My aunt olga,

She decided to kill herself just last night on the 22nd. I was coming home from my part-time job (being only 16) and my brother told me in the car. My whole body slowly "turned" into lead weights. I broke down. I came home and my uncle was crying (he had moved in from costa rica for a while) and my parents were too. I comforted them. The my older brother, my younger brother and I went out to a symbolic cliff in the city and prayed for her - I hope I will see her again sometime. I never pray, and I'm the farthest away from God as I have ever been in my catholic life. But I prayed. And I wish for an after life so that I may see her.

The hardest part of this was - why? She was the happiest she could be, she had just come back from another vacation in costa rica (seeing family) and was doing whatever she wished. She had suffered from an odd form of depression throughout her life my mom 'now' tells me. But she has never shown it. She had tried before, my mom 'now' tells me. It had come out of the blue for us. For everyone.

Her husband, my uncle, is torn. He will never be the same. At 40, he has no kids, nothing to live for. He works so hard. And gives it all to her. Now there is nothing to give. He can't even live in his own house anymore, because everything there she bought and arranged. He loved it that way.

I am not used to death. It was only in movies before. I've never experienced a close death before. This one was too close. She could have been my mother. I cry sometimes now throughout the day. I hate crying, I feel so weak and pathetic. I wish I could have been there to stop her. That moment she decided to do it. Why the f*ck!!!! God. I don't know why Im typing here. I jsut need to let some words out I guess. I just know I'll miss my favourite aunt, the crazy aunt of the family. I'll miss her pauly shore impressions. She was awesome.

I've been thinking about movie reviewers today, partly because we hit the dollar theater last night to see Ghost Ship. We were fully expecting a big, steaming screen full of cinematic cheese, a movie so awful it'd be giggly fun. I mean, almost every critic had lambasted the flick as utter trash, so it had to suck like a sump pump, right?

Fifteen minutes into the movie, Braunbeck nudged me and whispered, "Is it just me, or is this actually kinda decent?"

And it didn't suck. In fact, it was a pretty solid retelling of The Flying Dutchman legend with a few new twists. Sure, it had a few problems: the pacing was rushed in places that hurt the suspense, and there were some unfortunate music choices that were obviously failed ploys to make the scenes "cooler" for younger audiences. But the effects were well-used and well done, the dialog was good, the story interesting (if not always scary) and even minor characters had their moments. The problems I saw with the movie smelled like studio interference to me: they'd probably forced the director to cut the time down, add a couple of extraneous scenes to amp up the gore, and change the music.

All four of us liked this film, which is somewhat unusual in that the other people in our party don't have much patience for old-style horror films (they proclaimed The Exorcist to be "boring" when they finally saw it last year) and they won't forgive what they perceive to be a poor ending (which is partly why they deeply disliked Signs, though mostly it was because they couldn't see that film for what it was: a fable with science fiction trappings rather than actual science fiction).

But most every reviewer said Ghost Ship is crap. It's not; it's a very watchable film with a solid story. It ain't the second coming of Citizen Kane, of course, but it's not trash.

Which leads me to my rant: I'm sick and tired of critics who persist in reviewing movies in genres that they fundamentally don't like or don't appreciate. If you don't like science fiction films, or horror films, why review them? Just so you'll have something to pee on that week? You're not helping your readers make useful decisions about whether or not they should spend money on something.

Movie reviewers should first and foremost be movie fans. They should like movies, not just art house flicks or Polanski films or Spielberg creations, but movies as a wonderful whole. They should appreciate it all: foreign films, schlocky horror, head-bending science fiction, gritty noir. They should know what kind of an audience will like what kind of movie, and make recommendations therefrom.

But I see too many reviewers who are cinema snobs. If it's got any kind of a budget or a hint of the fantastic, they hate it. Columbus' The Other Paper has a reviewer who is so predictably snotty that if he hates something, I make a mental note to seek it out, at least on video (he's not quite consistent enough for his distaste to be useful to me for full-price movies).

I have a problem.

