Friday, January 27, 2006


I've had a weird, off-schedule week because of car problems, and ended up doing work and chores on days and at hours I usually don't... the sum total being that yesterday I found myself at loose ends in the early afternoon. No car to take me anywhere, not in a mood to watch a movie or Tivo'd show that early in the day. I wasn't even really in the mood for poker, but went up to PokerStars to check out when Wil Wheaton's next "semi-invitationals" were playing. Note to Wil: although I know no one could satisfy even half the people all the time, or all the people even half the time, holding Thursday tourneys at 11:30 pm ET is too late for the working Fred, and 7:00 too early for the family Fred. We couldn't have the occasional tournament between 8-9 Eastern?

But I digress. Anyway, there was a freeroll at 2, which was about 10 minutes away at that time, and a micro-buy in ($1) tournament at 2:30. I've stayed away from freerolls since the days - nearly two years ago now - that I first started playing on-line poker at UltimateBet. Freerolls tend to attract the bored and the crazy, and lots of trolls. The first two groups include people who don't really care how or why they're betting a hand since it's not costing them anything. The last include people who will bet any hand in the hopes of a suckout and the joy of making everyone else at the table steam. They're main goal in life is apparently to get as much nasty table chatter aimed at them as possible. Freerolls also attract the hoi polloi; there were already over 3,500 of the great unwashed signed up when I found the tournament. With that many players, it doesn't matter if you're Doyle Brunson, the averages and Lady Luck are likely to get you no matter how well you play.

But it cost nothing, and I still wasn't sure how much I really felt like playing. A lot of times I don't know until I'm into the game. Sometimes I settle in and all is well no matter how the game plays out. Sometimes, five, ten minutes into the game I feel like the Olympic skier who after a horrific crash was asked when he knew he was out of control. "Before I left the gate," he answered.

I registered for the freeroll to get a feel for what my game was like, and with the intent that if I was knocked out, or decided to drop out but felt that I was playing well, I'd jump into the $1 tournament at 2:30. If not, I'd go do something else. Funny thing was that I felt guilty, figuring that the freeroll, which had now hit $4,000+ registrants, was just a donking away of my time, if not of chips, and that if I was actually even semi-serious about playing, I should hit the $1, with less players and at least the opportunity of real money.

PokerStars doesn't provide stats or hand histories for freerolls, which is probably just as well for my readers, but here's the run-down as I remember it...

Hour 1: 2-3 pm

The first hand I play in the tournament is probably 5-10 minutes in. I don't remember what I had, but a semi-powerful hand at the flop, enough that I want to make a significant raise to try to force out the other two players and take the pot then-and-there.

The little raise slider bar and text entry field ain't there. All I can do is raise $20, and I finally realize that I've entered a Limit tournament, thinking it was No-Limit. That's how involved I was. I win the hand anyway.

At 2:30 I have around $1800 in chips, am getting good hands, and my head is good, as Hemingway would say. I've tried it a couple of times, but I don't do well playing two or more tables simultaneously.
I decide to pass on the $1 tournament.

Hour 1 ends. I'm now down to $1670 in chips. I remember this solely because it's the first time in my memory of two years of SnG and tournament play on PokerStars where I've never dropped below my starting stake of $1500 chips during the entire game. The lowest I've dropped in the 1st hour was down to $1570.

Hour 2: 3-4 pm

Hour 2 is usually the midnight hour for lil Rico. I tend to bust out early in Hour 2s, most often because I'm short-stacked, the blinds are rising, and I need to start gambling to survive. Not this time. The chips just seem to flow into my hands. I get nut flushes. I get high card straights. I smooth call raises with high pair at the river and win. I get people who seem to be hypnotized into donking all their chips away to me, even when I give them early indicators that I'm sure I'm going to win. I get AA in mid-position, raise, and the whole table calls me. The flop shows another ace and two black 8s, giving me Hickock's dead man's full house, and I bet the checks to me... and two players call. I keep on betting, certain that one or the other has the other ace or is holding the two other eights, waiting for the raise on the river, which never comes. I bust them both out -- seeing neither hand, what the hell were they betting with? -- and get moved to a new table as reward.

Hour 3: 4-5 pm

I almost lose it in Hour 3. I'm tired. I've been sitting at the table now for 2+ hours. I start playing problematic hands and chasing straights and flushes that never come. My stack is going into reversal, starting to drop back to where I was in Hour 2. I make a decision, click the "Sit out" button, and go to the other computer to check whether I have any client responses to drafts I've sent out. I do, and it takes about 20 minutes to clear the work away. I come back to the kitchen table, see I've blinded away several hundred chips, and get to work. One nut flush, one trip Kings, and one full house against a nut flush later where my stack had dropped down to $77 at the river bets, I had tripled up.

