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12 2 18

The Christmas Spirit

After being primed for Christmas last week with Santa and the parade, and all the sales, and the constant playing of 80's electronic Christmas music (when Chip Davis goes to hell, there will be a special level where he will listen to Deck the Halls over and over and over, like it does in our lives this time of year), and reminders to give generously to local charities, we should all be in the Christmas spirit, right?

Except we're not.

At least, many of us are not, because there are many Christmas spirits (yes, I know, rum, brandy, bourbon, egg nog. Ha-Ha). Here are a few of the more common:

  • Religious Christmas. The core, the foundation. If you celebrate a religious Christmas, you are probably observing Advent right now, or at least bringing more religious observations into your life. When I was growing up in a religious household, we always had Advent calendars, celebrated the feast of St. Nicholas, tracked the progress of the Wise Men, and the creche was the first ornament unboxed. If you fit this model, There are no secular carols like Jingle Bells for you. Presents are unwrapped after attending church services. And don't wish certain religious types Seasons Greetings! instead of Merry Christmas unless you can live without that ear they're about to chew off.
  • Commercial Christmas (aka White Christmas, aka warm fuzzies). Your shopping is complete, but you keep looking for just one more perfect thing or huge sale. Your front yard is filled with jolly snowmen, jolly Santas, and jolly trees. You participate in gingerbread house and ugly sweater competitions. Any religious elements that have snuck in have been secularized (every Silent Night is sandwiched between Walking in a Winter Wonderland and Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer). You have A Christmas Story on a replay loop. You go hoarse wishing people Seasons Greetings! There is Christmas Magic, not miracles. Miracles are too religious. However, Santa is immortal and omnipotent, or at least all-knowing.
  • Saturnalia. Celebrate and party! All your gifts are Party on! T-shirts wrapped around bottles of booze. You join organizations just because they have great Christmas parties. You avoid anyplace that might remind you of holiday traditions (like giving). You have calculated the shortest routes to travel between places celebrating the holidays. You bought a pound of mistletoe and placed it where there are cute people to kiss. You spend the holidays skiing in Colorado or snorkeling in the Caribbean. Your favorite holiday song is Baby, It's Cold Outside.
  • Bah Humbug! It's cold, raining or snowing, it's dark when you go to work and come home. And you're expected to cook and put up decorations and buy and wrap gifts, too? Everyone has their hand out. Everyplace you try to go there's a whole bunch of people getting in the way. Smile? Just not going to happen. Christmas music is the worst music ever written. A Christmas Carol is he best movie ever, except for that really lame unbelievable ending where Scrooge goes soft in the head and heart. Fruit cake.

There are of course mixings, but by their dominant trait shall ye know them, and treat them accordingly. They can get right ornery if you don't.



11 25 18

The Aftermath

Thanksgiving has come and gone. The world is still the same. To wit:

  • We should put a giant fence not along the border, but around Washington, and then charge admission. Finally, politicians would be paying their own way, and as an added attraction, they wouldn't be escaping to mingle with the general populace. I don't know when we've had such a great collection of people who individually and collectively disprove Darwin's Theory of Evolution, but they must be controlled.
  • Thanksgiving dinner was very pleasant, even if I did cook too much (for the 22nd year in a row). So much to be thankful for. For some reason, cleanup seemed easier this year.
  • The psuedo-scientists and people dedicated to preventing everybody else from having a good time abandoned their attempts to convince us that we were all going to die if we cooked stuffing in the turkey. However, they turned their attention to convincing us that the turkey itself was going to kill us. Buried deep in the articles there was a note that it was raw turkey, usually ground. Personally, I find it hard to put stuffing in a turkey patty, but then, I'm funny that way. The turkey scare seems not to have worked, so now the doomsayers are turning their attention to pork (i.e. ham) a popular Christmas main course. Unfortunately, all they can find to try to scare us with is imported Vietnamese pork delicacies. Traditionally, they have not been on our Christmas menu. We'll keep it that way.
  • My sister, who lives in upstate New York, is already complaining about the weather. Now, granted ten inches of snow is a little much for mid-November, and highs of 5° are definitely wrong, but it's not like it was unexpected. I've stopped watching the Weather Channel, so I don't know if they assigned a stupid winter storm name to this storm.
  • Black Friday seems to have lost its insanity. Boredom? Better deals online? The aging-out of crazed shoppers who love to do that sort of thing? Not really sure, I'm not one of them, but it was nice to be spared the sight of people being trampled fighting for a big-screen TV.
  • The stock market is undergoing a correction.
  • We went to the Eastern Shore Studio Open House on Friday. A good representation of crafters and artists, especially around Onancock. It was a surprising year, as we actually bought some Christmas gifts for specified recipients. Usually, we get nice things that we like, intending to decide later who to send them to, but then, weelll, it doesn't happen for whatever reason. I guess we were intended to be the giftees all along.
  • The place where we usually buy a tree for Christmas has moved locations. Against all logic, they seem to have moved closer to the house.

