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CSRANTronix: The Editorial Ranting Station

This is a place for Gryphon to rant, about anything rantable that might happen to pop into his mind. Whether it turns out entertaining or not is kind of a gamble, but hey, you wouldn't have come into the Lab and Grill if you weren't willing to live dangerously, right? You should be warned, though, that when he gets really steamed, he tends to swear a lot. Too much exposure to comedians like Denis Leary, I suppose. So this page might not be considered work-safe (or parent-safe).

The name, by the way, is a joke on an old lab name at WPI.

Rant 23: D-Day

MP3 audio version

Come with me for a minute.

It's late in the evening of Monday, June 5, 1944. You're a young American, 18, 19, 20 years old. You're in England, maybe by choice, probably not.

You're a sailor in the Navy, on a destroyer, a battleship, a cruiser - crossing a few miles of pitching sea toward a rendezvous with destiny. All around you is the greatest fleet ever assembled. Anywhere. Ever. It'd be a magnificent sight if you could see it, but of course you can't. All the ships are running blacked out. Don't you know there's a war on?

You're a soldier in the Army, packed aboard a landing ship with what seems like all your gear and half of somebody else's. It's raining like hell, been raining for weeks, been raining since you got to England. You're soaked, you're cold, you're seasick.

You're a paratrooper, checking your equipment for the hundredth time, wondering if there's anything more you can possibly bring that might give you the edge, waiting for your officers to tell you it's time to climb into the planes you'll be jumping out of in a few hours. You've jumped before - you had to do it five times just to earn those boots on your feet and those wings on your chest - but this time will be diffferent. This time you'll be falling toward people who want to kill you.

You're an airman, maybe a fighter pilot, maybe a member of a bomber crew. Flying over Hitler's Fortress Europe is nothing new for you, but the mission you're gearing up for now IS different. You're not going to Berlin or Regensburg or Schweinfurt in the morning. You're just going across the Channel to knock on the fortress door... hard.

You're a Coast Guardsman at the helm of a landing craft, risking your neck for the war effort just like all these guys from the more famous services. Most members of later generations won't even realize you were here. They'll assume the Coast Guard was back home, patrolling U.S. territorial waters for U-boats and living the good life on shore. They won't remember you and the hundreds of your brothers, some of whom got blown out of the water trying to get the men to the beach, until some better-informed person reminds them.

Maybe you're not an American at all. Maybe you're an Englishman, heading back across the Channel, itching to get a piece of Jerry and get some of your own back for the humiliation of Dunkirk. Maybe you're a Canadian, or an Australian, or a New Zealander, ready to fight for King and Empire. Maybe you're a Frenchman, or a Pole, or a Czech, hungry for an even more personal revenge against the men who took away your country earlier in the decade.

Whoever you are, you have a piece of paper in your pocket, and written on it are the words of the one man who controls more military force than any other single commander in history - a man who knows that his name is at the bottom of the sheet, but at the end of the day, it's your shoulders on which the fate of the world rests.

It says:

Order of the Day, June 6, 1944


Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Good luck, soldier.

In the morning, you and your buddies are going to save the world.

And sixty years later, the people living in the future you bled to secure will still be thanking you for it.

Rant 22: Kill Your TV

OK, so what the hell happened to TLC? I didn't get cable (or satellite, or whatever) for two years, and while I was gone, TLC changed from The Learning Channel to... something else. Everything on it now is either a program from the "you're not fulfilling your part of the social contract if you're not getting married and breeding" genre (Date Patrol, A Wedding Story, A Baby Story, A Bitter, Acrimonious Divorce Story, For Better or for Worse, Perfect Proposal, mighty fuck they've got a lot of these), a variation on the BBC's Changing Rooms (While You Were Out, Trading Spaces, Trading Spaces: Family, Trading Spaces: Genus Edition, Trading Spaces II Turbo: Super World Fighter Championship Edition), or - and the ad for this horrified me down to my very marrow - a hideous, unholy combination of both (Make Room for Baby).

I mean, OK, fine, TLC was never as cool as the Discovery Channel - which of them has Shark Week? 'nuff said - but there was a time, not all that long ago, when it had something to do with its stated purpose. Jesus God, it's the most horrifying transformation since Star Trek changed from an outer space Western to a pacifist parable about the importance of teamwork and tolerance.


Rant 21: I Hate Snowmobiles

I hate everything about them. I hate the way they sound. I hate the way they smell. I hate one of the most common types of users they attract, the thrill-seeking yahoos without any regard for their own safety, to say nothing of anyone else's safety or even comfort. I hate the way they roar around in the streets and behind the yards of this town like they own the fucking place, at all hours of the day and night.

They have practical uses, I grant you that. Getting supplies into the camps and ranger stations in Baxter State Park which stay open in winter would be very difficult, if not impossible, without them. They're unmatched for utility in search and rescue work in snowy woods. They can go places no other motorized vehicle can go, places where there is often a need for such a thing.

But those places do not include the PARKING LOT OUTSIDE MY BEDROOM WINDOW, which is perfectly well accessible by normal vehicles which DON'T emit huge clouds of blue smoke and sound like MASSED CHAINSAWS being wielded by CRACK FIENDS. And they do NOT include the MAIN STREETS OF THIS TOWN. You want to pound down a couple beers and ride your snowmobile around in the sub-zero temps? Fine - go out in the woods and do it where those of us who live here and are minding our own business don't have to see you, hear you, or DODGE you, you brainless fucks.

I hate snowmobiles.


Rant 20: ...

So, some of you may know that I've been living in an Airstream behind my mom's house since leaving Boston, since I'm allergic to her cats. Well, her husband got this in his mail today:

Office of the Assessor/CEO

Dear Mr. Ireland,

I have recently noticed that a camper trailer parked in front of your
home on Colby Street. [sic] The camper trailer appears to have been
converted into a permanent living space.

