ice storm, fire truck

[I wrote this description of our MLK day 2007 near-miss electrical fire in an email to a friend. The house you see in the background at the start is our neighbor's, not our house. I didn't want to show a full view of the outside of our house for everyone on the internets. Go figure.]

What's new with you? Whatever's going wrong, I bet I got you beat this time.

The fire wasn't really bad at all. I don't know if any flames actually sprung up at all.

I was sitting at the computer at 3 A.M. when the power went out and I heard a crashing sound and felt the impact thru the bottom of my chair. I thought a tree had fallen onto the house or nearby. When I went to the ground floor to look outside, I heard a humming or buzzing from the basement. I scrambled for the flashlight my Uncle Al just gave me for Xmas, and went down to see what was wrong. As soon as I opened the basement door, I heard the sound of falling water, and I thought that a tree had fallen into one of the small basement windows, letting a bunch of rain in. Then from the foot of the stairs, I saw an orange glow over the top of the circuit breaker panel.

I started hollering for Melinda to wake up, got her down the stairs and called 911. The fire truck came pretty quickly and by the time they took a look at it, there was no fire, just a smoking laundry line that was strung over the electric panel. I don't think they did anything to put it out. It was out already. They had little temperature scanners that told them how hot everything was and they said it looked like it was okay. They said to keep an eye on it and call them back if it was smoking later on in the night. They also had me turn off the main circuit breaker and said to leave it off until I got an electrician to look at it.

Piecing everything together after hearing the electrician and seeing the damage done, it looks like a ground wire leading about four feet from the electric panel to a water pipe must have started heating up like an uncurled stovetop heating element. It melted or burned anything resting against it, including wires, small patches under the rafters, and a piece of rope that used to be strung up for hanging laundry to dry.

At the same time, there was water spewing out of a pipe right next to the main water shut-off valve in the floor of the basement. I couldn't figure why a pipe would start leaking at the same time as an electrical snafu, but shutting off the main water supply prevented any more from leaking out.

After they left, I set the alarm clock to wake me up an hour later. The firemen had told me to keep checking that the electric panel didn't start smoking or smoldering. At 8:30 A.M. I called an electrician out. They said it wasn't grounded properly, but the only damage that it had done was to burn a few of the wires leading out of the electric panel. They replaced the damaged wires and described how I needed to get it grounded properly, connecting a wire to a pipe leading into the ground. (I asked if they could do that also but I guess they were trying to save me money, letting me know how I could do it myself. The plumber thought it sounded goofy too that the electricians didn't finish that themselves.)

Then the plumber came out and this was kind of funny. A couple years ago when we replaced a bunch of lead pipes in the bathroom, Frank had noticed that spot dripping a little bit right next to the main shut-off valve. I noticed a small puddle under it a few days after we finished the bathroom, because I was very conscious about any leaks around the house, or any new pipes we had put in that might not have been done right. But within a few weeks or months after that, there was no puddle and no leak under this main shut-off valve. The plumber said that hard water can sometimes seal a small leak. Like the lime and calcium or hard minerals in the water will gradually build up in the leak and block it all the way. So I guess what happened is when we had a power surge on Monday night that charred the wires, it was trying to get to the ground through the pipes, and it shocked the built-up lime or calcium deposits out of the spot where it had been leaking, and this time it came out spraying harder.

So the upshot of all that is that the plumber got there, turned on the main valve to see where it was leaking. Then he tightened one nut. That stopped the leak. It was just one loose nut. He turned on the valve all the way to make sure it wasn't leaking any more, and that was it. Fixed in thirty seconds. He waived the $80 per hour hourly rate and just charged $35 for the trip fee, so I got off pretty cheap compared to how much it could have cost.

So then even though it was all fixed by about noon or 1 pm, I was too ragged and stressed to go to work. I took a personal day and went to sleep for a while. Then the electricity was out in our neighborhood and all over town. The newspaper said something like 19,500 people or homes were without power Monday. By about 6 or 7 pm, we decided it wasn't going to be fun sleeping in 50 or 40 degrees F under a bunch of blankets in the house, so we asked my Mom if we could spend the night at her house.

I thought I got about 7 or 8 hours sleep, in between the dogs occasionally barking, but I had a killer headache Tuesday. Melinda stayed at Ma's all day Tuesday. I picked up Melinda after work and we got home around 11:30 P.M. to find the power was back on.

