudson, right on Rt 321, and we took the scenic route up thru Rhodhiss road.  We got to take all kinds of strange turns in the Alfred Hitchcock like small town of Granite Falls along the way. 

The pharmacy was actually quite busy - not because there were so many people waiting for service, but because there were so few pharmacists.  I wonder about that, people dealing with medicine who are obviously professional, but at the same time VERY busy, quite overwhelmed. 

At any rate, we managed to get a flu shot & it was even covered by our insurance. This year's shot included the "pig flu" shot that was so scarce last year (and which I never did get), so we should not be oinking any time soon.  (I said OINKING, pay attention).  And of course we spent some money on the way out, which I'm sure is one of the reasons they offer flu shots there in the first place.   We were classic flu shot customers.

On the way to get flu shots, we took advantage of early voting in North Carolina, voting at the Connelly Springs Town Hall.   We were approached by a couple of ladies while in the parking lot - and one gave us a sheet telling us all the conservative candidates to vote for.   They may have technically broken the law by approaching us in the parking lot - you have to be a certain distance way from the polling station, and that may have been too close - but they looked like a cross between Aunt Bea and your favorite grandmother, so I doubt the Burke County police will slap them in the hoosegow any time soon, unless Barney Pfife shows up.  They were very nice, and we thanked them, but I'm pretty sure I didn't vote for anyone on their list.

Today we also dealt with installing a new DVR box, which was a lot more difficult than it should have been.  But basically all that had to be done was put the TV input (or is it output) cord on the correct post & pull out and re-seat the smart card.  Took a few minutes to figure that out, especially the smart card.  But now we are back in the 21st century.  We can once again DVR programs, pause live tv and skip the commercials.  Skipping commercials is important.  It's how I get past all the political ads, and in a month or so, it'll keep me from going crazy because of the Christmas ads. The old box suddenly quit working yesterday, and they got the new one to us today - pretty quick.  We have to send the old one back, so that'll be fun to deal with.

The day started with a dog walk, as usual.  We took the long way up to the cemetery, which means I got to walk up lots of hills, but only one way.  Not like in the old days when you had to walk up hills both ways, thanks of course, to modern engineering.  The last few days have been very pleasant, warm days, cool nights, clear skies, and the mountains are quite visible.  The leaves are changing, and things are very beautiful.   I hear it's going to rain though - fine with me, let it rain.  Just means Pickles and I will get wet when we go for our walks.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Just a little motoring

It's a beautiful fall day here in the foothills.  I always wondered why there is both a foothills region and a Piedmont region in North Carolina, since Piedmont is French for foothills, I think.  You see & hear "foothills" everywhere - on the news, names of businesses and so on.  Secretly (or not so secretly), even though they say we're in the foothills, I'm pretty sure we're in the Piedmont.  There are actual mountains to the south, west & north of us (I know they're there, I can see them out the kitchen window), and we're in an area that is anything but flat, but is not in the mountains, which spells Piedmont to me. 

I got off topic before I even got on topic.  Maybe it's the pre-topic.  Think of it as pre-boarding, or pre-ordering, or all those other "pre" things they tell you you're doing before you actually are, hoping you never stop to think that it is impossible to do something before you actually do it.  It's a marketing thing to try to make you think you're special, take my word for it.  OK, that's off topic discussion number 2.  Enough!!!

The real topic:  I went for a ride today in the little red mustang.  I shifted gears with abandon, flew up and down hills (only going airborne a couple of times) careened on two wheels around curves on these narrow, twisty, country Piedmont roads which frequently co-exist within sight (or hearing) of I-40. I laughed maniacally & rudely pointed at all those drivers plodding along on staid, old I-40, driving from here to there in relative safety, speed, comfort & respectability. How boring!  Leaves are starting to change, the air is clear & crisp, the mountains are beautiful and it was good to get out and about & careen around curves.

Hmmm.  So I wrote almost twice as much about things I didn't mean to write about than the thing I did mean to write about.  Interesting.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

One of those days

Today I woke up early, feeling ill, a little stomach bug.   This is the first time since April, and it's not as bad as it was in April.  So, once every 6 months - is that normal? 

I had things I wanted to do today.  There is a church sale and a boy scouts sale going on downtown, and I wanted to check them out.  I'm always on the lookout for books, and of course the ever possible "objects de arte", such as a small horseshoe rocking chair we bought the other day, suitable for sitting out with all our other "objects de arte" on some bricks near our bird bath.  I'll take a picture someday.  But instead I'm sitting around the house taking it easy, on this sunny but crisp autumn day. 

