"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Yet ANOTHER "He Who Must NOT Be Named" (Updated)

For author F. Paul Wilson, that would probably be director Michael Mann.

In 1981, Wilson published his first novel, "The Keep", set in the Carpathians during WWII, at first glance apparently about vampires but ultimately about much older evil ("Forget every religion you ever knew") instead.

In 1983, Mann released his movie version, horribly mangling the story.

How in Hell can one screw up with a cast populated by Scott Glenn, Gabriel Byrne, J├╝rgen Prochnow (the skipper in "Das Boot") and IAN MCKELLAN (Gandalf and Magneto)?!!!  Suffice it to say he managed.

He even managed to take one of the things I liked best about it (the film score by Tangerine Dream) and get it tied up in a copyrights battle that continues to this day, making it impossible to find a complete edition. I had such a copy for awhile, on a DVD put together by a Brit fan years ago, but like many home-brewed DVDs, it soon ceased to play. You can probably still find bootleg editions on the internet (I have some of those) but they are NOT complete, missing (naturally) some of the passages I liked best.

Such is the perversity of the Universe.

Mr. Wilson had some revenge on Mann in his short story "Cuts".  As my blog doesn't have as big an audience as Wilson does, I'll probably be better off just moving on.

All that above is a digression, as the post title actually refers to not speaking aloud the name of someone whose attention you could really do without.

In one recent popular novel series, it was just a superstition until followers of the evil one (reasoning that only his opponents would dare to speak the name) put the equivalent of a lo-jack on it so such utterance would bring them down upon you.

In the tradition of "speak of the Devil and he'll appear", Mr. Wilson's Adversary is apparently cursed with having to take notice when his True Name is spoken and probably cannot just tune it out. I now understand why he whom I'll refer to as "R" plays around with anagrams of his name so much;  he has to deal with others now and then. If he's busy with something that interests him (as you almost certainly do not), and you somehow manage to speak his True Name, you distract him and he might visit you while very pissed.

To paraphrase the description of another character of legend, "You wont like him when he's pissed."

Wilson's second novel, "The Tomb" (1984) introduced us to Jack (Repairman Jack), who fixes situations that other people cannot.  A court of last resort (a bit like John D. McDonald's Travis McGee, but this is no copy of him), Jack mostly relies on cunning and tries to con the ones he's taking on. But, as with McGee, sometimes the one he's taking on is very bad news indeed and stronger measures become necessary.

The series evolves into a universe of opposing light and dark forces (not necessarily good vs evil; while the force of darkness (the Otherness) is inimical to all forms of life as we know it, the force of light (ironically called the Ally) only cares about our world because it lies within its domain. The best one can hope from Him/It/Whatever would be benign neglect. Indeed, neglect best describes the Ally's attitude to R's machinations here to bring the Otherness upon us.)

So, poor old all-too-human Jack gets more and more involved in this struggle;  apparently fated to do so ("No more coincidences in your life").

Repairman Jack has been opted as a movie series, since about 1995 as far as I can work out from the Official Repairman Jack Website (an entry for May, 2010 mentions, "We're up to 15 years of sound and fury ultimately signifying bupkis."), but has (so far) been unable to survive attempts to create a usable script that successfully depicts some of the creatures involved.

If Mr. Wilson ever gets at a loss for something to write, he could probably create a "Development Hell" series about the attempt to bring a novel (or series) to the screen.

As this is only daydreaming now, I'm going to give a shot at casting the most important character of this series (next to Jack).

The first time R turned up in Jack's series ("Conspiracies"), using the anagram Sal Roma, I saw him as ...
(From oxfordinklings.blogspot.com)

... Polish actor Vladek Sheybal, who played chess-master/planner Kronsteen in "From Russia With Love", and many, many other villains in the 60's though the 80's.

But, as he passed away in 1992, another candidate was needed.  My choice was (and still remains) ...
(From battlestar.helios.com)

... Jamie Callis, aka Gaius Baltar on the rebooted "Battlestar Galactica".

