Sep 29

A chill in the air

I guess I can’t maintain my state of denial anymore — autumn is here, and there’s no pretending otherwise. I’ve been obstinately putting on lightweight short-sleeved shirts every morning in the hope that this would cause the warm weather to continue, but when I walked outside this morning it was chilly enough that I had to scurry back inside and root around in the closet for a light jacket. (When I say “chilly,” I mean a temperature of about fifty degrees. Jen is undoubtedly laughing as she reads this, since what I’m describing is a heat wave by Minnesota standards. She probably has icicles hanging from her mailbox already.)
This was the first time I’ve put on a jacket since last winter — and when I got to work, I realized that I had no idea whether I had anywhere to hang it. I’ve only been working in this office since May, so I’ve never brought a jacket here before. Fortunately, there turns out to be a hook on the back of the door.

Sep 19

Back to normal

The Wake County schools are closed again today, so Ruth and Ben get a four-day weekend. It’s back to work for me and Marie, however.
Driving to work this morning, I didn’t notice any damaged structures, or even road hazards caused by fallen tree limbs. (I’m sure there were some, but they had been cleared before I tried to use those roads.) I did encounter a couple of nonfunctional traffic lights. And the parking lot of my office building is carpeted with fallen leaves. That’s not unusual this time of year, except that these are green leaves.
So Isabel seems to have been no big deal as far as Raleigh is concerned. It was hazardous, but no more so than a major thunderstorm. Was the danger exaggerated by the news media? Gregg Easterbrook thinks so. Personally, I don’t regret any of the preparations our family made; even if they weren’t necessary for this particular storm, the exercise was a useful practice run for the next Hurricane Fran or Floyd. But Easterbrook has a point. If every tropical storm is heralded by the media as the end of the world, eventually people will stop paying attention. And when the next Fran or Floyd does come along, most of us won’t heed the warnings.

Sep 18

So far, so good

It’s intermittently windy with occasional strong gusts, but no sustained high winds. And it’s not even raining hard. According to the news reports, the eye has reached land. Isabel is 600-700 miles across, so that means we’re definitely inside it already. Perhaps conditions won’t get any worse than this. If so, we’ll be just fine here. No power outages to speak of yet (a fraction-of-a second flicker earlier this morning, but only the computers noticed).

Sep 18

Isabel 1, IBM 0

IBM has closed the Raleigh site for today because of Hurricane Isabel. Campbell University hasn’t canceled classes, but Marie is taking the day off.
There’s a light rain falling and a bit of wind, but nothing that suggests the approach of a Category 2 hurricane. However, the day is still young.

Sep 17

Brace for impact

Today has been surreal. The weather was as beautiful as anyone could ask for: bright sunshine, clear blue skies, and light breeze. As I cruised up Six Forks Road with the windows of my Eclipse rolled down, enjoying a perfect fall morning, I couldn’t even convince myself that there was a chance of rain, let alone that a hurricane with 100-mile-per-hour winds was bearing down on us. But at work, I looked at the latest weather reports on the Web and saw pictures like these:

As Rachel Lucas so eloquently put it, holy crap. All through the day, I looked at satellite photos of Hurricane Isabel and forecasts showing that North Carolina was squarely in its path, and I tried to reconcile this information with the calm and sunny conditions outside. “It will be here tomorrow,” I said to myself at least a dozen times. But it was just impossible to accept.

When I left work at 5:15, there were a few wispy clouds in the sky, but it was still a beautiful day. I intended to drive home, eat a quick supper, and then head into Cary for choir practice at 7:30. On the way home, I thought I would stop at the Cary BJ’s and refuel my car. (Marie had already filled up the minivan’s tank, but with a hurricane on the way, it wouldn’t hurt to have a second vehicle fully fueled.) 

My plan began to unravel almost immediately. Traffic was exceptionally heavy on Six Forks Road, and I ended up having to take an alternate route to Highway 1, which was also badly congested. (Was this caused by the approaching hurricane in some way? I couldn’t tell.) It was 6:00 by the time I got to BJ’s, but I forgot all about the time when I saw that every pump was in use, and a line of cars extended all the way out to the entrance from the street.

A gasoline line. I hadn’t seen one of those since the early ’70s. Obviously I wasn’t the only person who had decided that a full gas tank was a good idea. In fact, a tanker truck was busy topping off the gas station’s underground tanks. I decided that every other gas station in town probably had a similar line, and I might as well get in this one and wait my turn.

