Tomato Planet
Probably pretty ugly if using Internet
Explorer 9 or earlier.


6 24 18

Hogwild Hogweed

giant hogweed

The local news channels have been having a field day (actually, week) with giant hogweed (AKA Heracleum mantegazzianum) invading the Commonwealth. And for those of you concerned about such things, yes that pun about a plant and fields was intentional. You're welcome.

The first report was that giant hogweed was an attractive plant, but a dangerous invasive plant. Touching the plant could cause major skin irritation and blisters; contact with the eye could cause blindness, and rubbing it all over your naked body could cause death. (There was a reason Springsteen did not write Blinded by the Giant Hogweed. It didn't scan as well as 'light,' or maybe it hadn't invaded New Jersey at that point.) And worst of all, the reporters told us, it was already in the Commonwealth and heading directly toward us!

Well, OK, we found out on Day 2 it's only in Clarke County, or about as far away from us as it can be and still be in Virginia. But hogweed! Giant hogweed! Be scared! Be very scared! Later on Day 2, yes, it still burns and blinds and kills, and it's still only in Clarke County, be afraid, be afraid, and oh, did we mention it's only one plant? But it's giant!

Onto Day 3 reporting of the plant that blinded an entire Commonwealth, are you still afraid? It still burns, it still blinds, still kills and it's invasive! Invasive, I say! Someone planted that one plant (as an ornamental), but still, it's here, it invaded, be afraid, be afraid. Burning. Blindness. Death. Fear.

And reporters wonder why they're losing credibility.


They Said It

My characters don’t really care how many books I’ve sold.

Dan Brown


Not nice, probably

I know it's awfully incorrect, but when I hear someone say Kyrgyzstan, I think they're trying to clear their throat.


Decoding House Hunters

In this episode of Decoding House Hunters, we explain some new terminology on the show:

  • Craftsman style: It has a porch.
  • Mid-century modern: One story with no porch.
  • Colonial: Two-stories.
  • Move-in ready: I'm going to bitch and moan about the renovations that the previous owners did. Why didn't they put two sinks in the master bathroom?
  • Curb appeal: Sorry, you're on your own on this one. But only one part of the couple cares about it.
  • Forever home: See Curb appeal.


6 17 18

This Week in Writing

As a writer (yes, Mr. Snarky-pants over there, I am a writer. I might not be great, but I do write. This posting. Every week or so, five hundred words delivered to you at no charge), I run into some odd things and do some odd things to further my craft. As a reader, you get all the benefits with none of the pain, except that incurred in reading, and hey, you can always stop reading. I'm the writer. I can't stop. It's in the contract. Next contract, I'm going to have a lawyer look at it. Like I can ever afford one of those.

Where was I? Oh, yes, writing. This week. An interesting week.

Going to class.

A while back (defn:: so long ago, there's no date on the computer file), I got the idea that I should write a memoir. Yes, about me. No, I'm not expecting anybody to read it either (can somebody get Mr. Snarky-pants out of here?). Then I got the idea that I should take a class since I don't know anything about writing memoirs, and want to know what rules I'll be breaking when I do my memoir. Outside of writing conferences (two in twenty years) I don't think I've ever taken a writing course.

The first class was Tuesday. We will be bringing in pieces to workshop (yes, to workshop is a verb. You really have to try to keep up). I had a draft of a couple of sections. It has not gotten off to a good start.

Now, when I say I had an idea (or in this case two), that does not mean that they were good ideas. If three of ten ideas pan out, it's been a good day (or week) These may not have been good ideas, insofar as I seem to be second-guessing them (defn: .saying uh-oh a lot). I'm not sure now what the idea was with writing a memoir, but it was probably word play, look back at old times, and maybe personal exploration. Dragging out another draft section of Life every other week for public consumption/criticism is not really necessary to reach the goal. Or desired, come to think of it. Oh, well. Live and learn. I wish I could say, hey, I can add that to the memoir! but there are already too many sections devoted to lessons (un)learned.

Written

One good piece of fallout from the class–in preparing for the class, I went rummaging around in the closet for a three-ring binder. I found one, containing twenty-six short short stories that I had written more or less around the turn of the millennium. I had been looking for a couple of them for a reading in August. There was nothing–NOTHING!– on the hard drive. I figured I had probably offloaded them to claw back some space. Really offloaded over 50 singles spaced pages into wherever. So having found the hard copies, I spent part of Friday cleaning out drawers, looking for backup CDs. I finally found one with a lot of the stories on it. I just have to go through and see if I'm missing any of the stories in electronic versions. Who knows? Maybe I'll find a couple more stories I had forgotten writing and didn't print.

