Thursday, January 31, 2008

'I'm Sick!! Of Lying!!'
Hercules Gives The Last
--10626 total posts

Over 10,000 posts? This is what happens inside the Internet. People chat, rant and argue about TV shows. Do you ever check out any of this stuff? Probably not. It takes forever to load a page with 10,000 posts on it.

But that's LOST for you. Tonight's the big Season 4 premiere, so that's the buzzing you'll be hearing all day. I turned on the TV last night to see what nothing was on and I noticed they were showing the Season 3 finale again so I thought I'd settle in and rewatch. I must say, it was one of the great moments in the history of television when it aired last year, but only if you'd been following it. What was interesting last night was how they made it into "LOST, Pop-Up Video". Is this what television has come to? So you're sitting there watching a show, and the scroll bar at the bottom of the screen is rolling out the backstory of every character that comes on set. I found it annoying, since I knew the info, but the oblique Star Wars references were insightful.

I blame the writer's strike. And, yes, I do believe you are standing in the way of the Free Market if you strike when someone out there is willing to do your job for cheaper. The show must not go on! Pathetic. I feel sorry for the thousands of not very highly paid, below-the-line celebrity type-folks who depend on the film business to make a living (sandwich-makers, wardrobe people, etc.) We can thank the striking writers for one thing, however: did you see the Golden Globe Awards? Me neither, but evidently they hire writers for these things, and since there were none available they had to cancel the awards program, which I find utterly hilarious. The actors union issued a directive for its members not to show up for any party, too, in solidarity. Unfortunately, (or fortunately) the time slot was still allocated on the TV stations, so the broadcasters filled it by just having two people standing at an old, cast-off game show podium reading the list of nominees and winners. I caught a few minutes of it, and it was the best awards show ever aired. Quick and to-the-point. Like a popped balloon.

But the Academy Awards? No, that show will air. It's The Oscars, after all. The most dangerous place in Southern California is to stand between Hollywood and its self-congratulation, and no union will go there. Exceptions have been made. Expect dumb jokes, a moment of silence, and a standing ovation in the Oscar monologue -all for the writers, who would otherwise not get any attention. (It may be why they're striking in the first place.) In 2009 I expect they will award themselves for having bravely done nothing the previous year, unless they decide to acknowledge noteworthy independents -who will never work in this town again for having crossed the picket line.

But you know how it goes... Yes, there will be some breakout talent that makes a non-union film that grosses millions this summer. Every actor will want to work on their next film, and once the stars are attached the financing kicks in, all past transgressions are forgotten and all will be welcome in the Directors Guild or the Writers Guild. Ten years from now, another strike.

All the same, they do know how to tell a story on LOST, and evidently (before the strike) they had finished production on three or so of the 16 episodes that were expected to begin airing ("without interruption" they advertised) a few weeks ago. I guess they finished the season premiere first, but who knows -that show jumps around a lot. All the series are uncertain right now. They showed a new episode of House the other night and it was a Christmas episode, which made no sense at all. As well, I think 24 is off the table for the year, and it's reality shows as far as the calendar can see. So if you were ever going to give up on television, now is a good time to do it. Tonight at 8:00 PST, on ABC.

LOST is better on DVD anyway.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Got a letter from the prez yesterday. (Didn't everyone?) It always comes on a nice heavy bond of paper, gold embossed presidential seal at the top, and with a slice of cardboard in the envelope to keep it from bending. Why, it's suitable for framing! The postman always brings it straight to the door. Either he was intimidated by the return address, or it just didn't fit in the cubby. Most likely the latter. (The President says DO NOT BEND!)

Evidently, he and Laura liked our Christmas card. I appreciate him not complaining about the photo quality of the Costco print.

Lest you think our president is a shallow and thoughtless individual, it is most certainly not the same letter from last year -I checked. It is, however, the exact same signature. Skeptic that I am, I placed one over the other and held them up to the light. A perfect match (*sigh*). You'd think they'd have the foresight to reset the signature machines every year. Personally, I like to evaluate the wear-and-tear the job is having on the president's handwriting.

It arrived at the door just moments before the State of the Union address. Coincidence? I think not. The White House public affairs office has it down after seven years, and they're not taking a holiday just because it's a lame duck year. The speech, by the way, was a ho-hum state of the union speech. Long. I didn't have it in me to play the SOTUS drinking game, but I was surprised to hear the president stick it to the congress on a few things. I guess he's not giving up on his lame duckedness, either. Good to know. The state of the union? STRONG! It's so encouraging to know that we're always so strong. Makes you wonder about all those candidates who seek CHANGE! I'm sure the next state of the union address will go something like: "The state of the union is exhausted from the transition, unenthusiastic about our prospects, and with a touch of melancholy."

I like our president. I know, I know, I'm in the minority -his current approval rating hovers at 34% (still better than the Congress' current all-time-low at 22%). Being the president is a tough job. When you consider that there's 300 million people in the country, that's about 200 million people who think you suck. Bummer! I don't think everything he's done in his two terms is the GREATEST EVAR, but I do think that there's a lot of lies about him that persist out there. And, no, he was not born 9 months after the Roswell incident like it says in that E-mail you got. (That was Al Gore! b. 3/31/48, Roswell incident: 7/8/47)

You didn't see this in the news, but when the President recently went to Israel he was greeted by President Shimon Peres with these words:

"Mr. President, distinguished guests, as the President of the state I am delighted to speak on behalf of our people. I want to tell you in simple language - you came to a land and a people that loves deeply the United States of America, and without any reservation. And also may I say that I have the highest respect for you and the highest regard, because, speaking as a politician, you introduced character in politics. It's a great contribution to politics - character, courage, vision."

Well, that's nice high praise. The leftist cynics out there will have a long, softly bigoted eye-roll at that one from the Jewish state. Israel! The most successful democracy in the Middle East! (Hey, wait. It's the only democracy in the Middle East. Oh yeah, I guess you could count Iraq and Afghanistan.)