I hope your holiday season is merry and bright, and if you have children, that they are, too.


Clubs With Attendance Issues

It's been a long time since I've done a groaner (at lest intentionally). Accept it in the spirit of the season.

Americans love getting together, particularly in groups where they can have fun and do good things. Sinclair Lewis poked gentle fun at this tendency in his novel Babbitt. But there are some groups, no matter how useful or fun, that just don't meet. These include:

  • Procrastinators Quorum. They try, but they just keep putting off meetings. The club motto is Next Meeting, Next Month.
  • Introverts Anonymous. The business meetings are fine, but the socializing afterwards is hell. Members would rather skip the fun part than subject themselves to the pain.
  • Anonymous Anonymous. They tried starting each meeting with having each person introduce themselves as Hello, I'm Fred, Not really. but even that was too much information to hand out to people in public. It has an affiliate club, Protected Witnesses.
  • Loners Forum. They couldn't find a space big enough to maintain each member's comfort zone.
  • American Memory Association. Members forget to come to the meetings.
  • Association for the Motivationally Challenged. Members have no reason to come to meetings. There's a special chapter for method actors.
  • Sedentary Citizens of the United States. Just mustering the strength to get up and drive someplace with no opportunity to lie down at the other end is why this club's members never attend meetings.
  • Support Group for the Directionally Challenged. Turn left. No, no, your other left. Some members manage to cross state lines to try to get to the meetings. Many are called, but few make it.

They Said It

We'd get sick on too many cookies, but ever so much sicker on no cookies at all.

Sinclair Lewis



11 18 18

RIP Thanksgiving?

The Halloween Sugar Explosion is over. We had plenty of time to prepare–candy was out in the drugstores right after labor day, and orange and black decorations were everywhere (unless those were advertisements for a particular television series). We slid through Veteran's Day, and now it's time to shift our thoughts to Thanksgiving.

I'm sorry, but that is no longer a viable plan. Thanksgiving has been subsumed into Christmas.

Alas, thanksgiving

Christmas, of course, has nothing to do with the religious event at the core of Christianity and over which we supposedly fought wars for years. This Christmas is all about consumption. It used to be that retailers would wait until the day after Thanksgiving to start appealing to Christmas shoppers. Thanksgiving was all about family, friends, food, thanks, and then football. One of the centerpieces of the day was the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Back in the day, it was enjoyable–marching bands, floats, giant balloons–all marvelous things. Santa Claus brought up the end, signaling the start of Christmas. Now the parade is unwatchable, with toy marketing dominating floats, and musicians and Broadway shows interrupting the parade to perform every five minutes, literally show-stopping performances. Not that you can hear the performances–the network coverage team is too busy talking to stars of network shows, with the occasional guest star dropping by, rendering the parade a moving backdrop for talking heads.

The problem for Thanksgiving is that we don't buy very much. I mean, yeah, I'll have a three-figure grocery bill for the week, but the holiday doesn't do much for the economy or profits. As Roger Swain pointed out once, you can garden without spending any money. All the house renovation shows, however, require major expenditures to match a house to the owners' taste (or on TV, the taste of the designer-contractor). Take a guess–do you see more home renovation shows or gardening shows?

So sales start earlier and earlier. Black Friday sales start in the middle of November. The Hallmark Channel, always the trendsetter, began its Countdown to Christmas before Halloween.

