Friday, April 28, 2006

The National History Day (or "NHS" as they're now referring to themselves in the documentation, sounds much less geeky, doesn't it?) materials arrived yesterday. A bit more than a dozen senior-level papers I have to read & critique before next month's judging. I need to get myself an eraser that *doesn't* leave a filthy red smear on paper when I try to clean off an ill-advised or unintelligible comment.

This year's subject theme, in case you missed it when I first heard about it late last fall, is "Taking a Stand in History". What do you think the chances are that one of the papers would be about William F. Buckley standing athwart history? Yeah, me neither.

[Pre-judging snark deleted in case the kids or their parents are googling]

I suppose I shouldn't be too loose about the papers before the kids have their say in defense of their work. But people! Don't quote from Encarta! Please! Especially when you've real secondary sources listed in your bibliography!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

What a beautiful morning. It's nice enough I'm halfway tempted to walk down to Bellefonte for lunch, just for the sheer hell of it.

It's getting into the busy part of the spring here at work, so chances are I'll be kind of quiet unless something really gets me going. Sorry?

Friday, April 21, 2006

Jason Gullickson of MyLens went over to Bald Eagle Valley to get some photos of the wildfire on the north side of Bald Eagle Mountain: here, here, and here. Striking - the mountain is glowing in the dark, a little like that festival near Nara, whose ceremonial centre-piece is the controlled burn-off of brush on Mt. Wakakusa at night.
I finally stopped getting ShojoBeat a couple months ago, and picked up the back-issue graphic novel collections of Nana when I noticed that the 'Swap had them on the shelf this week past. I had only really been reading Nana, Crimson Hero, and Absolute Boyfriend in the monthly magazine, and the latter two only because they were *in* the magazine - nearly seven bucks to read a single chapter of Nana felt like a waste of money, and I needed to justify the expense *somehow*.

The magazine was an interesting experiment for a while, but the problem was that they are running the same six manga they started with, and I'm bored with half of them, and not particularly enthusiastic about two of the other three. It might have worked better as a "first one or two or three chapters of each new manga in the line" sampler, at least in my case. Certainly, the most interesting aspect of ShojoBeat, aside from Nana, was the preview chapters. The first chapter of Beauty is the Beast warned me off of that title, and I bought the Kamikaze Girls GN based on that preview. But most months, it was just the six stand-bys and a lot of articles aimed at the sixteen-year-old female audience which I, if you haven't noticed previously, am not a representative sample thereof.

Anyways, this way I get the omake chapters at the end of each volume, which I had been missing out on. Now when is someone going to publish Neighborhood Story in the States?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

There's a forest fire over in Bald Eagle Valley, reportedly on the other side of Rt.220 , which is kicking up enough smoke to be seen from the office, here south of Bellefonte. No sign of it in the news-sites yet. They're still concentrating on the Centre Hall elementary school evacuation which caused our front-office secretary to have to go & pick up her son.

Whoops, never mind, there it is. They say it's actually on this side of Rt. 220, on the side of Bald Eagle Mountain opposite the Bald Eagle High School campus.
Huh. One of the farmhouse families on upper Valentine Hill have hired a Mennonite or Amish (or possibly Brethren) work crew to repair their roof. Bunch of unmarried young Pennsylvania Dutch were swarming over the roof, tossing shingles into a large dumpster as I walked up this morning. They get to work early, the Dutch do.

Still not sure how to identify which sect is which just by looking at 'em. I'd have guessed Amish from the straw hats & industriousness. The secretary up front corrected my misapprehension that Amish can't get around like I thought - apparently there's a significant business to be done in ferrying Amish folk around by willing English. They apparently will pay 81 cents a mile for this service. She has a relative who bought a big van to move Amish work crews around from job to job, or just out to things like doctor's appointments.
I saw that the Wide-Awakes were getting ready to do one of their semi-regular Torchlight Parades to "Take Back the Night", while walking on campus yesterday afternoon. I was dropping in on the kids at PSSFS, since they were holding their meetings the same night I swing by State College to pick up my comics from the 'Swap. As usual, they're having membership quorum problems. I ended up talking politics with some of them. One kid was a RA, and had to leave partway through the meeting to go along with the parade & track down people shouting from dorm windows at the paraders. He wasn't thrilled with the prospect, but stoutly defended the university policy of punishing morons for their exercise of free speech. The opinion that morons have first amendment rights like any other member of society seems to be the minority view on campus anymore.