Please contact me no later than October 25, 2002 to discuss the use of
this camper as living space as this may or may not be acceptable
use. Furthermore, should it be determined that it is an acceptable use
various permits may be required such as plumbing, electrical and
building. [sic]

Failure to reply to this letter may result in fines for any existing
violations that may be present.

Michael Noble
Code Enforcement Officer
Plumbing Inspector

I love this fucking country. A man's property isn't his anymore, no sir - he has it on the sufferance of the state, and if the state doesn't like what he's doing with it, then by golly he'll just have to do something else!

Oh well. I suppose I'll get frozen out of here within the next few weeks anyway, but Jesus, this frosts my ass. That's the thing I love most about Millinocket - we may be a small town, but our government has that big-city touch.


Rant 19: Gauntlet

After 11 hours of sleep, the drive back from Worcester is starting to recede a bit into the background noise...

... but when I actually made it home alive, I was even less impressed with the shambling meatsacks I'm forced to share this rock with than usual.

The whole drive home was just irritating - there was a weird vibe on the highway, something like desperation, too many people going too fast except for the many slowdowns and clog-ups. It's hard to describe; things were just off. There were quite a few accident aftermaths along the side of the road, too, more than usual - and there were slowdowns that didn't correspond to any of them, which is always a strange feeling.

But aside from all that, I have a more specific grievance with yesterday's drive home, to wit: I nearly got my ticket punched no fewer than three times during the trip back to Millinocket, and in none of those cases would my own actions have had anything to do with it.

First there was the yahoo in the maroon Taurus a few miles into Maine (a bit after the Maine Turnpike tolls in York). I was doing 74 in the center lane, he was ticking along at 80-ish in the right (and I think he was on the phone, but I may be mistaken), when we came upon one of the many no-apparent-cause slowdowns. I noticed; he didn't, and suddenly he found himself heading for the back of a stationary white van at Warp 8. He piled on the brakes, flatspotted his tires, fishtailed violently three times, got back into the gas for some reason, then turned a graceful 180 before slewing back 80 degrees or so, having his wheels finally hook up with the road again, and shooting off sideways into the grassy median, plowing into the guard rail. If he'd gone past 180 and then reconnected with the Spirit of Acceleration, he'd have plowed into me instead.

So, that was a bit surreal.

Then, a ways further north (a bit south of Portland), the same scenario again, except this time the grey Volvo wagon involved was ahead of me in the left lane. Again the slowdown; again the inattention until the last possible second; again the violent maneuver. This guy managed not (quite) to lose control of his car, but if there had been anyone alongside him or coming up on him in the righthand lane when he yanked the Volvo sideways to clear the white van (that same poor bastard in the white van!), things would have gotten very messy, very fast - and once again, yours truly would've been right in the middle of it.

By then I was starting to feel like there was a definite problem with my day, but, to my surprise, nothing further went wrong...

... until the home stretch, the 10-mile stretch of Maine Route 11 between the Interstate and Millinocket, when (right around the Dolby Flowage, a mile or so of causeway over a shallow dam lake) I noticed somebody up ahead who had apparently decided to take the trip to East Millinocket in the British Rally Style. Fortunately, I hadn't yet reached the causeway, so there was room for me to get off the road to the right and let him cruise his Town Car on past in my lane.

I'm not sure if there's a message in any of this or what; all I know is, it was damned bothersome. It's been a long time since I had a trip that visibly studded with danger. The trip down was just annoying, with the incredible wait for the New Hampshire tolls that made me miss the first hour of the occasion. I rarely have the feeling that I might not manage to reach my destination when I'm on the road. It's not a feeling I particularly like.


Rant 18: Vision Impaired! Cannot See!

For this arbitrary time period's rant, let's turn to page 9 of the Tuesday, August 6, 2002 issue of the Katahdin Times, the Tri-Podunk Area's Bastion of Journalism - because what I have to say on today's subject, I've already said in another public forum.

Left in the dark

To the Editor:
  I've been away from Millinocket for several years, and
though I've visited from time to time, I've never spent
more than a day or two in town at any one time.  Now that
I've moved back, I've had the time to take a closer look at
the changes the place has goen through in the last ten
  I'd like to give my impressions of those changes... but I
can't, because I can't see them.  Whose idea was it to
dismantle two-thirds of the streetlights in town?  Except
for the tourist routes, the streets of Millinocket are
shrouded in darkness.  What lurks around the next
corner?  Is it someone's dog, roaming loose and spoiling for
a fight with my unsuspecting beagle?  Is it an escaped
mental patient with an axe?  Who can tell?  There's no
  I suppose I could invest in some second-hand Russian
night-vision gear to use when taking the dog for a walk at
night, but I'd prefer it if the town would just put the
streetlights back.
                                      Benjamin D. Hutchins

So there you have it. I'm in print, doing my civic duty and agitating for what I think is right. Go me.


Rant 17: Sinking In

Yup, it's just starting to really hit me.

Within the next couple three weeks, I'll be moving back to the pit that spawned me, Millinocket fucking Maine...

... for nothing. Not to go back to school, because the William D. Ford Direct Loan people have managed to render that pretty much impossible. Not to go back to work, because if there were any jobs in my field, they'd fucking well be here, not up there. Not to do anything. Just to sit around and wait for the strange cycles of the Direct Loan Servicing Center and the University to align, which, depending on the whim of the Fordites, could take... well, forever.

I had gotten to the point where I could accept going back if there were a purpose in it... but this, this is nothing less than complete and unmitigated defeat.