It seems I may actually survive once again.   I need to figure out something to eat that won't make matters worse, because, though I'm not 100% sure, I think I'm hungry.  Symptoms of hunger may be masked by symptoms of mild agony, never can tell.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Photographs of Photos

A major part of an eBay listing is a picture of the item we're selling. 

Like everything else, I have my standards, which, also like everything else, are better than some & worse than others.  We sell mostly old postcards and antique photos, and getting a good quality picture of them to go in our listings is not always easy.  I feel that the picture is vitally important though, maybe the most important part of the listing so I try to do a good job.

So here are my rules for our listings.  The picture should be in focus, with no glare from lights etc., for postcards & photos, both sides should be pictured even if there is no written information on the back side, backgrounds should be minimized, the colors as displayed on MY computer monitor should accurately reflect the colors on the actual item.

In Focus:  this seems like a no brainer, but I buy things off of eBay etc, and I am surprised at out many out of focus pictures there are about, and also how many pictures have a glare from a flash.  This lack of attention to detail does not reflect well on the seller.

Both Sides Pictured:  I take pictures of the front as well as the back, making sure in both cases that all corners and edges are visible.  Lots of times it's the corners & edges that determine if an item is in good, very good or excellent condition. 

Minimize backgrounds:  When I take pictures of my cards & photos, I crop them to the point that you can see the whole thing (including edges) and not much else.  The less background the better.  Personally I like back grounds - I like looking at the little details of someones life that have inadvertently slipped into a listing, but backgrounds are a distraction.  So keep it simple, and as minimalist as possible.

Item colors:  Getting the colors & general look of an item exactly right is unbelievably hard.  The best I can generally hope for is to come as close as possible, and make sure I'm not way off base.  I'm not a professional photographer.  I use a simple light box, and an old 5 MP digital camera bought long before we started in eBay.   I've also become good friends with a simple freeware photo editing tool.   Frequently, what I see in front of me, and what I see on my monitor are two different things.  I edit the photo to try to get what's on my monitor to reflect what I see in front of me.  But even if I'm successful in doing that, what other people see on their monitors may not be exactly what I see on mine.  So I do the best I can, and so far it's been ok.   19th century Cabinet Photos and CDVs can be especially tricky, because even though they fall under the broad term "black and white", they aren't really.  The ones that have survived in good condition have lots of subtle shades of light in them - some of those photographers were very good.  My little camera cannot reproduce all those shades accurately, so I try to coax it out with the photo editor.  And I have to be very careful to not misrepresent the picture in the process.

Generally if I'm thinking of buying something online and the picture is not good - out of focus, glares, doesn't show good detail etc - I move on.  I figure if  I do that, lots of others do too, so I try to take a decent picture.  A picture is the only opportunity a potential buyer has to see an item they are buying online, and as as seller I may be competing with others selling the exact same item.  The better the picture, the better my chances are.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday Afternoon Thinking

Been watching the playoffs off and on between the Rays & Rangers.  Most of what we watch on TV we record with the DVR, then watch it later & flip thru the commercials.  This is live, and I now realize how much I enjoy not watching commercials. 

I helped Patti Anne hang some blinds.  Which is to say I hung the blinds, but it was her idea, she managed the project, bought the material & was the driving force behind it. She created a little template that showed me where to drill the holes - but I'm tall and she's not, so I got the honors of doing the labor.  I've always hated blinds, because it seems like everything has to be exact.  Holes have to be drilled, there's strings, and hooks & things that remind me of wires.  I don't like wires, and strings &  anything you have to pull, and exactness is not my strong point.

Another trip to Lowe's this morning, not to be confused with Lowes.  Lowe's is a large home improvement store, Lowes is a grocery store.  Neither of them sell anything fun.  Except I'm sure Lowes sells various forms of chocolate.

Still reading Life: A User's Manual by Georges Perec.  I've just finished the chapters which detail the contents of the Altamont's & Gratiolet's cellars.  I had no idea there was that much wine in the world.  That takes me up to page 175 or so, with about 400 pages to go.  Slow going, but I'll get there.  Next book will be a tad more linear.

Time to sit on the porch for awhile, listen to some birds.  Another beautiful, warm October day in Valdese.  This warm weather necessitated a rare Saturday grass mowing.  I usually don't mow grass on weekends, mostly because I don't have to, but yesterday was a nice day for mowing and it was time so I just did it.  I expect I'm going to have to mow once more this year, then that'll be it.  It's quite a bit of grass to mow - I use a John Deere riding mower with a 48 inch deck, and it takes 2 hrs or more to get it all done.