There was an accompanying letter to the first. I found this one friendly and optimistic, however bland, but it did remind me that this is a good country of good people. I don't believe any president wants anything less than for his country to succeed, as I believe that most every politician at his core feels that he is serving his country. This sets us apart from most of the world, and the dictators and monarchies that hold sway. George Bernard Shaw said, "Democracy is a system ensuring that the people are governed no better than they deserve." I think about that when I see the president's low approval ratings. Perhaps we are a nation of complainers, but at least we didn't elect one.

(BTW, I noticed that they changed the signature for this one.)

-Click pics to embiggen-


Monday, January 28, 2008

Welcome to a new week, last one of the month! Your year is nearly 1/12th over. I propose we get serious about these last few days of January and actually get something done. Somehow, this month hasn't amounted to much as far as Accomplishing Anything At All. I've spent a lot of time in front of the computer, but you wouldn't know it by the frequency and quality of the blogs. In a year we'll have a new president, and the country can't seem to get it together to decide on the candidates. And my race training has suffered, as well.

These are indecisive times, I guess. Take the weather. I awoke this morning with rain slamming the bedroom window, trees blowing over sideways in some odd January wind. I thought the storm had finished up yesterday morning when the clouds drifted off and the sun came out. The Little Ditchman and I had gone outside, seeds in hand, to plant the garden in the moist, turned loam I'd prepared last month. Then she went in for a nap, I put a pot a coffee on, and the winds were off the ropes! They came out swinging! Water blasted the side of the house like we lived in hurricane country and I raised an eyebrow and went back to my computer. An hour later the rains ceased, and there was much rejoicing. And then they came out swinging again this morning. It's Southern California, after all.

So if I've been a bit distant lately, it's because I've been moonlighting on another blog. Yes, I know, how could you? Well, it's all in the name of bringing home a satiating pork-product I enjoy using symbolically as income. You see, the customers love seeing pictures of their patio covers on the slideshows, in the portfolios, and on the Internet. They drop by the Home Show all day long and look for their renovated yard in the display albums, pointing proudly, stopping passersby and showing them and selling us. Fine with me, I say, good for business! I haven't registered the domain name yet, but I was thinking Alumablog.com, or YourDailyAluminum.com, or something clever and alluring like that. Your suggestions are welcome and appreciated.

For now, it's just http://www.hawkinspatiocovers.com/Recently_Completed/Recently_Completed.html which may be a little hard to remember, let alone pronounce.

We had something of a marketing push these past few weeks in Ditchman Family Construction. Remember that nice patio cover I built for you and how you loved our attentive and reliable work? Leave us a review on Kudzu.com! Profits are on the annual winter downswing, so as Mrs. Ditchman goes into overdrive I get to hang with the kid -which is my dumbfounded pleasure. I can't seem to find anything in the kitchen or understand half the stuff the Little Ditchman says, but hey Snacks and TV seem to do the trick. Come naptime, I work, and it has left me gasping for a breath in the tumultuous seas of HTML code and File Transfer Protocol -but I'd been meaning to learn all that anyway. Let me know what you think about the new site. I'm still working out the bugs, and have discovered that it works differently on all the browsers. "Browsers". The word alone implies such easygoing and hapless non-work, and yet it is quite the contrary. Strangely, though I built most of the new site on the Mac and using the Mac web design software, it doesn't seem to display properly on the Mac "Safari" browser. Whatever. Cyber-woes do not make for compelling blogging, so I will leave it at that.

But the garden is planted, and the rains came to dampen the seeds forthwith. Excellent! Even put a couple of fish in the pond. I expect a hearty season of growth this year, as I spent a lot of time tilling the soil in an attempt to re-invigorate the lifeless clay boneyard that I was lucklessly trying to fertilize last year. Many of the plants grew through last summer with the thick-skinned, dry fruit you'd expect on the lawn of Hades, and I presume this year to be able to change all that. This weather could be a good sign, when you consider the fact that we've had more rain in the past couple weeks that we had all last year.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

Blogger seems all jacked-up today. Letters are missing on everyone's site! This is good because I didn't have the time to get a word in edgewise anyway. What a life. Go see Mrs. Ditchman at the Home and Garden Show at the Del Mar Fairgrounds! Me? I'm at home enjoying a pot of coffee and a rousing episode of Sesame Street. Today's word: PREPARED.

On second look, I guess it's me that's all jacked up. I think there is a Mac virus or Trojan Horse going around, of all things. It was mentioned to me by The Architect. The Architect is 75 years old and uses a Mac. (Gotta respect that.) The Architect has had it up to his PIT HAIRS with the City of Oceanside building department. It makes me feel better.

In the news: Good Guys in the world. Bad Guys in the world. Me, I'm still waiting for my digital camera to come back. Set it on the back of the truck and drove away one day, and never saw it again. I'm sure the new owner is enjoying all the pics of Alumawood patio covers.

And for your reading pleasure, this lecture (from the monthly Imprimis) on the Canadian Economy. Wait! Don't go! It's the funniest, most insightful, most cleverly written article on the Canadian Economy you'll ever read!

"The future belongs to those who show up for it."


Thursday, January 24, 2008

More on Losers

Perhaps I shouldn't have used the phrase "ungifted losers". I do believe that we all have gifts, somehow, somewhere, however idiosyncratic. But I also believe that we're all losers, sooner or later, and more often than not.

It's just that I know a lot of people who whine and moan when they lose. Yell at the umpire. Kick and spit. I know a kid who throws his gamepad at the TV when he loses a vid, then he pouts and huffs and treats his mom like dirt. Poor form. Whatever happened to a smile and a handshake and a "Good game!"?

