Betty Jo's Valentines

Susie Bright has a lovely blog entry on finding a scrapbook of valentines her mother, Betty Jo, received as a child in the late 1920s-early 1930s. It’s a poignant story.

Susie has slaved over a hot scanner to create a gallery of these wonderful paper ephemera that hail from a slower, different time, where even the paper goods had quality and charm and sparkle.


Oooh, that hurts

From NY Times’ William Grimes review of the book Beyond Coincidence:

The award for the most painful coincidence in recorded history must go to the poet Simon Armitage, who chanced upon a used copy of a book of his poems in a trash bin outside a thrift store. On the title page was the following inscription, in his own handwriting: “To Mum and Dad.”



Walking along Ninth Street in Durham, or Queen Street in Toronto, or anywhere, we’ve been approached by vagrants, panhandlers, the lot. They’ve even knocked on my door and asked for money to help them pay their rent.

I’m conflicted. I know I’m a soft touch, and my heart goes out to people who, through bad luck or bad choices, ended up in a place they never expected. There but for the grace of God, etc. Yet, I know I’ve been taken advantage of more than once by people exploiting my generosity and it galls me.

Searching the web yields a few approaches. At Christmastime, Jeanette Winterson puts a few fivers in her pocket and has them at the ready:

I also have the £5 principle in the month of December. If anyone on the street asks me for money - they get one of the endless fivers stuffed about my person. We are told not to give to beggars - stupid advice - we should always give if someone asks us. Street donations don’t solve the problem - we need to support homeless charities - but I think it is wrong to walk past a person who has nothing. We could all be that person.

So give what you can, according to your means, however small.

A typically strong Winterson opinion, unequivocal. I like it.

On Ninth Street, the merchants advise not to give money to individuals and instead to make a donation to the Durham Rescue Mission or other similar organization. The Regulator Bookshop, in its online email newsletter, recently offered a write-in contest for “true stories of especially considerate or especially rude behavior that they had encountered, sparked by the publication of Lynne Truss’s new book, Talk to the Hand: The Utter, Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door.”

The runner-up was this piece, by Bobbie Collins-Perry (and the prompt for this blog posting):

After dark. A man approaches me in a parking lot. He asks me for a dollar for the city bus. Normally, I don’t give money to strangers, remembering the counsel I’ve been given that panhandlers will just spend the money on drugs or alcohol and the cautions about opening myself up to crime. I call out, “I’m not sure I have any change.” “You’re going to see if you have the change?” He approaches closer. I’ve got myself in it now, and I’m feeling uncomfortable and pressured. I begin to run through scenarios and questions. Is he homeless? Or is he just having a bad day? Well, he doesn’t look like a typical street person, and I’m close enough to the side door of the restaurant to feel more secure. I fish for my wallet and come up with a dollar bill-this will at least get me out of the situation. I hand it to him. He thanks me and says I’m very kind. I hurry my hands to get the wallet back in my purse and turn towards the entrance.

“Wow, pretty too. You married?” An affront has transformed into an intrusion, and I have allowed this rudeness by not being indifferent to him. “Very,” I replied and beat a hasty retreat. I berate myself–he was just a freeloader. And he thinks I’m willing to give him much more than money. I know better, and vow to never let a vagrant take advantage of me again. Yet, I’m still conflicted-feeling disrespected, but still wondering how I can help.

Okay, give to a homeless shelter. I’ve done this before, but it’s in the past; it doesn’t help alleviate the feelings of immediacy each time I’m approached on the street. Ruminating while I drive, knowing full well I have a dollar to spare and a vehicle to transport me home, I come up with a solution: “I’ll start a jar-each time I am panhandled, I’ll politely say “no,” and put money in it.” I’ll feel good about not supporting substance abuse, not being violated, and being able to respond right away. I should be able to make a healthy contribution and help people who want to be helped on my terms in the light of day.

Another good, sensible tack.