But if you'd rather have someone a bit more recent, let me suggest ...
(From nun-gun.tumblir.com)

... Tom Hiddleston (Loki, from "Thor" and "The Avengers".)

Any of them would be formidable, and still qualify for Jack's description (in "Harbingers") when, after disclosing that he had met R, was asked, "What's he like?" ...

"Just a guy. He doesn't wear a cape or have a vulture sitting on his shoulder. Pass him on the street and you'd never give him a second thought. Just an ordinary, everyday guy ... until you look in his eyes and he lets you see what's going on in---"

From that second line, I can't help wondering if Mr. Wilson is a "Cowboy Bebop" fan and familiar with Spike's former compatriot and now arch-enemy Vicious ...
(From cowboybebop.wikia.com)

If you've never read any of F. Paul Wilson's books, I highly recommend that you correct that deficiency as soon as possible, starting with "The Keep".

The titles below are the books of the Adversary (A) and Repairman Jack (RJ) series. There are other books that connect, and scattered short stories, but these are the main ones. The list below is not in published order, but in the story's chronological order...


That list is gleaned from THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE WORLD  (from F. Paul Wilson's official site).

Enjoy :-)

Update 1130 AM CDT, Tuesday, 31 Jul 2012 - More than a few commentors (to F. Paul Wilson's gracious linking to my post) have expressed liking for my casting of "R", but have also asked, "Ok, Paul. But, who would you pick for Jack?"

In my search, I stumbled across another possibility for R ...
(From bestof.provocateuse.com)

... Danish Actor Mads Mikkelsen, whom I first saw in the Daniel Craig James Bond movie "Casino Royale", as the guy who wept blood and gave our hero a very rough time. He's now scheduled to be Hannibal Lecter in a new TV series about Hannibal's earlier days.

With that out of the way, some thoughts on Jack ...

Casting him is more difficult than it might appear, because of the Jekyll and Hyde aspects of him.

I don't see him as a pretty boy. He works at being average in appearance and manner, much like Brian Freemantle's Brit spy Charlie Muffin, blending into a crowd so completely that you could take your eyes off of him for a second, look back, and never find him again.

Jack and Charlie have quite a few similarities; both just love to be underestimated and work hard at that. Wrong them and you will truly regret it.

Charlie once described himself as capable of being "one vindictive son of a bitch".  Jack is not so cold-blooded and calculating about it; he's more mercurial, and can shrug off a slight and get over it.

BUT, if you do anything (by design or stupidity) to become a danger to anyone he cares about, that's a whole 'nother story. You are making a milkshake with nitroglycerin and you may not like the result.

So, who to pick?

For a long time, on this project, Ryan Reynolds ...
(From filmequals.com)

... was under consideration (and negotiation). Mr. Wilson liked him (still does as far as I know) and I certainly have no problem there.

One of those commentors I mentioned above suggested Edward Norton ...
 (From adventuresintranscendentalmeditation.blogspot)

... another extremely fine actor, very capable of pulling this off, but Mr. Wilson feels that he is a control freak and would try to make it his movie.

I did see commentor Rebecca's suggestion of Christopher Gorham (currently in TV's "Covert Affairs" and whom I remember as Henry in "Ugly Betty") but I just don't see the Hyde part of Jack's nature there.

The eyes should have it ...
I considered Brad Pitt and Chris Pine (the new Captain Kirk in the "Star Trek" movie of a few years ago) but finally decided I wanted someone a bit droopier.

Not too pretty, having a goofy charm around Gia and Vicky, but whose eyes, if aroused by you becoming a threat to either of them, could give you a look that would loosen your bowels and make you want to run for your life.

To meet that last criteria, I hereby submit ...
(From thefancarpet.com)

(From porhomme.com)

... Jeremy Renner, whom I first saw in a very short-lived TV series, "The Unusuals", and who subsequently went on to bigger things in "The Hurt Locker", "The Town", "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" and became Clint Barton/Hawkeye in "The Avengers" (he cameoed the same role in "Thor" before).