I also found a dozen poems I wrote in college. My only defense is I was an English major in the early seventies. Look, we all make mistakes. None of us were thinking straight then. You won't be hearing about those ever again.

New Genres

When I first started hanging around writers, they would inevitably ask, What do you write? The answer they're looking for is usually some sort of subgenre, like urban fantasy or Amish romance or dystopian children's poetry. But I don't write in one genre. I write a lot of things, including this posting (is Mr. Smarty-pants still here? No? Good.) So I just ended up saying words. It was an unsatisfying answer for all concerned, but got me out of trouble or long, elaborate answers, which works out to the same thing.

If you write, you read. This morning, I was reading submission requirements for a new magazine. I've been thinking about submitting something or other for publication, and AOM seems like a good place to start. They're new, and the list of things they accept is huge. Plus, I'm probably overqualified, at least for the old man part, and probably the only person in the history of the website to make that joke.

Unfortunately, irony and sarcasm are not categories.

That's where I bumped into two new genres. The first is called asemic writing, the second flarf. They're technically not new (one is described as a movement of the early 21st Century), but are new to me. These guys would make Marcel Deschamps look like a straight arrow and a paragon of clarity and mainstreamosity. Or bring Devo into top-40 pop land. I always thought that readers were partially responsible for adding a certain sense and meaning to a story, adding their own unique perspective, but with asemic writing, everything in terms of sense-making is left to the reader. Senseless or just plain bad is the goal of flarf.

School of Flarf might make a pretty good title for a movie.



6 8 18

Revivals

sally jessyNo, not the broadway show (although the Tony Awards are this Sunday) kind of revival. Fashion trends, cultural trends. Stuff like that.

Specifically, I wonder if Big Red Frame Sally Jessy Raphael-style glasses will make a reappearance.

Also apropos, the May 20 Arts & Leisure section of the New York Times could have been subtitled the Time Machine. There were articles about disco musicals, how 90's songs speak to today, Dystopia, Apocalypse, Culture War: 2018 or 1968, and 2001: A Space Odyssey travels back in time,

On a totally related unrelated note, it's the fiftieth anniversary of 1968. I am not ready to deal with that. Judging from the lack of noise about 50 years ago today, I think a lot of my contemporaries aren't either.


Teacher of the Year

The local school announced that Mrs. Jones is the Teacher of the Year. So is this a good thing? Is teaching competitive? Do other teachers go to Mrs. Jones for tips and advice? Does Mrs. Jones get some sort of prize besides a designated parking space? What are the criteria? Does Mrs. Jones challenge students or is she easy and fun? So many questions, so few answers.

Short answer for me: this is not a good idea. Recognize good teachers. All good teachers. Let them teach.


Quote?

I have this written down. I have no idea who is responsible–maybe Tom Hart. At any rate I'm going to put it in quotations, 'cuz that seems like the right thing to do.

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



5 26 18

missed opportunity

I was sooooo looking forward to May 29 and being able to chide my sister for not posting to her blog page in over a year. But then, on Sunday, she added Arrested Development.

I'm soooo disappointed. Not in the post–that's good, you'll like it, you should read it. It's that I get so few opportunities to chide these days.

I hope we don't have to wait another year to see more good stuff, though.


Really?

The world's most trusted residential spaces.

advertisement/headline from the NYT Style magazine.

Frankly, I didn't know that trust was a measure for hotels. Who takes that measurement? What are the criteria? Personally, I trust my own residence a lot, and those of my neighbors and relatives. The electricity and plumbing work. It keeps the rain out. Those are measures of trust. But for a hotel? The ad continues that the chain stands for unparalleled metro locations, signature design, fair value, and attentive yet unobtrusive service. I'll give them that one. My neighbors are unobtrusive, but man, besides for Bobby, they totally lack that service component.


Say and Do

The current read is Seth Godin's The Icarus Deception. Basic Premise: We are all artists. Our society beats this out of us and makes us drones. We need to get back to artistry (all of us). Along the way we should do our art for us, measure what we do on our own terms, for a small audience, and don't listen to critics. He cites a number of successful artists who walked away because they weren't making art on their own terms any more.