I like TweetDeck.  I just create a column and search on #alds & I'm kept pretty much up to date on the game, in Spanish as well as English, with occasional random thoughts thrown in.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Life, 2nd thoughts

On September 30th, I wrote a bit about a book I was getting ready to read, "Life: A User's Manual" by Georges Perec.  I'm well into the first part of the book, and this conjured up some other thoughts on it.

I had mentioned that the book was written in the 3rd person, told by some unnamed entity who knows everything about all the characters in the book.  I forgot to mention, or perhaps I forgot entirely, there is no dialog in the book.  There's mention of one person talking to another, but so far, and I believe for the entire book, there is never any dialog.

It is as if this narrator is describing a photograph.  Frequently there is no one in a room he describes.  If there are people, he describes them as in mid-action, not as going from point A to point B for example.  It's as if there characters are frozen in an instant, like in a candid photo, and the narrator describes the picture.

A lot of time is spent describing the things in whatever apartment the narrator is in at the moment.  Frequently these are mundane things described in detail.   The narrator also seems to have a very deep level of cultural literacy, and assumes the reader has the same.  Well this particular reader (me) has a fair amount of cultural literacy, but there are lots of references in this book I don't have a clue about.

The main thread, the main story is well underway, developing quite nicely, in fact.  I only know that because I've read the book back in 1989 or so.  If I hadn't I wouldn't even know what the main thread was at this point.  I'm sure, back in 1989, I wasn't even aware what the point of the book was at this point.  So I've lost that element of surprise - I won't have that OMG moment I had 20 years ago because I know what's coming, I know who the main character is & what's going on.   But I'm enjoying it just the same.

This is a beautifully written book.  I assume anyway, it was obviously translated from French into English, so  I guess I really wouldn't know.    It has complexities on several levels.  And besides complexities, it has a preamble, an index, a chronology, and an appendix where it references all the stories the narrator tells. 

I enjoy reading it, though I think I'll be at it awhile.  It is a book you have to want to read.  I don't expect I'll ever understand it completely.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Routines

I am not a zealously routine person, but even I have tendencies to do similar things at familiar times during the day.

When you work from home, especially when there is no external motivation to do this work, a bit of routine is necessary.   I have found that we have developed informal routines surrounding our eBay day.   I refuse to make it formal, but most days this is the way it happens.

My eBay day starts with a dog walk.  If ever there was an animal that lives by routine, it is Pickles the Dog.   While I'm gone on this walk, my partner in this eBay experience is frequently involved in what amounts to a bit of eBay housekeeping.  It depends on what needs to be done.

When I get back, I take pictures of the items I'm going to list, edit the pictures (cropping, straightening, making sure everything looks right) & load them into a 3rd party system for photo storage etc.  After I load a picture or a group of pictures, I slide the item (usually a postcard or photo of some sort) across the table to Patti Anne, and she does the initial write up for the item.

After she has all the items I look over the write ups, checking for typos or anything else that could be askew.

When they are all done, I schedule them for listing in eBay.   I schedule auctions to start in the evening (about 9:30 PM eastern), and fixed price items start more or less immediately.    When I have things scheduled, I proclaim our accomplishment on twitter with a link.  Believe it or not, we get hits.

We do this every day, Monday - Friday.

This takes 2 hours or more, depending.  After that is done, we take a break, grab a bite, watch some tv shows we recorded the previous evening and so on.  This lasts anywhere from 30 mins to 2 hours, again, depending on moods and how much we have to ship out etc.

In the afternoon, I package up stuff that has been sold and paid for.   Some days this isn't much, some days (like today) it's a lot - it is a very rare day when there is nothing at all.  This takes anywhere from 30 mins to 2 hours or more.  Today was a bit over 2 hours I think.

When everything is packaged, we all (Pickles the dog included) pile into our old truck (we don't let the dog ride in the new stuff yet) & head down to the post office.

After returning to the post office (and anywhere else we may have gone), I do what I call "getting out the spreadsheet".  I update an excel spreadsheet with totals for all the money that came in, and all the expenses involved. When I'm done I attach it to an email msg and send it to another address - in effect backing it up.  I learned to do this from hard experience.   In addition I make sure all my customers receive a "shipping notice" from me, I squirrel away all the pictures of the items we just shipped, with an eye to deleting them in 60 days or so, and I record item cost & shipping cost, which helps with a little reporting eBay provides for us.   I also keep records of items that sold, the subject, type, auction or fixed etc and so on.  This can take anywhere from 30 mins to over an hour, depending on how much sold.