So, after the grand and gracious tradition of defeated candidates everywhere: Life, I concede. You have bested me. You have proven yourself to be far beyond my puny powers to cope with. The only course of action now is to retreat to my spawning ground and assume my destined role as part of the mass of ambitionless, directionless human flotsam I once scorned with such hubris.

You win. I fucking give up.


Rant 14.2: Too Mad to Rant

And anyway, it would be redundant. Here's what you do:

  • Re-read Rants 14 and 14.1 again.
  • Except change the date on 14.1 to today's date.
  • And change the reference to July in 14.1 to October.

I'm going back to college this fall?

Hah. Only if it starts raining fucking money.

And not piddly-ass used-fives-and-ones money rain, either. Big bills. Hundreds and stuff.


Rant 16: Tired

So, a month or two ago, I went outside and noticed that the driver's side front tire on my car was flat. Removing it and examining it more closely, I noticed a largeish tear in the sidewall. As that's not the curb side, I was puzzled by this, and finally decided that some jackoff knifed it. (I thought it a bit odd that a vandal wouldn't have done both of them on that side, but what the hell - maybe a lazy vandal?)

Muttering, I took the wheel to a tire shop and bought a new tire, same kind as the old one. Saabs use expensive tires. Stinging and being very ginger about sitting down, I returned home and installed my new tire, and grumbled a lot.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that the driver's side rear tire was getting mushy. I pumped it up, kept an eye on it, and determined that it seemed to take about five days to get flat. Today I drove to a tire shop and said, "This tire here has a slow leak. Can you find out why?" Figuring they'd pull a tack out of it or something, patch it up and twenty bucks or so later I'd be good to go.

The tire guy hunkered down, took a look at the side of the tire, prodded at it a bit, and said, "Uh, 'cause it's dry-rotting? And so are these other two. But this one up here's OK."

So I had to fork out for another tire, and learned that I really should replace the other two, because they'll either develop the same go-flat habit or just blow up some day.



Rant 15.1: Update

Well, this is cleared up, and considerably less painfully than expected. Fortunately, I didn't have to try and get anything out of RCN to sort it - I only needed to get the IRS to present me with evidence that they'd rescinded their demand, then hand that over to the state, which then followed suit.

Credit where it's due: My thanks to Donna Zacchini of the Massachusetts Department of Revenue and Terry Polvino of the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service for their help in getting this mess straightened out. My only complaint is that it's hard to maintain the requisite level of cynicism when confronted with not one but two civil, service-oriented civil servants involved in the same incident. :)

So something went right this month, anyway. Now to see how the great student loan mishap shakes out. They tell me I might hear something by the end of April...


Rant 15: Oh, I Needed This Again

For the last few months of 1997, I worked for a lovely little company called UltraNet, as a network ops administrator and hostmaster. It was a great job. I liked it a lot. The only thing I didn't like about it was the shift I was on - I had to work every Sunday - but I was assured that this was only a temporary thingand would be gone by Christmas - well, Easter at the outside.

For the first six months of 1998, I worked for a much less lovely, much less little company called RCN, which took over UltraNet, made it suck to work there, and incidentally reneged on the "you'll be off Sundays soon" promise because they didn't make it, UltraNet did. In June I quit. At the time, I naively thought that this would be the end of my troubles with RCN.

More fool I. Over a year after I left, RCN reared its hideous head and bit me again in a surprising location - my taxes. You see, UltraNet's lingering shadow still had its own accounting department, which sent my W-2 to the IRS, reporting my income as an UltraNet employee for the first six months of 1998.

And so did RCN's accounting department.

See the problem?

This led to a good deal of confusion when, in early 2000, the IRS suddenly harrumphed and said, "You didn't declare the following income on your 1998 return. You did know that's a crime, right? Well, pay up, along with these extortionate penalties and interest charges, and we'll forget the whole thing."

Like yours, my initial response was to panic and assume I must have made some grave calculational error. I looked through what little documentation I had for 1998 and determined that the figure they said I hadn't reported was my UltraNet income from that year (having changed jobs in June I had two W-2s that year). "Did I forget to include this? Did I fill out a 1040 with just my GTE W-2? Could even I have made such a glaring paperwork error? That can't be so. This must be a mistake on their end."

Unfortunately, I couldn't demonstrate whether it was or not, since most of my records prior to the summer of 2000 were lost in what I like to call the Great Pre-Millennial Water Heater Failure. I had just about resigned myself to sucking it up and paying for my government's mistake when a fellow UltraNet alumnus piped up and said, "Hey! Did anybody else just get double-billed on their '98 taxes?" Suddenly all eyes turned to RCN, and eventually, after much wrangling, the situation was resolved and the IRS placated.

At the time, I naively thought that this would be the end of my troubles with RCN.

Until last Thursday, when I got a nasty letter from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue saying, "You didn't declare the following income on your 1998 return. You did know that's a crime, right? Well... " And there, in bold black letters confirming that there is a God and He is a strong fan of irony, it says, "Massachusetts taxable income has been increased due to adjustments disclosed on a report received from the Internal Revenue Service."

That's right - the IRS dutifully reported the "extra income" to the state. Now, it's 2002, nearly two years after the original incident. This means one of two things:

  1. The Federal IRS is so far behind itself dealing with things that one part of it reported the 1998 "extra income" to the Mass. DOR even though the rest of it has been satisfied for two years that it was a mistake; or
  2. The Massachusetts DOR received this "update" from the Feds two years ago, during the initial flap, and is only now getting around to acting on it. (And has either not received a "forget about it" update from the IRS, or is taking a similarly long time to notice it as well.)

Neither option fills me with confidence for getting this thing dealt with.