Apparently the College Republicans are poking the left with sticks again, this time on the subject of illegal immigration. They *were* going to do some damnfool provocative stunt involving "catching an illegal immigrant", with CR types dressed in orange to signify their illegality, and rewarding folks for turning them in. This thankfully went by the wayside, and they got together with the Latino Caucus to do something more reasonable and college-boring, like holding a community meeting. In the meantime, their pointy-stick-poking had provoked some lefty types into getting together a direct-action group called, creepily, "True Voices" or something like that, which was indulging in minor illegalities of their own, like stealing shirts from USG. This is why poking people with pointy sticks is never a good idea. Even the YAF guy at the meeting was irked enough to be labeling the people nominally on his side "nativist" and conceding the "True Voices" point that there were "racists" among the College Republicans. Well, I haven't talked to the CR folks since the presidential election, so maybe things have changed over there, but they weren't, as a group, racist the last time I talked with them. Bah.

But hey! Won last night's tournament at HiWay. Pizza *and* victory. A good night.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Steve Sailer posted a link in a comment at Albion's Seedlings to this review in which he talks about why crime families are *families* - the lowered transaction costs allowed by familial ties in an extra-legal environment like the criminal underground - and how this operates in other, less criminal environments like the diamond trade, & explains why endogamous minorities tend to dominate certain subeconomies where high levels of trust are beneficial. Very interesting.
Important post on the virtues of hanging around with happy people. Especially important given that historically I've been a pretty angry, hostile, mean-spirited sort of wight. I was a real ball of rage throughout my early twenties, to be honest. But I'm trying to do better these days.

Via the Instapundit, who is pretty much the online embodiment of the "happy-people makes for happiness" principle. Reading his blog leaves me feeling almost... pleasant.
I had to go down into town early yesterday, so I had more time in the evening than is usual on a weekday. Discovered that they have evening games at the little league park up on the other side of 5th Avenue on weeknights. Watched about five innings instead of going on the walk I had planned. I had thought that co-ed little league teams was a hollywood invention - but sure enough, the announcer introduced "Brittany" and "Dakota" along with "Chandler" and at least three "Tyler"s. Doesn't anyone name their kids "Mary" or "Dave" or "Bill" anymore? I thought one kid had a normal "Steven", until he came around again in the batting rotation & I realized I was just mis-hearing "Evan". Sigh.

The little league park has two small fields, which is about all they need when it comes to little league. They try hard, but the parents' cars, trucks and minivans, pulled up almost to the fence in lieu of bleachers, were in no danger of getting dinged by a home run. You couldn't say the same about the cars in the parking lot proper, which were menaced by three wild fouls while I was watching. Luckily, a row of ball-eating poplars were planted along the verge, and mostly caught said pop fouls before hitting the properly parked vehicles.

It really is a nice location, especially the upper field, which commands a royal view of the Spring Creek water gap, the Bald Eagles rising closely on either side like the high walls of a vaster baseball stadium. The view from home plate must be spectacular in high summer. The fence surrounding the field obscures the rather grotty extension of the park, which is built on landfill, and pretty rubbled and low-quality landfill at that. At some point they're going to be able to put a third field in as the landfill advances the hillside over the ravine to the north, but until then it isn't the sort of space that delights the eye.

Walking home later that evening, I noticed that town was full of motorcycles roaring by in formation, getting more and more numerous as I got closer to home. Yep, it was what I thought - a biker had passed to the great highway beyond, and his or her compadres were holding a viewing at Wetzels' at the front of the block. There were Harleys parked en enchelon along every street, and on the sidewalk in front of the Presbyterian church across the way. Bikers in full traditional costume were waiting in line outside of the funeral home, mixed in with folks in more standard mourning gear, suits and ties and the like. Luckily, they weren't as loud as the bikers can sometimes get - I only heard the roar of an overrevved engine once or twice the rest of the evening. Not nearly as bad as the Cruise, really.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

I present to you the Citrus connoisseur. I used to love Mello Yello, in the sense of "I used to love staying awake late into the night and shaking like a hypercaffienated leaf on a sugar bender". I once drank four cans of that foul, astringent yellow-green stuff & spent the next hour-and-a-half jogging through East Campus until I burned off my overdose.