So rest in peace, Thanksgiving. Maybe sometime the Christmas selling will move so far forward that it will free up some space so we can celebrate Thanksgiving again.

May you celebrate and enjoy a traditional, stress-free Thanksgiving with friends and family.


On the home front

I am our cook for Thanksgiving. We will be down to family in town, so it's a small celebration this year ((I might be able to get away with a ten-pound bird). Fortunately it's a compatible group with no loud discussers. However, there have been times that I have been thankful for having a small kitchen, so I can shoo people away and prepare food in peace. No loud discussions, no bemoaning of fates, just the occasional sizzle of turkey drippings hitting a hot pan. Nice.



11 5 18

Reflections on Daylight Saving Time

Random thoughts about the event of the weekend.

What, no centennial celebration? In the United States, Daylight Savings was implemented in 1918. I don't recall any celebrations of the fact. No parades, no day off, no storewide savings. Or maybe there were events, but they were only an hour long. Either the centennial went by quietly, or I just slept through it.

Extend the Benefits. Scientists claim that there are four benefits to returning to not-daylight-savings-time. General consensus is that fall (the extra hour) is a good thing, while losing an hour in the spring is a bad thing. I'm all in favor of health, so here's my proposal: Let's do away with the springtime part of Daylight Savings. Life goes on as normal in the spring, but in early November, we add an hour of sleep. So our schedules are messed up, and in about ten years we'll be going to school and work at the witching hour. Every good plan has a flaw, but we're smart people. We'll figure it out.

About the cats. Granted, cats have no respect for boundaries of space and time, but I'm always surprised how quickly they adjust to the changes, especially the Mr., our designated alarm cat (actually, as is true of all cats, he assumed the position. If you tried to designate him, he wouldn't do it). He settles into the the new times quickly (within 24 hours), getting one of us up at 5:00 to feed him, and then he returns at 6:15 to make sure we're up to face the day.

Clock-changing. There were no problems this time. I know where all the non-self-setting clocks are, and had them all done by 10:00. Normally, there's always one that I miss, and then panic when I see that I'm way late for something.

How do the TV people do it? I've always wondered. This year, I was awake for the switch. The program guide listed shows at 1:00 and 1:30 AM, and then it showed programs at 1:00 and 1:30. Not earth-shattering, but I'm glad I got that cleared up.



10 29 18

'een o' the 'een o' the 'een

Halloween is Wednesday, and once again, my wife and I are facing the musical question: Do we stay or do we go? We've done both–handed out candy to thundering herds of trick or treaters from across the city (it seems), as well as turned off the lights and spent the evening in the back of the house; and gone to a nice pub to celebrate the anniversary of our meeting.

We're not grinches. We enjoy seeing the little tykes dressed up and walking with their parents. We have nice candy. It's the later-in-the-evening older crowd who show up without costumes, and wordlessly thrust out a plastic grocery store bag. Plus the neighborhood behind us did up Halloween big-time, to the point where they had to have police to direct traffic. We got the overflow.

At the moment, the plan is to stay and distribute. The neighborhood behind us has scaled back, and there seem to be fewer participants. Plus it just seems right. Plus we bought the candy. Of course, everything depends upon the weather, the course of the day, and unknowns. It should be fun. If not, next year, we're back to celebrating the anniversary.


Stupid Sayings

Some encomiums are just flat stupid. Here are two that have been bugging me this week.

Happily ever after. Ain't no such thing. That's how fairy tales end, and fairy tales are made up stories. We don't expect to see dragons and unicorns trotting down the street in real life, but we expect that there is such a thing as happily every after. There's not. Deal with it.

Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. With all due respect to Winston Churchill, this is bogus. We always forget the from. In school, we learn history, we do not learn from history. The only real way we learn is through experience, either immediate or perhaps from a parent or other wise person we know. As Vizzini, who had studied history, found out, knowing Never get involved in a land war in Asia provides no information in a battle of the wits.

Besdies, as Big Think points out, repeating history happens to the aware and the unaware alike. If you have and utilize personal experience and knowledge, you can dodge some pretty nasty situations. But knowing what Churchill did? Not so much.



10 22 18

Obscure Humor

You might have to work to get it. But there's a joke here, honest.