In the state of Ohio, not anyone can become a contractor. Because if anyone becomes a contractor, some would-be builders either won't know what they're doing, or won't care. The result is crappy work. Leaky plumbing. Faulty wiring. Roof fall down. That sort of thing can kill or ruin people. Oh, anyone can still do electrical work. But in order to pull a building permit, and to be bonded, you must first get a contractor's license. To get a licence you must pass a test administered by the state Board of Industrial Standards in the trade you wish to practice.

I have a brother who is also an electrician. He's a very good electrician, a natural, which I am not. He is a fast, efficient worker and takes pride in what he does. He's also an ex-con. Convicted felons in the State of Ohio are disqualified from holding a Contractor's License, on the not entirely unreasonable grounds that the state would like to avoid fraud. He has the opportunity to take over the business of an older electrician, but he needs someone to get the license. It would be good for him. He's self-motivated, and frankly has the sort of personality that he's better off working for himself. I love my brother dearly, but he can be an asshole.

But I can get the needed license. All I have to do is study hard and pass the test. I'm really good at taking tests. And so I've ordered the books and will take the examination in April. But I had no reason to before now. Understand that I don't want to start my own business. I could earn a lot more, at the cost of stress and risk. I work to live, not live to work. But if I get the license, I can use it in a company with my brother, allowing him to pull the permits and get things done. If the business outgrows him, then I might pull up stakes and move to Cleveland, which is closer to my family. But if that didn't happen I would just continue to work where I am. I've been there a while, they like me and I'm not unhappy.

Today I learned that two of the old-hands in the shop quit. They bid residential work and ran projects. The reason is a bit complicated, but they too have their contractor's licence, and a requirement of maintaining the license is continuous training that takes a few days a year. At one of those sessions they ran into the owner of my company.

The next day my owner had his lawyer put the license of everyone in the company in escrow. Which means they can't use it for a year. His reasons made sense: turns out the two had their own side business, and they were using his resources to bid against him on jobs. A simple conflict of interest. He doesn't want his employees working against him.

On the other hand, I have no intention of going into business against my employer. My brother works out of Northern Ohio, and my company does next to nothing there. But if I get my license, and my boss escrows it, then I can't help my brother.

If my boss and I can't work something out, then I will have to choose between my job and my brother. I will have to quit, which I really don't want to do.

Family comes first. It seems like getting that license isn't simply a potentially profitable act of consideration, it's a leap over the cliff.

(Contractor's License has other names in other states, and presumably countries, such as a master's licence).
Just an update to my node under November 2, 2002 in which I wrote about how my roomate made a pentagram on the cement outside our door with shaving cream.

It turns out that the cleaner 409 (labeled on my bottle as "Formula 409 Glass and Surface Citrus Scent Cleaner") combined with a scrub brush and little bit of determination will get shaving cream out of cement!

Somewhat related to that episode...
In early December, some of the people in my dorm decided to decorate the courtyard that fronts the dorm with Christmas lights. They did a really good job and bought lots of lights to decorate with. I think they didn't have any finals to study for and so were trying to find something to do with their spare time.

Unfortunately, in their exuberance, they decided it would be cool to add to their decoration the stuff that people spray on their windows to make it look like it snowed. This was okay with the figures they sprayed in the windows, for the stuff was designed to wash off windows. This was not okay with what they decided to spray on the cinder block brick wall. The message "Created By Brett and Paul. Our Love to Ashley" is not coming off any time soon. And it's big, about 10 feet by 5 feet (maybe 3 meters by 2 meters). I figure the acid rain and the extremely hot summers here in Arizona might eventually get it off the wall, but thats going to be up there for years.

Oh, and we have chalk now, plenty of chalk. We're not going to resort to shaving cream again any time soon.

Update! Around May 5th or so, 2003 (approximately 6 months after they put it up) the people who put up the message removed the message with a power spray washer -- possibly called a sand blaster, I'm not really sure; It did use lots of high pressure water though. It completely removed all signs of their Xmas message from the wall. A good ending to an odd mistake. ;)
Remember a few days ago when my appliances turned against me? Well, the war is over. This afternoon a brand new fridge was delivered to my apartment and it quite outshines the old one. It's sparkling white, has inset grips instead of bulky door handles, and has much more space inside for food storage. It's a Hotpoint model, if that means anything to anyone. And best of all because of the terms of my lease it didn't cost me a thing. Even better yet: the apartment will reimburse me for the meats that spoiled due to the fridge breaking in the first place. You know what this means, right? Free meat!

