Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Earthquake in Chile

I didn't want another week to pass before I completed a post, but as I've noted before, I'm teaching 3 classes this quarter, two of them fiction-writing courses, and one is a novella-writing class (which extends, semester-length, into the spring quarter). This means a mountain of reading, and rereading/editing/marking up. There are also a lot of other things to read through (work by ongoing grad students, administrative takes, new graduate students' materials, etc.), with the result that I just haven't been able to finish a thought on here, though I've started several. I've also found that since returning in January, beyond dates or university meetings, which I have not missed, I cannot keep dates in my head; they swirl around, and March becomes April, things that are happening at 5 pm I keep thinking are happening at 6 pm (EST), or if they're on a Saturday my mind makes it a Sunday. I'm not sure what's causing this chronological disruption, but I have had to resort to reading my calendar faithfully every day just to be sure I'm not mistaking one event's date for another.


Post-Earthquake Chile
I want to register my sincere sympathies for and with the people of Chile, who suffered one of the strongest earthquakes on record early yesterday morning. As the news reports are making clear, the 8.8 Richter scale offshore quake cut a 400-mile gash underwater, caused severe damage to several of Chile's largest cities, including the capital, Santiago; ConcepciĆ³n, one of its largest; and Curico, one of its most important historical sites; and the port of TahualcanoAP reported that:

President Michelle Bachelet declared a "state of catastrophe" in central Chile but said the government had not asked for assistance from other countries. If it does, President Barack Obama said, the United States "will be there." Around the world, leaders echoed his sentiment.

In Chile, newly built apartment buildings slumped and fell. Flames devoured a prison. Millions of people fled into streets darkened by the failure of power lines. The collapse of bridges tossed and crushed cars and trucks, and complicated efforts to reach quake-damaged areas by road.

At least 214 people were killed and 15 were missing as of Saturday evening, Bachelet said in a national address on television. While that remained the official estimate, Carmen Fernandez, head of the National Emergency Agency, said later: "We think the real figure tops 300. And we believe this will continue to grow."

Bachelet also said 1.5 million people had been affected by the quake, and officials in her administration said 500,000 homes were severely damaged.

In Talca, just 65 miles (105 kilometers) from the epicenter, people sleeping in bed suddenly felt like they were flying through major airplane turbulence as their belongings cascaded around them from the shuddering walls at 3:34 a.m. (1:34 a.m. EST, 0634 GMT).

A deafening roar rose from the convulsing earth as buildings groaned and clattered. The sound of screams was confused with the crash of plates and windows. Then the earth stilled, silence returned and a smell of damp dust rose in the streets, where stunned survivors took refuge.

A journalist emerging into the darkened street scattered with downed power lines saw a man, some of his own bones apparently broken, weeping and caressing the hand of a woman who had died in the collapse of a cafe. Two other victims lay dead a few feet (meters) away.

Also near the epicenter was Concepcion, one of the country's largest cities, where a 15-story building collapsed, leaving a few floors intact.

"I was on the 8th floor and all of a sudden I was down here," said Fernando Abarzua, marveling that he escaped with no major injuries. He said a relative was still trapped in the rubble six hours after the quake, "but he keeps shouting, saying he's OK."
Chilean state television reported that 209 inmates escaped from prison in the city of Chillan, near the epicenter, after a fire broke out.
A car destroyed by rubble
As I type this, more than 700 people are thought to have died, and many thousands are injured and the destruction of the large metro areas' infrastructure is extensive.  More than 2 million people are thought to be displaced as of now, and rescuers are racing to extract and save people buried under collapsed buildings. There have also been a number of aftershocks, at least one of which, astonishingly enough, equaled the temblor that struck Haiti, but so far I haven't seen any word that these subsequent quakes have caused any more extensive damage.

There was also great fear of tsunamis hitting Hawai'i and as far west as coastal East Asia, and along the southern shores of Central America, but those thankfully have proved not to be as severe as they might have been.