I love the fact that I live in a world where, even if you keep your head down and don't make trouble, trouble will come and find you. And where it's your responsibility to straighten out other people's mistakes, because their mistakes affect not their lives, but yours.

God. I'm never going to make it back to school at this rate.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention - within the elephantine bureaucracy of the government of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, there is apparently one single person who can respond to my inquiries about this matter. And she isn't in.


Rant 14.1: Update

So I faxed it again, and this time they received it and submitted it for review.

Only now they're saying the review will take six weeks, not the originally advertised two, following which the recall itself, if they decide to grant it, will take 90 days.

So that's mid-July.

This does not bode well.


Rant 14: Nice Timing, Guys

So when I went to WPI, I had a student loan. And when I moved around the country in the mid-nineties, the student loan people lost track of me and I forgot about them, meaning nothing got paid on it for a few years, so it's still outstanding. But that's OK, I got back in touch with them (yes, you read that right, I got back in touch with them, much to their surprise) a couple of years ago and got everything squared away again.

So back in July of 2001, I got laid off, and another job was not immediately forthcoming, since the industry I was working in went away. In September, it suddenly occurred to me, as I was making a payment on my student loan, that I could file for a deferment thanks to my unemployed state, and so I called up the loan people, got instructions on where to find the appropriate form on the Web and where to send it once I'd filled it in, and la.

Well, the next month I got a demand notice. I called and said, "What's up with this?" and they said, "Well, your deferment request must still be in the works - worry about it if you get another one next month." OK, fine, whatever.

Sure enough, in November I got another one, this one headed FINAL DEMAND in big black type. That was alarming, so I called them again and said, "Uh, I have this 'Final Demand' thing here - what's it mean?"

"Oh," they said, "we must not have received your deferment request. Why don't you fax it to us again and we'll take care of it."

"Uh, OK," sez I, and the thing is done. The next thing I receive is a form letter in December that says, "We've granted your request for a deferment." Lovely! Relax and don't worry about that for a while.

You'd think I'd learn.

Cut to late February, when Our Hero decides, well, if the only industry I could get a job in is gone, perhaps this would be a good time to go back to college. Thus it was that, on Thursday the 28th of February, I filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (which, as anyone who has recently gone through this process knows, is the universal catch-all "Ack! Why is college so fucking expensive?!" form) and sat back to see what would happen.

What happened was that on the following day I received word from the William D. Ford Direct Loan Servicing Center (think of one of the more euphemistic definitions of the verb "to service" and you'll see just how appropriate this name is) that my loan (you know, the one that was deferred in December?) is in default and has been sent to a collection agency. What?!

Much of Friday afternoon on the telephone later, I have my answer. It turns out that the demand I got in November wasn't for payment - it was for some fiddly form to do with the class of student loan I had, and without that form, into default I go, deferment or no.

OK, so I misinterpreted the demand letter. Fine. Mea culpa, maxima mea culpa, but do you think someone might have mentioned that to me when I called asking what the letter was for in November?!

After making that point to a couple of levels of management over at the LSC and responding to their repeated insistence that the loan was out of their hands now and there was nothing they could do with the information that this bureaucratic screw-up was going to ruin my attempt to go back to school this fall, I finally got them to admit that yes, in fact, there was a process by which they could pull the loan out of default and set things right again. All I had to do was fax in the form the lack of which was the cause of all this in the first place, then call after they received it and insist that, per my conversation with this last guy, the loan be submitted for a "recall review".

Here's the next fun part: the review takes two weeks, after which, if they decide to recall the loan, that process takes ninety days! Well, this is hardly going to do me any good, I point out - any financial aid I might have hoped to received for the fall term will surely be gone by then. Oh, that's OK, they inform me - once the decision has been taken to do the recall, we'll send you a letter certifying that it is in process and is only a matter of time. Of course, you'll have to file a financial aid appeal at every school that rejects you because of the spurious default in order to use it, but hey, that's not our problem.

And now, the punch line, the element that finally tipped me over the edge and into Ranty Land. Having faxed the form on Friday and given them the requisite two business days to sort it out, I called back today to do the aforementioned insisting-upon-review. After hacking through the standard "we don't have your loan anymore" resistance, I was informed, "I don't show that we've received anything from you since November. You might want to fax that again."

If I were just a little more paranoid, I'd smell a whitewash.

Will Our Hero get this sorted out, when he's the only one involved in the process of sorting it who gives a damn if it gets sorted or not? Will his dreams of an education and more-than-meager employment prospects in the future come true? Or will he be forced to go back to his ancestral homeland (Maine) and work the customer service counter at the Millinocket Ames department store for the rest of his life (which, if he ends up doing that, will be maybe another year or two)?

Stay tuned...


Rant 13B: Short Take

Today is the sixtieth anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. If you're interested in history and wish to see a definitive cinematic illumination of this notable event in world history, go and get yourself a copy of Tora! Tora! Tora! immediately. Don't bother with the modern version. The Second World War was not about fucking, except for certain paratroopers in Normandy in the summer of 1944.


Rant 13A: Spam o'the Day

"2 week supply of HGH, absolutely free!"

What the hell is HGH, and why would I want a two-week supply of it? Human Growth Hormone, maybe? Why would anybody want that? Is there a black market for it? Short people pining to be tall? Women who hope it will increase their bust size? Is it the latest stupid way for bodybuilders to remove themselves from the gene pool? What?

Sometimes, I really wonder what the incentive would be to buy any of these products. I mean, why would I want a pill that increases the volume of my ejaculate by 581%? (That one kills me. Five hundred eighty-ONE percent. Because, you know, it's important to be precise about these things.)