We do this every day Mon thru Saturday. 

In the evenings, or whenever I take a notion, I'll select items for the next days listings, and do some quick research to get a handle on pricing and what else is out there. 

There are lots of other things that happen - ending, relisting, month-end stuff, sending off state sales tax collected and so on, but the daily routine is pretty straight forward.

It's the routine, I suppose it's important, and the fact that we do it means stuff gets done. 

I proclaimed Friday Oct 1, to be a listing holiday.    It threw my whole routine off.  I felt like Saturday had come a day early, so maybe that wasn't a good idea.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Pray for the O's.


I came across this picture just now.  It was taken in 2005 in Baltimore.  It is close to both Camden Yards & the Inner Harbor, so it's right down town.  

Things haven't changed much over the years.  The O's are dead last, so the sign is still applicable.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Life

Well I've done it again.  This is the 2nd or 3rd time I've bought this book, and I know I read it all the way through once awhile back.  I plan on reading it again, but I know, once again, I'm in for it.

The basic setting is an apartment building in Paris, and the story jumps around from apartment to apartment, so you can see all the events happening simultaneously.  It is narrated in the 3rd person, by a person who apparently sees all and knows all about the occupants.  There is a lot of minutiae in this book.

In a traditional class bound European society, the residents of the apartment building probably would be considered middle class.  From my point of view, most of them seem very well off financially, but the distinction I guess is that most have some sort of employment. They have to work for their money, except for maybe Bartlebooth, who is apparently a wealthy British ex-pat. 

As the stories unfold and things begin to take shape, you begin to notice that jigsaw puzzles play an important role in the "plot" such as it is.  Not the cheap machine made cardboard ones you can buy in the toy section of department stores, but handmade wooden ones, made by a craftsman, the kind where there is no picture on the box.  The kind made to order.  The kind where several pieces may fit perfectly with several other pieces, but only one is correct.  The kind with traps and tricks, where everything fits perfectly together and you're left with one last piece and it doesn't fit in the only remaining space.

I'm pretty sure I missed stuff the first time I read it.  But I do remember saying OMG as I approached the end.  Only this was in the days before texting and stuff so I said it out loud.

The only other time I've experienced an emotion of pure surprise and shock like that from a book was when I was reading the "World According To Garp" by John Irving, when Garp smashed into the back of a car parked in his garage, while his wife (I think) was engaged in an "act of adultery" in said parked car, resulting in just a little bit of castration to one of the participants.  I was reading this while sitting in a car in a parking lot waiting for the Killeen Texas public library to open, perhaps in a slightly altered state of reality, can't really remember, and I looked up and stared at the bricks, in unbelieving horror.

Well, this book is completely different, but it was the same feeling, except for the horror part.   This time I know what's going to happen, but I want to remind myself of the details. 

It's not Kafka hard, but not really an easy read, at least not for me.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My trip to Wal-Mart

Today I took a field trip to Walmart (Walmarts as they say back home) in Morganton.  It was uneventful.  Nothing odd happened.  Kinda boring.

I needed to get some prescriptions refilled.  I had called them in yesterday, and a recording kindly said, if I had no objections, I could pick them up today.  Fine with me.

I have these prescriptions filled for 90 days, so this is a once every 3 month trip.  I could not face going to Walmart in Morganton every month.  The parking lot alone is a daunting place.   I wouldn't even get my prescriptions filled there - but they are cheap.  So I brave the parking lot, brave the aisles & all those people & all that stuff that's in there and go get my medicine, so I can remain my normal medicated self at a reasonable price, more or less.

I suppose I could have them mailed to me, but there's a little person in the back of my head that says a trip to Morganton every now and then is a good for me.  

While I was there I decided to look at some fun stuff, which to us guys means electronics.  Walmart of course is famous for censoring music, or more accurately of forcing people to censor their music if they want to sell it there, so I never buy any Walmart music, but I figure a TV is a TV, a computer is a computer.   So I went and looked.  And then left.  It wasn't that fun after all.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Does free shipping really work?

Things never remain the same, especially not eBay, and as sellers we find we have to adjust to reflect eBay's changes. We mostly sell old postcards and antique photos, and sometime around the middle of this year we made the decision to offer free shipping on sales of "single" postcards - no matter how many of those singles a buyer may purchase at any one time.  For large lots of cards and our photos we did not change our policy. This was just one of a few adjustments we made in reaction to eBay's changes last March 30th.