What are the economics of begging? Robert Klein has a funny routine on one of his albums about a panhandler whose heart-rending screams of PLEEEEASE!!! in downtown Manhattan bring in contributions. Klein follows the beggar at the end of the day to a side street, where the beggar puts his stuff into the trunk of a shiny Cadillac. Klein said he yelled to the guy, “Hey, PLEASE!” And there’s a Sherlock Holmes story, “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” about a middle-class man who finds begging more lucrative than being a reporter (I can verify that fact).

Marginal Revolution, a libertarian economics blog that more than occasionally drives me up the wall and across the ceiling, usually provides intellectual cud for me to chew on or spit out. In this post, Tyler Cowen directly confronts the economic situation of all the beggars he sees in Calcutta. Using his typically cool-blooded economic reasoning, he concludes that giving to beggars who ask for money encourages more beggars to enter the market, thus increasing the number of beggars and more aggressive behavior from the beggars because their actions are rewarded with money. Better, he says, to give money to the poor person who is not begging and so is expecting it least.

In the comments to Cowen’s posting was this reference to a Tom Stoppard quote from his play “Indian Ink.” Stoppard blends economics with self-satisfaction:
Dilip: You have to understand that begging is a profession. Like dentistry. Like shining shoes. It’s a service. Every so often, you need to get a tooth filled, or your shoes shined, or to give alms. So when a beggar presents himself to you, you have to ask yourself– do I need a beggar today? If you do, give him alms. If you don’t, don’t.”

So, where does this leave me? I already make regular donations to the Durham Rescue Mission. If, on a particular day, I’m feeling generous, I’ll make sure I have some singles folded up in my pocket. How much harm can a person do with $1? But I won’t give anything to the beggar who gets in my face.

Get Fuzzy books: A Reading Guide

This Amazon reading guide is essential for the Get Fuzzy fan. It helpfully notes that

Get Fuzzy books are divided into “collections” and “treasuries”. There are two collections in each treasury.

Nice to refer to when building one’s Christmas list.

Yet a further reason to join the ACLU

This has convinced me it’s time to join the ACLU. The security paranoia has to stop.


Update 2005-01-06

Some good news, according to the site:
Not only will Deborah Davis not be prosecuted on charges related to her refusal to show ID on a public bus, but she is now able to travel on the route 100 RTD bus without showing her ‘papers.’

Deb’s lawyer, ACLU volunteer attorney Gail Johnson, was informed shortly before noon on December 7th by the office of the US attorney in Denver of their decision not to prosecute.

Score one for the good guys and against the security state.

Back in the Nanowrimo game

Well, sort of. I wrote earlier about retiring from the field when I found the story I was working on uncongenial. But I couldn’t get some of the images out of my mind, and I had certain key moments in the long life of the main character appear in front of me as I went about my other chores.

I had also promised myself the New Yorker DVD set if I successfully completed nanowrimo. While I always intended to buy the set anyway, I can’t forget that carrot I dangled in front of myself. I felt I needed to put in at least a good-faith effort in order to justify buying the DVDs.

So I went back to my file and basically started the story over again for at least the third time. It’s interesting to me how the story started as a sprawling, dozens-of-characters murder mystery, to a more constrained, cozier setting, starting with two characters but in the last few writing sessions, settling on the main character, a 96-year-old woman on her deathbed remembering key events of her life.

I don’t believe I’ll make the 50K word count by Nov. 30, though. I’m at about 23,700 right now and can’t do much more than 2000 words in a sitting. The week I took off left me way behind, and I went to bed early last night. So I’d need to push out about 3000+ words a day to make the goal. Hm. Well, maybe if I intersperse writing sessions with leaf-raking on my days off Friday and Saturday, maybe I’ll get up to the mid-30s by the 28th.

My Nanowrimo profile page:

I hate when that happens

Just got a call from a job recruiter for a position that has my name all over it, at the last place I worked as a contractor. It’s only an 18-month contract, but it would be more money, fewer hours, and closer to home than the full-time job I have now. God, but it’s knotted my gut.