I can generally buy that. However, the cover-flap biography gave me pause: Seth Godin is the author of fourteen international bestsellers... and one of the most popular business bloggers in the world. Some measures die hard.


Funny? Sad? Worrisome?

First, the coincidence. I was at a reading on Sunday, and someone mentioned The Picture of Dorian Gray. Hadn't thought about it in years. Then it made the PBS 100 favorite books. (Aside: I wonder how many of these titles are the film made the list, not the book made the list.)

Someplace along the line I thought, What if the person ages and the picture in the attic stays the same? It took me a couple of minutes see that there was a flaw in that plan.

It's OK. I can write nonfiction, too.



5 21 18

Clueless

What connects wine and pundits? Or pundits and normal consumer behavior?

Nothing, apparently.

Data Point 1: For years, computer pundits have been saying Apple prices are too high. People won't buy Apple products because they cost too much.

Funny, they never say people won't buy BMWs or Mercedes or Jaguars because they cost too much. Or fancy handbags. Or meals in restaurants with tablecloths, and/or $15 avocado toast on the menu.

Recently, the noise from the flapping faces has reached maximum decibeliosity with the iPhoneX. This verdict is everywhere, except in Apple sales, where iPhoneX sales are a significant portion of the mobile phone market.

Data Point 2: I went to a wine tasting the other night. Afterwards, I was chatting with shop owner, and I mentioned that I had just read that wine sales were down two percent that year (yes, I did homework). She said yes, true, but the low end wines were being hurt. Sales of more expensive wine were actually rising.

Data Point 3: Recently, H&M, the Swedish fast fashion retailer (read cheap), announced sales were down and they were having sales to clear out excess inventory. Seems people are buying better-made, more expensive clothing.

Data Point 4: Even in cell phones, sales are overall flat, but sales of cheap phones in China are down 22 percent year over year.

So to the pusillanimous pontificators of the pundit world, I say, Come into the 21st Century, flapping faces! Look around! See what's happening in the world! Make what you're saying match up with something that resembles reality! Be relevant! Do your homework! After all, I did (see two percent and 22 percent, above).

Totally irrelevant aside: Using Pusillanimous above made me think back to its most noted use. Who ever thought we might look back at Spiro Agnew as the golden age of political discourse? End aside.

Thank you.



5 13 18

Let's Google that.

Earlier this week, Google demonstrated a new product that purportedly could make intelligent phone calls that are indistinguishable from those made by humans. Everyone was all up in arms about what it all means, if we will be able to believe anything we hear, etc. etc. The usual handwaving, in short. Two observations:

  1. As John Gruber noted, it's interesting that Google chose to do a video presentation, not a live demonstration. That might mean nothing, but it might be nothing, too (that is, this is how we picture it working if we ever get around to doing some coding and making a workable prototype someday).
  2. Also interesting that natural human speech was duplicated by adding stops and starts, and a slight stammer. In short, by making mistakes.

I still think we're wasting too much time on artificial intelligence and should do more to fix natural stupidity.


5 6 18

A Story Lesson

The breakroom has a TV. During lunch a couple of days ago it was turned to one of those chattering chipmunk channels They were interviewing one of the Parkland students, snd askedWhat do you want (from the Federal Government)? She replied,To feel safe in school.

This is a wholly commendable goal. Perhaps we can make our schools safer for learning and students. Perhaps if we can make our schools safer, it can flow into the rest of our society.

It's at best a dream. We have never had safe schools. Exhibit A and B? Greg Marlowe and Michael Blum. They were the official grade bullies in grammar school. (Each grade had its own bullies.) Every day, most of us, I'm sure, went to school in dread of being noticed by Greg or Michael. I know I did.

I'm sure that survivors go to school each day with a heightened level of fear, and that this may carry over to other schools. But I'm equally sure that millions of students fear the possibility of a random shooter much less than they fear their Gregs and Michaels.

Solve bullies, solve Greg and Michael, and schools will be much safer and happier places for all of us. If you fix the Gregs and Michaels in grammar school, you probably go a long way toward fixing workplace harassment.

We''ll be bucking hundreds of years of tradition, but hey, it's worth the attempt.