We didn't jump into free shipping all at once.   We tried it out first on a couple of specific categories, I believe art postcards and RPPCs, with mixed results.  What we found though was it didn't seem to hurt anything, so we jumped in with both feet during the May/June timeframe. 

When I first stared eBay, I would not consider free shipping.  No way shape or form is shipping free - it is a major expense, in fact, and postage is just part of it.  Envelopes, tape, little plastic postcard sized sleeves, printer paper & ink etc all are an expense.  Our only business expense that is consistantly higher than our shipping costs are the direct fees associated with selling on eBay.

eBay encourages sellers to offer free shipping.  All things being equal, an item with free shipping with appear higher in search results than the same item without free shipping.  And there are other incentives, but these incentives would not cover our cost of shipping, should our sales not increase.

So the gamble is, if we offer free shipping, could we increase prices enough to cover at least part of the loss of the shipping & handling charge, and would our sales increase? 

Apparently the answer is yes, to both questions.  We were able to increase our price a bit and still remain competitive with other sellers.   On some cards we could increase more than enough to cover our old s&h cost, on others we could not - it just depends.  Our sales of "single" postcards have increased in the previous 4 months over the first 4 months of 2010 by about 22%.  That is significant. September is right on track, not quite as much as August, but significantly more than earlier this year.

I don't know if there are other factors involved.  Our photo sales over the same period have also increased & we made no shipping changes with them.  The increase is smaller however, about 12%.  And only time will tell if this trend will continue.

For now, I suppose we'll continue with what we're doing.  The increase in sales seems to have made up for not charging a shipping & handling fee.   We just have to keep and eye on eBay, make sure whe know what those crazy kids are up to next.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Snowchief

Snowchief the cat died yesterday.  He was between 18 & 19 years old.  The picture of him is from several years ago, a different place & different life, sitting on his favorite carpet scrap watching the goings on of the world.

I hate it when pets drastically alter their habits, it's frequently not a good sign.   About a month ago, Snowchief moved into the kitchen - more specifically into the dark cabinets under the sink.  He made a comfy place for him on a little shelf next to a bag of unions.  Patti moved the onions & moved out all the cleaning supplies, kept the area clean & I moved the litter box down to the kitchen.   A kitchen is really not a good place for a litter box, but we didn't think Snowchief would be able to make it to where we normally kept it.  So we brought it downstairs, and put it just a few feet from where he began spending most of his time.  He didn't seek out the sun anymore.

He ate, drank, used the litter box, slept and got weaker and weaker.  He vomited a lot.  He was loosing weight, losing patches of hair and was developing scabs on his back.  He was having trouble walking and one of his eyes did not look right, it looked cloudy.  We think he was in pain, but who really knows.  He seemed to be losing control of bodily functions.  It was obvious he wasn't going to live much longer.  We felt he was suffering & rather than let that continue we took him to the vet so it would end peacefully and painlessly.  We're both very sad about it.

Snowchief was a cat of course, and much of what he did was instinct.  He had no idea what was happening to him, he didn't know he was old or sick.  He had no conception of death (even though he'd killed enough mice in his time), and probably not even life.  Snowchief had been taken care of all his life, and had no idea that he was a lucky cat.  He was an animal, and he lived in the present, and had no knowledge of any different possibilities.

I was working for Electronic Data Systems at the GM Plant in Baltimore when the account admin brought in some 8 week old kittens that had been born under her deck.  That was the spring of 1992, the kitten that became Snowchief fit in he palm of my hand.  He grew to be a bigger than average cat.

I hate it when pets get old and die.  But if you have one long enough, that's what happens.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Postcards Prices Increasing?

When it comes to our little eBay business, I don't like making decisions based on feelings.  I like to know.  That's why I keep track of a lot more things than normal, healthy, sane person my age or anybody else's might keep track of.   I have, because I've been keeping these detailed records for years now, the ability to spit out a lot of things, which may or may not mean anything.  

I track 90 different postcard subjects & categories, and I can tell you which has sold the most for us this year.  I can tell where we've shipped to internationally, and which country spends the most in our store.   I can tell you the average price we've received per item sold and compare that to previous months or years. 

Sometimes though I just don't know, and then I have to fall back on feelings.  I've found that my perceptions of how things are have about an equal chance of being right or wrong, so I don't like relying on perceptions.  But in this case I have to, because I've not kept any records.