I think that brings us up to date.

And what's new with you?


From Xeni Jardin's NPR report Guatemalan Archives May Help Locate Missing. Apparently the photo below (taken by Xeni, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Sharealike 2.0 license) indicates that the man in the shirt is an official digitalizador of the Guatemalan police.

Correction: On her Flickr feed for this photo, Xeni wrote: "I noticed that one blog referred to this photo and stated that this man works for the Guatemalan police -- that's not correct. the PRAHPN works under Guatemala's human rights ombudsman. While the documents they're working with were produced by the National Police (and the Policia Nacional were disbanded and reformed after the civil war) this project to preserve, digitize, and mine information from those papers is *not* initiated or controlled by the police. Hope that makes sense."

From the Project for the Recuperation of the Historic Archives of the National Police (PRAHPN). Guatemala. Photo by Xeni Jardin.

"From the Project for the Recuperation of the Historic Archives of the National Police (PRAHPN).

"The PRAHPN asks that you don't photograph faces here for concern over political violence."



I am:
Ursula K. LeGuin
Perhaps the most admired writing talent in the science fiction field.

Which science fiction writer are you?

Movies on High Weirdness Project wiki

Lately I've posted a few movie reviews on The High Weirdness Project, a wiki devoted to SubGenius information warfare against the forces of The Conspiracy. (So far only one full entry about Decoys and two stubs about Constantine and Clan of the Cave Bear.) I've been a distant fan of SubGenius since I heard about it in the 80s, but never joined. Melinda followed a friend/idol of hers to the SubGenius newsgroup alt.slack and started haunting them, even sent in her $30 to become an ordained minister.

What has me curious now is what makes me choose one forum instead of another when I'm posting messages or essays about politics or movies or whatever. In the past I would have posted things to my blog, or to because I thought people might read it there. Lately I only post articles or recipes there for storage purposes, so I can link to it from my blog. Or there's a private message forum that one of my co-workers runs. I usually post there about politics.

Where will I be posting in a year or two years from now? Melinda used to have a blog, but she bounces from one message board to another. Lately her blog has had tumbleweeds rolling through it on a stiff wind, while she posts to alt.slack and makes daily video blogs on YouTube.

I didn't mean this as an "announcement," just something that made me wonder what makes us stick with some forums and forget other forums. Beats me.


The Bible for Dummies



Dancing buddies


cube what?

Concept for a music video. Hip hop beat starts. Camera dollys through a hallway along an endless cubicle farm stretching away towards the horizon, like the warehouse in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Without getting the viewer sea-sick, the camera bobs to show workers in cubes on either side of this aisle, all of them working diligently entering data with headphones on.

A hand reaches out from the camera-man's perspective and touches one person on the shoulder, then bobs to the next worker and touches that one on the shoulder. As the camera proceeds down the aisle and keeps touching people on shoulders, each of them pulls off their headphones and says, "Yeh. Uh huh. What? Yeah yeah. All right. What. What." The usual opening to any hip hop song of the last ten years, the kind of value-added contributions that Puffy thinks he was making to songs by B.I.G., or the kind of things Flavor Flav used to fill around the edges of the better rappers until they made room for him to do the chorus.

So if you close your eyes, it sounds just like any rap song, but what you're looking at is a bunch of people at work, pulling off their headphones and saying, "What? Huh?" because you were trying to get their attention.

I could try to do this with an established song and just cut it off when the rap starts, but it would take some genuine choreography on the part of all those people sitting in cubes.
Created for a 24-hour RPG contest, Lord Knows I Don't Begrudge Her It is a pen & paper role-playing game inspired by William Faulkner's novel, As I Lay Dying. The game is set in the southern U.S. in the early 20th century. The players take the role of a household in which one of the family members has recently died. ...


Author Blog of the Living Dead

This is somewhere between pitiful and hilarious, so I'm pushing for hilarious. In the process of signing up to get Dungeons & Dayjobs an ISBN number with the print-on-demand service, they also give you one year of selling it on Amazon. It's not actually Amazon taking any interest in your book. It's Lulu agreeing to list it via "Amazon marketplace", an auction like any shmuck can do, just so it will show up when people look for it on Amazon.