24,300 people ran the Honolulu Marathon. There was one winner. Ambesse Tolossa of Ethiopia, who also won it the year before. That's 23,299 losers. But a marathon is quite a thing. Most of those people who crossed the finish line did so with a smile on their face, overjoyed that they even made it to the end of the competition! That's good losing!

Mrs. Ditchman is a good loser. It's one of her finer traits! In it for the competition, she is. Loves the challenge, works hard to win and keeps coming back for the spirit of the game. It inspires me more than Ambesse Tolossa ever could, no matter how fast he runs.

One person wins the presidency, one team wins the Superbowl. If you go around saying "we're all winners" you're either ignorant or dishonest. Who put the shame in losing? It's part of life! I would rather be a good loser than a bad winner, as everyone hates a bad winner. We all want to be good winners and there's nothing wrong with that. To all of you who want to be good winners, I say Go for it! As for those of us who come in behind you... To lose is to presume you tried. If I call everyone losers, I'm giving everyone the benefit of the doubt. To not try is something much worse than losing.

TheDawgRun sent me the famous Yoda quote, "Do or do not. There is no try." I respect Yoda, and he will dismiss my barking at his aged wisdom, but I find it an overly simplistic notion. If we "do or do not" does that mean we either do win the marathon, or we do not win the marathon and there is no trying? I believe this proves my point that we are likely to lose. Unless we redefine as "do finish the marathon" or "do not finish the marathon", but this would imply that there are things I should just never attempt, or even "try" to do. So what are those things? Yoda needs to clarify. Perhaps it only applies when using The Force to levitate your spacecraft out of a swamp. Sadly, I'm no Jedi, and I'm no Ambesse Tolossa, but I tried and that was the whole point of it. It's all about the trying. I lost along with 23,000 other people, but we lost well. There were countless masses who were afraid to try at all.

And I could go on and on about that one! Whole treatises can be written on the subject of the Failure of Will. I'd quote Socrates and Plato and C.S. Lewis and Matthew 25 and the 'Parable of the Talents'! It would be brilliant!

But if I did, it would be a failure of will to get to work this morning. See? You can't win.

Ambesse Tolossa of Ethiopia, winner of the 2006 and 2007 Honolulu Marathon.

The real winners.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Nothing on TV.

This is a wholly American experience. To be sitting there in front of your very large screen with channels in the hundreds and nothing on. Typical over-indulgent, never-satisfied, fat Americans luxuriating in their swank and complaining about it. So I watched The Karate Kid.

Speaking of swank -actually, I watched the end of The Karate Kid. The data channel guide said that it was The Karate Kid II, so I flipped to it because I wanted to see Hillary Swank in her breakout role -straight to the Academy from there, babe! But no, it was KK1, the one that started it all.

And I got sucked right in. This is a classic movie! It has that magical, after-school-special quality that cuts right to the marrow of the 14-year-old soul and coos gently, telling it, "You're not alone... We know how you feel..." It was 10:30 at night. I'm 37 years old. I'm thinking, who's watching The Karate Kid at 10:30 on a Sunday night? Then it cut to a rather embarrassing commercial for male enlargement. Yes, "enlargement", and by "embarrassing" I am referring to the advert's production value. It segued into a commercial for a baldness cure, I kid you not, and the trifecta was in play. But it didn't matter, there was now no wondering who was up at 10:30 on a Sunday night watching The Karate Kid. Made me sad, really.

I kept watching, of course (for the film, not the commercials.) The Karate Kid was directed by John G. Avildsen, who also directed Rocky, and it shows -but hey, if something works, go with it! Both were massive commercial hits, as we know, and went on to numerous sequels. (Turns out Hillary Swank is in Karate Kid IV, of all things. I must've missed a few in there.)

I remember when I first saw it. I went to the theater in the Eagle Rock Plaza with my buddies Jeff Smith and Robby Bryant. It was 1984, and we were about the same age as Ralph Macchio in the movie, only significantly dorkier (we didn't know Karate.) After the movie, we walked out of the theater in a trance, like we'd wholly escaped geekdom, were lifted above it, and conquered all. A fine, pure film. The quintessence of cinema, we agreed, sitting there on the curb waiting for Robby's mom to come pick us up in the station wagon.

Watching it again, you can't help but choke on some of the cheese, but it is surprisingly effective. The movie works because of Pat Morita's touching performance as Miyagi, some choice adroitly-written scenes, and the perfect blend of 80s pop (Cruel Summer) and the wistful, Asian tones of Zamfir (Master of the Pan Flute) providing atmosphere, a musical twosome never again repeated in American pop culture, as far as I can tell. Will you ever forget "Wax on, wax off"? I doubt it. Say what you will, that's good filmmaking.

Pat Morita was nominated for an Academy Award for his role as Miyagi (he didn't win) and was known to have had trouble with the Japanese accent, as he regularly spoke with an American one. The scene where he is drunk and remembering the war was almost cut from the film for being too slow. In my mind it's the scene that got him nominated. That's Hollywood. Side note: Pat Morita happens to be the uncle of one of my wife's best friends. When he died a couple of years ago, we sent our condolences.

The Karate Kid also launched the careers (however short-lived) of Ralph Macchio and Elizabeth Shue, who played his girlfriend. A friend of mine knew William Zabka, who played the blonde bully, "Johnny Lawrence". Turns out he's a pretty nice Christian guy who was bothered by playing such a mean character. In the end of the film, after he "sweeps the leg" and takes a Crane Kick to the face in return, he hands Daniel the trophy and cries "You're all right, LaRusso!" -evidently an important redemption for the bad guy (and the actor). The unforgettable dude who played the evil Sensei from the Cobra Kai Dojo was also not that into the role, bummed that someone would teach kids to cheat. I guess we'll do anything for a Hollywood part, right guys?

