Archive for October, 2008

A True Ghost Story

Friday, October 31st, 2008

The Clarkstown Cemetery next to my house is one of the oldest in the U.S. and has had its share of spooks. My Dutch ancestors lived in the area granted to them by William of Orange back in the 17th century. They came here, as did many early Americans seeking religious freedom.

Although the Dutch settlers kept their own customs and even spoke a dialect of Dutch well into the 19th century, they could be very tolerant and some of them had a reputation for scholarship and freedom of thought.

Back in the 1700s, a prominent citizen of Clarkstown died. (Clarkstown was sometimes called Clarksville and later has become known as West Nyack.) This citizen was an atheist, but his family had a family plot and his ancestors had been buried in the church yard for over a century. The grave was dug, but there was some controversy as to whether or not he should be buried in sacred ground.

On the night before his funeral a white shape could be seen over the freshly dug grave. It seemed to leap out in the darkness from time to time as though it had taken over the grave and would prevent anyone from putting the atheist’s body into the churchyard ground.

In the morning the story got around and a group of people went to stop the funeral. The casket was brought from the church after the funeral, but the people would not let the pallbearers carry it to the grave. There was an argument where the story was told of the mysterious spirit that hovered over the open grave during the night.

Just as the argument turned to yelling there was a loud sound of an animal in distress and a white ewe jumped up from the grave trying to escape. It had fallen in the night before and could not get out. The spirit was the sheep that was trying to escape the grave.

The crowd was embarrassed that they had thought that the sheep was a ghost and did not prevent the burial.

True story.

Bradbury Odds and Ends

Friday, October 31st, 2008

I’ve finished reading Bradbury Books for a while. I read 11 books (I didn’t count Vintage Bradbury because it only has a couple of new stories).

Here are two books with intriguing titles published in the UK. The titles are different, but the The Silver Locusts is really Martian Chronicles and The Day it Rained Forever is The Illustrated Man without the extra story arc.


I bought The Silver Locusts in the old Werewolf Book Shop, back when I was in college and was very disappointed that I had spend a quarter for a book I already owned.

Bradbury’s stories were made into Comics, but they were so intense that they were banned. They were republished in the 60s.




This one was a gift and it was supposed to be autographed by Bradbury. It is not Bradbury’s signature (I have several authentic signed Bradbury books). I later heard from the Washington State District Attorney and the people were convicted of fraud.


A Morning Surprise

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Gracie uses the bathtub as a storage place for her mice. This handsome fellow met me the other morning.


I captured him in a washcloth and let him go outside. Sometimes Gracie’s catches are a little worse for the wear, but this one seemed unharmed and quite lively.

Clarkstown Graveyard

Friday, October 31st, 2008

We don’t get trick-or-treaters. It is partly because we live next to one of the spookiest cemeteries in the county.

I went over and took some pictures just as the sun set. The flash pictures came out, but the long exposures are often blurry because I could not hold the camera still enough. I wound up setting the camera on a gravestone and using it for a tripod.

Graveyard Gallery

Ray Bradbury – Something Wicked This Way Comes

Friday, October 31st, 2008

wicked This is my favorite book. I’ve been reading it in October since I was 16. My edition is from 1967. I finished it for the forty-second time this morning.

The movie was dreadful, did not follow the original idea, and I think may have caused many people not to read the book. Please do not watch the movie.

The beauty of the book is in its language, something that no film can capture. It is the most poetic of Bradbury’s works. As I read it, I kept noting a paragraph here and there that I thought would be good to quote, but there were so many of them that I would have had to transcribe most of the book.

Here is one that I liked. Madam Tarot, the Dust Witch, flies in a balloon looking for Will and Jim. The boys wake up in the night and look out the windows in their neighboring houses. They both feel her coming for them. From page 104:

The Dust Witch.

The Witch who might draw skulls and bones in the dust, then sneeze it away. Jim looked to Will and Will to Jim; both read their lips: the Witch!

But why a wax crone flung out in a night balloon to search? thought Will, why none of the others, with their lizard-venom, wolf-fire, snake-pit eyes? Why send a crumbled statue with blind-newt lashes sewn tight with black-widow thread?

And then, looking up, they knew.

For the Witch, though peculiar wax, was peculiarly alive. Blind, yes, but she thrust down rust-splotched fingers which petted, stroked the sluices of air, which cut and splayed the wind, peeled layers of space, blinded stars, which hovered and danced, then fixed and pointed as did her nose.

And the boys knew even more.