Although, at 41 he's maybe six or seven years older than Jack should be, I'd think what Jack's been through has probably aged him a bit; wouldn't you? :-)

My not-so-humble opinion is that Renner would be perfect for it. Biggest problem I see is that he's on the verge of super-stardom and may simply be unaffordable if this project ever happens.

(But, HEY! We're still dreaming here. Right? :-)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Best Movie of 2012, so far. (Updated)

"Serious" critics, and many who saw it and enjoyed the hell out it, may consider this as heresy, but so be it. I'll be vastly (but pleasantly) surprised if it's nominated for such, but right now I'm saying that "The Avengers" is it.

There are a number of movies that I looked forward to this year ...

"The Cabin in the Woods"
Outrageously good - probably three more months until it's on DVD.

Ridley Scott's return to science fiction and to the universe of "Alien".

"The Dark Knight Rises"
The third (and probably final) Christopher Nolan Batman. A lot of hype about Tom Hardy as Bane. The movie opens on July 20, the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, so I'm gonna be torn as to what to post about. (26 Jul 2012 - Never posted about Jul 20. Things happen. Enough said.)

And ...

"The Avengers"
Joss Whedon's take on the Marvel universe of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye and The Hulk.

Having been a Whedon fan since the way-too-short-lived TV series "Firefly" and its subsequent closing-chapter movie "Serenity", I expected (and got in spades) someone who can and does respect the material and the characters, and still manages to have a hell of a lot of fun with it.

No, this is not a film with lofty thought-provoking ideas (except perhaps a Whedon philosophy of "If you're going to do something, at least try to do it right!") And, boy does he get it right this time. In terms of accomplishing what he set out to do, he hit it out of the park.

My criterion is real damned simple: after you've bought your tickets and sat though the movie, did you get your money's worth?


This is one of the most fun and enjoyable movies in a long time. It ain't meant to change the world. It just wants to give you a good time.

It does.

Update Thursday night, 26 Jul 2012 - After finally getting around to "The Dark Knight Rises" (I'd already seen "Cabin" and "Prometheus" before writing this post), my assertion that "The Avengers" is the best movie of 2012 still stands.

I liked "Cabin" a Hell of a lot. While "Prometheus" and TDKR qualify as "Pretty Damned Good", "Avengers" and "Cabin" benefit from having Joss Whedon on board as writer. He is a far better and more coherent storyteller than the ones who conjured up the other two.  It's really just as simple as that.

Makes all the difference in the world.

Further Update - The Morning After (0820 CDT, 27 Jul 2012) - Did I just label TDKR as "Pretty Damned Good" above?  Dear God!  Strike that.

"The morning after" is very appropriate. Harlan Ellison once reviewed a movie that he enjoyed "only while I was watching it". It was when you began thinking about it afterwards, well you know. :(

Bottom line on TDKR: Crushing disappointment.

For now, "The Avengers" rules!.
(Originally published 1948 CDT, 20 Jun 2012)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Swedish Meatballs

(Actually about my contender for the finest science-fiction TV series of all time.)

Narns G'Kar and Na'Kal enjoy a pleasant dinner 
in Babylon 5 episode 'Walkabout'
(from neatnik2009.files.wordpress.com)

Na'Kal: "Breen! You've managed to import breen from Homeworld! How?"

G'Kar: "It, uh - isn't actually breen."

Na'Kal: "The smell! The taste..." 

G'Kar: "It's an Earth food. They are called Swedish meatballs.

"It's a strange thing, but every sentient race has its own version of these Swedish meatballs!

"I suspect it's one of those great universal mysteries which will either never be explained, or which would drive you mad if you ever learned the truth."

Once upon a time (1994-1998), writer J. Michael Straczynski conjured up a  science-fiction series, to run for five years. Cheerfully borrowing from almost everything, from E.E. "Doc" Smith's "Lensmen" series to "I, Claudius", He called it Babylon 5 , and saw to it that it was good ...
From wired.com

After a lethal misunderstanding (during a first-contact situation) ignited a war that almost resulted in the extermination of humankind, Babylon 5 was constructed, in orbit around a planet in neutral territory, to serve as a United Nations in Space, where the various species could resolve their differences without war. Their efforts were about as successful as our own UN here on Earth, but at least they tried.