Because of strong building codes implemented in the wake of an earthquake 50 years ago, the damage is not as severe as Haiti's despite the earthquake being much stronger, but Chile has nevertheless suffered a major catastrophe, and despite its relative wealth, will need the support of other countries, and people across the globe, to rebuild. 

(Oddly enough, I recently read German Romantic writer Heinrich von Kleist's famous novella, "The Earthquake in Chile," as preparation for my novella class, but chose not to use it.  It famously uses the earthquake as a backdrop for the story of an illicit relationship.)

You're Not Being Kidnapped; You're Drunk

You know, there's being drunk and then there's being drunk. But apparently, you can get so drunk that you're completely unaware of what is going on around you. On top of that, you're also so obliterated that you're completely unable to process anything going on around you. That's when you call 911 and tell them that you're being kidnapped. That's right. Kidnapped. By those nice police officers giving you a ride home. Wait. What?

Correct. According to the fine folks over yonder at, this intoxicated individual, whose name was not released (and for which this individual is probably thanking God for repeatedly) had been found by law enforcement officers when they were investigating a different call. At some point and for some reason, they decided to transport the man home. Now, to do so, they had to put him in the back seat of the police cruiser. Seems reasonable.

I don't know about you, but I've been in a police car before. (I'm not saying whether it was the front or the back, either.) And I can tell you that it looks nothing like a regular car. In fact, it looks pretty different from most cars except cars that are police cars. It wouldn't be all that hard to discern that one was in a police car even if one was completely obliterated. I mean, even if you couldn't figure that out from the interior of the vehicle, you'd think that the uniformed chaps driving the thing might be a clue. Nope. Not for our hero here.

Nope. As he was "...being driven to his southern New Jersey home by troopers" the man "...called 911 and claimed they were kidnapping him." Now, can someone explain to me why every single recording of someone calling 911 because the McDonald's was out of McNuggets is available for public consumption, but something as highly entertaining as this has not yet been released?! Why is that?! I need to hear how THAT went down!

The article states that "After making the fake 911 call, he continued to be disorderly despite repeated warnings." What's more disorderly than calling 911 and saying that you're being kidnapped when a couple of state troopers are giving you a ride home because you're completely plowed? I can't imagine and the article doesn't say. It's quite unfortunate if you're asking me.

I'm sure that you can guess how this whole thing worked itself out, right? You got it. "When the troopers pulled over and tried to arrest him, he resisted but was eventually restrained and taken back to the barracks. He was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstruction." That man is a genius. Pure genius, I'm telling you. Oh, but how I wish they had done a breathalyzer test on him. I'd like to know exactly what one's blood alcohol content has to be in order to not recognize that some policemen are giving you a ride home and you are not being kidnapped (in what must have seemed like a technologically well-outfitted gang of kidnappers).

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Appalachian Trail

The A.T. is open to walkers, hikers, and backpackers. It is closed to motor vehicles and bicycles. It is closed to horses, except in certain limited sections where they are expressly allowed. Dogs are prohibited on the sections of the Trail within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (NC & TN) and Baxter State Park (ME), and must be on a leash on all national-park lands and most other Trail sections. I'm not a hiker but I think it's a shame that dogs and horses aren't allowed on the entire trail.

Conceived in 1921 and completed in 1937, the footpath spans the nation from north to south, Maine to Georgia. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, more than 9,000 people have hiked the entire trail since its completion. First-time thru-hikers may spend anywhere from $3,000-$5,000 to travel the entire AT, not including the cost of gear. You can figure on a minimum of $200/week. The trail has more than 250 shelters and camp sites available for hikers. Shelters are usually spaced a day or less apart. The trail crosses many roads, thus providing ample opportunity for hikers to hitchhike into town for food and other supplies. Many trail towns are accustomed to hikers passing through, and thus many have hotels and hiker-oriented accommodations.