And that famous Crane Kick that wins it all for Danny LaRusso? It's a bogus technique that doesn't exist anywhere in actual Karate or Kung Fu. Pure Hollywood. The black belt who invented it for the movie even claimed that, as a fighting move, it has "very little practical application". Oh well. We needed a WOW finish.

But what I really wanted to say about The Karate Kid is that it is clearly successful storytelling, however cheesy it comes off. This is a story about ungifted losers becoming winners, and that is every single one of us. There is a crisis of self-esteem in this country, and kids nowadays are wrongly taught that they are all winners, regardless of their achievement. Seems you can get an A just for trying in some public schools, and there is no failure. It's all a sad lie, really, and society will suffer for it if we persist in instilling a false sense of self-esteem into our children. This is the truth: there are only a few winners in life. The 99.9% rest of us are losers. If you really want to teach your kids to be a success, teach them to be good losers. Personally, I know very few good losers, but the ones I do know are the best people in the world, and interestingly, very successful.

The penultimate scene in The Karate Kid says it all. Daniel's leg has been jacked-up and he's about to forfeit the competition though he made it to the final round. He's in the locker room with Miyagi, and he begs Miyagi to do that funky Oriental pain-suppression technique, remember? Where he claps his hands together and then we cut away before we actually see what it is he did? Anyway, Daniel is laying there on the table, desperate to win, but Miyagi knows better, leans in and says, "You already win. No need prove anything." thereby clarifying for all of us what "achievement" really is.

I hear you saying it: But in the end of the movie, he wins!

Of course he does. We all want to be winners. This is why we go to the movies, to escape real life, and yet validate the struggle. I don't want real life in the movies. I get plenty of real life at home on the couch, going bald.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Why did the Significant Pic go all the way down the side like that? You tell me. It's just been that kind of week, but hey: at least we got this behind us.

The Happiest Day of the Year is June 20th, a Friday, in case you were wondering. I suggest we change the calendar around and celebrate it today. In so doing, I will not burden you with lengthy blogs about my depressive meanderings of recent times. If you want to read a good, funny blog, here. And here.

In other words, it's a busy week. Plus you got the rain. Poverty. Pestilence. Famine. Home Show. The same old smack. No lack of material, just a sad lack of time and energy.

"If you are a regular whiner or moaner about the weather or minor ailments, stop," said Arnall. "It is boring and you are boring."


Thursday, January 17, 2008

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

From Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner

I was thinking I was in the "doldrums" yesterday, slogging through another day of work that resembled all others, but I wasn't really -I just couldn't come up with the image of what it was I was feeling. And then I began thinking of the doldrums themselves and how my interest piqued upon learning about them in Ms. Vail's Western Civ class in high school.

The doldrums. The spot near the equator where the winds die altogether, the seas go calm, and sailors begin to lose it. Scientific word for it: the "Intertropical Convergence Zone" (ITCZ). I imagine it's quite a sight. You're sailing along, slapping the waves and then *poof* -nothing. The sails go limp and drop from the mast. Men reach for the oars, if they have them. And then, I understand, right around the hottest point in the day, say, 3-4 o'clock, it rains.

In the 19th century, a "doldrum" was a dullard, or a dull and sluggish fellow. It's derived from "dol", meaning "dull" with its form taken from "tantrum". Where a tantrum is a fit of petulance and passion, a doldrum was a fit of sloth and dullness. The region referred to as the Doldrums was actually named such because of a mistake, as these things usually are. Reports of ships stuck windless on the open sea and "being in the doldrums" were mistakenly believed to be describing their location, rather than their state of being.

So, yeah, it all sounds about right. It was nearing 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and the talk radio was yammering the same old schlock. I was hopped up on Sudafed from a cold the family is passing around, and I was just slogging to and fro, from one side of the job site to the other, stopping only to scratch my head and remind myself what it was I was doing.

It could be worse, I suppose. I could be in the "Horse Latitudes" -so named because we got so desperate, we tossed the horses overboard to lighten the ship's load. Makes sense. That's just the sort of thing I would do, and then complain about the long walk when we got to land.

But I'd like to see it, the Doldrums. I think it would be relaxing for a time, as I would have plenty of beer with me and a fishing pole. I've seen something like it out on the Colorado River in the middle of August. I like it.

Anyway, it was all just the weary daydreaming of a tired, sore, bored 37 year-old trying to make it through another day. Truth be told, I know people who are more in the doldrums than I am, so I shouldn't complain. It's a tough, spiritless spot. No wind. Stillness. Lifelessness. Stagnation. This is when the people around you begin to get on your nerves, and you find it impossible to focus and maintain course. Remind yourself: it's the Equator. The muggy, boring middle of a second act. Wait it out. Face forward, lest you get caught going in circles in the open-spaced labyrinth that a desert or a sea can bring. Hold out till night, and when it comes, look to the stars.

I usually just think about the Little Ditchman, smile, and go back to work.

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Not that it matters, but Wikipedia's birthday was yesterday. Your source for information that is only accurate depending on the day, turned 7. Or maybe 8. Be sure to cross-reference.

Scientists have proven the Koran is bogus. End times on their way. (Or at least jihadist Armageddon.)

No, really. The end is nigh!

No, seriously, folks. "And the moon shall be red as blood. And snow will fall on Baghdad."

Also, Blu-Ray wins. Hitler is ticked!

That's all for today.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The new Macs are here! The new Macs are here!

Big deal. Wonderful. Glad I bought one a few months ago. Actually, it's a laptop. "Thinnest laptop in the world!" Oh Mighty Steve exclaimed. He actually walked onstage and pulled it out of an envelope. Bonus: fully aluminum case.

We asked the Little Ditchman what her middle name was yesterday and she answered proudly, "Aluminum!" Which depressed me thoroughly. Still, I was impressed that she could pronounce it. Another anecdote: One of the things she's been doing for a while is announcing "March! March!" and then she kicks her knees up and marches about. It's cute as all get-out. She began doing this on a beach in Hawaii, and we're not sure where it came from. Last night she got out of the tub and began "March!" "March!" marching about, only this time she was chanting "Forteen!" "Forteen!" which had us in a conundrum until we realized, oh yeah. March 14th. Her birthday.