Hour 4: 5-6 pm

I'm facing a problem: Peggy gets home from work around 6, and she'll be bringing me down to the shop to pick up the Rodeo. Is the tournament going to be finished in time? Do I really care? All I'm playing for - except to measure and improve my game - is one of 27 slots for a Sunday tournament with a grand in prize money up for grabs. It's not that big a deal. I figure I'll keep on playing my game, hit the "Sit Out" button again when Peg comes, and see where I stand when I get back. I have somewhere between $75-100k of chips at any given time. It's possible I'll get knocked out or my stack crippled enough to be blinded out during a sit-out. There's a couple of hundred people left.

I keep on building my stack, eating up those at the table with $50k of chips or less, who are being forced to gamble to stay alive. I have enough chips that raises from a short stack don't trouble me when I think I have a shot to win, and usually the raise is a bluff. I finally hit a super pot where three short stacks are forced all-in, and my big slick pairs up. At around 6 and the end of the hour I have over $585k in chips, and am sitting in the top 10. Peggy still hasn't shown up.

Hour 5: 6-7 pm

I've now been playing Limit poker, more or less continually, for over four hours. I'm also at the point where I have so many chips - and there are less than 100 players left - where I've essentially stopped betting. I'm still monitoring the table, but I throw away small pairs, low cards suited with aces, KJ off-suit, just riding it out. I think I can make it through the bubble with what I have left in my stack. A lot of the higher stacks are thinking the same; a lot of "Sitting Out" notices start flaring. It's part of the reason I'm monitoring. Every now and then I can just raise or call and collect a pot without danger. I get a pair of Jacks around 6:15, raise, get a re-raise from a short stack, force him all-in, and take his chips away. It's the only serious hand I'll play this hour, and gives me a nice cushion.

Peg - who has forgotten about the Rodeo - shows up at around 6:20. I hit the "Sit-Out" button, tell Kittenish, who is sitting on the table, not to bet in any circumstances, and hustle out to the Mini.

We get back at around 6:45. In 20 minutes the blinds have sucked close to $100k from my stack, but there's only around 40 people left, I still have over $350k, and I'm sure I can ride it out. I tell Peggy to hit me upside the head if I try to bet even a pair of Aces. A little after 7 pm, five hours into the tournament, the 28th remaining player from the starting field of over 4,000 is knocked out, and I'm in the pseudo-money.

Peggy encourages me to see how far I can go, but I'm so tired that I start playing loose, and the poker gods, who have been smiling on me all night for my good, solid play, recognize the heresy, and send me down with a suited A-3 against the table leader's off-suit A-Q as we both raise and re-raise with an A on the flop. There's no chance for me to pull a flush, no 3 shows up, but I just keep on senselessly raising through the turn and the river until I'm all-in, and his Queen kicker beats my pitiful 3.

I still make it to 9th place. The game will go on for close to another hour. I wish I did have the stats on my play. I'm fairly certain that I lost less than 10 hands that I was involved in during the entire five hours I played. Luck? Oh yeah. Lotsa luck. Good cards coming early and regular. Opponents who shouldn't have been betting.

I still played damn well.

American Life in Poetry: Column 044


Unlike the calculated expressions of feeling common to its human masters, there is nothing disingenuous about the way a dog praises, celebrates, frets or mourns. In this poem David Baker gives us just such an endearing mutt.

Mongrel Heart

Up the dog bounds to the window, baying
like a basset his doleful, tearing sounds
from the belly, as if mourning a dead king,

and now he's howling like a beagle -- yips, brays,
gagging growls -- and scratching the sill paintless,
that's how much he's missed you, the two of you,

both of you, mother and daughter, my wife
and child. All week he's curled at my feet,
warming himself and me watching more TV,

or wandered the lonely rooms, my dog shadow,
who like a poodle now hops, amped-up windup
maniac yo-yo with matted curls and snot nose

smearing the panes, having heard another car
like yours taking its grinding turn down
our block, or a school bus, or bird-squawk,

that's how much he's missed you, good dog,
companion dog, dog-of-all-types, most excellent dog
I told you once and for all we should never get.

Reprinted from "The Southeast Review," Vol. 23, No. 2, 2005, by permission of the author, whose newest book of poetry is "Midwest Eclogue," W. W. Norton (2005). Copyright (c) 2005 by David Baker. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

American Life in Poetry: Column 043


Lola Haskins, who lives in Florida, has written a number of poems about musical terms, entitled "Adagio," "Allegrissimo," "Staccato," and so on. Here is just one of those, presenting the gentleness of pianissimo playing through a series of comparisons.

To Play Pianissimo

Does not mean silence.
The absence of moon in the day sky
for example.

Does not mean barely to speak,
the way a child's whisper
makes only warm air
on his mother's right ear.