NBC News reports on an increase in deflouridation efforts in the US, and includes this quotation: The persistence of fluoride conspiracy theories – which emerged in the 1950s with claims that fluoridation was a communist plot to dumb down Americans – is alarming public health officials.

It's sad when your own movement and its proponents are Exhibit A in your proofs.


Forgotten Treasures of the Renaissance

Pisa towerPBS loves it some art. But they go with well-known pieces, or modern classical music, in which case it's this music is so obscure that even the composer's mother didn't know he wrote it. One recent show mentioned the iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa. Well, what about less well-known works of art from the good old days (AKA the Renaissance), many with well-known creators? Like:

  • The Upright Tower of Pisa. The leaders of Pisa realized immediately that they were going to be mocked for the tippy tower, so they built a second tower, the Upright Tower of Pisa. It was eighty feet taller, had a faster elevator, and it was straight! It never achieved the popularity of the first tower with tourists, though, even after they added a Starbucks and eliminated the admission fee for the observation deck.
  • The Terri Lisa. Leonardo painted Mona's sister Terri soon after he painted Mona. Same pose, same backdrop, but the kindest comment that has come down to us is she looks so constipated!
  • Clown Holding Balloons. After completing David, Michelangelo was commissioned to do another statue, Clown Holding Balloons, which featured his first and only attempt to paint marble. General consensus: Naked clowns are even creepier than clothed clowns.
  • styrofoam baptistry doors. When people complained that the great bronze baptistry doors were too heavy and too hard to open, Ghiberti replicated the doors in styrofoam. In spite of the fact that these doors had a much higher R-factor, environmentalists complained that they were made of non-sustainable materials, and the doors were removed.

Tornadoes A'Comin!

A least, if you live in the eastern United States. NBC News (again) tells us there are more tornadoes further east in the US than before. And, as an extra added attraction, scientists don't know why.

Personally, the first thing I'd check would be increased mobile home sales and higher occupancy rates in trailer parks in the affected area.


Aaraugh!

In the name of customer satisfaction, people are sending out surveys asking how satisfied I am with the service or product. This is all part of a trend to try to harness the power of the internet to make people think they're getting good service.

I can understand the importance of improving customer service, but at a certain point, it's going to impact customer relations, and not in the good way. Some recent examples from my own life.

  • auto service. I recently had the oil changed and the tires rotated by the dealer. I waited about an hour, which was fine. Since then, I have received four e-mails asking me to complete an on-line survey. Two came after I actually completed the survey. There was also a phone call from the dealership asking if I had anything to add to the survey answers. Annoyance factor: High.
  • doctor. I went to a specialist. Before I got home, they had mailed three different surveys, including one from the software provider. Annoyance Factor: Low (time needed to delete surveys).
  • Amazon. I bought some books and a keyboard. I started to charge the keyboard and began reading one of the books. Within one day I was encouraged to provide a review of the keyboard (It charges very quietly was about all I could say at that point), and a week later I was asked to provide a review for one of the books (one that I hadn't started reading). Annoyance Factor: Minor irritations. I will say that I didn't respond, and haven't gotten any requests for reviews since then. So that's good.
  • Doctors. OK, they're not really satisfaction surveys, but my doctors have taken to sending texts, e-mails and making robocalls asking me if I'm planning on showing up for a scheduled appointment. I may have been late once for an appointment back in 2006, so why I'm getting all this attention for a supposed failing memory, I don't know. All of them want me to respond, even the ones that roll into voicemail, and even though I have responded by another means. Annoyance factor: High. It's not doing anything for me except raising my blood pressure. Maybe that's the point.
  • auto-fill prescriptions. When my old pharmacist went away, my prescriptions got moved to a chain pharmacy, which would call and text when the refills were ready. If you didn't pick them up within a day or two, they'd keep calling/texting. Someplace along the way, the prescriptions were de-synched, and so I was getting calls for each prescription. I'd drive to the drug store, only to find one prescription ready. By the time I got back home, there would be another voice mail/text telling me a different prescription was ready. Annoyance factor: Huge, until I switched to a drug store without autofill. Now, life is good.
  • random. I used to do the newsletter for a local painting club. I enjoyed it, even though I don't paint. When the ratio of enjoyment to burden shifted to burden, I stopped. After a year break, the club revived the newsletter with new editors, supposedly with web-based delivery. The first number came out a week or so ago. Yesterday, in my mailbox, there was a link to an online survey. Annoyance factor: High. This does nothing for me, and IMHO, is not the best way to get information from maybe two dozen members who were already online reading what your were asking about.