Anyway, Oh Mighty Steve also announced software updates and a newly revamped AppleTV, which filled my heart with gladness, though Mrs. Ditchman shrugged and left the room. I still think the potential of the product is thoroughly untapped, and Mighty Steve more or less admitted such. I like the product, but I'm not buying another one. Here's to hoping that all of us 1st Generation users aren't left out in the cold -I wasn't particularly filled with confidence when Steve said us old version users would only need the free software upgrade. The new AppleTV, I guess, doesn't plug into your computer at all but plugs directly into the Internet, where you can now rent movies on iTunes, among other things. (I rewired the house for this!) It's also supposed to be more truly HD than the previous version, but for all of you who haven't upgraded to HDTV yet, you might want to wait. Super Hi-Vision Ultra HDTV is coming in about six or seven years (2015). No, I'm not kidding.

For the nerd in all of us, I have now linked Engadget.com to the left, here. The site cracks me up with all the silliness they produce out there in the world of electronics. Note: if you click on it today it's just going to be MacMacMac as far as the eye can see, so you PC users may want to wait it out a few days. By the way, PC users, the U.S. Army has begun using Macs. Yes, this too, is true. Evidently Macs are safer for our national security than your mealy bug-ridden buckets of bits. When the fire sale comes, I'll send you an Email. (But not from my new "thinnest laptop in the world". Those things cost 1800 bucks!)


Monday, January 14, 2008

Finally got the organizer shelf installed in the office, (which I know pleases all of you!) I'd built it months ago but it just languished in the workshop* (*garage) for the past few months while we holidayed and dealt with the succession of family crises that befell us since, ah, September, is it? Oh well. There's nothing like a bit of organization to kick off the new year. It will all make this year's crises that much easier to manage.

And by "install" I mean "set in" which is all it took. (That and the staining, previously discussed.) We work in this office surrounded by boxes and boxes of files, materials, reference manuals, and whatnot -and it's just getting irritating. We moved every box to another room for the holiday, and were gladdened by the peaceful serenity of a clean office when 2008 began. Mrs. Ditchman henceforth declared that no box shall be moved back into the office until the filing cabinets are completed, and that was that.

So the master bedroom is now piled high with office supplies. This would be overwhelming if it wasn't for the fact that it's one of the "ugly" rooms in the house. We're taking on the residential overhaul one room at a time so it's best to pile the crap in the ugliest room, and then enjoy life in the "nice" room, you see? I would say that it is now a joy to go into the office and work, but... well, you know how it is. Work kind of makes me nauseous, but then again it might be the reeking chemical from the recent staining fiasco.

So the window is wide open, making it cold in here. (You just can't win, I tell you!) Still, it's nice. I'd have the filing cabinets done and installed by the end of the week if I wasn't a month behind in the bills and steeped in a workload up to my pit hairs, but who can be deterred in weather such as this?! It was a perfectly beautiful day yesterday, our week and a half of winter having passed, so we spent it in the yard moving dirt from location to location. Ahhh, the smell of dirt! The fertile scent of Spring! The garden this year is going to rival Babylon herself!

Of course, there's that fence I need to finish. The broken sprinklers. The pavers. The unfinished pond. The sandbox. Oy. Did I say Babylon? I meant modern Baghdad.


Friday, January 11, 2008

That's the famed beekeeper from New Zealand, Edmund Hillary, on the right, who died yesterday at the ripe old age of 88. I love this classic picture of him and his Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay. It's about as badass as it gets. They were the first to summit Mt. Everest in 1953 and when they made it back down to base camp, Edmund famously said, "We finally knocked the bastard off!" Then they sat down on their gear and had coffee, apparently.

In its day it was a hell of an accomplishment, given that they were without such luxuries as GPS, Gore-Tex, satellite phones, and corporate sponsors. In my mind, Hillary was the last of the real adventurers, at least until we develop interstellar space travel. Sure, there's all those guys who balloon around the world and so forth, but big deal, I say. Ballooning? Now, seriously. And then there's this guy, another Kiwi, who plans on skateboarding around the world. Magellan he is not. Jobless, yes.

There's all kinds of annoying firsts up Everest now -first without oxygen, first woman, first blind guy, youngest to summit, oldest to summit, first one from each country, first one in a purple jacket, etc. I suggest everyone try to do it using the same assortment of utilities that Hillary had: wool socks, leather straps, etc. Let's see who's really the badass now, hmmm? Climbing Everest has become something of a novelty for the wealthy, nowadays, as, if you have enough cash, you can pay a Sherpa to carry you to the top on his back. These Sherpas are the real climbers, too, as they just go up and down the mother-of-all-mountains all day long, with big smiles on their faces.

But Edmund Hillary was more than just a mountain climber, he was a good guy, too -generous, kind, and determined. He always refused to say whether he or his Sherpa was the first to set foot on the summit, claiming they'd done it as a team. When they got to the top they pulled out the camera to get some pictures, but Tenzing didn't know how to work it, so Hillary just took a picture of Tenzing, his Sherpa.

Well, what would you do? Edmund Hillary spent the rest of his life raising money to help the poor Sherpa people of Nepal, figuring he owed them at least that for making him famous. He built schools and hospitals and an airstrip in the Himalayas, and he was well-loved for it. He was the first New Zealander to get his face on the money while he was still alive. He immediately autographed a bunch of the five-dollar notes and auctioned them off, raising thousands for the Sherpa people.

Hillary Clinton once boasted to Edmund himself that her parents had named her after him after he conquered Everest. Edmund found it amusing, no doubt, that someone would name their daughter after an unremarkable beekeeper from New Zealand, given that she was born five years before he'd become famous from the feat. Since then, Clinton has backpedaled furiously about it. She may backpedal all the way up Everest, as far as I can tell. Another first.