The whole process only took half an hour, which seemed pretty reasonable under the circumstances. And I was impressed by how patient and courteous everyone was about the whole business. But after all, we North Carolinians have been through half a dozen hurricanes since Fran hit in 1996. We know the drill now, and when we hear that another one is on the way, we react with grim resignation, not panic.

It was now 6:30 — too late for me to go home for supper and still get to choir practice on time. I called home on my mobile phone. Ben answered and informed me that the rest of the family had eaten an early supper so that Marie and Ruth could get to Raleigh Little Theatre by 7:00. (Right, they were working a performance tonight.) I told him I wouldn’t be home until after choir practice and went to the food court at Cary Towncenter Mall (a few minutes from the church).

When the practice ended at about 9:15, the sky had finally become overcast. But there was still no hint of rain, and no wind beyond the gentlest of breezes. I drove home. It was now time to make final preparations for tomorrow’s hurricane. Ben had already filled up the 30-gallon trash can in the garage that we use as an emergency water supply. (I bought it for that purpose after Hurricane Fran, and it has never been used for trash.)

When Marie and Ruth got home, we cleared as much space in the garage as possible and then brought in everything that the hurricane might try to turn into a missile: the swing, chairs, and ceramic animals from the front porch, the rolling trash bin, our potted plants, and even the extension ladder.

Were we prepared for a power failure? We had plenty of flashlights, and I had started charging our rechargeable batteries last night. Time to do anything else that required electricity while we still had it. We plugged our mobile phones and Palms into their chargers. I loaded and started the dishwasher, then sorted laundry and started that washing too.

Marie stocked up on canned goods this morning, and we have a propane stove and two bottles of fuel (something else I bought after Fran). We have two oil lamps and several bottles of oil. Ruth and Ben don’t have to go to school; the Wake County schools have already announced that they are closed tomorrow. IBM and Campbell University haven’t announced closings yet, but they probably won’t make a decision until morning. Nothing to do now but go to bed.

We’re ready. Bring on the storm.

Sep 16

Blogger Pro for everyone!

In case you haven’t heard, Blogger has discontinued the subscription-only Blogger Pro service and rolled the Pro functions into the free version of Blogger. They’ve effectively made every Blogger user a Pro subscriber. This was cause for much rejoicing in my household, because it means Ruth and Ben now can spell-check their blog posts and give them titles. (I just finished helping them turn on the title field in the Blogger posting form, and add the BlogItemTitle tags to their templates so the titles will show up.)

As someone who paid cash for the Pro functionality, I suppose I could be annoyed that people who never paid anything are getting it all for free. But I’m delighted at this news. As longtime readers of this blog may recall, there was a time when I was worried about Blogger’s long-term survival and actually wanted to give them some money, but couldn’t figure out how to do it. When Blogger announced a premium version of its service that you could pay for, I subscribed immediately.

I got my money’s worth and then some. The official price for Blogger Pro was $50, but by signing up early, I got the introductory rate of $35. It was never clearly stated whether this was a lifetime subscription or would have to be renewed periodically, but I assumed it was annual. And at one point, Blogger was actually sending out renewal notices, because they mentioned them in a news item on their login page. But I never got one. (I subscribed in January of 2002, so a one-year subscription would have expired long ago.)

To mollify any Pro subscribers who are irritated at having paid for something that’s now free, Blogger is offering us all free sweatshirts. When I tried to fill out the form to have the shirt mailed to me, I found that the Pro database doesn’t recognize my login. I notified Blogger Customer Service of this, and they replied that they couldn’t find any record that I subscribed in the first place! That may explain why I never got a renewal notice — my subscription fell through the cracks somehow, and would presumably have continued forever if they hadn’t eliminated the Pro service. (It remains to be seen whether I’ll get a sweatshirt or not. Customer Service asked me for the last four digits of the credit card I paid with so that they could investigate further, and I haven’t heard back from them yet.)

In recent months, I had actually thought about upgrading Ruth and Ben to Pro status, but $100 seemed like a lot of money to pay for titles and a spell-checker. So I’m very pleased that they’re getting those things free of charge. We have Google to thank for this. Since they acquired Blogger last February, the servers have been upgraded, the new Dano interface has been unveiled, and now everyone’s a Pro! I don’t know what Google hopes to gain from all of this, but if they’re trying to generate goodwill, it’s certainly working on me.