Amazon later started author blogs on their site so legit authors could drum up interest in the related Amazon pages. I started a blog there, feeling all special, and posted a few stories to it. I never had any actual in-store appearances or readings or book-signings to report, so instead I wrote stories about appearing at a vampire's bookstore in Livonia, and battling with my marketing witch. But now that my one year has expired, Lulu is not selling the book as an Amazon marketplace seller, so Amazon took the book page down. Even though you find a dozen book pages saying "This book is not available" every time you search, those are apparently reserved for legit books, not for self-publishing scum. You can't find me by name or by searching for the book title on Amazon now, but my phantom author blog is still available if you get there by direct link. I'm going to see how much trash talk I can get away with there before they delete it. If a book falls down the memory hole of a megalithic commercial website and there's no one around to hear it, is there any point in hosting the author's blog?

The best part is at the top of the page, where it used to give the name of my book, it now reads:
Robert T. Northrup's Amazon Blog
Author of .

U.S. troops disrupts Iranian interference in Iraq

U.S. Troops Raid 2 Iranian Targets in Iraq, Detain 5 People -
Next on the agenda: disrupting U.S. interference in Iraq.


Please, everyone welcome the new Secretary General of the United Nations:


Sports Metaphors of the "Surge"

surge big points out that pundits are debating whether to call it a troop surge, an escalation, or (my favorite) a punt.

Also 'Mike Lupica observes that Bush will offer another in an "endless series" of plans for Iraq, after moving managers around "the way sports owners do it with bad teams, as a way of showing some kind of movement to the fans when there is none in the standings."'


Dayjobs podcast launched

I've launched a Dungeons & Dayjobs podcast to spread the stories in different format and maybe rustle up some new paying customers for the paper version. First up is "Almost Always, Somebody Lost an Eye." There's even a promo from the old Dungeons & Dayjobs cartoon, circa 1983!


Pascal's Chicken Noodle Soup Dance Wager

[I just came up with a mighty cute refutation of "Pascal's Wager" on a certain Google group, and I thought I would paste it here for your enjoyment. Pascal's Wager is basically that if you believe in God and he doesn't exist, you don't lose anything. But if you don't believe God and he does exist, you lose Heaven and you burn in Hell forever. So you have everything to gain, nothing to lose, might as well believe in God.]

The stakes don't always indicate whether it's wise to place a bet. By that reasoning, we should all play the interstate lottery every day when it gets up to $150 million or $300 million, even though the chances are tiny that you will ever win that much.

There are stories about a fountain of youth somewhere in America, and advanced civilizations like Atlantis lost under the ocean or hidden inside the Earth. Even if there is a chance that these might be myths, it seems (by your line of reasoning) that to keep seeking the treasures would be worth it no matter what the cost.

No, actually it's not worth it if they're just myths. Any cost or any searching would be a waste if they're just myths. Wouldn't you need some kind of hint that they're not myths *before* you devote all your life to searching for the Holy Grail or the fountain of youth or the lost city of Agartha? Or do you put your trust in the stories being true and never question deeply after that point, claiming that the only way others will understand the truth of Atlantis is if they decide to predispose themselves to believing in Atlantis?

Those treasures aren't perfect comparisons either, because you're talking about a story where we have paradise to gain, and eternal suffering if we don't reach paradise. So suffering in Hell is a lot worse than simply living a normal life and deciding not to search for Atlantis if it wasn't a myth.

Pascal's wager seems to make sense, except that any propagandist can duplicate this claim.

Joseph, I read the Bible last night and I finally decided that everything you said was right. I'm going to mass tomorrow if I can find one nearby. Oh, and by the way, the angel Gabriel just appeared to me this afternoon and wanted me to let you know that your foot will fall off this week if you don't look up the Chicken Noodle Soup dance on the web and perform it for at least fifteen minutes out of every two hours, all day and night.

Here's the youtube link Gabriel wanted me to give you:

Losing your foot might not seem like very high stakes, but that's only what will happen this week. If by the 20th of January you have not performed this dance step for fifteen minutes out of every two hours all day and night, for at least one straight week, then I'm afraid it shows you are not willing to listen to God (via his messengers Gabriel and me), and you will then be shunted into an area where you cannot feel God's Presence and you will never experience anything good again. I was unclear whether this will feel like a "Lake of Fire", but Gabriel assures me it will be the worst thing anyone has ever felt, and it will last forever.