The station's first three predecessors (the original Babylon station, Babylon 2 and Babylon 3) were sabotaged or accidentally destroyed before their completion. The fourth station, Babylon 4, vanished 24 hours after it became fully operational.

The station is a five-mile long rotating structure much like an O'Neill Space Colony.

Its first two commanders, Jeffrey Sinclair and John Sheridan, share the same initials as writer J. Michael Straczynski, which probably means nothing more than that the writer is fond of the initials. :-)

Women of Steel ...
Straczynski writes of strong women, tough enough to handle whatever has to be done.

Commander Susan Ivanova, Sheridan's second in command ...
Claudia Christian as Commander Susan Ivanova

After getting a science survey vessel out of trouble that she had warned them about ...

Ivanova: "Confirmed Survey 1. Upon arrival you will report for debriefing. And just one more thing, on your trip back I want you to take the time to learn the Babylon 5 mantra.
 "Ivanova is always right. 
 "I will listen to Ivanova. 
 "I will not ignore Ivanova's recommendations. 
 "Ivanova is GOD!
 "And if this ever happens again, Ivanova will personally rip your lungs out!
 "Babylon control out."
 [to herself] "Civilians."
 [looks up] "Just kidding about that God part. No offense."

But, she's not invulnerable to the pressure. One episode starts off with Ivanova walking straight into C&C without any clothes on, assuming everything was normal until the other staff start giggling...
From scifimusings.blogspot.com

She then realizes her mistake, screams, and wakes up. "I hate that dream!"

She later starts to tell Sheridan about the dream, but can't quite bring herself to say what actually happened. Instead ...
Bruce Boxleitner as Captain John Sheridan
from scifimusings.blogspot.com

Ivanova: "Same thing night after night, one bad dream after another. You know, I get the one where your teeth are breaking off or falling out and you wake up going aaah!"

Sheridan: "Oh yeah, I know that one."

Ivanova: "Or you are lost in a maze somewhere, or you're someplace I have never been before. This morning I dreamt that I walked into C&C totally ... unprepared for my work."

Sheridan: "Oh. Interested in a little time-honored psychoanalysis?"

Ivanova: "No, I'll just bury my soul in the breakfast and ask you to give me some silverware."

Sheridan tells her that it probably has something to do with them breaking away from Earth.

Sheridan: "Subconsciously you are still trying to work it all through. You don't know where you fit anymore, how to define yourself, you are feeling vulnerable, lost, and exposed. It's all perfectly obvious and completely understandable... It'll pass. Your subconscious just needs to work it all through.

"Hey, it could be worse, you could be having dreams where you are showing up to work naked. You would be in real trouble."

Sheridan walks away chuckling, while Ivanova just buries her head in her arms.

Minbari Ambassador Delenn ...
Mira Furlan as Delenn
From godardsletterboxes.wordpress,com and oocities.org

At left is how she appeared for the first few seasons. Later, to become more at home with our culture, she went into a chrysalis and emerged a human-minbari hybrid, resulting in the flowing locks. There's a wonderful scene with her trying to comb and brush it, almost ready to go to war with someone and seeking Ivanova's help with, "How in Hell do you manage this?"

But, she is no one to trifle with, as we gradually learn that she is not just an Ambassador, but also a member of the Grey Council, the rulers of Minbar.

When Earth Alliance warships threaten Babylon 5, the jump points produce three Minbari cruisers and the White Star, with Delenn in the captain's chair.

Delenn: "This is Ambassador Delenn of the Minbari. Babylon 5 is under our protection. Withdraw…or be destroyed!"

Drake (commanding the Alliance forces): "Negative. We have authority here. Do not force us to engage your ship."