To play pianissimo
is to carry sweet words
to the old woman in the last dark row
who cannot hear anything else,
and to lay them across her lap like a shawl.

From "Desire Lines: New and Selected Poems," BOA Editions, Rochester, NY. Copyright (c) 2004 by Lola Haskins and reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. For information on permissions and usage, or to download a PDF version of the column, visit

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Dirty Jokes

So here's the template, if you haven't heard it by now,

"This guy walks into an agent's office...


'...we call it, 'The Aristocrats!''"

... and that's it. The middle section, which usually involves a family act -- in all senses of the phrase -- is where the comic gets to improv and riff, and the filthier, the better. The movie The Aristocrats -- dozens of comics all telling variations of the one joke -- was released yesterday on DVD. TA was one of those movies that, if it opened in my little pocket of New Hamster at all, had the theatrical lifespan of a mayfly, so I stopped in at our local video place to rent and finally watch it. TA runs a little less than 90 minutes, working out just about right for me. I popped it into the DVD tray around 4;30, and had just finished watching the last of the contest winner's versions in the special features section when Peggy came in from work. As I had suspected, it's not a Peg movie, as much as she loves stand-up comedy. And TA doesn't have much to do with comedy, except as a examination of the nature of what makes something funny, and the nature of comics, and especially of the comic's relationship to his/her audience.

Heavy shit, huh? Don't get me wrong. It can be a very funny movie at points, especially when after the same joke -- or sections of the same joke -- has been repeated dozens of times, a comic will suddenly throw in a new variation that makes the whole routine fresh again. But, as several people in the movie point out, the joke isn't very funny, because it's not meant to be very funny. It's a comedian's joke, primarily designed to show off your stuff to people who appreciate the making of comedy. Or, as Gilbert Gottfried will demonstrate at the movie's close, something to use to show the audience that anything can be made funny... even when it shouldn't be.

Delivery. "Sometimes," as Old Lodge Skins says in Little Big Man," the magic works. Sometimes it doesn't." It's fascinating to watch different comics try to make the TA joke their own. The successes are often surprising, but I suspect every viewer's list about who pulled the joke off and who didn't would be different. The Smothers Brothers would be high on my list, adopting the joke perfectly into their act. Penn and Teller make it a Penn & Teller routine, complete with coke bottle prop. The South Park kids version will probably make you reflect on how over-the-top our society has already become. If the joke showed up in an actual episode of South Park, there'd be the usual few days of outrage, complaints to the FCC, and then we'd all move on. "Hell," someone says in the movie, "I could sell the basic premise to any network tomorrow. 'Listen, there's this dysfunctional family, see...'"

Magician Eric Mead turns the joke into a card trick, and delivers possibly the best variation in the movie. The winners of the "live" and "animated" contest (Check out the "Special Features" section) both turn in versions that show that no matter how many times the joke is performed, someone can always have another take on it. Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg (I kept wondering, "Why no Billy Crystal?"), and Drew Carey all take turns at not telling the joke, with Whoopi's non-telling the funniest, "Nah, I'm not going to tell you the joke, but if I was it'd have something to do with these guys with enormous foreskins who pull them over their heads while singing, 'Mammy'." "I think you need to tell us the joke," someone says off-camera. Mario Cantone does his turn by channeling Liza Minnelli, including references to "Momma," and full theatrical belting.

My God, there's even a mime who does a great version. If you haven't seen the movie, watch the woman who passes by ol' Billy with a "oh, how cute, a mime" half-smile on her face, oblivious to the fact that Billy is miming the shtupping of a dog.

And sometimes the magic doesn't work. When the film was first released much was made of Bob Saget's, he of Full House and America's Funniest Home Videos, segment. It probably does rank as one of the most scatalogical, but it's also one of the most boring, as Saget keeps ladling on detail upon detail until you're ready to cover your ears. Steven Wright, whose deadpan humor I usually like ("I used to love washing my cat. But the fur kept sticking to my tongue."), does a reading in a camera-skewed hotel corridor that was apparently set up to demonstrate how the joke could be adapted to Wright's surreal style, but falls flat. I was admiring Sarah Silverman's delivery, especially her dead-on facial changes over the course of her routine, while simultaneously uncomfortably wincing at her story. Of course, making the audience uncomfortable is Silverman''s style, so maybe she should be in the "success" category.

There are high notes and clinkers. It's like one big jazz jam session after hours, someone blowing a note, another picking up the theme, someone else going, "you think that's hot? Listen to this!" and wailing away. Some of the variations -- like Silverman's -- are Colemanesque free jazz riffs and won't be to everyone's taste.

