If only we could do a retake

February 13, 2007

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I signed up to receive alerts from the Alexandria (Va.) Police Department, which is how I know that a body was found at the weekend in a dumpster/skip a block from where I live, and that last night, the Alexandria police charged a man with first-degree murder.

First-degree murder means the killing was premeditated. The alleged murderer planned it, set it up. According to the police report, the suspect killed the victim “at his home late Friday night or early Saturday morning and then put her body in the dumpster.”

The victim, Anna Sherman, was 21. She died of “blunt force trauma.” In other words, she was clubbed to death with something heavy. What a waste. Barely more than a child, she had — in the normal course of things — a long life ahead of her.

The suspect is Frederick Simon Ajlan. 26, someone else who has a long life ahead of him. Maybe. He may spend a long time in jail (as well he should), but in the backward Commonwealth of Virginia, first-degree murder carries a possible death sentence, so he may die. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think people who murder should get away without lengthy punishment. Murder is wrong (in my opinion) — and that goes for the legalized, state-sanctioned kind too (in my opinion).

Last night I heard that a man I worked for years ago had died in his late sixties. He pretty much self-destructed through morbid obesity and reckless overspending. He was a bad manager but a nice man, and I am saddened by his death.

I am far more saddened, however, by the very incomplete story of a young woman and a young man I didn’t even know, who were involved in a relationship (according to the police report) that recent events suggest went bad. I would like to rewind the tape for both young people and write a different ending.

Alexandria Police Department photographs.

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Cold Cold Ground

February 6, 2007

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It’s an odd hobby for a child, but I used to collect epitaphs. In later years, I started to photograph cemeteries and graves. Marie McC, therefore, is a woman after my own heart. She likes cemeteries too and has just started a new blog, Cold Cold Ground. Of course, I will be contributing regularly. This photograph is Marie’s inaugural image.

Check out her new blog.

Photograph by MarieMcC.


Waste not, want not

February 4, 2007

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Eventually rechargeable batteries won’t recharge, and that’s what happened to my Palm Tungsten E. It lasted around two years, which is the useful life the reviews gave it, so I can’t complain that I wasn’t warned. Palm’s astute marketing strategy is to make PDAs with batteries you can’t replace, so you have to buy a whole new device. I removed all the data from my fast-fading E, smacked it with a hammer for good measure (producing the interesting abstract above), then zapped it with my magnetic tape eraser and dropped it in the trash can.

If I had any vision, I would collect moribund PDAs, whack them around, and get the Hirschorn or the Tate Modern or MOMA to put on a show of my work. They’ve all done far sillier exhibits. But rather than launch my new art career, I simply bought another PDA. I chose a Palm TX because it is WiFi-enabled, so I can check my e-mail when I’m overseas (which I will endeavor to do without drawing attention to myself); but even if I’d chosen the E2, which is the new, improved E, the charger and the sync cable wouldn’t have transferred because the connections are all different. This sort of thing drives me crazy. I ended up with a useless-to-me U.S. charger/power cable; international charger/power cable with interchangeable plugs depending on whether you’re in the U.K., continential Europe, or Asia; and sync cable.

Thank goodness for Freecycle. I advertised the spare items just after lunch today, and at around 4:45 this afternoon, Brian, whose Tungsten E is still working, stopped by to pick them up. I could have put them in the Goodwill bag and taken a small tax deduction, but I’d way rather give them to a person I know can use them.

Freecycle and Craig’s List make me feel a bit better about planned obsolescence.


A rose by any other name

January 28, 2007

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According to an editorial in today’s Washington Post, “It’s become a fad among some conservatives to refer to the junior senator from Illinois by his full name: Barack Hussein Obama. … The senator, however, does not use his middle name. Those who take pains to insert it when referring to him are trying, none too subtly, to stir up scary images of menacing terrorists and evil dictators.”

First of all, let’s be glad the poor senator’s last name isn’t one consonant different.

The Post is a liberal newspaper and so doesn’t have much time for the likes of Rush Limbaugh and the other conservatives cited in the editorial, so its definition of “fad” may involve fewer people that it would take me to make the same categorization. But even if only two or three influential people are doing it, how stupid and potentially dangerous!

There are men and boys all over the Middle East called Osama (a friend of mine used to be married to one) and Hussein. There are men and boys all over Germany called Adolf. There are men and boys all over Italy called Benito and Cesare, not to mention girls and women called Lucrezia. That’s supposed to prove something about them?

If you start reading something into names, here are a mere handful you’d be disinclined to give your brand new baby: Myra, Ian, Charles, David, Jack, Elizabeth, Timothy, John (oops, there goes the English-speaking world’s most popular boy’s name), Edward, Jeffrey, … I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture.

“The senator, however, does not use his middle name.” Here’s my advice to Senator Obama: Start using your middle name. In fact, insist that it be used at all times and make a fuss when it isn’t. Beat the jerks at their own juvenile game.

Warning to my friends: I was named for someone who lopped off another person’s head. It was quite a while ago, but you can never be too careful.

Thank you to my serial-killer-named friend who brought the editorial to my attention.


Accented at last!

January 26, 2007

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A month ago, my wave keyboard died. I’ve been using that kind of keyboard ever since I was treated for early carpal tunnel syndrome, and that’s a long time ago. I’m so used to it now that if I have to type on a regular keyboard my fingers don’t know where to go, and some words end up looking like Polish. I figured that in the years since I bought the defunct wave, technology had undoubtedly advanced, so I did some research on ergonomic keyboards. There are some truly weird ones and some very expensive ones.