In heavily used areas, A.T. “ridgerunners” and “caretakers” act as roving “eyes and ears” for Trail managers and for public education. Some carry two-way radios that may enable them to radio for help where cell phones do not work. However, many areas of the A.T. are remote, and help may be far away. ATC has no law-enforcement authority but can readily contact those who do in a particular area and help them help you. Cell phones won't work all the time because of no reception. But carrying a gun for protection is actually illegal. They are illegal on National Park Service lands (40 percent of the Trail) and in most other areas without a permit. Non-lethal weapons are illegal in some states. And you can't have your dog with you on some parts of the trail!?! Their suggestion is to think through various scenarios and know ahead of time what you would do and carry a whistle. Then dial 911. I'm not kidding, those are the suggestions on the site! It's absurd! And, for those reasons, I would never be caught on the AT. If you do brave it, then let your family know where you are as often as you can, travel in a group, do NOT hitch hike and pray a lot.

Outside of the handful of towns it passes through between ridges, there are a variety of private stores, restaurants, and lodging options available relatively close to the A.T. in many areas. Many long-distance hikers plan "town stops" every few days to refresh and resupply, visit the post office, make phone calls, shower, check in, etc.

Here are some other things to be aware of:

Bugs-yes, I said bugs. You have to be careful with bugs. Ticks, spider bites, etc can be dangerous when you are out on the AT and nowhere close to a doctor. If you have any allergies to bug bites like I do... forget it. But even a hardened outdoorsman can get Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease, infected mosquito bites, etc.

Snakes-a no-brainer. A snake bite on the trail and you could die before getting help.

Illness-let's say you eat something that doesn't agree with you and you vomit and have diarrhea. Not such a big deal at home but on a trail, you could get dehydrated and not be able to make it to a town. You are on your own 2 feet and if anything happens to keep those 2 feet from moving... you're out of luck! You may think you are in excellent health but you never know what could come up such as a kidney stone or foot blisters... anything that could come up and make you unable to walk out.

Injury-you trip over a root and break an ankle. Too bad. You have to wait for someone to come along and get them to go for help.

Storms-lightening, heavy rains, hypothermia

Other hikers-I'm sure there are many wonderful hikers on the AT and I've read some of the stories of people going out of their way to be helpful, friendly and caring. But who else is on the trail? Weirdos? Criminals? Perverts? Any isolated spot can attract the wrong kinds of people and you simply don't know who a person is. You've just met them on the AT and really have no idea who they are. They may really be that nice buddy who becomes a lifetime friend but they could be one of Manson's family for all you know.

Now I've told you the worst parts. (That's enough to keep me off the AT. Aren't you glad?) But there are reasons why people put themselves through a hike on the Appalachian Trail.

OK, so I couldn't think of a reason why people hike the AT. For the same reason I can't think why people climb Mt. Everest or sail around the world. It's just not in me. If I want to see beautiful mountain scenery, we take a drive to the Blue Ridge Parkway. If I want to picnic, we take a picnic basket to a nice park. If I want to walk, I take a walk and come home to sit in my hot tub. And I've always hated camping. So I don't feel like I'm missing out on something by not hiking the AT. But from what I see on the Internet, there are people who love it and are devoted to it. Some dream of hiking the whole way (called a thruway hike). Our Governor, Mark Sanford, used the AT as a smokescreen to run down to South America and play around with his mistress. (How embarrassing!) So the AT is good for something, LOL! I'm very proud of our nation for having the foresight to set apart our national parks and keeping huge chunks of our precious land and resources from being destroyed and the AT is a part of that. It's a good thing!

If you are one of those hardy souls who dream of hiking the AT, here is a list of things to take:

Guidebook/Map(s). While you could conceivably download and print out all the information you'll need with you on your hike, it's much more efficient to procure a guidebook and maps from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's online store. A good guidebook will give you all the info you need, in one compact package. If not included in the guidebook, get a macro view map of the complete trail as well as maps of trail sections.

Food. You'll need to carry at least a week's worth of food at a time, allot 1.5 to 2 lbs. for each day's worth of food, and count on consuming 3,000 to 7,000 calories each day, depending on your size and the hike's length and difficulty. This means you'll have to pack light, favoring dry goods over canned. Thru-hikes and long sectional hikes will require either buying food along the trail, or making mail drops—mailing supplies ahead to stores along the trail, so you can minimize backpack weight. Along a hike, dogs can eat as much as twice their usual amount, so pack dog food accordingly. Also consider bringing concentrated energy dog food with more calories—it will save space.