They knew she was blind, but special blind. She could dip down her hands to feel the bumps of the world, touch house roofs, probe attic bins, reap dust, examine draughts that blew through halls and souls that blew through people, draughts vented from bellows to thump-wrist, to pound-temples, to pulse-throat, and back to bellows again. Just as they felt that balloon sift down like an autumn rain, so she could feel their souls disinhabit, reinhabit their tremulous nostrils. Each soul, a vast warm fingerprint, felt different, she could roil it in her hand like clay; smelled different, Will could hear her snuffing his life away; tasted different, she savored them with her raw-gummed mouth, her puff-adder tongue; sounded different, she stuffed their souls in one ear, tissued them out the other!

It gives me the shivers.

Something Wicked This Way Comes is the best book that I have ever read. It tops all the others, and I have read many thousands of books.

Read it! Read it! Read it!

Vote Quote

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

Robert Heinlein has to be one of the most quotable people since Shakespeare.

Here is what he said about Voting:

If you are part of a society that votes, then do so. There may be no candidates and no measures you want to vote for… but there are certain to be ones you want to vote against.

By this rule you will rarely go wrong.

If this is too blind for your taste, consult some well-meaning fool (there is always one around) and ask his advice. Then vote the other way. This enables you to be a good citizen (if such is your wish) without spending the enormous amount of time on it that truly intelligent exercise of franchise requires.


Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn (Deluxe Edition) is nearly sold out. This has been voted one of the top 5 fantasy books of all time.

These last few copies are still available for $20 and are signed by Peter. The last 50 copies will be signed and include a handwritten story by Peter and will cost $75.

These would make a good addition to your SF collection and would only go up in value.

As much as I hate Unicorn stories, Peter S. Beagle’s book is the exception that proves the rule.

The T-Shirts are cool, too.


15 Key Elements All Top Web Sites Should Have – NOT!

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

This morning a web article appeared in Delicious is a social bookmarking site and appearance on their front page indicates a very popular link. I will not link the page because I totally disagree with it. The article lists 15 most important elements of web design.

I think that many are not very important. Some can hurt your page and the order is obscenely screwed up.

Here is the list and my reaction to each.

1. Good Visual Design

Good visual design is the goal of artistic leaning web designers. It has been shown over and over again that nifty graphics and slick design elements get in the way of the content. The best visual design is little or no design. The best visual design creates a memorable page with the minimum of baloney. I would change this to Minimal Visual Design and move it way down the list a ways.

2. Thoughtful User Interface

Just what does this mean? It is as though Thoughtless User Interface is an alternative. Of course, think about the user interface. Use tried and true simple links organized as logically as possible. This is a no-brainer and should not be on the list. Your page should look as much like a standard web page as possible. Users have learned how to use web pages from other sites. Your page should not be different from other site’s pages or the user will not know how to use it.

3. Primary Navigation Above The Fold

This is another weird idea. Users don’t read below the fold. All important content should be above the fold along with the main menu. There should be very little below the fold because 90% of your readers won’t go there. All pages should roughly fit in in one non-scrolling page. The stuff below the fold is for the occasional curious surfer who is looking for additional information. You might even think of having a link to an anchor for information below the page because so few users scroll down.

4. Repeat Navigation In The Footer

Yeah, of course, you must have more than one way for the surfer to get around. A good footer might help, that is if any of them ever went below the fold.

5. Meaningful Content

Duh!!!! Why isn’t this first? This is the one and only reason why a web page gets hits, is read, and then is read again. People come for content. Rules 1 to 99 – Get Good Content. All else is gilding the lily.

6. A Solid About Page

Who cares? The only people who click the about page are salesmen looking to convince you to buy something.

7. Contact Information

I removed my contact info from several sites last year and my traffic still increases. The very few requests that I get for more information are ones that I usually can’t fulfill. If I include a raw email address, I get spammed. If I include a contact form, I get inane requests for things I don’t have or can’t do. For every 500,00 web page hits, I get maybe ten contacts with only one or two being interesting to me.

8. Search

I include search boxes for my bigger sites. Less than one tenth of 1 percent of my surfers use it. Normally I get get new users from Google searches so they have already done the search by the time they arrive. If I took out the search boxes, my traffic would not change.

9. Sign-Up / Subscribe

I am in the process of taking out all my RSS feeds. I want surfers to come to my pages, see what I have to say and read the ads. On some sites I get nearly as much RSS feed traffic as page traffic. I think this is wasted bandwidth. Sure, people are reading my words, but if they are not on the page, they can’t get the full impact of the images and ads. If I get rid of the RSS readers, I lose no money, and I might gain normal readers.

I don’t ask casual users for email and I never spam. I never mail a newsletter that a user might think is spam. I hate sites that do this. If I receive a newsletter that I did not explicitly ask for, the site goes into my spam filter immediately. I have no way to sign up on my sites.