Another headline

Most Americans Think Big Tech Should Be Regulated Like Big Banks

This was in the same news cycle as reports of Wells Fargo being fined $1 billion. Big tech probably would like that kind of wriggle room in regulation of their industry.


Making the story fit the way it is story we made up.

A story in the Washington Post was headlined Amazon-Whole Foods just claimed its first victims.

An aside: remember it's in the best interests of the Washington Post to keep the Amazon name in the news, as they share an owner (Jeff Bezos). End aside.

It's a nice story. Too bad it's not all true. In fact, I would think that a 450-store grocery chain being bought by a web-based company that struggles to turn a profit is a relatively minor factor in stores, even grocery stores, closing.

Selling groceries is traditionally a hard business. It has been since my father was a weekend butcher at a small family-owned grocery when I was a kid. It's been hard for hundreds, thousands of stores and chains that have gone under. It wasn't AmaWhoF that did them in. It was the same thing that is still doing in stores across the retail spectrum. Things like:

  • mismanagement
  • over/too rapid expansion
  • losing touch with customers
  • acquisitions/buyouts
  • capitalization
  • being bought by private venture firms who pass the debt off to the stores they just bought, and keep the real estate, forcing the stores to pay them rent.

I'm sure there are a lot that I'm missing, but if you dig a little more, often there's a whole host of problems that have nothing to do with AmaWhoF,

Another aside: Since I wrote this, Hasbro. announced its quarterly earnings. They missed guidance and expectations. Their reason? Not Amazon, not AmaWhoF, but the Toys 'R Us' bankruptcy. End aside.



4 21 18

Mistletoe Update

I saw some mistletoe in a branch and wondered how it became associated with Christmas.

No, I cannot lie to you nice people. I was already wondering about mistletoe. It just fell into my head unbidden. That's just weird. But maybe not for me.

Anyway, I knew you would like to know what I discovered. Mistletoe is poisonous–maybe. It is a parasite, but doesn't really harm the host tree. It has seeds.

the goddess Frigg

Kissing under the mistletoe has something to do with the goddess Frigg protecting or honoring her son. They didn't explain the association with kissing at Christmas. It may be more likely something to do with good luck and hospitality, or the Druids, who thought it provided fertility and protected from witchcraft. Hanging it in the doorway was a symbol of peace and good will. All nice, but still not explaining smooching under it at Christmas.

Friday was named after the goddess Frigg, if you thought the name sounded familiar. There is no reason, it seems.

Mistletoe was reintroduced by the Victorians, so who knows what they were thinking? They sort of invented our modern Christmas and maybe they just spun out of control. I was kind of hoping it would be something like it's winter and so we bring signs of life into the house, like the tree and mistletoe, but that's not it.

The only real take-away for me is to echo Dave Barry: Wouldn't 'The Goddess Frigg' be an incredible name for a rock band?


You're Doing It Wrong!

I hate those headlines. But it's fun to do one yourself.

Out there in the big world, there is something called ISO 8601, which sets up standards for representing time. That's where that YYYY-MM-DD format comes from. Also, the group dictates that Monday is the first day of the week. If that catches on, just think what it will do to Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses and other religious groups that have their services on the seventh day of the week because it's the seventh day of the week.

Some people have too much time on their hands. Next: ISO 564312: International Standards for breathing!


Headlines Again!

The headline:

Seven engines to avoid like the plague

Is one of them the Chevrolet Cliche?

Here's my headline: Seven cliches to avoid like... well, just avoid them, OK?

Does anybody even know what the plague is anymore, or why we should avoid it? Unless you're living in Madagascar, you haven't had a chance to experience (or avoid) bubonic plague (AKA the plague) since, oh, the mid 1800s. Cholera and yellow fever are on the decline, too.

Long story short–it's not the plague you should avoid–it's lazy writers and their lame cliches. Which you should avoid like puns.

See? It's not that hard.


Bet You Didn’t Know

On my way to looking up something else, I came across this, courtesy of Definitions.net. Don’t know what I’m going to do with it now, except share, ‘cuz it’s that good.