New PC: First Steps

First, clean off the old PC and prep it for its new owner. I’m giving it to my friend Scott, which makes me de facto tech support. Therefore, I want to include some tools and tricks that may make recovery and troubleshooting easier.

Also, there are a few interesting little bits of software and other techniques that I’ve been wanting to try. No better time like now, when I won’t damage anything–I’m reformatting the hard drive and re-installing the OS. So there’s nothing to lose. I probably take more time than I should getting things ready, but it’s a good learning investment.

LESSON LEARNED: In retrospect, I should have also used a special data-wiping program to overwrite any old data on the disk before going through with the formatting or even after the formatting.

Buy and install UPS replacement battery
I finally bought the replacement backup battery for the APC BackUPS 280 unit and installed it. The battery type I want to search on in Froogle is RBC10, and replacement batteries average about $28. The install instructions are in the “APC” folder in the filing cabinet.

I’d noticed the replace-battery light buzzing red for weeks but shrugged it off. Then we had a brownout. The computer and router–everything–cut out immediately. No time to save any files for a graceful shutdown. After the power came back on, we noticed the network acting flakey–file and printer sharing, which had worked flawlessly before, didn’t work at all now. I kicked myself for not replacing the battery sooner.

LESSON LEARNED: For the lack of a battery, a network was lost…

Buy an external USB hard disk and USB hub
I finally bought an external USB hard disk, a 160GB Seagate. I installed and then uninstalled the backup software, BounceBack; it was too insistent on its own settings and intrusive in other ways. Instead, I just copied all the files from C: to E: and listened to it chatter away. I’d been debating with myself to buy an external disk because I knew I’d also need to buy a USB hub, and I’ve been putting off spending money for most of the last year. Well, it was time to spend. Let’s do this right.

Circuit City had a neat USB hub that offered two easy-access ports on the top of the device, making it convenient to plug in a flash drive or my Digisette on the fly. (The Digisette required Windows to register a new driver, though the driver already existed on the hard drive.) Plus, the hub is stackable in case you need to add more. Into the hub I plugged the printer, my Clie stand, and the Seagate. Plus, the new PC will have USB 2.0, whereas the old PC had USB 1.1, so I’m looking forward to faster transfers.

For backing up files, I use Karen’s Replicator, a very nice free tool that lets you set up and schedule individual file-replication jobs. I just set Replicator to update any changed file on the disk to the external drive. Simplicity itself and it never ran for long. Every couple of days, I ran the job to make sure all my latest files were up there. I don’t really bother with incremental backups or any of that. Just copy them all. I don’t have synchronization turned on, so files I delete on C: will remain in place on the external drive. That’s fine.

LESSON LEARNED: No lesson, just putting the pieces in place that will support good habits.

Sure you’ve backed up all the files you’ll need later?
Big lesson learned: scan the help files of the programs you use regularly; heck, just go down each program in the Program Files folder. Is it one you use often? How often? Often enough that you’ll want to use the data later? Is it as easy as copying the files over to the new PC?

In most cases, yes, it is. AI Roboform, for example, lets you import its data files with no problem. Firefox lets you import all of your bookmarks from another location. The Manager program doesn’t export categories you create. It’s easy enough to copy the files over from the external drive later, but I’ll have to spend an hour or so re-categorizing every bloody file.

Quicken 2003 was also a bugger. I should have read the help and exported the data files to a QIF that I could import into a new install later. I didn’t, and there seems to be no way to get all those years of data into the new install. Yeesh. I’ll talk about this in a later post. It may be a blessing in disguise.

Create a fresh XP install disk
The HP Pavilion came with a set of Windows ME recovery discs. Great. However, at the HP web site I read that once you upgrade the PC to XP, the recovery discs don’t work no more. Great.

At this point, I remember Fred Langa and others talking about creating your own XP recovery disks by taking the original XP disc, slipstreaming the Service Pack 2 release into it, and then burning a new XP install CD that has all the up-to-date security patches. Fred’s article focused on a snazzy new flavor, called Bart’s PE disk.