Now, yes, it's a sarcastic example. Of course you will want to dismiss it as an insulting rant, but underneath the silliness of my example, I'm feeding back a situation to you that will show you my perspective. I don't trust the source of your information about God or Heaven or Hell (the Bible). You don't trust the source of my information about needing to perform the Chicken Noodle Soup dance to stay out of Hell (the source is only me). You say that the stakes are so high, paradise or damnation in the afterlife, that I should keep searching for understanding forever and never doubt that the Bible is true. The same is true for you being condemned to never again be in the presence of God unless you carry out the acts that He has requested of you through his servant Gabriel.

Pascal's wager applies to you performing the Chicken Noodle Soup dance all night long. It also applies to any claim that anyone wants to make about Islam, Hindu texts, Zoroaster, Thor, anything, as long as they claim that the stakes are as high as this. If they are lying or accidentally misrepresenting a myth as truth, you should theoretically do *anything they say* because the stakes are too high to assume they're lying. The stakes might be too high to ever again assume anyone is lying!

No, that's silly. You don't care about this threat of Hell because you feel that I'm probably lying. Even though your eternal soul ought to be worth spending one sleepless week doing the latest dance craze every two hours, you are willing to risk your soul! That's what it feels like for you to ignore Pascal's wager. That's why I will be able to sleep tonight with no problem, even though I'm knowingly risking my soul on Pascal's silly wager. (Also because I'm so tired after doing the Chicken Noodle Soup dance every two hours for the last week!!)


Reverse Engineering Tomato Soup from Ketchup Packets

I'm not talking about the old joke of adding water to ketchup to make "tomato soup." Sounds like you'd only make runny ketchup. I mean exactly what ingredients go into tomato soup, what ingredients go into standard ketchup, and could you add precisely the right ingredients to a bunch of ketchup packets to arrive at a decent bowl of tomato soup?

I suspect that there may be too much vinegar in ketchup. No one would probably add vinegar to tomato soup. Maybe that can be overcome by making it into a cream soup or by adding a little more tomato paste or fresh tomatoes. The best result would be if a person could take ketchup packets and maybe a pint of milk, mix it in a bowl and microwave for a few minutes. But if I can put together an edible result that requires more ingredients or elaborate cooking processes, that will still be a victory.

Here's my plan of attack:
1. Determine the amount of each ingredient that goes into a batch of average, traditional ketchup.
2. Ketchup packets are about .25 ounce each, so determine how much of each ingredient ends up in that .25 ounce packet.
3. Find a tomato soup recipe that uses almost those same ingredients, or adds a few other ingredients.
4. Calculate how much of each additional ingredient needs to be added and what kind of cooking process it needs to go from ketchup to soup.
5. ????

I don't have time right now, but I'll try researching and working on this in the next few days.

Here's a recipe that Peter Breck gave in a TV Guide interview, describing how he got by in the Fifties as a struggling actor: "You buy a pot of hot water and a tea bag for a nickel at Horn & Hardart's Automat," Breck explained. "You set the tea bag aside and pour the hot water into a cereal bowl. Add ketchup, those free packages of soda crackers, salt and pepper, and you've got ketchup soup. With the water left over, you've still got a cup of tea."


My comment made it to boingboing! sorta... posted about the educational cartoon on the VA's website depicting Gilgamesh as a soldier needing a "post-deployment health evaluation" (because he has PTSD or Gulf War syndrome. No, really, watch the damn thing). I desperately want acknowledgement from the boingers, so I've tried submitting stories I thought they'd like in the past. This time I had a comment, seemed a little trivial, but it might be up their alley. They posted it! Word for word exactly the email that I sent to Xeni Jardin! Xeni Jardin found something I wrote worthy of posting as a comment on boingboing! (Steady, Rob. Keep both hands active on the keyboard so they won't stray somewhere under the desk.)

But if you're a big enough geek to be excited about boingboing, you might not believe me that they posted my comment, because it looked just like this:

reader comment: someone whose name I accidentally deleted says,

Using Gilgamesh in a cartoon to explain "Post-Deployment Health Evaluations" sounds like a bizarre combination, but they're following a meme started by VA psychiatrist Jonathan Shay. His books include "Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character" and "Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming".
That's what I get for using a forgettable, unpronouncable handle like "Deidzoeb".