As for my Crohn's Disease issues, I saw my doctor today and he ordered some blood tests to gauge the disease's activity plus he prescribed me a new, stronger pain medication. Apparently the pharmacist couldn't read the prescription and thought that the order called for 30 grams of medication, a dose that is strong enough to kill fifty people, instead of 30 milligrams. Due to the mixup it'll be tomorrow before I get these new pills. In the meantime I remain on my all-liquid diet and spend my days at home in bed.

They'll probably never see this, but I want to give special thanks to my grandparents who have been helping me out lately during my periods of inactivity due to illness. My pain pills have prevented me from driving and they've been nice enough to drive from forty miles away to bring me popsicles, Ensure, lactose-free ice cream, and other liquids. Without them handling my illness would be much more difficult and I'm very lucky to have such wonderful grandparents nearby.

I can remember the first time I told anyone I Loved them. I was 17 and it was to Jenny Roberts under the railway bridge in Eastham. We’d been going out for a little over 4 months and I’d been thinking about the subject for several days. Eventually I just decided to spit it out and she looked at me, blankly. The world stood still for a few seconds, and in slow motion she replied, "oh".

So yes, you could say I have a problem saying the "L" word. To avoid the crushed feeling I felt with Jenny that night, I made it my policy never to say the "L" word first. Up until now, this has worked fine.

Last September I was thrown out of a long term relationship (bitter? Who? Me?!) and a week later went into another relationship. I know what you’re all thinking – rebound. Well so was I. Of course she passed all of the rebound criteria with flying colors – female, beautiful and sexy – but as a couple of weeks passed, I noticed how amazing she really was. She was smart, funny, caring, laid back, independent, interesting, great in bed (or out of it), a fantastic drinking partner, a non-snorer, a.., a..., a new Love.

Like a big thing that sneaks up behind you and whacks you on the head, Love whacked me on the head. I knew the rule, no saying the "L" word first, I knew it. But I just had to say it. For days it was on the tip of my tongue, I knew any second it would just come screaming out, "I LOOOOOOOOOOOOVEEE YOOOOOU". I don’t know why it wants out so bad. Someone please tell me. And tell me how to stop it coming out too while you're at it (some tips to get out of saying it).

So anyway, we’re sitting in a bar one night having a drink together and decide to tell her. I wait for the moment and then start the bombing run, "I’ve got something to tell you...", we take off. "I’ve been thinking about us for a while, and I’ve come to the conclusion...", I sputter as we get airborne, "that I think you’re great, and well...", over the target now! Drop the bomb! Bombs away! "I think I’m in Love with you", KABOOM! This is the part where I’m thinking, "Chrrrist, that weapons factory looked pretty much like a church or a school or something", and my stomach in knotting up. She looks at me, blinks, and answers, "of course you do."

Although she hasn't told me she Loves me, I don't feel like I need to hear it anymore. I know she cares about me, which is enough. Maybe she does Love me, who knows. But one thing I have learnt is that when someone tells you they Love you, you'd better have a damn good answer for them.

I have had an intresting thought go through my head today as I was wrestling with a computer problem. It is acutally a theology question. If I believe in a God that has complete control over everything, then is He in control of a computer having problems? When a server crashes and I am not able to fix it real quick, can I pray and ask Him for help and the problem would get solved faster? Does God have control over computers?

Does my belief in the fact that God controls everything only go as far as living creatures? If I say yes, then when my car breaks down, is that something that only I can fix or can God help me out.

I think I have reached some form of a conclusion that God does not have complete control over non-living things, but He has control over those that make them and solve problems. Take my computer problem for example, by asking for help or saying a quick prayer, He might guide me to a better solution or something new I have not thought of.

Just a random thought, back to struggling with my Exchange server problems.