And then there's Gilbert Gottfried, whose performance, taped at a NY Friar's Club Roast (nominally for Hugh Hefner) three weeks after September 11th, 2001, is the movie's capstone. Unshown on-screen, Gottfried attempts a joke...
"I have a flight to California. I can't get a direct flight," Mr. Gottfried said. "They said they have to stop at the Empire State Building first."
... according to reports. And this was reportedly greeted -- unsurprisingly -- with boos and shouts of, "too soon!" The movie picks up the performance with Gottfried, full maniac gleam in his eye, looking out at the audience with a "Fuck You!" stare and launching into "The Aristocrats" without warning. Other comics at the podium first look on in amazement, and ultimately in falling out of the seat hysterical admiration as Gottfried blazes on with the story.

It's a defining moment of comedy, a tour-de-force example of someone taking a hostile audience in-hand and bringing them along, kicking and screaming, with you. "Who's in control here?" Gottfried's stare seems to be saying as he layers on the fucking and the shitting and the peeing, and the more fucking, "I'm in fucking control here, and you're coming along for the ride." And willing or not, the audience does come along. You might not like Gottfried -- I don't -- and you might hate yourself for laughing. But laugh you will.

The Aristocrats is dedicated to Johnny Carson, which might surprise you unless you ever caught Carson's very blue off-the-air act in Vegas. Reportedly, TA was one of Carson's favorite jokes, and you can see why. It's a joke that has nothing to do with punch lines, and everything to do with delivery, which was Carson's genius. It would have been nice to see Carson run with it. Mark Evanier mentions in a December `05 review that Penn Jillette wanted Buddy Hackett and Rodney Dangerfield, too, both of whom declined because of failing health, and both of whom, especially Hackett, would have been likely to turn in bravado readings. Our loss.

I had a conversation with my ah, hair stylist and friend Diane yesterday, where she mentioned a Steve King book, Rose Madder, I think, which she had been raving about to every customer during my last visit about a month ago. "I stopped recommending it," Diane said this time around. "I still like it a lot, but I hadn't finished it then, and the violence got more and more over the top as it went on. Some of my customers are probably reading it now and wondering, 'what the hell was Diane thinking of'? How could she like this?"

The Aristocrats is that sort of movie. If you're looking for a good laugh, go buy or rent something else. If you're looking for a great documentary, I think it is that, one of the best I've ever seen. And you should be forewarned by now. Maybe you'll like it. Maybe not. In either case, don't blame me.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Loompanics closing

The great alternative bookseller/publisher of all things weird, Loompanics, is closing its doors after 28 years. I was on Loompanics mailing list for several years after a friend sent me a few books -- including "How to Disappear Completely and Never be Found" (described below) -- as a gift, and I can remember another friend skimming through the catalog and then asking, "This is legal?" after reading...

Heavy-duty disappearing techniques for those with a "need to know!" This book tells you how to pull off a disappearance, and how to stay free and never be found. It analyzes all the ways you could be found by whoever might be looking for you -- missing persons bureaus, the feds, private eyes and skip tracers, insurance companies -- and tells you how to evade their pursuit.

Everything you need to know about How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found is in this amazing book!

... and of course, then there were the drugs, sex, and "reality creation" sections. Maybe not always legal, but certainly needful. Loompanics is having a 50% off sale of everything in the store. As the cartoon excerpt above notes, take a chance and see where reading something new could lead you.

Cats in Fruit Helmets

There's something about the feline that just demands the creation and attachment of a fruit helmet.

For those who have felt that need, there's now a full tutorial available on the production of the Feline Protection and Enhancement System.

Of course I would never do anything so humilating to my cats. But, I do have that humongous grapefruit in the fridge.

Hmmmm. C'm here, Bear!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

WTF are "Lammers"?

The Iggster over at Party Poker gives (for him) a relatively short - and interesting - trip report on a recent visit to Tunica where he remarks, almost off-handedly, on getting his wallet stolen by what sounds like a grifter team. That's an event that would have had me on full tilt, but the ice-blooded Iggy simply shrugs it off, noting,

"Thankfully (heh), I only got nicked for $1400 and not the bulk of what I had brought with me. Plus, my lammers were intact. But regardless, it hurt to be considered an easy mark."
Lammers? Now, poker has almost as many insider words and acronyms as high-tech (I just had an email in from my transcriptionist asking whether the Imeah my subject kept referring to was a place or thing. He was actually saying "EMEA" which was an acronym for Europe, Middle East, and Asia), and there are still several that I'm clueless about, but "lammers" was a totally new one.

First guess: Given context, lammers were some sort of weird Ohio nickname for dwarf cojones? But later on, Iggy notes that he sold the lammers to an "expansive cowboy." So, unless we're in some poker recreation of Brokeback Mountain, it's unlikely that the lammers are Iggy's family jewels. "Ah, yeah, Tex. You want these lammers? Well, it's going cost you, big boy."