Delenn: "Why not? Only one human captain has ever survived battle with a Minbari fleet. He is behind me. You are in front of me. If you value your lives, be somewhere else."

Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari (redefining cynical)...
Peter Jurasik as Londo Molarri - from thewb.com
Among the Centauri, that crazy hair style is a badge of rank and power.

Londo and G'Kar arrive on Babylon 5 during a celebration.
Londo: "So Doctor…who died?"

Stephen Franklin: [confused] "What are you talking about?"

Londo: "Among my people this is how we celebrate state funerals. Our marriage ceremonies are solemn, sober. Moments of reflection…also regret, disagreement, argument and mutual recrimination. Once you know it can't get any worse you can sit back and enjoy the marriage. But to start with something like this? No, it is a very bad sign for the future."

Franklin and Garabaldi walk off.
Londo: "Perhaps it is something I said?"

G'Kar: "Perhaps it is everything you say."

Londo, who has three wives, chooses to keep Timov as his wife and divorce the two others.
Timov: "Why did you choose to keep me as your wife and not them? I've made no pretense of affection for you, I find your recent actions contemptible, I'll never love you, at best I'll tolerate you, and I'll never be what you want me to be. Why me?"

Londo: "Because, my Dear, with you I will always know where I stand."

Vorlon Ambassador Kosh Naranek ...
From diraven.net

The Vorlon species is a member of the First Ones, a group made up of the earliest species to gain sentience in the galaxy. When in the presence of other species, Vorlons wear encounter suits. Only much later in the series do you get to see what's inside that suit.

The Shadows ...
From myspace.com/babylon5

That's one of their ships.  The Shadows are another member of the First Ones, awakened from hibernation after a very long dormancy. Enemies of the Vorlons (and just about everyone else for that matter), they like to work behind the scenes, manipulating others to do their work. They have an ability to bend light so you usually cannot see them. You might catch a flicker of something at the corner of your eye, but when you turn to look directly at them there appears to be nothing there.

I haven't even scratched the surface of this series, considering that there are 110 episodes, about a half-dozen TV movies and a short-lived spinoff, "Crusade" that followed it. You could lose yourself for a long time in this, and it would be a wonderful experience.

It's no accident that I began this post with Narn Ambassador G'Kar, nor is it one that I'm bookending it with him again. This warrior/poet/philosopher ...

Andreas Katsulas as G'Kar - from thecomicking.net

... is simply the heart and soul of the series, advising Dr. Catherine Sakai ...

G'Kar: "Let me pass on to you the one thing I've learned about this place. No one here is exactly what he appears. Not Mollari, not Delenn, not Sinclair... and not me."

She had gone to him about exploring a world near the star Sigma 957.

After being advised to avoid it, but not forbidden to go, she goes.

While doing a survey from orbit, something huge materializes near her ship, as if coming from another dimension. Taking no notice of her at all, it rotates and disappears.

As with a canoe that was too close to the passage of an aircraft carrier, an energy surge caused by the appearance/disappearance of that thing disables her vessel, leaving her stranded. Fortunately she is quickly rescued by Narn spacecraft that were dispatched to the location by G'Kar who knew that she would very likely get into trouble out there.

Catherine Sakai: "Ambassador! While I was out there, I saw something. What was it?"

G'Kar: [points to a flower with a bug crawling on it] "What is this?"

Catherine Sakai: "An ant."

G'Kar: "Ant."

Catherine Sakai: "So much gets shipped up from Earth on commercial transports it's hard to keep them out."

G'Kar: "Yeah, I have just picked it up on the tip of my glove. If I put it down again, and it asks another ant, "What was that?",
G'Kar: "how would it explain? There are things in the universe billions of years older than either of our races. They're vast, timeless, and if they're aware of us at all, it is as little more than ants, and we have as much chance of communicating with them as an ant has with us. We know, we've tried, and we've learned that we can either stay out from underfoot or be stepped on."

Catherine Sakai: "That's it? That's all you know?"