I (and when I say I, I mean we)  sell postcards (& other stuff, but for now let's keep it to postcards) on eBay, I've gained a lot of experience over time & I've gotten better at it.  When I first started, I based pricing and such on my perception of another seller's practices, a seller who seemed to be having success.  I've moved way beyond that.  And I've become very aware of the competition and I do my best to compete.

I have noticed, or at least I have the "perception", that as a whole, with a couple notable exceptions, the competition has raised their prices.  That's good for me, because that means I can nudge mine up a bit, I guess.  I'm not sure why this is happening, or even if it is - I've not kept records on postcard prices on eBay. I'm not even sure how to. 

If true, it could be because these old postcards are finite, there may be several of the same card floating around right now, but no one is making any more of them.  Also it's more expensive to to business on eBay these days than it used to be, so that could be a reason.  And it was my perception that buying postcards at some non-eBay sites was frequently a LOT more expensive than on eBay.  

Maybe somebody knows if postcard prices are rising on eBay.  I've not really done the research.  It's just a feeling.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Made a command decision and changed a link

I've changed a link on the sidebar.  The image of our eBay store logo used link to another blog in which I posted about what's going on in our little eBay business.  The blog still exists - click here to go to it - but I've decided not to maintain it anymore, so I'm not sure why anyone would want to.

In one of those command editorial decisions people make from time to time, I decided to change our logo image link to go directly to our store.  I had another image which I linked directly to the store, but I removed that.

Any thing I have to say about our eBay business I'll now include in this blog.  I'm sure there will be some stuff.  I have stuff on my mind.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Goodbye Sissy Coco-puff

I have never known a pit bull before.  They have a bad reputation, but the reality is the only ones I've have come face to face with have been calm, friendly dogs.  Pickles and I ran into an unleashed, unsupervised pit bull on Pineburr the other day - I had seen it before but it had been chained.  I put on my best, happy, "what a good dog" act and stood there while the dogs investigated each other's scent.  I looked away for a few seconds and when I looked back they were staring at each other.  I thought, this isn't good, so I gave Pickles a tug and we continued on our way.  The nameless pit bull trotted back across the street.  

There is a white pit bull down South Avenue who pretty much ignores us when he sees us. 

Man, are they big dogs - deceptively big.

Well Sissy Coco-puff is a pit bull puppy, not quite 3 months old, so ugly she's beautiful.  She has a beautiful chocolate brown coat with a white chest, green eyes and huge puppy paws.  In the last few days I became very good friends with her.  She belongs to our neighbors & she'd come over and drink water we sat out on the porch, she'd get up in my lap (with help) chew on my finger & lick me to death.  She's a friendly, outgoing dog without a fear in the world. 

The neighbors are moving, and could not take her where they are going.  It was tempting to say, "We'll take her", and the emotional part of me wanted to very much.  But we have Pickles, and we weren't sure how that would play out between the two of them.  Not to mention the expense and work involved with bringing up a puppy.

However, we were instrumental in finding what we hope is a very good home for her.  Some people were doing some work trimming some trees for us and one of them, who had recently lost a dog & still seemed to be grieving over it, took her.  They seemed to bond right away, and he still had a little dog whistle that he carried around.   He sat there on our porch and was teaching Sissy to come at the sound of the whistle, and she was learning, right before my eyes.  She'd walk off a little bit, he'd blow the whistle to get her attention, then call her & she'd come running and was rewarded with pets & praise.  I think Sissy is immensely trainable. 

None of us really know this person, but we got a personal reference from his boss, and he seems like he really bonded with the dog.  He doesn't seem like the type that will breed her to death, or try to turn her into a fighting dog.  He wants a pet, and a dog who'll ride with him in his truck. 

I never got a picture of Sissy.  Ratz, how'd I let that happen.  I never heard Sissy bark.  Gonna miss ya Sissy.  I wish you all the best.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Death Penalty Part 2

Put this in the co-incidence file. 

Last weekend we took a quick trip to Kentucky (over and up, as European oriented maps go) and while there I picked up a copy of my father's Lexington Herald. 

For some reason the Lexington Herald has replaced the Louisville Courier-Journal as the paper of choice - I don't see how either of them get to Knott County in time for morning delivery, but that's a whole other post.

Anyway, on the front page of the Lexington Herald was a headline that a judge had halted the scheduled execution (scheduled for today), of a person who was going to be executed with the last dose available in the whole state of one of the drugs used for lethal injections.  Two other people were given temporary reprieves. I wrote a post last week, in which I think I remarked on how arbitrary it seemed, and what a general bummer it would be to be the last person executed before executions were halted for awhile.