Second guess: rico-ga hits the search engines - And here we go. Once we get past various people named "Lammer," something poker-related. They're some sort of marker? All right, but obviously they have a value to Iggy, so they're more than that. One more shot...

All righty, rgp comes through.
"A single table satellite is a winner take all event. It is not a way to
gain entry into a super. If you win a satellite you will get tournament
chips called "lammers". These can be used to enter any WSOP event. Each
lammer will have it value on it."
whew. Well, that was exhausting. But since we're on the subject, the obligatory poker report, yes? I've been feeling the need to go back and rethink my poker-playing strategy, doing almost the reverse of Iggy, who is putting more of a focus on tourneys and SnGs. Me, I give myself a $50 stake, and that will last me anywhere from 2-3 months playing multi-table $5 buy-ins SnGs two to three times a week, with the occasional low buy-in tournament. If you work the numbers, you can see I place in the money often enough to keep myself going for awhile. But eventually -ev takes over (ev stands for "expected value" and "-ev" means , at least in my case, that I've hit a losing streak), and I need to rebuy. No major ups. No major downs. Just a slow, steady shrinkage of my stake.

I took a few weeks off from the tables and went back to Wilson Turbo Hold `Em, which I had used to first learn the game, and found that my game had evolved into a loose, passive mode that I've been working to repair, with some luck. For the moment, I've walked away from the low buy-in SnGs, since I've come to the conclusion that placing in the money with them has too much to do with luck. I've have been focusing on micro-limit Limit games. Hopefully, I'll still get in the occasional Blogger tournament and Wil Wheaton challenge, but my goal in 2006 is to build a stake, not fund a hobby on a quarterly basis

Monday, January 16, 2006

A Very Techie Christmas, Part the Deuce - Me and My Nano

I gave Peggy an iPod for her birthday in 2005, and immediately learned two things...

1) There is no such thing as simply "buying an iPod." iPods require tons of iShit, including better headphones, adapters for cars, adapters for stereos, cute lil' protective covers, iTune purchases, ad nauseum.

2) No matter how close you think your loved one's musical tastes are to your own, it is difficult - nearing impossible - to be a one iPod family. You'll find yourself spending a lot of time creating playlists with rules like, "all folk music except Fred's very bad sound quality Dylan bootlegs."

Thanks to rule #2, I found a sleek , black iPod Nano under the tree, courtesy of Peggy, as well as an AirPlay FM transmitter, so I can be my very own little radio station, and I've been happily Nano'ing away ever since.

One of the unforeseen benefits from buying Peg an iPod was that I started listening to podcasts over the summer, usually while out working or running errands. I quickly became addicted to Card Club on Lord Admiral Radio (poker); Twit (technology); and Planet Japan (weirdness), plus an ever-rotating cast of other podcasts. As I had mentioned earlier in fhb, I have a tendency - one of my better quirks - to go from admiring something to wanting to do it myself. I got into multimedia literally because of one book, Robyn Davidson and Rick Smolan's From Alice to Ocean: Alone Across the Outback. Alice was the first book/CD package I ever saw. Several months later, with a copy of Macromedia Director now on my Mac, I deconstructed the CD program to figure out how it had been done... and I was on my way to a 10-year career in multimedia. One of the first paying projects I did used a menu highlighting scheme that was based on the one from Alice.

"I want to do a podcast," I decided in mid-2005, but I also wanted someone to pay me for doing a podcast, so after various pitches to several current and prospective clients I found one foolish, ah that is, far-seeing enough to buy into my idea, customized for them. We're on podcast #4 as I write this, and things are going very well, thank you, although I'm still learning and changing things on almost a monthly basis.

Thanks to podcasting, I've also learned how to set up an RSS feed and write an XML file too, of little interest to the average Bear, I know, but I'm one of those people who gets nervous when he doesn't understand how things that he depends on work. On the writing side, I'm figuring out how to do audio - a la NPR radio - interview scripting, which I'm finding quite different from either the multimedia or video writing I've done previously. And that's cool too. At this stage of my career, just staying interested in what you're doing and getting to learn something new is a major accomplishment. And I have a couple of other podcasting ideas that I'm hoping to trot out in 2006. Hell, I'm already ahead of the game compared to many other podcasters. I'm making money from podcasting.

So morale of the story is, bread cast upon the waters, and all that, I guess. I started out getting Peg an iPod because of an off-hand remark she made that she was bored with FM radio (as who isn't?), and then I decided to see what all this hype about podcasting was about, and the next thing I know I have a voice talent intoning, "written and produced by Fred Bals" at the end of each monthly show. And the audience is giving good feedback and the clients are happy.

Plus, I have a Nano of my very own now, too.