G'Kar: "Yes, they are a mystery. And I am both terrified and reassured to know that there are still wonders in the universe, that we have not yet explained everything. Whatever they are, Miss Sakai, they walk near Sigma 957, and they must walk there alone."

(I'm guessing that G'Kar, in his study of things human, came across Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House".)

Here is the bottom line, what the show truly tries to capture and succeeds enough for me to consider it the all-time best TV science-fiction series ever ...

"And I am both terrified and reassured to know that there are still wonders in the universe, that we have not yet explained everything."

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Duck of Death

Although a nod to Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven", wherein Sheriff "Little Bill" Daggett (Gene Hackman) shows his contempt for gunfighter "English" Bob (Richard Harris) by so referring to a dime-novel written about him ...
    Little Bill: "That you here, Bob, on the cover? "The Duck of Death?""

    W.W. Beauchamp (Bob's companion and biographer, who wrote that book):
       "Duke. It's the Duke. "Duke of Death""

    Little Bill: "Duck!"
... this post is actually a follow-up to my earlier Nibbled to death by ducks., and concerns the latest duck to waddle in.

After two decades in engineering and then two more in IT (as programmer and troubleshooter) my age (70) has resulted in only finding employment as a part-time grocery cashier (since the last week of 2008).

When asked about it, "soul-killing", and "trap" often come to mind.

The total number of hours per week are not great (barely at survival level),  but they are random and capricious, making it almost impossible to plan anything ahead (unless you decide to simply ask for a certain number of days off, losing those hours that you may never be able to make up. Such is the nature of part-time. And it's probably never going to become full-time; that involves benefits they aren't prepared to provide.)

Just standing there, pulling things out of the bottom of the basket, gets me in the lower back to the point where I am doing it in crippling pain and as a result have difficulty in even walking afterwards. A couple of days ago I nearly fainted (got very light-headed) in the midst of that. I don't dare let that happen; my circumstances are such that "Lose this job and I'm dead" is not a figure of speech.

Should I be looking for something else? You're damned right!

But this job is exactly the trap I so feared it would be; because of the pain described above, I usually arrive home completely exhausted with the life drained out of me.

If you're in your twenties, what I'm doing would probably be nothing at all.

When your body is 70, that's a whole 'nother story.


To add to the fun (I know; a lot of companies are so cursed), it's not enough to do your primary job as well as you can. There are various promotional gimmicks, dreamed up by people with way too much time on their hands, with which you are supposed to harass present to customers who are mostly just trying to get their shopping done so they can get on with their lives.

It's so wonderful to feel that you can be doing your God Damnedest at your job and might actually get fired let go for not getting enough people signed up for their latest insanity.

So, what is the duck that provoked this post? The one that might truly kill me?

Yesterday morning (Thursday, 12 Jul 2012) I attended a seminar in which the latest nail in the coffin was presented: A program to let people use their computers and/or smart phones to get coupons for various sale items added to their store discount cards, so when those cards are presented they automatically get their discounts.

Ok. Not so horrible. BUT ...

While doing my duties as a cashier, I'm now expected to engage the customer in a conversation, extolling the wonderful virtues of this new program, persuade them to sign up for it, hand them over to an "Ambassador" (a newly created post for this lunacy) who will then help them with downloading an app to their ipad or smartphone.

This, mind you, in a (hopefully) busy supermarket, further delaying customers who are usually in a hurry anyways.

WHY am I so gloomy about this particular atrocity?

Besides being just plain nuts under the circumstances (inflicting things like this upon customers is an excellent way to create new business for HEB and Kroger), the people responsible for this are upper-level managers who truly are responsible and have to justify what they've started. They've invested a lot of money in this and it ain't gonna die as quickly as some of their other whims. This monster could have years of life in it (assuming that it doesn't completely sink the grocery chain).

That means constant monitoring by them calling our local managers and asking them "How's it doing?", "How many sign-ups have you gotten so far?", "Send me a list of your cashiers, with their results."

Get the picture?