Yesterday, I decided to ask as many people as I could, what the most outrageous thing you've ever heard or seen was. I got many different responses. Most people said they they have heard or seen something strange, but they couldn't remember it.

One of my managers at work told me a story he heard about Michaelangelo. He said when Michaelangelo was painting the last supper he needed models for the faces. He employed many different models for the faces, but the two faces he had the hardest time with is Jesus and Judas. After looking for awhile he finally found the perfect face for Jesus. Mike still had a hard time finding the face of Judas. It wasn't until a couple years later, he went to a prison, hoping to find the face of Judas. He found an inmate in one of the dark prison cells who fit perfectly. "That's the one" he said. The inmate looked at him wide-eyed, "Don't you remember me?" The inmate in the prison cell was the same guy he had used for the face of Jesus.

Another story I heard was from a police officer. She told me that she was in a vehicle pursuit with a couple other officers when the vehicle in pursuit hit a light pole. When the walked up to the car they found that the suspect's head was hanging out the window. He had been decapitated.

I hope to get more of these stories. It is cool to hear something weird. Most of the things we hear though become Urban Myths. Like the one about the crazy old lady, who decided that the microwave would be the best place to dry her wet cat. Sometimes all you have to do is look in the newspaper. Like the story about the crazy president who wanted to wage war against a far east tyrant. I love that one.

I have discovered a stark and wonderful beauty today. It is the interface of my predecessors, the vision of the future from days long forgotten. It's just damn cool. What could have a geek frothing so?

Old Technology of course!

This story has a preface.
The last month has been a real gutbuster stresswise. Those are stories for another day. The key is this: I have a new job that works me like a rented mule. My e2 path to godhood has be affected adversely.
So, banging bits for a new taskmaster, I move to a new computer. Net access galore. Net access that cruelly expired yesterday at exactly 2:07:32 pm EST. I felt that umbilical cord separate for the second horrible time.

Caffeine, blood of the ancients, fueled my madness.

As soon as a pulled myself out of the fetal position, I hatched my mad scheme.

Access must be had!

Telnet to server 1. access! Telnet from 1 to 2. access! ftp to server 3. access! download the payload. access! install the payload. access!

Run the browser of the grayhaired guru. Sweet sweet access!
lynx, savior of my E2! How I revel in your black and white embrace!

E2 becomes art in stark black system fonts.
Even though I don’t have any real use for another student employee, my boss has asked me to post an ad “just in case.” Ever the company man, I complied. And the response has been ... well, saddening, but not in the way you’d think.

The thing is that current students aren’t applying -- former students are. Graduates, with a degree in foreign affairs from one of the world’s most prestigious international graduate schools. Many of them are foreign nationals, the sons and daughters of economic elites from countries that don’t have a middle class or even a working class -- we’re talking near aristocracy here. They’re all desperate for work -- any work. Even making $8.50 an hour stuffing envelopes and updating databases for me, the HTML monkey with the BA in Sociology from the University of Maryland. This certainly isn’t what they bargained for when the plopped down their $30,000 annual tuition.

Even sadder, they come into my messy office to find me, dressed in a ratty Jets to Brazil hoodie sweatshirt, with piles of paper, photographs and other people’s resumes heaped on my desk. So not only do they have to beg for a job that’s clearly beneath their professional stature, but they have to beg it from a 28-year old American punk rocker who’d much rather be playing Medal of Honor than working. And the competition is fierce -- I’ve had a dozen applications, all for this one little slot.

The economy sucks, that’s clear enough. No one can find a job. Normally, I’d be really amused (even pleased) that the sons and daughters of the rich can’t find work. But if they can’t, what does that say about the prospects for the average person? Does this mean the big box stores, retail and fast food are getting flooded with job requests by people who would otherwise consider themselves to be overqualified?

I’m fortunate, because I know I’ve got a job for the next 20 months (well, actually the next 19, but let’s not get too technical). But I really worry about what’ll happen if we don’t get funding. I probably shouldn’t think about it.