I thought it would be good for Scott to have this just in case, and it would be a good exercise for me.
Here’s the Langa article, but you can also find lots of links via Google or

Of course, nothing works that easy. All told, I burned away most of a Saturday trying to create Bart’s PE disk. What helped was using Autostreamer and reading up on the Bart’s PE disk forums; the final disk I wound up creating was by Autostreamer, which worked like a dream. Bart’s PE is a good idea but I’ll have to revisit it later; I see its value, but its value to me is low right now.

I notated all this fruitless activity, what helped and what didn’t, in the big-ass text file I maintain in Notetab Pro.

On Sunday, I reformatted the disk and installed XP with SP2 on the disk. Since I’m on DSL (Scott’s still on dial-up), I also downloaded and installed the post-SP2 security patches. I also installed AVF anti-virus software.

Partitioning and imaging
I’ve been infected by Fred Langa’s repeated writings of his backup method. First, partition your disk by the type of files that need to be backed up; there’s usually only a small set of files that really need to be backed up regularly. Other types of files only need to be backed up occasionally.

So, he recommends a small partition for the Windows system files that also holds My Documents; these files are the ones you want to replace in a hurry. Then divvy up the drive as you see fit.

Regularly image the C:\ drive, but back up the partitions as often as you think necessary. Now, if you have a system crash, you can use the imaging software to restore the last good working configuration of your system and your files. It shouldn’t take long to recover from something disastrous.

Fred recommended BootItNG (BING) as an all-in-one partitioning and imaging. I downloaded it, wrestled with the cold and rather geeky interface over several evenings, setting small goals to be achieved each night. But in the end, it worked great the first time. I partitioned the disk on the fly so that C: was about 8GB, and the rest of the drive remained open. I thought it was best to keep it simple.

If only BING had worked so smoothly for me on the new PC. But that will come in a later post.

Buy those neat power-strip liberator plugs
For myself, I also bought these neat plug extensions that let me use every outlet on my UPS.

Don’t throw out those old CDs
I want to find a way to recycle all my old CDs I burned or CDs of old programs I don’t want to keep around anymore. There’s Greendisk, but I discovered our local hazardous waste recycling facility, in addition to handling batteries (like old dead UPS batteries), monitors, and old PCs, also advertises itself as taking CDs. So I put all the old CDs I didn’t need anymore on a spindle and will take them the next time we do a recycling run.

Blog diet

Up till the middle of last week, I had about 80 blogs on my Bloglines list. Many of them were divided up into Monday, Tuesday, etc. categories, as they didn’t update often but I didn’t want to miss them. So I’d be able to check them at least once a week.

But I found myself obsessing over checking them like I obsess over checking my email. I feel it was severely impairing my workday, my time at home, and, really, who needs that much information every day? Every week? So I pruned them down to the core, about 8 blogs that I really don’t want to miss, and they’re all pretty reasonable with updates: maybe once a day, some 2-3 times/day, but quickly read and digested. When I now obsessively click onto Bloglines, I see a mostly empty page. I feel a slight disappointment, then see it as a reminder that it’s time to move on to better things, and close down the window wth a self-satisfied air.

This rather strict rationing came about from my periodic reading of this Jeanette Winterson column, where she rails about people consuming more than they process, and what that excess leads to: fat, restlessness, malaise. (Note that the quote is sandwiched between the positive benefits of sex, so it may not be a work-friendly link.) Blogs certainly deliver excess. It’s fun, I enjoy it, but I wind up being a consumer, not a creator.

The other was reading an article about an entrepreneur who favors physical solutions over mental solutions, as a way to guide the behaviors he wants to encourage in himself. (Like, absolutely no work on the weekends or talk about work after hours, punching the clock, etc.) I exported my blog list to an XML file that I can re-import into Bloglines later, if I want. And then I deleted most every folder there and settled on my core blogs (like, 43 Folders, and The Comics Curmudgeon). A physical solution to the problem. The kid-in-the-candy-store is crying because the misses the candy, but the adult who’s watching his weight is rather glad that the shop has closed.