Edmund Hillary did a bunch of other bitchin' things in his lifetime like journeying to the South and North Poles (with Neil Armstrong no less) and jetboating up the Ganges river to its source. He always considered himself nothing more than an ordinary guy and lectured schoolchildren that anyone could accomplish anything if they worked hard enough. He was no stranger to the pains of life, too, when his wife and only daughter were killed in a plane crash. (He later remarried and had another family.) He was a titan in New Zealand, but his local obituary called him "humble, hard-working, and honest" and claimed "we will not see his kind again," which is altogether sad for humanity.

Hillary did not want his ashes scattered over the Himalayas, as you might imagine. Rather, he wished them to be tossed into the sea near his birthplace.

"To be washed gently ashore, maybe on the many pleasant beaches near the place I was born. Then the full circle of my life will be complete," he said.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

There is a difference between English Chestnut and Golden Oak. Evidently I'd been using two different stains in the house and didn't notice it until I put two separately stained pieces next to each other. This was a vast sky of disappointment that opened up above me when I put the two together. There was no going back. With all the projects I've got backing up, I'm not going to go and rebuild everything just because the color is a little off.

And by "backing up" I mean in the manner of life's incessant constipation, and I'm not referring to my hard drives (though that remains a matter of some concern.) Part of everything that is going on right now is the tax accounting of 2007 amidst the organizing and paying of old bills. I'm better at the organizing part, which is why I went ahead and stained the office organizer. (The wrong color. See? Do you really want me paying the bills?) I found a pile of bills and could not make heads nor tails of them -so I asked Mrs. Ditchman. She said the pile was so big it defied organization. While not encouraging, I was up to the task!

Or, whatever. I actually put the first check of 2008 in the bank today -which covers nothing, I know. It's gonna take another ten or twenty of these, really. Times like this you want to get outside and run for it, but really I just need to get outside and work for it. I actually chickened out on my long run the other day because of impending work. I put it off, and will have to add a couple of miles in the end to feel good about it.

But I'm glad I'm not the only one! I still have October to do, myself, but then again I jump around a lot, depending on what my attention fancies. I failed to do a quadruple backup of everything in my recent Great Memory Migration, and paid the price. Some of Hawaii 2005 is gone forever, unfortunately. Let my lessons be lessons for us all. The Digital Age has its drawbacks.

So I will burn everything to discs from now on. Or just burn everything. I've been slowly sifting through old boxes of pics and such, trying to cull a few memories back into their rightful places on the new computer, and it is a near impossible task. A lot of the files, it turns out, were corrupt to begin with, and it only takes a couple of computers to really set things afoul. Then again, maybe I got a bad MacPro. Could be, as the new ones came out just the other day! "A Tower of 8-core power!" Grrr... Well, I know, I know... I just couldn't wait! But no one can -which is the Digital Age's most defining trait.

So back to the grind, back to the organizing of Life. I persist, I really do, because when the pile is neat, I am more comfortable. And when I am more comfortable, I am more tolerable. I do it for all of you.

Oh thank you! Thank you! Just what is it that makes you so tolerable today, Sean?

Why, I just organized my bathroom toiletries into a clever arrangement of "Soaps and Cleansers", "Lotions and Ointments", and "Vitamins and Medicinals" and it's all put me in a rather sunny demeanor!

God bless us, everyone!


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Dear FBI, we missed your call yesterday when we were out. Please call back!

I go all day at work collecting things to blog about. It keeps me interested and attentive and prevents my ADD from getting in the way of tasks at hand. Unfortunately I've taken to posting in the morning, after the tide of sleep rolls out and takes with it all the mental detritus accumulated from the previous day. So where does it all go? Back out to sea, I guess. (I should be grateful.)

Speaking of the sea, and speaking of detritus, there is one nasty critter slithering around beneath the rocks of my reef aquarium. Referring to my collection of reef critter identification volumes, I've pegged it as a "Bristleworm", which does not please me. It could be any one of the ten thousand or so species from the Polychaete (worm) family, and the behavior on these creatures differs and is poorly understood. It's a nocturnal beasty, and lately seems to be aroused when I feed the fishes at night. Bristleworms smuggle themselves in on the imported live rock, feeding on aquarium detritus -old food, fish crap, and the like. Normally they're a beneficial critter, cleaning up after everyone. They're beneficial and irrelevant because they're usually about an inch long, but the one in my living room is at least six inches long. I'm not sure of his total length because he's never fully out in the open -I just see his bristled segments sliding past in the dark spaces between the rocks, ad infinitum. Shine a flashlight on him and he speeds up.

So I guess there's not enough fish crap for him. He'll probably start eating the corals soon, if I fail to feed him. He's like the monster in The Little Shop of Horrors, or some other Sci-fi flick, and it's beginning to worry me, lest I become a slave to the appetite of the family bristleworm. I could have him removed via some trap I suppose, but I'll keep this handy.

The gruesome weirdness of this creature cannot be understated. It has a proboscis with folded in teeth that can shoot out when "hunting or alarmed" as one book says. (Oh, great.) Aquarists call them "fireworms" because that's what it feels like when you accidentally rub against their bristles when you're unwittingly rearranging the rocks in your tank. You could try killing him if only you could get to him, but he's a Polychaete, as I mentioned, which means that if cut in half you'll suddenly have two of them, munching on your expensive corals on either side of the tank. There are a few natural predators, some crustaceans, that I could procure to go after him, but from what I've read they won't take on a worm this size, and then they'll just start eating your pretty fish. I imagine that that would leave you with a graveyard of a tank, with an ugly worm on one side and a nasty crab on the other, hating one another like bad neighbors. And I don't need those bad vibes in my home.