I'll be expected to be a huckster (the guy in the seminar was a cheerleader type, coming on like the guy many of you have probably seen in mattress commercials before changing the channel), and I JUST CANNOT DO THAT!!!

So, just what the Hell am I going to do?

Haven't a clue. Just too damned wasted right now.

But, I'll figure out something. (I hope! :-)

Update - 0700 Sunday, 15 Jul 2012 - Threw up this morning. BLOOD!
Just a spoonful or so, but I don't like seeing any of that there. Stomach cramping, really hurting. Shaky and feverish..

This situation is literally eating me alive. I'm scheduled to go to work in a bit, and I'm actually going to go.


Not only do I need the hours, but I'm completely alone. Normally, that's the way I prefer it, but I'll confess that it sometimes has its drawbacks.  If I collapse at the store, at least there's people around.

Odds are I'll get over this and will be Ok in a bit.

But, there's nothing like a small amount of blood, where you do not want to see it ("Blood bother you, Mister?" "Only my own." :-), to get your attention and put things in perspective.

Something could happen at any time. I'm adding this in case I completely drop off the radar (as a fellow blogger has done, for a couple of months now - I fear the worst).

If I truly feel the end is coming, and I'm able to, I intend to add the names of the store and the chain so people will know who the hell pulled the trigger. As there's always the possibility that I wont be so able, the email I'm going to send announcing this update will name the bastards.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"The Horror! The Horror!"

... A night without the internet.

Yesterday afternoon, I logged on and managed to get a lot done, including making a last-minute just-in-time online payment of my AT&T telephone bill.

That evening (the Perversity Of The Universe at work here? :-) I started getting interruptions and disconnects from my phone connection. When I did manage to get an internet connection (before losing it again) it was painfully slow (maybe around 12 kB/s showing on the connection widget, and only a small fraction of that on the browser).

Attempts to phone anyone usually succeeded, but with a lot of noise and static on the line.

I called one of the '1-800' repair numbers for AT&T and got a guy who could also clearly hear the static. After I confirmed his suspicion that there was heavy rain in my area, he asked me to hang up while he did a test of the line, saying that he would call back in a minute or two.

He did, telling me that he had located the problem in an outside line, and that someone would be on it in the morning. As it was outside, they didn't even need access to my apartment.

A huge chunk of Houston's telephone service network is underground (during Hurricane Ike, in September 2008, the telephone landlines were the most robust of the utilities here, still functioning in areas where cellphone service was dead), but some parts of it are aboveground on utility poles.

Because of the rain, I'm gonna take a wild guess that tree branches come into this somewhere.

This morning (about 0930) I logged on. Back to whatever passes for "normal".

While I had heard of something like this before with communication systems,  I still thought it so cool that he found the location of the problem from whatever center he was operating from.

I'd love to hear from anyone who may know just how he did that (I didn't ask him as I felt he probably had a lot on his plate at that time).

I'm guessing some way of sending a signal on the line and measuring response time and signal strength, or maybe various gadgets on the line to locate signal problems.

Why don't I just look it up on the internet myself?

I'm trying, but another real horror story is trying to conjure up the correct incantation phrasing of words to get the results I'm after (rather than countless items on using the telephone for remote diagnosis of other systems).

I'm SEVENTY YEARS OLD!!! I'm not sure I have enough years left to find that information through an internet search.

HELP!!! :-)

Addendum - Same day, 1352 CDT - The info I'm after may even be based on some pretty ancient technology. I have a vague recollection of reading somewhere that when the trans-Atlantic telegraph cables were laid, they had  already worked out a method of knowing just where to look for a break in the cable.  I'll try to find out some more when I get back from work this evening.

Update - 2340 CDT, Tuesday, 10 Jul 2012 - Commentor Anonymous pretty well answered my question of how it was done (see first comment). My recollection about the trans-Atlantic cables was off; they do use the technique, but the first cables were laid long before it was developed.

You may have gathered that I consider AT&T's techies, charged with helping to solve your problems, first-rate and world class.  But, their others are a different story.

So, for the absolutely perfect cherry with which to top off this experience ...