Monday, April 17, 2006

I was walking around Parkview Heights Sunday morning when a retired gentleman in his pajamas out collecting his newspaper inquired of me whether I had brought the good weather with me. I replied that rather, the good weather had brought me in its train. I hadn't been out that far towards Zion in a good many years - usually I act as if Bellefonte comes to a hard stop at the Lutheran Church & the Junior High campus.

That end of town has grown greatly, if not quite as wildly as the construction along Blanchard and upper Valentine Hill Road. There's an entire neighborhood of McMansions going up about three-fourths of the way out to the Rt 26/I-99 highway, and I had fun wandering around, playing "spot the architectural reference".

The designs were very pseudo-Victorian, with a lot of obvious references to various buildings in town. The wooden gables'-eave-guards I mentioned before were present in a number of these brand-new buildings. None of them had the "spar-pointed-down" design, but since that can easily be confused for something blasphemous when looked at in the wrong light, I can see what this would be the case. Far more popular are the "captain's wheel" section, with two or three examples scattered around the front end of the development. One building had the "organic wooden vine" eaves-guard design, but it wasn't a particularly well-executed version, being rather brutish and fat-fingered.

There were a lot of large gables, and a good deal of cleverness exercised in the service of said gables. I think I rather saw more full-size gabling going on than dormers, which I suppose makes sense. Dormers are either extensions of old buildings - not to be expected in new construction - or constructs designed to let light into garrets & other servants'-quarters, which shouldn't be expected in McMansions, which aren't designed in the expectation of the need to house large platoons of live-in servantry.

One building was pretty much perfect - fine colors, good use of materials, well-balanced proportions, fine details - except for the fact that the architect or construction-company had put in many strong, balanced, large gables, and then left their interiors blank and unadorned. The architectural equivalent of whitespace. I found myself wishing for it those scale-tiles you see on a certain class of wooden-construction Victorian. Oh, well. I'm sure the inhabitants will spot the need in a year or two - the one thing you can rely on is the occupants' need for decoration & adornment. An excess of asceticism is a rare fault indeed.

Not so rare, however, are the obscenities inflicted upon an innocent world by the architects of the Long Sixties. On the road I followed into the new neighborhood was a massive construct which could have been confused for some institutional monstrosity like a bureaucrats' hive or an office hovel for pyschiatrists were it not for its location in the heart of a residential zone and its total lack of professional signage. It had the oversize, overlong institutional windows with their excess of viewage from the exterior - no privacy for *that* family, no indeed! It also had the brick-and-concreted Mondarian-style walkway-screen which reminded me so forcefully of the ugliness the late Sixties inflicted upon the educational landscape in junior high schools and dorm-building complexes like East Halls throughout this afflicted commonwealth.

Speaking of large, inexplicable homes along Summit Drive, the vast ranch at the top of the hill is for sale - a property so large they had to put *two* signs in to clarify what all was up for sale. Whoa! That's a lot of money for a ranch! But it really is a vast ranch. I've always referred to it as more of a "compound" than a "home". I pictured the inhabitants as one of those sprawling extended-family patriarchies, like a clan of Mormons. Huh, there *is* a basement. I had been wondering...
Ow. I did something to my neck yesterday evening. Ow.

Friday, April 14, 2006

I expected to be able to get home yesterday afternoon in the void behind the first big cloudburst that took out our power at work for a good hour or so, leaving us on the generator & our guests from John Deere in the dark in the conference room. (Oops.)

Then I saw that there was a secondary knock-on storm coming on fast behind the first squall line, about two and half to three hours behind and closing. Talked with someone in support, we estimated that I had maybe about forty-five minutes, which was just enough time to get down to town if I booked & made good time. Well, I made it in under forty-five minutes, but it seems that storms can hurry too, and the rain-front caught me about a block and a half from my front door. Didn't get too soaked, and managed to spare my copy of Dies the Fire from any water-damage, so no harm no foul.

I drove in to work this morning. Cloudbursts are one thing, but they're threatening hail & high winds today.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

When I went out front of my building to put out the trash & grab my mail, there was a cop there talking to the lady from upstairs & the other tenant. Asked what was wrong, and they said that the upstairs lady's kid had "run away". Since I had just yelled at said kid on Tuesday for throwing his smoked-out butts off the upstairs balcony onto my front stoop, and he didn't look any too disgruntled at the time, I have no idea what's up with that. The other woman commented about how she never sees me but it's late at night. Yes, dear, I have a job, this means I'm not about in daylight on weekdays.