The judge halted the execution because the "protocol" for executions did not match state law.  I'm not exactly sure what that means, but  I think it means that their Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) manual for lethal injections needs to be updated.   Specifically mentioned in the article was how to handle condemned inmates who may be pregnant, and how to determine who may be mentally retarded, or criminally insane.  In Kentucky, it is, in theory, illegal to execute a mentally retarded person, tho prosecutors seem to go to great lengths (from what I read) to not allow tests to prove someone is or isn't retarded.  Apparently the reality of how these types of inmates are handled is not matching state law. 

So the conviction was not over turned, the sentence was not changed, it was just halted until the state crosses it's T's and dots its I's.  (Lower case I's, of course).

Gregory Wilson was scheduled to die today.  He was convicted of a terrible crime, involving a rape and murder in Northern Kentucky back in 1987.   He had an accomplice who was female, and she is serving a life term.

Same crime, different sentences - part of what I consider the arbitrariness and capriciousness of it all.

I don't think I'd want to know these people, especially not the people they were back in 1987, and I doubt that 23 years of prison has done anything to help their disposition.  I don't know.  But I'd feel perfectly safe if people like Gregory Wilson had life sentences, without parole, in some high security prison.  If they're guilty, put them in a cell and throw away the key, I really don't have much sympathy.   

What bothers me though, is that mistakes have been made, and occasionally, a totally innocent person is executed.  It has happened, and it will happen again.  Gender, quality of legal representation, race, wealth, all sorts of things play into who is sentenced to death and who isn't, things that have nothing to do with the law or the crime committed. 

Early in my school years - very early - I remember being taught the principle that it was better that "10 guilty persons escape, rather than 1 innocent person suffer".  I looked it up because I could not remember who said that - it was William Blackstone in the 1760s, and the principle is ultimately biblical in origin.  I think that principle has been turned on its head these days.  A small number of people who drive cars will die in car accidents, everybody knows that, but still consider driving an acceptable and even necessary risk.  I think it's the same attitude states with the death penalty have - they know it's possible an innocent person may occasionally be executed, but they consider that an acceptable risk for society as a whole.

Well what about the victims?  If a family member or someone you know is murdered, you want someone arrested and imprisoned for that.  But what if you had nothing to do with it, but you were arrested and convicted on circumstantial evidence?  Because you had opportunity, perhaps a motive could be construed, what if you were in a certain place at a certain time, made phone calls at a certain time, who knows?  What if an eye witness says they saw you somewhere, and you don't know what they're talking about because you were never there?  Or you were there the day before & they got their dates mixed up? I don't know how often things like this happen, but it's certainly possible. 

I walk ol' Pickles thru a grassy patch between some railroad tracks and some woods most days.  What if one day a dead body turned up there, and one of the construction workers working on the new city hall across the road said they saw a tall goofy looking guy with a ticked-up almost hound dog walking out of there?  Next thing I know I'd be talking the local Barney Pfife & who knows what would happen. 

It's a stretch, I know.  But I want all those T's and I's crossed and dotted.   Too often they arent.  People get really upset when someone is acquitted on a "technicality".   I'm glad those technicalities are there.  They're called laws, .

I don't know where I'm going with this.  I don't want dangerous criminals in society, there's enough walking    around already.  But people are not infallible, life is full of random events and co-incidences and I'm uncomfortable with the death penalty.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Ford County: Stories

Ford County: Stories, is a book of short stories by John Grisham, and I finished reading it a couple of days ago. 

Some of these stories are 50 or 60 pages long, and to me that's not a short story.  That's a long story.  I'm not sure what the cut off for a short story should be, but after 10 pages, you're pushing it as far as I'm concerned. 

Anyway, these were interesting, & compared to Kafka, very easy stories to read.  Refreshingly easy to read. They were completely linear, and contained no airborne dogs, nobody who turned into a bug, no one who spent their life building a wall.  One of the stories took place over a period of 3 hours or so, others over a period of weeks or months, but they all were linear.  They started out at one point in time, and ended at another point in time, with the end of the stories always later in time than the beginning, and no time was lost anywhere along the way.   Some of the characters were decent people, some maybe not so much, but none of them ever seemed confused about what time it was or how long it was taking for things to occur.  None of them seemed to be out of touch with their surroundings.

The stories had plots that were pretty straight forward.

I wonder how Kafka would have written these stories.  But I'll never know, because a) he didn't, and b) if he had, I probably would not have finished them.