One night I culled out all the spams that were for penile enlargement methods and applied them in the order in which they were received - first double, then add six inches, then double again, etc. By the end of the mailspool I calculated that I had been offered a six-foot, two-inch schlong. What would a person want with that kind of equipment, even if it were somehow plausible that these claims are genuine? I mean, even without the exaggeration of applying them all in sequence, "Double your cock size overnight"? That sounds extremely traumatic, putting aside its incredible unlikelihood for the moment.

Good Lord, does anybody ever fall for this stuff?


Rant 12: Nothing to Say

So I haven't ranted about the 11th. And just so you know, I'm not going to, either. You know why? Because what happened on the 11th doesn't alarm or disturb me nearly as much as what's happened since. The jingoism, the pulpit-pounding, the people throwing the word "war" around as though it didn't already have a specific definition, the Dunkin' Donuts managers being hassled for insufficient patriotism, the complete abandoment of perspective by many of my fellow citizens, the blank check mentality toward our government's ill-defined, apparently strategy-free military buildup, the Office of Homeland Security, the prick-waving, the sneaking, sinking feeling that this will lead to the sort of emergency where the powers that be can suspend what remains of our liberties in order to "protect" us...

No, I'm sorry, but those things all frighten and anger me a lot more than somebody knocking down a building, even a very large building with a lot of people in it. A hell of a lot more people stand to suffer if nobody steps back and examines the consequences of staying on the slope we're on pretty goddamned soon. What happened was a terrible, terrible thing, but I fear the nation's reaction to it will lead, in the long run, to tragedy and horror on a scale that make the catalyzing act recede into insignificance, a spark amid the conflagration.

I hope like hell I'm wrong.


Rant 11: Dear NASA


On the Introduction page of the Apollo 11 30th Anniversary website,


you write:

"After their historic walks on the Moon, [Armstrong and Aldrin] successfully docked with Michael Collins, patiently orbiting the cold but no longer lifeless Moon alone in the Command Module 'Columbia'."

You may wish to revise this paragraph, as I do not believe you truly wished to indicate that Messrs. Armstrong and Aldrin actually docked with Mr. Collins...


Rant 10: You Can't Go Home

So I was up at WPI today, walking around, reminding myself where things are, trying to remember which of the school-owned houses on the side streets around campus is World House (22 Schussler, as it turns out), perusing the new Campus Center, which I hadn't seen yet. (I rather liked that; I may have to include it in Symphony of the Sword, even though it's anachronistic for the timeframe the school was supposed to have been rebuilt to represent.)

Anyway, while I was engaged in this pursuit, I found myself struck by the most incredible surge of nostalgia I've experienced in a very long time. Much more profound than the one which struck me the last time I was anywhere near my old high school, or the last time I visited my other abortive alma mater, the University of Maine. I had the sudden wild notion to go up to Boynton Hall and apply for readmission. Given the state that my employer is in right now, it's likely I'll have little better to do come fall. Sadly, I don't think I'll have $30,000 lying around idle either, and if I were readmitted, I'd still be on academic probation! :) (Unless I petitioned it, I suppose. That would give the Dean of Students something to think about.)

It was an odd feeling, suddenly having this crazy notion to plunge back into it all before I'm too old to be even slightly credible as an undergrad, and I realized as I was pondering it that, if I suddenly had the requisite huge heap of money, that's exactly what I would do.

Well, that's it. That's the big moral of today's story. I wasted not one but two chances at the big time. Kids, stay in school.


Rant 09: What the FUCK?!

So the other day, I go out to my car to head for work, after it had been parked in the same spot all weekend, and as I approach it I noticed something kind of odd. On the front bumper... and the hood... and the windshield... and the roof... and the deck lid...

(That's the front bumper, the bonnet, the windscreen, the hood, and the boot, for our British readers... )

... there are footprints.

People footprints.

Sneaker prints. Say about a size 9.

Some motherfucker climbed up on my car, walked from stem to stern and climbed down again.

Over the top of my car.


This makes me very, very, VERY unhappy. Oh. Yes.

(There is no damage. If there were, it wouldn't have slipped my mind to rant about this for two days, and the rant would contain the word "fuck" at least seven times. But still, I mean, Jesus Christ.)


Rant 08: I Still Say "Palm Pilot" Sounds Vaguely Obscene

So lately people have been asking me to put versions of the EPU works which can be read on the Palm platform up on the website. They cite the presence of the Newton Paperback versions of NXE as precedent.

Gur. I never should have started putting non-ASCII things up... it opened a can of worms I wasn't prepared to deal with.

See, for many years, my philosophy was, "If your system can't handle eighty-column ASCII, get a real computer." I have kind of a Darwinist streak in me, and can't muster much sympathy for people who insist on using bizarre equipment nobody else uses, then whine because nothing out there works on it. (It's the same reason why my heart never bled for Amiga users. :) So I always refused, and will continue to refuse, the occasional requests I get for stupid things like "Can you put Hopelessly Lost up in Microsoft Word format because I don't like the fixed-pitch fonts on my computer" or "Why don't you convert everything you've ever done to HTML, it shouldn't take you more than a few weeks of steady work and you'll be able to use FONT tags to make it look all pretty" or such-like crap.

Unfortunately, the world has played a cruel joke on me by coming up with a piece of bizarre equipment that, at last count, approximately everybody uses. I'm not sure what rocket scientist at Palm decided that their device, unlike everything else in the known galaxy since 1972, could do without an eighty-column display, but suddenly the damn thing is hugely popular anyway, and I get people complaining that my nice, plain, standard, wrapped-at-72-columns text files are too wide. Then, to rub salt in it, the Palmeteers go and make it so their stupid brainchild can't even handle plain old ordinary ASCII files, instead insisting on some bizarre proprietary format for the presentation of regular old boring nothing-special text, for Christ's sake.