Resources for planning mail drops are available from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's Resupply and Mail Drops page.'.

Water Filter (certified). Giardiasis is an illness that can be contaminated water, and the resulting acute stomach problems are sure to put a damper on your trip. The most reliable way to kill it is to boil the water, but a properly certified water filter will work as well. Before buying a filter, make certain that it is marked as an "Absolute 1 micron filter," that meets "International Standard #53 for Cyst Removal."

Water container(s). You can go with a traditional canteen, or a form-fitting, flexible hydration pack. What's important is to have water easily accessible while hiking. Consider getting a large, flexible water tank for transporting larger amounts of water between the creek and the camp, or keeping it overnight.

Leash. Bring two 6 to 9 foot leashes for your dog, as well as a long tie-out for frolicking at camp. If you let your dog run free on the AT, he may get lost and die of starvation or worse.

Stove. Especially if it's cold weather, however, make sure to bring a lightweight Camping Stove. Campfires are permitted in certain designated areas (consult your maps and guide books), but Appallachian Trail Conservancy discourages their use, due to the negative environmental impact and potential for forest fires. If you're going on a Summer hike, consider lightening your load by eating food that does not require cooking.

Cook pot/utensils. Utensils and cooking gear come in all varieties. A dedicated camping pot will be lighter weight than a standard kitchen pot. Eating ware and cooking utensils that are meant specifically for camping are easy to carry and less likely to be lost.

First aid kit. Pick up a readymade kit specifically for hiking. It should include sterile dressings, antibiotic and burn ointments, adhesive bandages, solutions for flushing eyes, a thermometer and other crucial items. If bringing along a canine companion, also procure a dog first aid kit, as well as the American Red Cross' guide to Dog First Aid.

Prescription medications. Make sure you pack these in your first-aid kit. If your dog needs prescription meds, bring those along too!

Matches/candles. Also, a waterproof container and waterproof matches.

Cell phone. Though reception is spotty along the trail, a cell phone could just save your life in an emergency. To conserve the battery, you'll keep it off most of the time, but you make want to bring along some extra juice in the form an emergency cell phone charger.

Radio. Try to acquire a hand-crank model that receives National Weather Service alerts.

Clothing. It's an art to pack enough clothes without weighing yourself down. Windshirts are lightweight and make the most of your base layers. Wool socks. High-tech wool socks are lightweight and don't itch. Bandannas. Very versatile: you can use them for covering your head, or as a sieve for straining pasta. Dog booties. For dogs on the trail, foot injuries are common and disabling. Bring a pair of protective shoes for rough terrain.

Other tips: Pick items with multiple uses, like a poncho that can double as a tarp, and see if you can share clothing with your hiking partner (if you have one).
Tent. Dome and tunnel tents are two popular styles of tent. Nylon and polyester models are preferable to cotton for their light weight.

There are some ingenious tent designs on the market today and you can outfit yourself for a few hundred bucks.

Pocket knife. The classic Swiss army knife can range from a basic model to the state-of-the-art.

Prescription glasses. If you wear them, bring an extra pair.

Toilet paper. Go green with your TP, using Bio-Wipes, or a similar product.

Footwear/flip flops. Don't forget a comfy pair of sandals for hanging out around the campfire.

Sleeping bag/mat. Something to put between your sleeping bag and the hard ground can make a big difference to your back.

Flashlight/batteries. LED flashlights are a great option, and some of them also double as lanterns.

Cellophane bags. You will find innumerable uses for these.

Trash bag. Can be used as a poncho if needed.

Nylon rope. Get a few lengths of nylon rope for everything from hanging laundry to holding up the tent.

Pocket mirror. Can be used as an emergency signaling tool.

Insect repellent. Whether you want to cover your entire campground or just spray it on yourself, it's a great way to get relief.

Compass. The age-old Compass navigation device is a must-have. You can even use your cell phone as a compass.