I'd say I won't respond, but then a lot of surveyors will just ramp up the you haven't responded to our survey e-mails/voicemails/texts. So I'll drop it here, and walk away.

Unless, of course, you would like to participate in a survey about the quality of the writing and usefulness of the information in this blog. It will only take a few minutes.



10 13 18

It's About Time

A very busy front end::: warning: This post contains some very deep concepts, almost Zen-like in nature. It may not be suitable for people still waking up or under the influence of heavy metal music. ::disclaimer. I have been known to procrastinate.

I have a computer mah-jong game that rewards a win with three fortunes or sayings. One is usually humorous, the others profound. I bumped into this one yesterday: Today is the start of tomorrow. Besides for calling into question the very nature of time, it really shakes up one of the basic tenets of procrastination–that there really is no tomorrow, only now.

Yes, the sun comes up, the sun goes down, the seasons change, but we only experience them as they happen. All other time constructs are human constructs, and the value we place on them is totally artificial. As is their reeality.

What that little phrase is saying is that tomorrow has already begun, and putting things off until tomorrow means doing them now. This is a real problem for those of us who like to push unpleasant or not ready to do tasks into the tomorrow space. Like light, time is a particle and a wave, but there is only one accessible particle–the now particle&38211; in a river of nows. No thens, no nexts–only nows.

I would like a satisfying conclusion, but I just don't have one at the moment. That happens when your world view is shattered. I'd say I'll deal with it tomorrow, but that's not an option any more. *Sigh.*


They Said It

If you ever find you're the most talented person in the room, you need to find another room.

Austin Kleon



10 7 18

Maniacs

It's rant time again! And it's a long rant, so buckle up for safety.

Charles Dudley Warner (or maybe Mark Twain) said, While everybody talked about the weather, nobody seemed to do anything about it. Even when a huge superfluity of professional weathercasters spew effluvium about the weather, nothing is done about it, unless you count handwringing and fearmongering.

Yes, my friends, we have just too much weather. Not outdoors–there, we have the baby bear amount of weather, or just the right amount. No, it's on all our screens and newsfeeds with weathercasters and newspeople stumbling all over each other to be the first to report that yes, the eye of the hurricane has moved a mile to the west in the last six hours.

It started with the local news, where the local broadcast provided the first weather, the main weather, and then a little follow-up, until the newstime could be better described as weather with a little news and sports thrown in. Then they started three day forecasts, seven day forecasts, and ten-day forecasts, admitting that the further out they forecast, the less accurate (more useless) the information is. (You can see this in hurricane reporting.) Then, since they had entered the realm of fuzzy weather, they went in whole hog with fuzzy temperatures. They call them wind chill and heat index, but it's just a way to make it seem hotter or colder out than it really is. If you're not confused, you're not paying enough attention.

And they all have all these wonderful technical-marvel toys, or at least toys with techy-sounding names. One station here has Super Doppelganger Hoochy-Koochy 3D Side-Scan Radar and Soft-Serv Ice Cream that shows it's raining when it's not. Although ultimately a good thing, hurricane tracking that starts with the first rain shower in the Azores is bogus, for the same reason that ten-day forecasts are useless. They just don't work–there's just too much time for things to change. And the models! In the early stages, they look like the old Family Circus cartoons that plot Jeffy's path from the phone to his dad to tell him he has a telephone call. Speaking of calls, give us a call when the models start to come together. If you need a recent example, there's a tropical storm south of the Yucatan Peninsula. It will be providing us with rain and/or wind this coming weekend, we're told. Or not. Imagine that. We might have rain. We might have wind. I don't care what its source is. I just need to know if I can take an umbrella or if I need to go for the raincoat.

Hurricanes Harvey and Matthew showed how accurate those models were, as those two storms did not behave at all like the models said they should. And the models were wrong even until the storms were storms no more.