Here's a picture of a typical Bristleworm (not mine, who eludes the camera):

Just look at that ugly head!

It could be worse. It could be a Mantis Shrimp. I've heard stories of the hidden razor-sharp dagger that the Mantis Shrimp ejects in a flash, lobbing off the tips of fingers and, in some cases, cracking whole tanks. Take a gander at this beauty, which every aquarist who has ever encountered one will tell you is the most loathsome creature in all the hobby!

If Science Fiction writers ever run out of material, there's plenty of untold stories from beneath the sea.


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

It's Primary Day! This makes the previous seven days of the year sound like a book jacket, and to tell you the truth, they've been about as meaty. I was going to type some about the current politics, but what would I say? It would just fritter away into a shameless opinionated take on the world you've heard somewhere else. And why would I want to alienate my readers now, when I could keep you interested for a year and alienate you to utter perfection in November? Additionally, all I wanted to say about the candidates was captured clearly and easily by Lileks, so it's no use being redundant (as if I could.)

Today, the Internet brings you this:

Take the Sci fi sounds quiz I received 79 credits on
The Sci Fi Sounds Quiz

How much of a Sci-Fi geek are you?
Guess the Sci-Fi Movie Sounds hereCanon powershot

I'm so disappointed I only got 79! To be honest, I went back and played it a second time because I wasn't sure about one of the answers, so I did get to boost my score a couple. I guess it's going to be one of those days where I'm just not the geek I aspire to be. Certainly I'm not geek enough to figure out how to work the paragraph and line spacing in HTML code.

Still, I believe it will be a good year, even though Hillary has been crying lately. We will have a new president come November, which should make about half of the country happy, and we'll have a new Indiana Jones movie in May, which should make the other half of the country happy. Or the same half. Not sure. It will also be the year of Potty Training, as I noticed this morning. The Little Ditchman was perched up on the commode with an Elmo picture book in her lap. Whatever it takes, I guess. Me? I read the Opinion section.

But the mighty rains have passed for Southern California, and much of it was not washed out to see, or to sea, thank goodness. All we need in 2008 is another media spectacle to reenforce global warming fears and foster distain for our poor leaders. All the same, there was a bit of panic in these parts when people looked up at the grey sky over their mud-faced hillside in the backyard. I noticed on the news that they were handing out free sandbags on various street corners around town. "A city employee will be there to help you load up your truck!" they exclaimed on the news. It was nighttime. A city employee? Loading sandbags into my truck? In the dark? In the rain? America's Finest City indeed!


Monday, January 7, 2008

Well, they did say it was coming. It finally got here on Friday, though my new 50 cent rain gauge sat dry and idle for a day or so, but look! Nearly three and a half inches! That'll be it for the next ten or twelve months, so go ahead and roll the patio furniture back on out. I'm no stranger to a deluge such as this. We had more than that in the first three miles of the Honolulu Marathon.

It's that time of year again! Time to back up all the files in the hard drives! Yes, that's what I did with the bulk of my weekend, and my, what an insanely boring task that is. There are few things less fulfilling. It's the kind of act where you just wish for an unexpected calamity to demand that you pull out your backup. Now that I've backed everything up, I expect a calamity-free year. If everyone did the same, why, we'd have world peace by Memorial Day.

Also spent a little bit of time on Google Analytics, where I can monitor all of you monitoring me. I know who you are! I'm nearing 100 unique visitors to this site, averaging about 15 regulars a day, peaking at about 10AM, which means many of you are probably wondering what happened to me this morning -I won't bore you. It has to do with the router. (See? Boring.) I'm hoping that bells, whistles, and a free pizza go off when I actually do reach a hundred people. I'd like to honor the 100th customer. Send them a congratulatory Email with a coupon for free scrap aluminum. I hear you all clamoring for it in the distance as I type this.

I find it interesting the Google searches people have used to find me here at TMST. Of note: "full moon on christmas" and "pomegranate cocktails" will both direct you here. Also used: "backdoor santa meaning", "buddhist christmas salutations for christians", "brain cancer glossy eyes", "definition of poofta", and notably: "walrus dicks" and "poo dangler". See what you've been missing?

More disturbingly, I rather innocently wrote the phrase (encoded here) "my n@k3d d@ught3r" only to find that someone had come to the site using a Google search on that phrase. I have since corrected it, you sick bastard, wherever you are. Let that be a lesson to all of us. The Internet can be a dangerous place.

And so is all the world. Speaking of the world, I've had visitors from nearly twenty countries, including a reader in Svenke, Finland. Hello, Finland! Or, as they say in Finland: "Tervetuloa!" As well, nearly every state in the union has come around TMST, which is nice. Greetings strangers! Also a number of visitors from Canada. (Dear Canadians, when I refer to your country as "America's hat", I mean it in a kind, head-warming sort of way.)

May this week be a productive one, and in the interest of making it so, that's all for today.


Friday, January 4, 2008

Fits and starts. That's what's come of this year so far. Fortunately, I know that the whole year doesn't have to be like this. Sometimes you trip at the sound of the starter gun, but you get up and run a bit faster for a time, and pretty soon you're running alongside everyone else.

The Most Significant Thing was not supposed to be all the alcohol that was consumed at the New Year's party. Looking at the crate of aftermath, I spy a number of champagne bottles that went into the punch bowl potion, which ended up going down the drain the next morning. I also see a bottle of port in there that had been finished off weeks previous, as well as a couple of other familiar bottles, so we really didn't drink that much. (Of note: do you see my reflection in the bottle of Monticelli Brothers there in the foreground? Neat! -click to make bigger-) I wonder what the neighbors thought. I wonder what they thought of me taking a picture of it.