I don't know why I care, the tenants in the other part of the building come and go often enough that I never bother to learn their names.

Nice morning, much more clear than the weather-reports had led me to expect. Mountains are still that beaten red-bronze color that comes right before the greening, and with the slight morning mist, I fancied the Bald Eagles were a new-forged blade steaming from the quenching-bucket. Helped me feel warmer - I had foregone the jacket, and it was just a hair too cool on the walk up Valentine Hill. I'll be wishing for this early-morning coolness come July, mark my words.

Valentine Hill Road runs through an odd patch of land down at the base of the hill, in the little canyon that Logan Run drains. Between the hillside and the industrial strip are a bunch of nice little houses and a generous scatter of small ponds, streams, and springs in a watery tangle which manages to be neither polluted, nor stagnant, nor noxious. Quite pleasant in a noisy industrial-clanging sort of way, with a passel of white ducks in residence and all sorts of greenery. Almost English-garden in its charm.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The guys at work are big-time spelunkers, and have been buzzing about a sinkhole dig over by Penn's Cave east of Centre Hall. They almost talked me into going along last weekend, until I remembered that what we were talking about was heavy labour in a muddy hole in early spring and decided to do, er, something else. Anything else. They came back on Monday very proud of their progress in cleaning out the big muddy hole. They have great hopes of it becoming a proper cave.

Did you know that many caves get that way by human intervention? Apparently it's a thing with spelunkers. They find likely sinkholes, and do a lot of digging & clearing & hauling to get the trash & rubbish out, & let the water flow through cleanly. The hope is that there are voids behind or below said clogged sinkholes, which once exposed could be explored by eager, very, very muddy spelunkers.

Well, it's a hobby. My comment was that mucking about in a cave with an active stream pouring into it sounded like a recipe for an underground drowning, and they assured me that this was what they had weather reports for. After all, we work with meteorologists, don't we?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Ran into a retired lady walking on North Ridge on Saturday, and we had a talk about houses and property taxes. Little old ladies vote, people. They vote in battalions, regiments, brigades - little old ladies vote. And from conversations in Centre County over the last three years, I think I can safely conclude, sweet little old ladies are mightily, mightily pissed about property taxes. This particular sweet little old lady was pretty close to demanding the lynching of State Rep. Herman, and he isn't even her representative. She just saw him on public-access television, obstructing the passage of a property tax bill, and blew her top at it.

Lynn Swann, are you listening? Property taxes. Property taxes. Property taxes. It's the golden wedge issue this year, if you ask me.
Seeing as it's starting to get into walking weather, I was getting into parts of Bellefonte & environs I don't usually go, this weekend past. For one thing, they've put in a bike path out along Airport Road towards a park I hadn't been out to before, yclept "Governors' Park". Nice little public sort of place, plenty of pavilions for office parties & the like, a couple soccer fields & a softball field, & most importantly, a public swimming pool with no posted rates. Will have to find out if it's a free pool, or if not, how much. I really ought to take up swimming now that I'm not quite as much of a whale as I used to be.

There's another park on the other end of town, far side of Spring Creek, tucked in between the stream and Porter Street where no-one but maniacs and trout fishermen would ever go. As such, it's not exactly a family-friendly or foot-friendly sort of place, just three acres of woodlot & a half-dozen preachy, faded placards about stream environmental recovery & the evils of old industrial dams.

Lastly, I went wandering down the very far end of Half Moon Hill, got directions from the guy at the end of the road about how to get across Buffalo Run to Coleville, and then proceeded to bugger up following the directions to the extent that I had to bushwhack my way up a steep near-cliff-like hill because it was either that or slide into Buffalo Run, which had come slap square up against the north face of Half Moon. Once I finished hauling my carcass up the hill by pulling on small trees & rocks, I found myself in the guy's back yard. Ran into him again on my way back into town, and he laughed at me & told me to check for ticks when I got home, as the brush I had been through was allegedly full of 'em. No need for suspense - I was tick-free - but geez, I think I can skip any return visits to that particular part of God's Green Paradise.

Oh, yes. I've started walking to work, those days it isn't like to rain. I can use the exercise, and would prefer to not waste the ready, given how stratospheric-bound the gas prices seem bent.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Perhaps I don't know Dan Simmons like I ought to - I've never been fond of his fiction, though I have read some of his books - but I didn't expect something like this from him. It's a pretty hard short-story-cum-essay, with a point-of-view straight out of the little green footballs Jacksonian end of the political field. Is this another symptom of what Jim Geraghty called the Tipping Point?