What I will be doing, however, is protesting the State of the Union next Tuesday. There’s a huge demonstration planned at the Capitol Building, with punk bands (including Milemarker!) and speakers. I know I’m going to be there, no matter how cold it is. I blame the Bush administration for the current sorry state of affairs, and I want my voice to be heard.

Just picked up Tempting, Jenny Toomey Sings the Songs of Franklin Bruno. I must say, it’s absolutely fantastic. It takes the goofy jazz/lounge music she did with Grenadine and makes it real and -- dare-I-say-it -- authentic. Great stuff. Reminds me of the Legendary Jim Ruiz Group, one of the great indiepop bands of the mid-1990’s (gotta remember to MP3 that one some day). Some of Jim Ruiz’s best songs can be heard in the film Happy Accidents. Also, I’m currently enjoying Michael Moore’s Stupid White Men, which while lacking subtlety, is still a great read.

And while I’m thinking of politics, I mentioned the counter-demonstrations to yesterday’s Pro-Life march on Washington to one of our new students, a woman I knew would be interested the hear about them if she hadn’t already. “Everyone here talks about politics,” she commented, surprised I would be interested in one of her pet political causes. Yes dear, what reason would a class-conscious, left-leaning, punk music listening, publications guy have to be interested in politics other than the fact that I live in the capital city of the United States? It certainly wouldn’t make sense, because all I do all day is layout publications and write HTML code? Perhaps because more people in this country than just the Wesleyan-educated daughters of Long Island progressives have an interest in public policy? No, that couldn’t be it, could it? It’s just not possible.

We and me... live in a society based on consumption.

Each one of us is expected to do their part in the continual purchase of goods and services.

The catch is, that this expectation is no longer based on our ability to pay for those goods and services.

We are expected to extend ourselves beyond our immediate capabiliities in order to move commerce (cash) from account to account, with little regard for the consequences of creating an indebted populace.

How little regard? you ask.

How many credit card offers have you received this week?

How easy has it become in every retailer ...even some of the grocery stores... to apply for and receive instant "branded" credit? often including usage beyond the store brand with sponsorship by VISA or MasterCard and a major financial institution (CHASE, MNBA, First USA). This relieves the merchant from worry about being paid, because he is paid by the credit sponsor (an exception might be someone like Sears who has close creation ties with Discover) and the credit sponsor then charges you interest on the balance of indebtedness he has allowed you to create with him ...he also kept a percentage of the amount due the merchant to cover the cost of the transaction.

Have no illusion, until you are late on a payment, the creditor has no desire for you to pay more than the minimum amount against the bill. He has maximized the number months needed to actually pay off the debt, for your convenience (low payments) and for his profits (five to six times the amount of the original debt)

Now, these companies are not dumb. They have statistical and actuarial resources the envy of any insurance company. They know who you are -- specifically -- and your credit history and spending habits -- intimately. And they have knowledge of how much you are likely to charge, and how many people with that sort of debt pay it off in what fashion ...or miss a payment ...or fail to pay the note for an extended time ...or declare bankruptcy ...or commit suicide due to fiscal stress. They know...

And the only responsibility they take for helping you deal with your debt to them, is to employ a third party to harass you for missing one payment and not having yet posted the next one ...we're talking fifty dollars here folks, maybe as little as forty. If they lose touch with you, they make no effort to actually find a new address as long as you keep making payments; they will happily play their "due date game" and start adding late charges to your account while you are not receiving a statement... even though you continue to make payments each month. And when you do get it straightened out, they are not at fault for any extra charges because it is your responsibility to keep them informed of that address change. They don't care that you did take care of it, because they have no record of it... do you get the idea here?

Credit has been defined as the sole responsibility of the debtor. YOU and ME, with all of life's pressures, by accepting debt have become indentured to the lender. I am not so certain that I disagree with the old belief that debt and the "money changers" associated with it, are an evil ...a sin ...a pox upon humanity.

I come to all this realization late of course. I am at that point where the ease of debt acquisition, coupled with the changes in the economy we have witnessed in the past 18 months, created a fiscal situation for me, that I could no longer handle. And the creditors take no responsibility for their part in the creation of this problem. We were both placing our trust in the same thing, and we are both losers... but I am the criminal.

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