The rains were supposed to come last night. "Brace yourself for the powerful Pacific storm!" they said. Uh huh, I'm still bracing. I hadn't planned on running this morning and had scrapped a bunch of plans for yesterday and the weekend that involved me moving everything out of the garage, so this morning I awoke to discover that I could have achieved a lot more yesterday, which always bums me out. It runs alongside of "I could have achieved a lot more last year", and so I felt somewhat depressed. Yesterday it seemed the only thing I did right was lift up the Little Ditchman to see the fish tank, but this morning I'd had two cups of coffee, then I read this, and it wasn't raining. So I ran.

I had a couple glasses of wine last night. The past month or so, I've experimented with my habit of drinking half a carafe of coffee in the morning and three beers in the evening. Wonder of all wonders! When I don't drink alcohol the night before and then keep it to one cup of coffee in the morning, I feel better, run better, and end up less dehydrated after the workout! Imagine that! So I've taken to my new training method, more or less, with some optimism. I hadn't planned to run this morning on account of the rainy forecast, so I had a couple glasses of wine last night and a couple mugs of coffee this morning, and then found myself feeling some early January hopelessness. So I ran anyway.

To a second, I got the exact same time I did yesterday, running the exact same distance. The body is a wonder. If you take care of it, it can accomplish the unthinkable. If you fail to take care of it, it can bounce back pretty fast when you finally decide to.

The truth is I probably would have wound up running faster today if I had kept with the regimen, but I felt good today nonetheless. It was about the fifth mile where I started to feel really strong. A song came on that got me thinking about things, all the unfinishedness in my life that burdens me, and I started to get choked up. I could feel the chest tighten, my legs pushing a bit harder on the hill that I was on, and it was like mile 18 in just about every marathon I've ever run.

A few weeks ago I received an E-mail from someone I hadn't heard from in maybe ten years. It was just a friendly E-mail from a classmate in my 8th grade Algebra class. I think I last saw him at our ten year reunion, which was ten years from when I saw him the time before that. He's a great guy, married now with a kid, like me. He'd seen the blog and just wanted to say hi and good job at the Hawaii marathon. Wow.

And then the other day I received an E-mail from another guy whom I also hadn't seen in ten years or so. He had just left the military, and had been in Iraq and Afghanistan. Looked me up and found the blog. Wanted to say hi. What a surprise.

And then yesterday I heard that a family friend had died. There seems to have been a lot of death in our little circle of blogs lately, so I didn't want to expound on it. Joan was our real estate agent who found us the house, and I didn't know her very well. She'd been retired for a while, but kept a hand in the business and helped people out from time to time. This was not the house we wanted, and at the time I felt that Joan talked us into the place. She took one look at Mrs. Ditchman and I and had us figured out immediately. "This place is trashed," I said. "It's a joke." She waved her hand and dismissed it. "Oh, Sean you can fix all that." She was right, I did. Our lives changed. I don't think she made more than a few dimes off the sale. A year later she came to our baby shower and we proudly showed off to her what we'd done to the place. I swear she smiled knowingly.

The house at New Year's was filled with some of our closest friends and all their children and I took a look around at one point and thought my, my.

Well, what would you say? Life moves ever forward, grows and stretches, bends, breaks, and finishes. All the significance of it gets sidelined by unfinished projects, cluttered desktops, worldly distractions, and the ever-present minutiae of a seemingly endless line of mild disappointments which build on each other if we let them. Like walking into a cloud of gnats at the mountaintop, we get too busy swatting to see the view, but in our own small ways we lift each other above it.

And so, on the run this morning it all flooded in. Good. The running works.

May we rise and be lifted above it all this year.


Thursday, January 3, 2008

Damage Report: New Year's Eve

January 3rd. I resolve this year to blow off petty responsibilities in the name of getting something more significant accomplished.

Just kidding.

But, oh how that would please Mrs. Ditchman. I don't know why I didn't get around to posting yesterday or the day before. Could be the hangover. (And you just know it was a good party when you're still hung over on January 3rd.) Last night my wife made the suggestion that I just not have a beer. That's a suggestion you really can't turn down, lest you pull up the on-ramp on the highway to alcoholism. Then, with a smile on her face, she said, "Do you think you can?" where at once it became a challenge. We were out of beer anyway.

I don't know what I had more of in December, alcohol or cheese. If there is a cheese hangover, I have it. Seems like I ate enough cheese over the holidays to dam the Seine, and there's no way that can be healthy. I love cheese, though. I love the smell of it, the texture, the exotic nature of the stuff, but every now and then you get a piping hot pizza delivered and you pop open the box to see a pool of grease in the middle of the dough and you think, "Where does all that grease come from?" Answer: the cheese, of course. You eat it anyway.

And I like wine. And beer. It's the Day-Glo punch that sends me sleeping on the bathroom floor, so I try and stay away from the stuff. A Monticelli Brother brought a bunch of wine to the party and even he was impressed by how much we drank. Believe me, when the winemaker at your party has a hangover the next morning, it was a good party.

Anyway, 2007 was a lesser year and lesser years demand good New Year's Eve parties, I'm sure you'll agree. But hey, it was an odd year. And by odd year I mean literally an odd year. Somehow the odd years don't seem to resonate as the good ones throughout history. 1941. 2001. It's the even years that seem most memorable. (Then again, I got married in an odd year, to someone who was born in an odd year. I don't know, maybe I'm my wife's bad luck.) At least our house didn't burn down in 2007. In 2008, may God richly bless those whose did last year.

I count about 28 empty bottles of wine there in the recycling bin, but there were only 12 of us. Doing the math, I find it surprising that so much was consumed -unless the toddlers were sneaking it. I don't know, maybe that's why they went to bed so early.

It was a fun party. So fun, in fact, that at one point we were breaking off all the doorstops and writing on the ceiling. It was that kind of party. Hopefully 2008 will be the kind of excellent year where we are so extraordinarily prosperous and successful that the New Year's Party will be a dull uneventful segue between Christmas and work.

On second thought, it was a good party.