And my entry into the Batgirl meme

I can't draw to save my life, but coincidentally, I stumbled across a Boingboing posting about artist Ray Caeser, who has a new show called Sweet Victory in NYC.

I find Caeser's art a little too creepy for my tastes, kind of Keane kids done on acid, but I love this one, which could be the cover for a Batgirl comic as written by one of the Brontë sisters.

More Batgirls than you can shake a stick at

Now here's a meme gone totally out-of-control. A post by artist Andi Watson included some character designs for a DC Elseworlds Batgirl book that never made it to light of day. That inspired dozens hundreds of others to try their hand at portraying the ever-lovely Ms. Gordon too.

To your other right, one of my faves, "Batgrrl," posted at the "Did You Just call Me a Prick?" blog by a "Justin."

If you need a productivity buster for today, follow the first link above and click away at the ever-multiplying list of Batgirls. For a short list, you can hit Chris Arrant's site, which includes links to some of my favorites, including this one from Bryan Lee O'Malley, or this one from Dean Trippe, which is now gracing my laptop as background image.

But I do wish somebody would bundle these all together for easier viewing, like maybe a Flickr stream.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


I'm trying out a new blog spot (not BlogSpot),, after reading an article about it in today's Globe, with this sub-head,

Mass. startup to pay writers

Ah, yes, maybe. But the article and itself are a little vague exactly how that's going to happen. Apparently is planning - at some point - to share advertising revenue with popular writers. Currently, what they're doing (according to their FAQ) is...
You'll get Gather Points(TM) just for participating on the site. Inviting new users and submitting outstanding content will earn you points. And Gather Points(TM) are your currency to purchase goods and services from your favorite Gather partners.
I posted the Google and You Get article at a page I created at, will probably toss them other things that are languishing both here and in my files, and we'll see if I get any action. As enticing as the idea is for anyone who posts regularly, I usually try to stay away from the "getting paid to blog" Siren's sweet song. My working life is probably a little different from the average blogger; I already get paid to write. And after a session of trying to make service-oriented architecture, or application modernization, or whatever happens to be the latest hot thing in I.T. palatable to the non-technical reader, I'm ready to use fhb to relax. No deadline pressures; little self-editing; no agonies about developing the next article.

On the other hand, I've always tried to live my professional life by Samuel Johnson's dictum, "No man but a blockhead ever wrote for anything but money." But I'm not thinking of leaving Blogger any time soon. As I said, fhb gives me the luxury of an on-line journal where I don't really have to worry about content and audience (although I really do appreciate all those family and friends that regularly check in to see what I have to say), and that's too valuable an outlet to give up.

Friday, January 13, 2006

American Life in Poetry: Column 042


Here is a poem by David Bengtson, a Minnesotan, about the simple pleasure of walking through deep snow to the mailbox to see what's arrived. But, of course, the pleasure is not only in picking up the mail with its surprises, but in the complete experience--being fully alive to the clean cold air and the sound of the wind around the mailbox door.

What Calls Us

In winter, it is what calls us
from seclusion, through endless snow
to the end of a long driveway
where, we hope, it waits--
this letter, this package, this
singing of wind around an opened door.

Reprinted from "What Calls Us," a Dacotah Territory Chapbook, 2003, by permission of the author, whose most recent book is "Broken Lines: Prose Poems," from Juniper Press, St. Paul, MN, 2003. Poem copyright (c) 2003 by David Bengtson. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. For information on permissions and usage, or to download a PDF version of the column, visit

Monday, January 09, 2006

Mysterious cow devours woman

it's only January 9th, but I think I'll be hard-pressed to find a more favorite 2006 news report this year.

From the Nigerian "Tide Online," whose masthead notes, "a commitment to truth," so how can you doubt them? The full article is replicated for your edification, as the Tide Online doesn't have a similar commitment to support Firefox. Footnotes and photo supplied by me...

(pictured: The Man-Eating Cow)

Mysterious cow devours woman(1)
Sunday, January 8, 2006

This may sound incredible(2), but it happened. The story you are about to read happened penultimate(3) Tuesday at Trans-Amadi Industrial Layout in Port Harcourt the Rivers State Capital.

This story is about a woman, who worked as a road sweeper along that road, but died while performing her legitimate duty(4).

Eyewitness account has it that the middle-aged woman was sweeping when a strange cow suddenly emerged from no where and strangled the woman to death(5).

Small Talks(6) gathered that the late sanitation worker a Kalabari indigene, reportedly had a quarrel with a male co-worker few weeks before the incident.

Sources said the quarrel emanated as a result of the man’s alleged refusal to pay a debt he owed her. The man was said to have threatened to deal with her for what he described as embarrassment by the woman while demanding the debt.

The strange thing now is that after the cow had accomplished the havoc, it mysteriously disappeared the way it came since no one could trace it after thoroughly searching the area(7).