Sun screen. Use something with an SPF of 15 or above. And remember, the sun is strongest between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Hat. The bigger the brim, the better. You want to make sure the back of your neck is covered, too.

Earplugs. The trail is home to some noisy nocturnal creatures. You can go plastic or pick up a container of foam earplugs at any drug store.

One of the shelters along the way.

Denizens of the Chat Roulette Dungeon

The other day I did a post about the website Chat Roulette. The premise of the site is that you allow your webcam to be accessed and so do other people who are using the site. You are then paired up with a random stranger and you can either proceed to chat with them or click 'Next' to be directed to another random stranger. And the term 'stranger' is really appropriate in this instance because there are some pretty strange characters out there in Cyber-Land. Strange is actually an understatement. Pretty effin weird is more like it. It's the dungeon of the human soul.

The thing is that I wrote my post based upon my own experiences with Chat Roulette (with my webcam turned off, thank you very much). And while it was weird, it was certainly nothing in comparison to what other folks have come up with. My experience was tame compared to what some people have encountered. Let's take a looksee at some of THAT weirdness, shall we? OK, then....

Um, yeah. All rightee then. What's next? Oh, here we have some dude who is dressed, head to toe (I'm assuming) like a cat. Behold!

Here is a man who is, um, well, let's just say "working from home." Behold!
I don't know which one of the screenshot below is the most hilarious. The very large individual in his undergarments who appears to be scratching his very large stomach or the two dudes below him with Heineken masks, complete with red straws for antennas. Your choice.

The only thing that would freak me out more than seeing one guy covered head to toe in some sort of colored cloth suit would be two guys covered head to toe in some sort of colored cloth suit. Oh, look. There it is. Yep. I'm totally freaked out.

Not only is the screenshot below of a guy in an Obama mask and a guy in a Batman mask hilarious, what is even more hysterical is their conversation over on the right. I'd almost like to know people like that. If it weren't for the masks. Or the Chat Roulette. Or any of it. Moving on...

Hard to say what makes this next one so enjoyable. Is it the full on gas mask outfit or is it the completely wigged out girls? I think it's definitely a little of both. He's the yin to the girls's yang.

I did a little reading and I actually learned of a "regular" on Chat Roulette. It's a guy who goes by the name of Shirtless Bird Faced Donkey Man. That's SBFDM if you're into acronyms. Shirtless Bird Faced Donkey Man is just what he sounds like. He's a Shirtless Bird Faced Donkey Man. See for yourself. Behold!

I told you! As I was writing this post and as I was scouring the Internets for various screenshots of Chat Roulette weirdos, I figured I should give Chat Roulette one more shot in an attempt for me to find my own super weirdo. So I logged on and bingo. There he was. Covered-in-some-sort-of-stretchy-animal-print-guy. Behold!

Yeah, I didn't know what to make of it either. But I know this much. I know that I either have to come up with a hilarious sign or I have got to get myself some sort of a mask. Maybe a Muppet. I'm not sure. All suggestions are welcome. Some might even be considered.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Using Microsoft Excel To Organize Medical Expenses

Part I

Part II

You People Fell For That?

Sometimes there are scams that I am just amazed that some people are able to pull off. And it's not because the person or the people pulling the scam are stupid. It's because the people getting scammed are actually going along with it and letting it happen! We're not talking about some complicated scheme that anyone would have fallen for or that no one could have done anything to stop it from happening. No, we're talking about a scam that is so perplexing to me, I can't believe that ONE person fell for it, let alone THIRTY.

Here's the scoop: According to an article by the wiry folks over there at Wired, over in Wisconsin an 18-year old male "...was sentenced to 15 years in prison Wednesday for an extortion scheme". OK, what kind of extortion scheme. Oh, you know. The kind "...that had him tricking male classmates into sending them nude photos of themselves". You may be asking yourself, "That's a scheme?" Well, it is when he was "...then blackmailing them with exposure if they didn’t have sex with him." Oh, yeah. That's a scheme all right! Wait. What?