Now, I could understand the Newton doing this, even indulge it in its little eccentricities, because it was an Apple product, and Apple products never do anything correctly. It's part of their charm. Rat made the Paperback archives, and I put them up to humor him, because he's the earliest identified UF fan, because he's a big Newton weenie and may be the only person on Earth who's actually gotten the Newton handwriting recognition system to work (which is an achievement that deserves respect), and because he knows where I sleep.

But this Palm thing is really pissing me off. I'm sure I'd have swallowed my objections to its idiotic non-standard text handling by now if I myself actually liked to read things on it, but the truth of the matter is, I hate reading long documents on electronic devices. If e-books ever do actually replace the printed word, as Popular Science has been predicting will happen within ten years for the past fifty years, I'll probably just stop reading. So I don't feel any particular impetus to take on this project, because I'll never get any use out of it myself, and damn it, I've already presented my work in the format that I think best suits it.

"But Ben," I hear you cry. "You don't have to do the conversion. We're already doing it. You just have to put them on the website." Well, sure. Except once they go on the website, they become my responsibility, and I get to hear the complaints if something's not right about them - which means I'll have to review them, and make sure they all look similar, and make sure they're all using the same stupid proprietary Palm-document standard (since the last time I looked there were several), and generally put in almost as much work as if I'd just done it myself.

Oh, I know the march of progress is relentless, and I'm going to have to do something about it someday. But not today.

Special bonus sub-rant: I'd like to extend an extra-special "thank you" to the supergenius who decided that markup in the successor to HTML will be in mandatory lower-case, thus guaranteeing that someday, every piece of HTML I've ever coded will have to be laboriously retrofitted just to keep working, and forcing me to change an ingrained coding habit for no apparent reason. You, sir, are a bastard and a poltroon.


Rant 07: Look, This Isn't Difficult

Those little keycard deals? They UNLOCK the doors. They do not also automatically OPEN the doors for you. You cannot just wave your card at the sensor until it beeps and then slam the door open with all the force of your ponderous wits. The fact that you cannot do this does not indicate that the security system is malfunctioning, nor that your card does not work properly. YOU ARE NOT OPERATING THE DOOR CORRECTLY. Wait for the click, then TURN THE KNOB AND OPEN THE DOOR, just like your IQ was normal.

Jesus Christ.


Rant 06: The Creative Process

(I'll bet you thought I was going to rant about Northpoint or something. Bah. That's much too easy.)

So far this year, my creative process is leaving something to be desired - namely, output. I've become accustomed to periods of drought, and the recent net outage at my home hasn't helped, but even so, at this time of year I always find myself disheartened. I like winter, but it has two problems: it lasts too long, and it leads into spring. I hate spring.

"But Ben!" I hear you cry. "Spring is the time of renewal and rebirth, when Nature sheds her wintry coma and breathes anew!"

Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's also the time when Nature does her level best to kill me, busting out with an arsenal of hideous poisons guaranteed to make my immune system, in a fit of ill-directed institutional energy not seen since the last time NORAD went to DEFCON 3 because of a flock of suspicious birds, mount a vigorous and concerted attack on... me. Yeah. Thanks, Nature. I appreciate it.

So anyway, what I'm saying is, at this time of year, there are a lot of distractions.

On the other hand, The Big O is kicking my ass. Damn!

Wants his own R. Dorothy Wayneright, even if he has to build the kit version by hand

Rant 05: Car Shopping

So the other day, I bought a car, after about a month of searching and at least a dozen test drives and conversations with perhaps twice that many car salesman. And now that it's all over, I'd just like to take this opportunity to wonder publicly:

Why the Christ does buying a car have to be such a fucking ordeal? What other consumer product in the universe comes with this bizarre, tacit expectation that the consumer and the seller are going to give each other the shaft? Everything else I can think of, you want one, you go find out what retailers want for it, and you buy whichever one has the lowest price, unless you're willing to pay a little more to get it from someplace more convenient, or get it faster, or get it from some particular retailer you have some special regard or trust for, or whatever.

But that's not the way it works in car shopping, oh nooooo. No, in car shopping, you and the retailers you may be buying from are cast in this strange adversarial relationship where you're expected to jockey for position, wrangle for any advantage you can find, and generally try to screw each other out of as much as you possibly can, all with this peculiar veneer of amicability. If you don't play the game, you get reamed.

(This is the part where all you Saturn owners chime in with your precious "no haggle" policy. Well, let me clue you in on something, kids: "no haggle" just means you don't get the opportunity to cut into their markup any. It doesn't mean you're getting a good deal, it just means you don't have anything to say about it. Oh, and while I'm being spiteful, could your cars be any uglier? I mean, c'mon.)

Over the course of the month I spent shopping, I ran into all types of car salespeople. The worst, I think, was the overly familiar, artificially boisterous Chevy salesman who had taken the part of his sales training about remembering and mentioning the customer's name far, far too much to heart. The most annoying single incident was probably when the one VW salesmen wouldn't come across with a brochure on the Cabrio because "You don't want one of those, that's a chick car." And of course there was the ever-popular fast-talker, the type who runs the numbers past so quickly that the inattentive consumer may have agreed to buy an extended warranty, special wheels, two CD changers and a condo in Belize before he figures out what's going on.

Finally, worn out by all of this posturing and the need to be constantly on my mental toes watching out for this kind of thing, I gave up on the one car I'd been zeroed in on for most of the ordeal and headed for home. On the way, I passed a Saab dealership. I'd considered a used 900 earlier in the odyssey, but passed on it because the seat belts were too short and the extensions were $100 a piece, and I didn't want to sink $100 into just test driving a car. Still, I stopped at this other dealership, mostly because there was a row of convertibles up front, and I've always wanted a convertible (though I hadn't seriously considered one this time around, due to their expensiveness).

