Omir the Storyteller

Stories. Music. Politics. Technology. Baseball. Friends. Family. Potrzebie.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Internet is a very weird place


Sometimes, though, you have to be reminded of just how weird. For instance, as a guy, I knew girls were evil, but until just now I didn't have proof.

I found that proof, by the way, through an interesting site called StumbleUpon. It's a . . . well, it's a little hard to describe. You choose things that interest you from a menu, they give you sites that fit your category, and then you rate them as "I like it!" or "Not-for-me" with a simple TiVo-esque thumbs up or thumbs down interface. All I can say is, check it out. I get no money from this; I just like it.

I get no money from the ads to the right either, apparently. I've had Google Ads up for over a month now and have made a grand total of 46 cents. Alert the media.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Howard Dean, the Lightning Rod


I've been doing a bit of thinking about Howard Dean's latest comments about Republicans. You know the ones: how they're the party of white Christians. How he hates everything they stand for. Stuff like that. Apparently, so has the press. The other day about sixty of them crowded into Harry Reid's office (meant to hold about 20 people). Did they want to talk about jobs? Healthcare? Iraq? Social Security? Any other issue of importance to Democrats? Nope. They wanted to talk about Howard Dean. (I'm not sure what to make of the fact that the article I linked to is from the Washington Post's entertainment section.)

Let's, as a famous presidential crook once said, make this perfectly clear. Howard Dean is no longer running for anything. Howard Dean is running something; namely, the fundraising apparatus of the Democratic Party. That's his primary job. He doesn't set policy. He doesn't draft legislation. He just raises the money for the people who do. Oh, and he gets to be a lightning rod. He reminds me of this little poem:

I'm not the one who runs the train
The whistle I can't blow
I'm not allowed to designate
How far the train will go.

I never get to blow the steam
Or even ring the bell,
But let the darn thing jump the tracks
And see who catches hell!

And actually, that's OK for several reasons.

First, like I said, Dean raises money. In the recent past the Democratic party's primary source of funds has been large donors. This is not a Good Thing, because then the party becomes the party of the Large Donors. Dean's focus is to turn the party back into a party of the people. Now, would you think that making comments about the Republican party would polarize people and turn them away from Dean? You might, but you'd be wrong. In fact Democratic fundraising is ahead of where it was four years ago at this time. There could be a number of reasons why that is; but whatever the reasons, Howard Dean is certainly not hurting the Democratic Party by this statements.

Second, like I said above, Dean isn't running for anything. So fine. Let them attack him. The Republicans' success has been to stay on message, whatever their message happens to be at the time. By attacking Howard Dean, they are going off their message. And I can't help but think that's a good thing.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Nature Can Be So Entertaining


So I'm sitting at my computer this morning, getting ready for the day, when I hear a scrabbling sound at the window. I look up and there, sitting in the lower right hand corner of the window that looks out of the office onto the patio, is this squirrel.

Now I have nothing against squirrels, really I don't, except that they are destructive little rodents. I'm happy enough to have them as part of the urban landscape, as long as they aren't destroying the house.

I watch this squirrel for a minute. It's plainly obvious what's going on; he's trying to get to the bird feeder stuck in the middle of the other half of the window. I just filled it yesterday, and it's got to be a tempting target for Rocky and his friends.

Well, the squirrel goes away, but I know he hasn't given up. A squirrel's thought processes are not all that complicated, and can be programmed something like this:

if it_is_going to eat me():
if it_looks_like_it_is_going_to_eat_me():
if it_looks_edible():
if it_looks_like_i_can_chew_on_it():

I finish reading the mail and am about to go see if my granddaughter is ready for school yet, when I hear a thump at the window. I turn, watch, and there's another thump accompanied by the sight of this squirrel. I don't know what he's using for a launching pad, but he's trying to jump up to the bird feeder, and missing it by a good six inches. This is amusing, but I have to go check on school progress.

At about five minutes until time to leave for school I realize the light is on in the office, so I go to shut it off, and the parasol over the table on the deck is shuddering. I go to investigate, and there's Rocky again, chewing the edge of the parasol, which is obviously blocking his route to the birdseed. I rattle the blinds on the window and he goes away, but I see him not long after. He's on the railing on the back on the deck, and his tail is twitching to beat the band. He is obviously not happy about something. I think that something might be me. I certainly hope so, in fact.