Speculations are that, the debtor may have diabolically sent the cow to devour his creditor as he had earlier promised not to leave her unpunished.

1. "Mysterious" seems a bit undescriptive when you're writing about a strangling man-eating cow. Me, I would have gone for " super-scary."

2. Rule #1 of journalism, dismiss suspicions about accuracy immediately.

3. Penultimate? Sometimes I think it happened late Tuesday (11:59 would be as penultimate as you could get), and sometimes maybe the day before.

4. She would have been buried with full sweeper honors if there had been a body recovered.

5. I'm assuming "Small Talks" is our erstwhile reporter.

6. I think "the strange thing now" is my favorite line. A mystery cow appears, strangles (!!!) a street sweeper in front of witnesses, possibly devours her to boot, but the "strange thing" is in its disappearance.

It's a tough ol' place, the Trans-Amadi Industrial Layout, and not for the faint-of-heart.

Friday, January 06, 2006

A Very Techie Christmas, Part the 1st

I must have been a very good boy in 2005, as Santa was extremely generous to me. An unanticipated benefit of blogging I've found - especially if you're a compulsive "I want this" type like me - is that friends and relatives who read the blog bought me items that I said I liked.

No, I didn't get my own personal Zepplin NT, but near about everything else I mentioned in 2005 at one time or another, many totally unexpected and deserving of their own posts (I figure this is going to be a 3-parter post at least).

So, gift the first, but the not the least, The Complete New Yorker, one of my presents from Peggy. Eight DVDs, 4,109 issues of the magazine from February 1925 to February 2005. Every article, every cartoon, every illustration, every advertisement, every story. Every cover - the one to your right is from the issue that was on the stands the week I was born.

The CNY has my vote for one thing I'd want to be stranded on a desert island with... given that the island came with a DVD-capable laptop and electricity. There was a time, quite a long time in fact, where I found The New Yorker unreadable, even though my more literate friends kept foisting it off on me, or I'd pick up a copy out of sheer boredom in some waiting room. But I was more an Esquire and Rolling Stone reader in the ``70s and `80s. I didn't get "The Talk of the Town," half the time I couldn't even figure out what it was talking about. Most of the fiction and articles left me cold.

Sometime in the `90s I started reading The New Yorker seriously, and by the end of the decade I was subscribing. There's the occasional issue that I still skim through and have finished within 20 minutes. But more often, it's a several-day read. I'm not sure whether the magazine or my tastes changed dramatically over the years. More likely the latter, like Mark Twain's story about the son who said that at age 15 he couldn't believe how stupid his father was, and at age 21 couldn't believe how much the old man had learned in just six short years.

So, the CNY set. Like the magazine itself, the DVD implementation is a little ah, quirky. On the plus side, the text is surprisingly clear and readable on a computer screen, something I was relieved to discover, as I'm not much of a fan of non-paper reading. The interface is relatively simple to use (in my opinion, several reviews have bitter complaints about the interface). And the content is unbeatable. Orlean, Capote, Liebling, Salinger. The cartoons. Enough good reading material for several lifetimes. And even the old ads are a hoot. "Damn Yankees" first run on Broadway, a brand-new Triumph yours for only $2200.

In the "could use improvement" column, the search tool seems to have been written by someone who had never actually seen a search engine, but had had one described to them and then earnestly set out to do their best. See the exchange below where even their technical support team was unable to locate a fairly well-known Salinger story.

Although I haven't run across any myself yet, there are several on-line complaints about poorly scanned pages. The CNY home page notes that some issues on the DVDs are inaccessible, and have provided them as online downloads. And during my first serious read of the CNY, I was happily trekking through Salinger's "Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters," when I found a glitch, leading into to the following correspondence with CNY support.

EMail ID 3008
> Thank you for your inquiry to The Complete New Yorker Technical Support
> department.
> Fred,
> Thank you for bringing a possible error to our attention. If possible,
> could you reply and include the date of the issue regarding "Raise High the
> Roofbeam, Carpenters." We were unable to locate the article that you're
> referring to.
> Sincerely,
> The Complete New Yorker Technical Support
> ...................................................
> On 1/2/2006we received the following question from you.
> NAME: Fred
> OS: winxp
> DESCRIPTION: Missing page on "Raise High the Roofbeam,
> Carpenters." There's a duplicated page (105) instead of the correct page
> 109.


On 1/4/2006we received the following question from you.


Sorry, should have given more complete information. Disc 6, Nov, 19, 1955
issue, see pages "108-109". Page that should be 109 is actually page 105.

Can I get a scan of 109? It kind of ruins the story with it missing. :-)




Thank you for your inquiry to The Complete New Yorker Technical Support department.

Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention. We have replicated the problem and are forwarding this to the developers.