And there, at last, I had the only truly painless experience of the entire ordeal. I found a car in the lineup which I thought was just about perfect, I had a nice, non-taxing discussion with the salesman who came out as I inspected said car, and within 24 hours (you can't do it much faster here in the beautiful, bureaucratic Commonwealth of Massachusetts), I had my new car.

But getting there was a big pile of no fun. Why has our society set itself up this way? Bleah.


Rant 04: Adventures in Shipping

So I've been pre-ordering the Transformers: Car Robots DVDs as they appear in CD Japan's online catalog. That way, as soon as they ship to dealers, CD Japan ships mine to me, and all is well.

Well, earlier this month, I realized that Car Robots Vol. 7's listed street date was 1/18, but I hadn't received it. I looked through my log of mail from CD Japan and didn't see a shipping notification for it. Figuring it might have been delayed, I sent mail to CD Japan asking them about it.

They sent me back a tracking number and told me it'd been shipped on January 16, 2001, and according to the Express Mail tracking website, I hadn't been home to pick it up on the 18th. In and of itself, that wasn't so unusual. I'd probably failed to notice/save the shipping notification amid all the spam in my mailbox that particular day. The funny things about it were:

  • The tracking site claimed a notification was left, and that a second delivery attempt would be made, and that after five days the item would be returned to sender.
  • But I didn't actually get a notification, or a second one, and the tracking database never actually indicated that the second attempt was made, or that the item was returned to sender. It just said, "We attempted to deliver your item at 10:19 am on January 18 in WALTHAM MA 02453 and a notice was left. A second delivery attempt will be made. If unsuccessful, we will hold it for five business days and then it will be returned to the sender," as though time had stopped and it was still January 18.

So I called the EMS processing center to ask what had happened, and got a resounding "how the fuck should I know? I'm only in postal package tracking, how should I know where your package is?" sort of response. They couldn't confirm or deny that the item had ever been returned, though they pointed out that according to the procedure, it should have been, so why don't we just assume it was?

Well, we don't assume that because CD Japan say they haven't received it back, that's why we don't assume that.

OK, fine, says the postal guy. In that case the sender has to file a lost package claim with the Postal Inspector's Office. So I ran that by CD Japan, who said, "Oh, OK. Gee, that'll take forever. We'll send you another copy."

In the meantime, I had ordered an LD from them which their catalog listed as "Beast Wars Neo Movie Special", on the theory that, like the Beast Wars Second Movie Special I have on DVD, it might contain one of the two eps of the Mainframe Beast Wars series missing from the Japanese release of same.

It came last week, on the tail end of all this rigmarole about CR v7, and I discovered that their catalog is wrong - it's not a BW Neo anything, it's just the LD version of the BWII Special I already have. I let them know that, and they said, "Oops, sorry about the mix-up in the catalog, we'll fix that. Mail us back the disc and we'll credit you the return shipping on your next purchase."

Tuesday, the replacement CR 7 disc arrived.

Yesterday, I got a failed delivery notification for something else from CD Japan. Since CR volume 8 only shipped Tuesday, I didn't think it could be that, and the tracking number looked eerily familiar - lo! It's the missing original CR 7! I guess it hasn't been returned to sender after all.

So today I went to the post office to mail the LD back, and while I was there I had them pull the package out of the back, checked the shipping date on it, confirmed that it was the original CR 7, and told the guy they could send that right back, because it had been lost in their system so long I'd already received a replacement for it. He looked suitably frosted, but didn't argue.

And that is the long and painful story of my postal adventure.

What do we learn from this?

Now, to be fair, the United States Postal Service handles a truly staggering volume of stuff, and probably 99% of it gets where it's supposed to go without a problem. The thing that irritates me about them is when they do screw up, it always turns into this sort of convoluted, weird adventure, and their people tend to lie about it on the phone. (Why don't we just assume it was returned?!)

Still, this kind of thing pisses me off, and that's why we rant, isn't it? Besides, I wanted to get in a plug for CD Japan; they've been nothing but helpful this whole time, handling multiple mess-ups with grace, kindness and courtesy. They even sent me a replacement copy of CR 7 at no charge when it wasn't their fault I didn't get the first one. Now that's service.


Rant 03: Fuck You, Sony

The fucking thing was making a noise like a Dremel tool. It was not "the normal sound these high-speed disks make." It was not "the variable-speed, temperature-sensitive fan going to a higher cooling level." It was a defective bearing. I know what a defective bearing sounds like. It got so loud Truss and I had to raise our voices to be heard over it, and by the time I reached a Distress Level high enough to shut the system down, it couldn't do so and had to be powered off outright to make it stop screaming.

But it didn't give me an almighty Windows error message while doing so, and when, after languishing on hold for half an hour, I switched it back on at your tech's insistence, it behaved more or less normally, if a bit more whiny in its whir than normal. Later that night, when I got back from dinner, it seemed to have returned to complete normalcy, sitting placidly through the five hours it took Scandisk to do a full surface scan and report no errors.

So, what? You think I'm making up the shrieking metal-on-metal noise? Or that I'm just such a complete dolt that I mistook the sound of the FAN (which is admittedly a loud fan for a notebook, but I've had the thing for two months now, you'd think I'd have taken the noise of the fan amiss before now if I -were- that stupid) for a bad bearing in the HD? No, from your attitude, you thought that until I went to the trouble of explaining to you that the fan whine was a separate noise, and the scream stayed constant while the fan kicked in and out like it normally does. That showed you I was at least paying attention. I can only presume that, having determined that, you decided I was just making the whole thing up.