10. Sitemap

I uses sitemaps primarily for search engine optimization. Users hardly every land on them or use them.

11. Separate Design from Content

This is techno nerdy thing. It helps you write web pages, and I use this technique, but it has nothing to do with your user’s experience. I have a feeling that individually hand crafted pages give a richer user experience than rubber stamped pages created from a master template. I have too many pages to hand craft each one. I use server side includes to standardize some things and make it easy to changes headers, footers and navigation.

12. Valid XHTML / CSS

When you page displays correctly in IE and Firefox, it is done. It does not have to validate. The user doesn’t know and doesn’t care if you have a non-compliant page.

13. Cross Browser Compatibility

Can’t be done. Different browsers show slightly different versions of your page. Your page should look OK in IE and Firefox, not the same. Surfers arrive at your site with a variety of screen configurations, software and options. I use the windows large fonts option on my computer so I can more easily read a page. You would be surprised at how many web pages this breaks and the reason is that they are so fine tuned to show a consistent interface that the smallest thing will break them.

14. Web Optimized Images

Finally, one thing that I can agree with. Small images, well compressed. Fewer images when possible. Your web page should load quickly. Words count, Fewer images means more room for words.

While we are on the subject of optimization, eliminate unreasonably large JavaScript libraries and frameworks. Hand code JavaScript if possible. Get rid of slow database look ups on home pages. Home pages should be static. Most pages should be static and load as fast as possible. Dynamic web pages are traffic poison.

Get rid of all the JavaScript doodles, widgets, gewgaws and gimcracks on on your web pages. They just slow things down and divert interest to someone else’s content. They send traffic to other web sites.

NO FLASH! I will repeat. NO FLASH! Nothing good has ever come from flash.

15. Statistics, Tracking and Analytics

I see web pages with half a dozen tracking scripts on them. They slow down web pages, especially Google analytics, QuantCast and MyBlogLog. Pick a tracking script and use it. Get rid of the others. Better yet, learn to use your weblogs.

Now that I have trashed the list here is my own version:

1 Key Element All Top Web Sites Should Have

1. Good Content.

Nuff said.

Request to Remove Name

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

I host an archive of email messages that go back to the early 1990s. They’re for the the Harp-L discussion group, a lively bunch of harp players that are still quite active.

I received a message today from a person who claims that his name occurs on some messages on the group, and he wants it removed. There area bunch of messages concerning the guy on Harp-L, and many of them aren’t pleasant. Some suggest that he is distributing viruses. Some by this person himself are inflammatory.

I can probably find the entries with this guy’s name on it and change them. It is several hours work and I would rather not.

These messages are mostly about  8 years old and have been on the internet for years.

What do you think I should do?

Unofficial End of Fall

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

Fall is my favorite time of the year. I love the cool days and chilly nights. I love pies made from fresh picked apples and the smell of pumpkins. I love the fall foliage. Fall always ends when a series of windy wet storms come through knocking the last of the leaves off the trees and starting the cold nasty weather we associate with November. Officially fall continues until December 21, but those rules were made by the ancients living along the balmy Mediterranean Sea.

A cold wet storm came in last night and most of the trees have lost their colorful foliage leaving mounds of brown slick stuff all over the roads. It will snow overnight. By Halloween it may be a little warmer and dry, but the Fallness will be gone.

I took off yesterday in order to get many chores done. I drove Mom to the doctor and I spent a ton of money getting the front end on the truck fixed. I found time to sit on the bench in the yard with Gracie on my lap enjoying the last great fall day. It was sunny. I wore a nice thick wool sweater and sat in the sun for an hour.

The dark and depressing Winter months come after Fall . I am already getting for work in the dark and soon the time change will force me to drive home with the lights on. Any daylight that I see for the next five months will be through a dirty window looking out at a brick wall.

I can’t think about my retirement fund, but I wish there was a way that I could spend my time doing what is important to me. It is a waste to spend the day in a depressing cubicle writing the same sad code over and over again. In the last post I wrote that I first picked up The Martian Chronicles when I was about 12. Here it is more than 45 years later and inside my head I am still the same kid I was back then, hardly changed by the years. I am always surprised when I look in the mirror and see that old man looking back. That 45 years went like a flash and I feel the next twenty or thirty years speeding towards me. I hate to waste it.

Ray Bradbury – The Martian Chronicles

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

martianc Allegory: A figurative work in which a surface narrative carries a secondary, symbolic or metaphorical meaning.

The Martian Chronicles, the 11th book by Bradbury that I’ve read this month is not really a novel and is more than a collection of short stories.

It is not a novel because it does not have the plot of a novel or even a unifying theme. It is a collection of stories about an Allegorical planet Mars that have an overall chronology, but lack a single protagonist or consistent central idea.