I settled on the Kinesis Maxim. At $150 it’s not cheap (especially when you can buy an ordinary keyboard for under $20), but I spend all day at the computer and my wrists are worth it. The keyboard splits by varying amounts or not at all and tents in the middle to three angles. It is ultra-cool, comfortable to use, and I love it. But …

The “but” is that there’s no embedded numeric keypad on the right. I knew that when I ordered it, but since I always use the numbers along the top anyway, I figured I wouldn’t miss it. What I’d forgotten is that in order to type in French and Italian, you use the ALT key plus the ASCII numeric codes to generate accented letters–and you have to use the number keys on numeric keypad. Off I went to CompUSA for a standalone keypad, but it didn’t solve the problem because it and the keyboard weren’t on speaking terms, and pressing ALT on the keyboard had no effect on the keypad.

You can create keyboard shortcuts in Word to produce accented letters, em dashes, copyright symbols, and so on, but that doesn’t help you if you’re in another application, even another Microsoft Office application.

There are programmable standalone keypads (expensive of course), but the specs I read on the manufacturers’ Web sites didn’t make it clear to me whether one of the keys could be remapped to take the place of the keyboard’s ALT key. Kinesis tech support and the couple of keypad manufacturers I contacted were no help at all.

I don’t even remember what I typed into Google this afternoon, but it gave me the solution: Install the Windows U.S.-International keyboard drivers. (Several years ago, I installed the drivers for the French and Italian keyboards, but some of the letters are in different places. Switching back and forth was a pain and keeping three keyboard layouts straight was impossible).

The U.S.-International drivers, however, are simplicity itself. They use two- and three-key combinations. Type apostrophe then e and you get e acute; ^ then e and you get e circumflex. The driver is smart enough to pick out the letters that do have accents and those that don’t, so when you type apostrophe plus s, you don’t come out with an accent on the s. It’s a far less cumbersome method than the old ALT + ASCII codes. The only thing it doesn’t seem to work in is WordPress text entry (for that you apparently do need the numeric keypad method), which is why I can’t show you here.

I know that some of my readers type in foreign languages, so perhaps this information may be useful. The international drivers are already on your computer and install in about two minutes through the control panel. You’ll find instructions here and a clear explanation and list of the key combinations here.

Now I’m going to send a properly accented e-mail to my French penfriend.


Omsk, Tomsk, and Nizhni Novgorod

January 14, 2007

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My interest in the Trans-Siberian Railway goes back a long way. Some parents spoon food into their recalcitrant offspring saying “Here’s one for Mummy, here’s one for Daddy, here’s one for Teddy …” and so on. For reasons best known to herself (and she is, sadly, no longer around for me to ask why) my mother chose the main stops on the Trans-Siberian Railway. I was an unenthusiastic eater, so by around age two, there had been enough repetition that I could recite them myself. My favorites were Omsk, Tomsk, Nizhni Novgorod, and Vladivostok (which last caused great amusement to my parents, as I said what I heard and it came out as “Bloody boss dog”).

While the Trans-Siberian Railway isn’t a tourist line but an important passenger- and freight-carrying part of the entire Russian railway system, there are travel companies that specialize in organizing tourist travel from Moscow on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Moscow to Vladivostok is 9,258 km (6,152 miles) and takes seven days. If you get off and on the train and spend a night or two anywhere, it takes longer, of course.

I adore trains, so it immediately became something I have to do before I die, which better not be anytime soon, since the trips aren’t cheap and I need to start socking away the money. You could probably do it on your own more cheaply if you speak Russian and know your way around, but I don’t. Maybe this will be my retirement present to myself.

And once you get to Vladivostok, it’s only 36 hours by boat to Tokyo, and it’s been more than 30 years since I was there … . On the other hand, you can take it to Beijing, where I’ve never been … .


Weighty matters

January 12, 2007

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Happy New Year, albeit 12 days late.

As a baby and a toddler, eating was not one of my greater accomplishments. My mother had to coax food into my mouth and used all the games at her disposal. Not for her the approach of “Here’s a spoonful for Teddy; here’s a spoonful for Mummy; here’s a spoonful for Uncle John.” My mother shoveled spoons of strained peas in to the stations on the Trans-Siberian railway. Given my lack of enthusiasm for food, I could apparently recite them by heart at a very early age. I am told that I obligingly tucked the food away in my cheeks like a hamster, and when I ran out of room, I simply blew it all out. I don’t know why my mother didn’t strangle me, but she didn’t, and it’s thanks to her unfailing patience and creativity that I didn’t starve myself to death. (And yes, she did try leaving me alone on the assumption that I would eat when hungry, but when day four rolled around and I hadn’t eaten anything, she decided that wasn’t a viable option.)

Fast forward to now, some never-mind-how-many decades later. I have clearly overcome my reluctance to eat because I am carrying extra weight–not much, but I am 5′ 1″ and small-boned. The 10 or so extra pounds show and mean that 75 percent of my clothes don’t fit.

So I (1) joined a gym, and (2) joined a diet program at the gym. The eating plans are flexible and easily adapted to my semi-vegetarianism (fish and eggs but no meat or poultry) and they aren’t of the annoying kind that include half a grapefruit, a quarter of an avocado, and two-thirds of a can of tuna in week one. What the hell are you supposed to do with the remaining fractions? Give them to the deserving poor? Those of us who worry about the starving Armenians don’t like to throw them out, so we eat them, and that screws up the diet.

And (3), with this post, I’ve gone public. I’m on a diet starting Monday.

In the meantime, every vegetable I own that isn’t in the week one meal plans is sauteeing and will become a frittata with the three remaining eggs (from Monday on it’s Egg Beaters for a while) for tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s lunch. After which I am going to watch Ladies in Lavender, courtesy Netflix.