Now, why would I do that, exactly? Assume for a moment that I am making it up, that there's nothing wrong with the system, and that I sweet-talk you into an RMA. What do I get out of it? The inconvenience of shipping the unit back to you, being without it while you replace the drive, and getting it back. A new drive which is exactly the same in every capacity as the old one, except that it doesn't have all the software I've installed on the system, or any of my files. I certainly don't profit by the exercise. So why would I do it? Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome?

So I get to send it back to you at my -own- expense, to have your techs plug it in, give it a cursory look-over, and charge me for an NPF because it's an intermittent problem, meaning it's a total crapshoot whether it actually happens during the 11 seconds your repair-center guys spend on it, especially after you get done telling them I'm a crackpot and there's nothing wrong with the system. Then they charge me to send it back to them, intermittently failing bearing and all.

To hell with that. I'll replace the fucking thing myself. I'll end up with a bigger disk than before, it won't take nearly as long, and I won't have to put up with your fucking attitude. Just tell me what kind of drive this thing takes, and whether there are any gotchas to opening the case.

Oh, but you can't tell me that, because if you did, you'd have been encouraging me to repair the unit myself, and attempting such a feat will void my warranty.

Yeah. 'Cause you know, my warranty's doing me so much good as things stand!

Fuck you, Sony.


Rant 02: Tidy Town

So the other day I got a letter from my mother, and enclosed with it were some clippings from my hometown newspaper, the Katahdin Times - the Tri-Podunk Area's brightest beacon of local journalism. I'm not going to address the presentation of the material. My opinion of the journalistic and composition skills of the Times reporter responsible for this piece (and all the other pieces, since they only have one) would fill a rant all by itself. Anyway, one of the clippings concerned the goings-on at the latest meeting of the Town Council. The major item dealt with at that meeting was a vote on a proposed town ordinance requiring property owners to maintain certain minimum standards of tidiness.

Yes, that's right - thanks to the diligent efforts of Town Manager Conlogue and the rest of the stalwart citizenry who make up the duly elected body that is the Town Council, Millinocket, Maine will now be a Tidy Town. It had to be done, said the Council. Too many properties were being allowed to become run-down eyesores, cried concerned citizens, and it was dragging property values down. The town's economy is falling apart and half of the people living there might not have jobs by the end of the year, but by God if they're gonna be unemployed they're gonna do it with their lawns cut and all that junk put away in the shed.

This is really rich. Millinocket is a town with two industries: the local paper mill that built the town and is now, like the rest of the American pulp and paper industry, dying; and tourism of the local state park and river systems, which doesn't work so well because the town's inhabitants don't like or welcome tourists. Beautiful, cosmopolitan Millinocket, Maine, population around 6,000 and dwindling like the Visigoths have just been sighted westbound on State Route 157, is concerned about its property values? Why now, for heaven's sake? Right now, for $10,000, I could buy a house the size of one that would cost that much a month to rent in Boston; the only drawback being, I'd have to move back to Millinocket to live in it. How much lower can property values get because old Harold Draper won't get his son-in-law's rusting Firebird off the lawn?


The chief objector to this ordinance appears to have been... my mom! Yes, apparently she spoke at some length, decrying the intrusive nature of this piece of proposed legislation, its infringement upon the rights of the property owner, and the fact that it's so broadly written as to give the Town Council and their duly appointed enforcement agents an alarming amount of power to condemn the way local property owners are managing their affairs. The second half of the article is a nice description of the Town Manager and his cronies neatly pooh-poohing her objections without addressing them. Who says small towns can't have big-city-style management and still keep that folksy charm? I'm especially fond of the part where Council Chair Fanjoy - yes, really - admits that the ordinance "bumps up against" individual rights. In the end, Mom's objections seems to have been ignored entirely, since the resolution passed unanimously.

Unfortunately, the Times headline did not read, 'Tidy Town' Bill Passes Over Crazy Cat Lady's Objections.

Oh well. Better luck next time, Mom. In the meantime, I guess you're gonna have to build a fence around Vince's old pickup.


Rant 01: Utilities

OK. This merger/acquisition/random-name-change-for-marketing-reasons dance of destruction has got to stop. In the last six months, every single stinking one of our monthly utilities[1] has changed its name. The electric company gave up being "Boston Edison, An Nstar Company" and now calls itself "Nstar Electric Gas"[2]. This often leaves me a little puzzled as I try to remember if that's the electric or the gas bill, given that Boston Gas isn't Boston Gas any more, it goes by the equally ambiguous name "Keyspan Energy Delivery". MediaOne became part of AT&T Broadband; at least I know what that bill is for, since it mentions the technology in the name. Bell Atlantic Mobile became part of Verizon Wireless. I suppose the landlines come from Verizon now too, but I don't have one in my name, so I don't see those bills.

It's maddening. It's stupid. It's taking up space in my brain that I could be using to remember important things like my grandmother's birthday. It's got to stop. If it can't think of better things to do with its time than change the names of the organizations with which it (inefficiently and stupidly) distributes its resources and services, then humanity must be destroyed.


[1] The ones that come into the house via networks of wires or pipes, anyway. Our oil delivery company hasn't changed, but now that I mentioned it, they'll probably merge with ThermOil or change their name to something stupid and uninformative like "MetroWest Energy Distribution Network".

[2] Not that this is totally without merit. I like the phrase "Electric Gas" when taken out of context. It sounds like some sort of Jules Verne wonder substance, like electric power you can carry compressed in cylinders instead of in batteries. Tom Swift and his Electric Gas Compressatron, that kind of thing.

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version 3.3 © 2001
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Benjamin D. Hutchins
E P U (Colour)