In Norse mythology the Swedish king Domar of the House of Ynglings was the son of Domalde. He was married to Drott the sister of Dan the Arrogant who gave his names to the Danes. Drott and Dan are in this work said to be the children of Danp son of Ríg. His rule lasted long and after the sacrifice of his father Domalde the crops were plentiful and peace reigned. Consequently, there is not much to tell about his reign and when he died at Uppsala he was transported over the Fyris Wolds and burnt on the banks of the river where a stone was raised over his ashes. He was succeeded by his son Dyggvi.



4 15 18

Glass Redux

Drink up!

You remember the old phrase, An optimist sees the glass as half-full, and the pessimist sees it as half-empty. (If you forgot it, well, there it is again. You're welcome for the reminder.) I made some comments a while back about extending it to other personality types. The cynic will say it's gone bad or it's undrinkable, a statistician will try to determine what percentage of glasses are in that condition, a control freak tries to limit access. A world-worrier reminds you how far a woman in Africa has to walk to get water for her family. A whiner says it's not cold enough. And a realist shrugs and drinks what's there. Wrote it and forgot it.

Recently, there's been a some follow-on. Odd the way you can forget about something, but then it pops up in two or three unrelated places at pretty much the same time.

Anyway: An engineer will contend that the glass is full, half with gases (and possibly other compounds) in a liquid state, the rest in a gaseous state, A pragmatist will point out that the glass is refillable. The nice people at Quiet Revolution pointed to an article about Stoics who reflect upon the something in the glass to drink.

All done. Time to forget until the next time.


Computer Security

So let me see if I've got this straight. Facebook is on the hot seat with the Feds for not taking enough care of its users' data and information. Apple, on the other hand, gets in trouble with the Feds and other law enforcement agencies for being too good at protecting user data and information.


They Said It

Fortunately, i never took her up on her advice (to get counseling).
If I had sought counseling, I might have become a more mature, emotionally well-adjusted human being. But I preferred becoming a writer.

Viet Tranh Nguyen



4 6 18

Enough with the Reading Already.

I've either got to stop reading, or be more discriminating in what I read. Once again, I bumped up against some gems:

  • Following an article about the Oklahoma teachers' strike and the governor's reaction, there were some sponsored posts, the lead of which was Become a Teacher.
  • I was looking at a request for proposal, in which the prospective Contractor was told, No alcohol, illegal drugs, domestic animals, firearms, explosives, or minors shall be brought to the site under any circumstances. So it's OK, I guess, to bring foreign animals. We shouldn't plan on that bring your kids to work day, though.
  • Voters divided ahead of Pennsylvania elections. Yeah, so? Voters are always divided before an election–sometimes more evenly than others. Voters will continue to be divided after the election, too.

Composers who should be more famous

OK, it was early and I hadn't fully checked in to life yet. The announcer said the next piece was by Geronimo Frescobaldi and my immediate thought was That's the coolest name in the history of classical music! Why haven't I heard of this guy before? The music was nice, too.

Turns out it was Girolamo, not Geronimo. Cool, but not way cool. Sad. For a few moments, I was interested in classical music. I'm not sure if that was a bigger deal than being fully awake in the morning, but an accomplishment nonetheless.


More wacky writing

An author used the word spiffy in an article, and he wasn't even trying to talk antique. But I got interested enough to see when spiffy was used un-ironically. I couldn't find that, but I did find out that spificated was a synonym for drunk. So there's that.


Making the right lifestyle choices.

I am not what you would call an active guy. My daily exercise routine consists of walking from the house to the car, and then back again. In my defense, that includes four or five stairs each way!

I have been criticized for my disinterest in healthy living. I don't care, but you can imagine my reaction when I read that 150 million users of a popular exercise app had their personal data stolen. On the one hand, it was a terrible thing. On the other hand, I can't imagine a nicer group of people to have this happen to. Especially the ones who criticized my fitness routine. Well, I have better things to do with my time. And now, money.


They Said It

Writing by hand on paper is becoming a revolutionary act. Reading a physical book is becoming a revolutionary act. Protecting the books in our libraries, the arts and humanities in our colleges and universities is becoming a revolutionary act. Doing things with warm hand to warm hand, face to face, without photographing them, posting them, is becoming a revolutionary act.

Lynda Barry


Apt 123


6 24 18

Ms. T displays a new fear.'
Mr. Nag talks about irrationality.

Fred the Flower


6 24 18

Fred can't sleep. Could it be too much coffee?

Fortnightly T-shirt

6 18 18

We all have some art in us. Let it out!