As I was about to leave for work, I picked up my cellphone and noticed a voice-mail waiting for me. It was from the repair group asking me to call them and let them know if the issue had been satisfactorily taken care off.

Calling that '1-800' number gets you an automated menu that, if you patiently wait out their options, will eventually get you a human being to talk to (as it did last night).

This time, when I thought that was about to happen, what I got instead was
  "Thank you, for calling A-T-&-T."
  "Good Byyyeee!" 

1045 CDT, 12 Jul 2012 - I referred above to a comment by Anonymous that answered my question. Most people reading this post are probably viewing it on the main page, in which case they will never see that comment unless they click on the "comment" link. As few ever do, I've removed that comment from the comments section and am here placing it within the body of the post ...
Anonymous said...

One of the most common ways to do this is called Time Domain Reflectometry (TDR). It works kinda like radar. A pulse is sent down the line and is reflected by changes in the cable. The time it takes for the pulse to reflect back is computed to find distance. The shape (actually phase shift) of the reflection can tell if it is a short, open or change in capacitance (degraded insulation etc). Pretty cool tech and its been around for about 70 years or so. Used to be you needed to be an engineer to figure out the reflections but now it is all computerized and the machine spits out the distance and probable fault.

Comment posted: July 10, 2012 7:44 PM

Sunday, July 01, 2012

"You keep using that word.

- I do not think it means what you think it means."

Thus spake Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride (1987).
(That is the second most-quoted line from the movie. The first?  Many of you probably already know, but we'll get to that anyway.)

That movie was the midnight special at the River Oaks Theater last night.

The night was a bit of an adventure. Catching that showing was already on my to-do list, but got complicated by my car being in the shop Saturday, and not being finished (as they were sure it would be) so I'm on foot until Monday.

Fun part of that situation is that lower back pain makes walking difficult and painful.

Plus, you may have noted the "midnight" part.  The theater is a mile from my apartment and I walk though a mixed residential and commercial area (West Gray Street is a series of strip shopping centers in that area). Heading to the theater, a bit after 11 PM -- not so worrisome as plenty of people are out and about.

It was the return, at 2 AM that I wasn't all that thrilled about. So I took advantage of my CCL and was packing when I went to the theater.

In my post Speedloader, I mentioned a fanny-pack that I could use for concealment, but its problem is that it draws attention to itself. Instead, I just emptied the right-hand pocket of my slacks and put the .44 there.

It's a big pocket, but not an ideal solution as the weapon could snag if you don't grasp it properly (and adrenalin triggered by fear could certainly render "properly" as problematic), but I did feel much better knowing it was there. I figured on using situational-awareness as a substitute for fast draw anyway.

Also, it does make a bulge in that pocket, but it's not noticeable with black slacks at night. I would feel very uncomfortable in broad daylight with this. I'm really gonna have to come up with something better. But, time and money. Time and money. Mostly money.

I seem to recall starting off talking about a movie.

Ok, then ...

I wanted to experience the movie in a theater full of people who absolutely love movies, and that is an accurate description of the typical River Oaks Theater attendee. The usual audience is much better behaved than you find at most theaters, not because the theater has a huge bouncer (it doesn't), but because that's just the way they are.

What I did not expect is that the movie has such a following of people familiar with screenwriter William Goldman's dialog, that it would get a The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) treatment from the audience saying most of the lines in unison with the movie. I had no idea it had become that much of a cult item.

Loved the experience and am so glad that I didn't let my fears keep me from going.

Absolutely wonderful and fun movie. If you can't experience it the way I did last night, at least get the DVD and give yourself a treat.

So, what's the most-quoted line from the movie? To the point where the movie even quotes itself? Once more, it's from Inigo (who gets some of the best lines in the movie) and is unappreciated by the one to whom it was directed.

Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya
from billybrew.com

Inigo (to the man he has found after searching for him for twenty years):
 "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!"

The man (after Inigo has repeated it for about the fifth time while pressing his attack): "STOP SAYING THAT!!!"


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