Now I need another book to read.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Death Penalty

Somewhere online today I read an article that one of the drugs commonly used in executions in the United States is in short supply, and causing some executions to be rescheduled.  The article specifically mentioned Kentucky, because there are three execution warrants on the governor's desk, but the state has only enough of this drug for one execution.  So the governor signed one of the warrants - for the one who had sentenced the earliest (22 years ago, apparently), and postponed the other two until next year sometime.   I thought, how random is that?  Executed with the last dose of one of the drugs available in the whole state.  His execution is scheduled for September 16th.

I'm from Kentucky, so I found myself looking at the pictures and brief synopsis of the crimes of the 37 people on Kentucky's death row.

I believe the USA and Japan are the only remaining industrialized democracies to execute people.  Executions in the USA are normally carried out by the various state governments, it is extremely rare for the Federal Government to sentence someone to death - Timothy McVeigh was the last, I believe. 

Currently 36 states have a death penalty, 14 states & Washington, DC do not have a death penalty. 

All of the states which have capital punishment either require that lethal injection be used, or offer it as a choice to the condemned prisoner.  Most states use a "cocktail" of 3 drugs - Sodium thiopental, Pancuronium, and Potassium chloride.  Sodium thiopental is the one in short supply, nation wide.  It is a barbiturate, used as an anesthetic and causes unconsciousness in a matter of seconds.  Pancuronium causes respiratory paralysis, making the recipient unable to breathe.  Last but not least, potassium chloride causes a quick cardiac arrest.  The drugs are given in the specific order listed.  I think the idea is the condemned prisoner will be put to sleep and as far as he is concerned, that is that.  But it is the other two drugs that actually kill him. 

Lethal injection was implemented because it was deemed to be more humane form of execution than electrocution, gassing or hanging.   Some say it is actually very painful, especially if done even slightly incorrectly, but I'm not sure how they know that.  Also there is apparently no reason why these three drugs are used, except that's how the first state to use lethal injection did it and the Supreme Court said it was ok.

I don't know how I feel about the death penalty.  I personally would never want to be a part of the chain of people who decided to put a person to death, I wouldn't want that responsibility.  I don't have much sympathy for most of the people who find themselves awaiting execution though - to say they aren't nice people would be an understatement.  They are extremely dangerous, and society is better off if they are not part of it. 

But what if a mistake was made?  It has been known to happen.  10 years ago a Republican governor of Illinois imposed a moratorium on executions within the state after DNA evidenced cleared a dozed death row inmates of the crimes they were sentenced to death for.  I think he eventually commuted the other death row inmates sentences to life in prison. 

Also I know how life works, and lots of times things are arbitrary - for example the person in Kentucky being executed with the last dose of Sodium thiopental, while two others scheduled to be executed get a reprieve, however temporary, seems arbitrary to me.  But that's the least of it.  A person frequently ends up on death row because of his gender,  his race or the race of the victim, his geographic location, his financial status, his (lack of) intelligence, his standing or lack of standing in the community and the effectiveness of his defense (which frequently depends on his financial status).  Two people can be found guilty of similar crimes and receive completely different punishments.  There have been instances where the person who killed someone received a life sentence, while another person waiting in the "getaway car" so to speak received a death sentence.

One of the prisoners on Kentucky's death row was convicted of murder and sentenced to life, eligible for parole after 25 years or so.  He appealed his sentence and won a new trial.  At his second trial, he was convicted again and sentenced to death.  Same person, same crime, same circumstances, two different sentences. 

No one can convince me that of all the people awaiting execution in the USA (I dont know how many, but it must be hundreds), or of all the people ever executed in this country, there has never been a mistake.  Apparently in 2000 there were a dozen wrongful convictions in Illinois leading to death sentences, and that is a lot.  I'm glad I wasnt the last person executed in Illinois before the governor decided there was a problem.

Most of the people awaiting execution in the USA are guilty as sin.  Most are very dangerous people, and I would not want them anywhere near me.  It's like they have a sense of entitlement that tells them it's ok to kill other people to get what they want or to deal with their problems.  They need to be in prison, and they need to be there forever as far as I'm concerned - I dont have too much faith in rehabilitation.   But the whole death penalty situation seems very random to me, when considered as whole across the whole country. It does seem "arbitrary and capricious".  And very, very final.  No chance to correct a mistake.

Life without parole, in some terrible prison, decades of a lonely and probably dangerous existence with people just as dangerous as they are seems a good enough punishment for me.