Correct. Meet 18-year old (and old enough to know better) Anthony Stancl. Behold!
Yeah, that seems about right. Anyway, Mr. Stancl apparently "...posed as a girl on Facebook and tricked more than 30 male classmates into sending him photos of themselves." Now, you know that these photos that were sent weren't just any photos. No, they were the photos of the nude variety.

Let's just stop right here for a moment, shall we? What is it with younger people taking pictures of themselves naked? Or just taking pictures of their genitals? And then sending said pictures to other human beings. How does that work? Do you take a picture of your penis and send it out to all of your friends with the caption "Here's what my wiener looks like on Tuesday."? I don't understand the motivation behind these actions. And when you're sending said genitalia photography over the Internet are you thinking, "Oh, it'll be fine. Things only stick around on the Internet for like a week or so. It'll be gone soon." Or are you just planning to never have any sort of a job where you work with the public or what? Why are you sending pictures of your reproductive organs to other people? Why?

Since those questions, among others, cannot be answered right now, let's continue with how this scam worked. So Mr. Stancl found 30 guys who were really proud of their manhood and they snapped a couple of Glamour Shots (maybe with the penis by a lake or with the penis in the middle of a meadow) and sent them to Mr. Stancl, but who they thought was "Kayla". Huh. OK. Then what?

Well, as Mr. Stancl began receiving photos of male genitalia, he needed to keep them organized so he organized them within 40 folders on his computer and named each folder "after a victim whose photos were in the folder. In one case, police found 24 pictures of a single victim." 24?!?! Really? One for every hour of the day? (Here's my penis at noon! Here's my penis during rush hour!) Seems odd.

And it was odd. But to me, it wasn't as odd as the fact that seven of the victims claimed that Mr. Stancl "...threatened to post their nude pictures on the internet or send them to their friends unless they engaged in sexual activity with a male friend of “hers.” When the victims met with the male friend, who was Stancl, the perpetrator performed oral sex on the victims and took a photo of the activity with his cellphone." Wait. What now?

HE performed oral sex on THEM?! Huh. I would have thought he would have wanted it the other way around. He did all of the performing, eh? Strange. But what's stranger is that those folks thought that was a good idea.

I don't get that line of thinking at all. I guess because the victims were still in high school that they went along with this little plan. I mean, seriously. What went through their heads? "I'm not gay or anything, but this guy is going to post a picture of my penis online unless I let him get me off in an oral manner. Um, OK." NO! That's not right! That's not logical! But that's what happened.
The whole thing came unraveled when Mr. Stancl, still posing as "Kayla" ended up actually having sex with one of the male victims and then instructing the victim to send him a nude picture of his brother. That's when the victim went running to his parents and told them about this crazy, Facebook penis picture scheme.

Mr. Stancl has now been sentenced to 15 years in jail. Since he seems to enjoy performing fellatio, I'm sure that over the next 15 years, he'll be able to find plenty of willing participants to let him do his thing to them. Plenty of them. So let this be a lesson to you, kids! If someone wants a picture of your penis, just say no. Because really, no one wants to see that. No one. I promise. That's why y'all wear pants.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Rocking Chairs

Rocking chairs were developed in the 1700's. Some attribute it's invention to Benjamin Franklin but it's not known for sure. A rocking chair is usually associated with peace and calm because of the gentle motion, the back and forth rhythm that soothes a baby to sleep. It's comfortable not only because of the motion but because, even sitting still it will rock back to a more centered gravity. You can also push it back and place your feet on a stool.

My Mom has her mother's rocker. Here is a picture of my Great Grandmother rocking one of her great grandchildren, Glenn Jr. She's in the same rocking chair that Mom has now.

My Mom had 3 girls and we are 2 yrs apart. She would plunk one on each arm of the rocking chair and the baby on her lap in order to rock us all. She loved rocking her babies. This chair would have been the ideal thing! LOL!

We tend to think of rocking chairs on porches.

Or in nurseries.

But don't forget we can have them inside. Here are some pictures I found on the Internet that have rocking chairs.

I have a rocking chair in my kitchen and everyone likes sitting in it.