But what if I want to show my appreciation? There’s no way to give Google any money! Oh, wait, there is. I can go to the Google Store and buy stuff. Should I get a beach towel? A golf umbrella? A lava lamp? I’m going to have to think about this. (The store has Blogger items, too. So if I don’t get a free sweatshirt, I can always buy one . . .)

UPDATE: I never did get my free sweatshirt.

Sep 08

Too much TV, not enough time

Steven Den Beste sometimes posts essays on his blog that began as comments on other people’s blogs, but got out of control. This occasionally happens to me, too. I realize that I’ve written a thousand words and still have more to say. At some point you have to admit that you’re writing an essay, and you should be posting it on your own blog.

This piece originated in that fashion. The GNO bulletin board site currently has a discussion thread about this fall’s crop of new TV shows (and who likes which ones). I initially posted a laconic response that just said I don’t have time to watch TV anymore. But then Ben posted his take on some History Channel shows (including Conquest) and I felt that I needed to amend my previous statement. Before I knew it, I was writing an essay. So here it is.

Like Ben, I’ve become addicted to Conquest. Fortunately for me, new episodes don’t seem to come out very often.

I should clarify my previous comments. It’s not that I don’t watch TV any more; it’s that I really don’t have time for much TV and I try not to watch very much, but I often succumb to temptation and watch when I really should be doing other things. For me, TV shows fall into four categories:

  • Shows that I officially watch and that I’m keeping up with. I have Season Passes for these and I watch each new episode as soon as possible. Conquest and Teen Titans are in this category. (So is Futurama even though I don’t think many new episodes are being shown these days. I either managed to miss a number of episodes when they were new or have forgotten them, so I’m recording and watching most reruns of it because they are new to me.) All of these are half-hour shows, enabling me to watch them while eating and pretend I’m not really spending any time on TV.
  • Shows that I officially watch, but have fallen behind on. I have Season Passes for these and I transfer them to videotape for later viewing, creating a horrific VHS backlog that I’ll probably never entirely deal with. Star Trek Voyager used to be in this category, but I finally made a herculean effort and finished watching all the episodes about a year and a half after the show ended. Several other shows that have ended their run are in this category for me: Dark Angel, Firefly, Buffy, Tremors: The Series. Enterprise is also one of these — I’m over a year behind on it. From time to time I recognize that some particular show is so far down my list of things to watch, and has such a large backlog, that I will never catch up with it. When this happens, I admit defeat and recycle the videotapes. Sliders, JAG, Andromeda, and Odyssey 5 all fell by the wayside in this fashion.
  • Shows that I don’t officially watch, but I like them and sometimes end up sitting down to watch if someone else has them on. Guilty pleasures, in other words. State of Grace was one of these until we ran out of new episodes, and Gilmore Girls still is. So are Trading Spaces and several of its imitations. And yes, Ben, Mail Call is in this category.
  • Shows that I officially don’t watch, have no interest in watching even furtively, and will actually leave the room to get away from if someone else turns them on. All “reality” shows fall into this category, including American Idol in all its forms (sorry, Jen). Sports, news, and game shows (except for Jeopardy, of course) are also in this category.

I am old enough to remember a time when there were only three or four TV channels — and no VCRs, so if you missed something when it was on, you had to wait for a rerun or just didn’t see it at all. Now we have hundreds of channels, and VCRs and TiVo to make sure than we never miss anything we really want to see. I cannot recall a time after about 1975 when there weren’t more good shows on TV than I had time to watch. (I still don’t know the ending of The Captains and the Kings. I watched most of it in 1976, but had to give it up because my high school homework didn’t leave me enough free time to watch a miniseries. Now that it’s available on home video, I could theoretically buy it and watch the whole thing at last. But I have even less spare time now than I did in high school.)

It’s a popular affectation in our society to exclaim that there’s nothing worth watching on TV. But when someone says that in my presence, I can’t help responding with an incredulous stare. Do these people have that much spare time? Are their standards so high that nothing satisfies them? Or are they just saying that in order to pretend that they’re that discriminating?
Sure, there’s a lot of worthless dreck on TV. So what? Theodore Sturgeon once observed that 90% of science fiction is crud. But, he added, 90% of everything is crud.