Mars is never the planet Mars in these stories. Mars always represents Waukegan Illinois, or the western frontier, or the evolution of mankind, or a grand dream, but Mars is only Mars in the sense that it provides the allegorical element for a statement on the human condition. The Martians, when they appear are not aliens, but symbols of human ideas.

Viewed as allegory, The Martian Chronicles is a deep investigation into the human spirit using images, and memes that appeared in the pages of the science fiction pulps of the 1930s and 40s. Because of this transcendental treatment of such a tawdry literary form, The Martian Chronicles has become a great piece of literature quite by accident. Bradbury was known only as a writer that appeared on the pages of Planet Magazine and Weird Tales and would have been known as a better than average writer of odd stories until the Martian Chronicles was recognized as been much more than it should have been. After the Martian Chronicles, Bradbury was treated seriously as a great American writer.

The ideas in the Martian Chronicles are fragmented and do not always fit together. They were written and published separately and sold to SF magazines. They are pulled together with short interstitial chapters that set the stage or attempted to unify the themes of the book. Separately the stories are each an interesting story, if one understands them to be fantasy and not scientific. Bradbury surely knew that Mars was cold, dead and airless. He chose to make his Mars closer to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom than a scientifically accurate reality. Reading the stories can jar you back and forth from one idea to another. If you try to force the variety of ideas, themes and images into a an overall unity, it distracts from the enjoyment of the book.

I now read the Martian Chronicles as separate stories. Some are good, some not so. I find it difficult to see the book as a novel, though. One of the stories, There Will Come Soft Rains, I find annoying as it doesn’t fit the rest of the book. It has no characters and is just a vignette, yet it is one of Bradbury’s most often anthologized pieces, because it does contain some of his most powerful imagery.

The copy of The Martian Chronicles that I have was published in 1962 and it is quite probably that I read it first when I was eleven or twelve years old. I read it a few more times, but I can remember being frustrated with the book because so many of the stories were so obviously not anything like Science Fiction. I found some of them implausible, and I was not able to suspend disbelief. Now, I see the stories for what they are and what they are meant to be. Once you get the idea that Mars is never really Mars the book is a much better read.

Plates on Tappan Zee Bridge Causing Backup

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

The construction plates on the bridge made me late for the first half of the week and then they moved the barrier so that the morning traffic had 5 lanes going east and only two lanes going west. I feel sorry for the people trying to cross the bridge going west in the morning.

Here are some pictures of the plates that caused all the trouble.



Here is the view looking south from the bridge. You can see New York City in the haze. That’s the Empire State Building that you can barely see. I watched the twin towers turn into a pillar of smoke from this spot 7 years ago.


Listen to Phoenix descend

Friday, October 24th, 2008

Since I am reading The Martian Chronicles I thought that listening to the sounds of the Phoenix Lander as it passes on its way to the surface of Mars would be appropriate.

I have to figure out the right way to embed movies in blogger.

Mars Express – Listen to Phoenix descend

The Vintage Bradbury

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

vintagebradbury There are only three stories in The Vintage Bradbury (1965) that were not in the previous anthologies. The Vintage Bradbury is the first (of many) Bradbury greatest hits collections. This one dates from 1965 and I remember being disappointed that there were only a few new stories. The stories are not really new, just not previously anthologized.

My favorite is the story The Illustrated Man. The collection called The Illustrated Man does not contain a story called the Illustrated Man, which in my opinion is a strange thing. The story is an expansion of the idea that appear as the interstitial material in the collection and is pretty good. I like the last view of the Illustrated man’s final illustration as it appeals to my math sensibilities.

There is a Martian story called Night Meeting which is better than many of the Mars stories in or out of The Martian Chronicles. It is about a meeting between a Man and a Martian across millions of years. There is also a Mexican story And the Rock Cried Out. I am not a big fan of Bradbury’s Mexican stories, but this one has a very good premise. What would happen if Americans suddenly become the world’s illegal aliens without the mighty US government to protect our interests? I liked it.

The rest of the stories, Bradbury’s Greatest Hits, are diminished by the fact that they appeared everywhere. Each of the stories has been anthologized and adapted to radio or TV many times and I’ve read them enough that they have lost their appeal to me. Rather than read the Vintage Bradbury, I would suggest reading Some of the previously discussed anthologies or jump right into Martian Chronicles or Dandelion Wine.

There is an Introduction by Gilbert Highet that contains nothing new or interesting and can be skipped.

I am counting this as Book #10 in my October is Bradbury Month series, even if it only had three new stories. These three stories are worth seeking out the Vintage Bradbury. I don’t think that they can be found in other collections.