I don't know, tell me Simmons is actually a centre-right type like Orson Scott Card or a libertarian-right type like Steve Stirling.

H/T Vodkapundit.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The original manga version of Aishiteruze Baby is considerably better than the average anime version, which ran last year on Japanese television. Having read the first volume from Viz, I can see why the anime was so - hrm, underwhelming?

The story - a high school lothario with an emotionally underequipped family & no particular motivation to do much of anything gets saddled with the care of a cute five-year-old cousin abandoned by her runaway mother - had potential, and some of that potential shone through the poor art and under-nourished dialog which otherwise tarnished and diminished its execution in the TV series. This is because the manga clearly would make a poor storyboard set for a television production, and a worse script.

The mangaka, Youko Maki, clearly prefers to write via layout and composition rather than dialog and plotting. All of the emotional beats are carried by panel-work and page composition rather than dialog and conversation, with the usual shoujo-style use of ziptone and abstraction to give the art flavor & some visual flair. Don't get me wrong - the art is fairly high-quality, and the way it's deployed maximizes the impact of Maki's technical skill.

It's a very impressive first volume, but it also shows clear signs of improvement which suggests that it was an early work. For one thing, Maki's ambitious use of paneling for emotional impact over-stretches her compositional skills several times in the first chapter; some of the panel flow can be a little hard to follow, even for someone who's been reading unflipped for a number of years. This isn't Fruits Basket, at least in the first few chapters. But Maki clearly has Takaya-esque ambitions.

Strangely enough, Fruits Basket, which similarly relies on layout and composition for emotional resonance, didn't have this problem when it was adapted for a TV series. Perhaps this is the result of director Akitaro Daichi's hack brilliance? I keep calling him a hack, but his body of work suggests otherwise... Maybe I'm just confusing lack of ego for lack of genius? Possibly it's that Fruits Basket is brimming over with enough plot and dialog for three other stories, and doesn't need the compositional assist to keep it interesting and engaging.

What has happened to all the genius directors and writers in the last few years, anyways? The only working in TV that I can think of is batty old Shoji Kawamori & his tinsel-trash Sousei no Aquarion. What's Konaka up to these days? Air Gear? Oh, for the love of god...

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Bruce Sterling really is an exhausting kind of guy. If I understand his current drift, CafePress is a sort of version 0.01 factory for the production of "spimes", which he defines as "manufactured objects whose informational support is so overwhelmingly extensive and rich that they are regarded as material instantiations of an immaterial system". The t-shirts and mugs and mousepads produced by CafePress would be fully-fledged spimes if they came with RFIDs and were engineered to self-destruct on command like that bizarre polymer which biodegrades into fertilizer & viable sunflower seed.

Not that this whole "Internet of Things"/"Spime" thing is a *new* thing from Sterling. The construction-materials-with-built-in-directions which his protagonists use to build their research labs in Distraction strike me as an early version of the spime, if an unnamed version thereof.

I really ought to blogroll Mely, from whom I ganked this. Next time I remember to open the templates before starting a post, I promise...

Monday, April 03, 2006

I was visiting a friend down in Gaithersburg who gets the Washington Times deadtree, and there was this article in the Sunday paper. We checked twice to make sure it wasn't the April 1st edition. A bunch of "explorers" with GPS packs & a low sense for high drama decided to make like Stanley & go off on a dangerous, romantic, and violent trip to find the source of the Nile, as if it hasn't been known for over a hundred years now. The group of folk visiting around said friend's dining room table got into an argument over what the proper definition of a river-source ought to be, as the intrepid explorers had apparently made their "find" by re-defining the source to be the most distant point of the Nile watershed.

It all seemed as silly as the Pluto "Planet/Kuiper object" argument, I said, which sent us barking off on another goofy argument. Fanboys - what can you do? Play Puerto Rico, I guess - with the new expansion rules! Now even more dodgy about the whole slave-economy thing! I won by making my very own triangular trade between a hospice & the expansion set's black market and church, thus allowing me to generate extra "colonists", sell them on the black market for buildings, and use the church to launder kickbacks in the building process. I kicked much ass, being as evil as the game allowed.