We will release periodic application updates that will hopefully resolve this and other issues as they emerge.

We are not be able to scan an image of page 109 for you currently.

We apologize for the inconvenience. Thank you.


The Complete New Yorker Technical Support

So, you pays your money, and you take your chances. But even if not perfect, the CNY is just so good that I can put up with unreliable search results and missing pages. If you have a New Yorker fan in your household, they probably can too, and if you're looking for a gift that really will keep on giving... here it is.

American Life in Poetry: Column 041


Those photos in family albums, what do they show us about the lives of people, and what don't they tell? What are they holding back? Here Diane Thiel, who teaches in New Mexico, peers into one of those pictures.

Family Album

I like old photographs of relatives
in black and white, their faces set like stone.
They knew this was serious business.
My favorite album is the one that's filled
with people none of us can even name.

I find the recent ones more difficult.
I wonder, now, if anyone remembers
how fiercely I refused even to stand
beside him for this picture -- how I shrank
back from his hand and found the other side.

Forever now, for future family,
we will be framed like this, although no one
will wonder at the way we are arranged.
No one will ever wonder, since we'll be
forever smiling there -- our mouths all teeth.

Reprinted from "Echolocations," Story Line Press, 2000, by permission of the author. Copyright (c) 2000 by Diane Thiel, whose most recent book is "Resistance Fantasies," Story Line Press, 2004. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. For information on permissions and usage, or to download a PDF version of the column, visit

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

GoogPC coming?

Here's one of the weirder predictions I've seen for 2006 (outside of the giant 14.4 mile-long asteroid [or sometimes a comet] crashing into Earth and destroying All Life As We Know It, of course). According to the L.A. Times...

Google will unveil its own low-price personal computer or other device that connects to the Internet.

Sources say Google has been in negotiations with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., among other retailers, to sell a Google PC. The machine would run an operating system created by Google, not Microsoft's Windows, which is one reason it would be so cheap — perhaps as little as a couple of hundred dollars.

Bear Stearns analysts speculated in a research report last month that consumers would soon see something called "Google Cubes" — a small hardware box that could allow users to move songs, videos and other digital files between their computers and TV sets.
The hand crank (courtesy of the M.I.T. "$100 computer") is my own prediction, but what the hell, it makes as much sense as Google creating its own computer cum operating system and selling it through Wal-Mart. The "Google Cubes" theory is a little more palatable, imo, but again, you have to believe that Google has some sort of master plan for world domination, at least in the Internet sense, which I don't.

Of course, there's an entire year to prove me wrong, but if I am, I'll be content to eat my head, as Mr. Grimwig says in Oliver Twist.

Go to Salem. Rub Sam's Nose

A posting from a self-described, "Guide to Offbeat Tourist Attractions" site, has a short blurb about our gal, plus promotes a rub of Sam's nose as the proper way to commemorate your visit.

American Life in Poetry: Column 040


Arizonan Alberto Rios probably observed this shamel ash often, its year-round green leaves never changing. On this particular day, however, he recognizes a difference--a yellow leaf. In doing so he offers us a glimpse of how something small yet unexpected may stay with us, perhaps even become a secret pleasure.

A Yellow Leaf

A yellow leaf in the branches
Of a shamel ash
In the front yard;
I see it, a yellow leaf
Among so many.
Nothing distinguishes it,
Nothing striking, striped, stripped,
Strident, nothing
More than its yellow
On this day,
Which is enough, which makes me
Think of it later in the day,
Remember it in conversation
With a friend,
Though I do not mention it--
A yellow leaf on a shamel ash
On a clear day
In an Arizona winter,
A January like so many.

Reprinted from "The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body," Copper Canyon Press, 2002, by permission of Copper Canyon Press. Copyright (c) 2002 by Alberto Rios, a writer and professor at Arizona State University. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

American Life in Poetry: Column 039


Many of us keep journals, but while doing so few of us pay much attention to selecting the most precise words, to determining their most effective order, to working with effective pauses and breath-like pacing, to presenting an engaging impression of a single, unique day. This poem by Nebraskan Nancy McCleery is a good example of one poet's carefully recorded observations.

December Notes

The backyard is one white sheet
Where we read in the bird tracks

The songs we hear. Delicate
Sparrow, heavier cardinal,

Filigree threads of chickadee.
And wing patterns where one flew

Low, then up and away, gone
To the woods but calling out

Clearly its bright epigrams.
More snow promised for tonight.

The postal van is stalled
In the road again, the mail

Will be late and any good news
Will reach us by hand.

Reprinted from "Girl Talk," The Backwaters Press, 2002, by permission of the author. Copyright (c) 1994 by Nancy McCleery. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. For information on permissions and usage, or to download a PDF version of the column, visit