The data freaks have taken over the weather, too. I guess they ran out of things to analyze in sports and business. So we now have the hottest, coldest, wettest Tuesday this week, or you have to go back to the beginning of time to find temperatures this hot, cold, wet, normal, whatever. One weather source has started reporting temperatures in tenths of a degree (i.e., 71.1) and another is reporting chance of precipitation to a single digit (23%) instead of the more traditional and useful measure in 10 percent increments.

However, for all this data, I dare you to find answers to simple questions like how much rain did we get in the past two days? without resorting to complicated Google searches. Once it happens, it is no longer of interest to the weathercasting class. After all, they can't scare us with yesterday, which I really think is the point of the whole exercise.

More data requires more people, too. The Weather Channel sent two dozen people to the Carolina coast, and CNN and NBC both had sizable contingents there. I'm sure other networks sent people as well. There was a greater hazard to residents of tripping over a weathercaster than there was from the storm. And why are weatherpeople exempt from mandatory evacuations? You report on a number of people who can't afford to evacuate. Why don't you take the money you spend on deploying and use it to help people who should get out of the storm's way do so?

A special note to all those idiots standing out in the storm. Your credibility suffers when reporting from the middle of the storm. Why should we believe you when you say Do not do this? We're not even sure you're an intelligent lifeform at that point, so telling me to not do what you're doing is not really convincing. As a group, the don't know enough to come in out of the rain crowd should win a Darwin Award.

Overall, weather reporting has become useless. I need to know how to dress and how to prepare. I need some basic information for the next few days on the outside chance I'm planning on doing something outdoors. And telling me today will have a high of 41.232447 degrees but will feel like 40 degree wind chill with a 67 percent chance of precipitation is not going to do that.



10 1 18

Depression

Each morning, I sit on the front (enclosed) porch with my wife before we head off to work or some other part of the day. It's a pleasant, relaxing time. We chat about the day, and watch the world go by.

This school year, we've been watching a dad accompany his son to preschool (at least that's the presumption). It's a charing scene. The tiny young scholar proudly wears a huge, brightly patterned backpack that hangs down almost past the bottom of his butt, with his thumbs hooked into the shoulder straps. He looks enthusiastic, eager to get to school. I imagine that he has a lot to say, talking about school, neat stuff, asking questions, and just whatever it is little boys talk about when they spend quality time with dad as they grow up.

But then I notice that the dad is looking at his phone. Every day, head down, thumb moving up and down on the screen.

What a wasted opportunity.


Geese

Since I'm in the mood....

A flock of Canadian geese just flew over, heading south and honking loudly. Instructions? Warning? Joy of life? I don't know. They were low over the house, but disorganized, or at least not in the classic V formation. So they may have been in pre-flight to continue their journey to Florida and Texas.

I took it as a sign of fall. Each year when I was growing up, the geese would fly overhead. But those geese were flying high, in the V formation, and the honking was distant, almost inaudible. Often they would be in the air at first light, sometimes hidden by low clouds, so it was a rare treat to see them flying over on a great journey or adventure. It spoke to something in me, at the same time sad and exhilarating.

But these geese? I don't know. There are large flocks of Canadian geese that have taken up permanent residence here, so there's honking and traffic blockages all year long. I don't know if these geese are the real deal or just moving to annoy someone in the next block.

It's kind of sad. Another piece of magic and mystery taken away. It's like being able to walk in the grocery store and finding sweet corn all year, instead of having only a few weeks in August to rush to a roadside farm stand to be able to enjoy it at its best.

Of course, fall is a time of sadness. Maybe that's why I like it so much.


They Said It.

So many things go wrong, we should be suspicious when someone gets it right.

Tom Hart


Fred the Flower


12 2 18

Early seasonal procedure shakedown.

Fortnightly T-shirt

12 2 18

A common question

Apt 123


11 18 18

There may be some dispute about the location of the first Thanksgiving (Virginia? Massachusetts?), but there's no disputing the first Apt123 thanksgiving. Here it is!

Thanksgiving celebration!
Thanksgiving celebration!
Thanksgiving celebration!
Thanksgiving celebration!
Thanksgiving celebration!