The final act in this little drawn-out drama occurs as the granddaughter and I are on our way out the door. Who should we meet up with but this fuzzy, long-haired black cat who lives somewhere nearby. This cat is an old friend who occasionally thinks she has the right to go into our house, a thought we must occasionally disabuse her of. (I will not try to diagram out a cat's thought processes; it would take several volumes of closely-spaced obfuscated C code and most likely drive me over the edge of insanity.) Today we're just fine with her wandering around the deck, sniffing as she goes. I know she can smell the squirrel, and hope she can stick around. Just long enough for me to put a little Tobasco sauce on the edge of the parasol when I get home tonight.

Maybe some cat food is in order. Or maybe I'll put out some corn on the driveway to encourage the squirrels to stay off the deck. Like I said, I don't mind having the squirrels around as long as they're not destroying something. Trouble is, they never seem to be not destroying something. It is the Way of the Rodent.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

I've died and gone to radio heaven


The other day I said some rather unkind things about radio in the United States. I meant them, too. So just now I was wandering around one of the Internets, looking for interesting stuff to waste time on and trying to find a station that would play My Word and My Music (a couple of highbrow quiz shows from the BBC) when I stumbled across the wonderful Public Radio Fan site.

It appears that some dedicated soul named Kevin Kelly has gone to the work of putting together a database of what's playing on streaming audio. Not just right now, but 24/7. Not just right here in the US, not just in North America, but all over the world. He has listings for the BBC, the CBC, for Deutsche Welle and Czech Radio and the Voice of Turkey which I haven't heard in about 30 years. I found a listing for ABC DIG radio, and wondered if Disney Internet Group (Disney owns the American Broadcasting Company here in the US) had finally gone into internet audio, only to find that it's a program put on by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

You can sort by music and non-music programs. You can sort by country. You can sort by language. You can sort by type of stream, for heaven's sake, so if you only want to listen to stations streaming in the Ogg format you can do that. He even has listings for podcasts.

Imagine a radio tuner using this database as a back end. You could listen in to your favorite show, or if you're bored you could see what's on the dial. I'm imagining it right now. It doesn't yet exist to the best of my knowledge, so I think I may have to write it.

If only I can find a way to link in the Mariners broadcasts I stream from Major League Baseball's site, it would be perfect. As it is I may never watch television again.

Where Strawberries Came From


Way back in the Beginning, the Creator created the first man, and he created the first woman.

Now the story of how and why He created the first man and the first woman is a good story, and one well worth telling; but it is not the story I am going to tell today. No, I am going to tell a story of what happened afterward.

The first man and the first woman lived in a beautiful garden. Of course the world was new to them, just as they were new to the world, so they spent their days learning about the world they had come into, and they spent their nights learning about each other. And for a very long time, they got along perfectly well and never fought or disagreed.

But, you know how men are, and you know how women are. One day the first man said something he should not have, and the first woman did not like it, so she said something she should not have, and they got into an argument. The argument turned into a verbal fight, and eventually the first man said something that hurt the first woman greatly, and she turned and walked away from him.

The noise of this argument reached the Creator, and so He asked one of His angels to go down to Earth to see what the noise was all about.

The angel went to the first man, and asked him what had happened. For a long time the first man said nothing; but at last he said, through his tears, "I fear I have done a great evil. I have said things I should not have, and I have made my wife angry, and now she is gone from me."

"What would you do now?" asked the angel.

"I would apologize to her," the first man said. "I would make amends."

The angel waited for a moment to see if the first man had anything else to say.

Finally he added, "And I would never say such things to her again."

That was what the angel wanted to hear. So he went to find the first woman.

The first woman was still angry. Now perhaps you have noticed that sometimes when a woman is angry, she will begin to walk away, and she will walk very fast. This goes all the way back to the first woman, and that is exactly what the first woman was doing. She was walking away from her home, and she was walking very fast. So fast, in fact, that though the angel tried to stop her to speak to her, she would not stop, but just kept walking.

The angel returned to the first man. "She is walking away toward the east," he told the first man.

The first man got up from where he sat. "Then I must catch up with her," he said. "I must apologize, and I must tell her I love her, and that I will never do such a thing again."

"She is walking very fast," the angel said.

"Then I must go now." And the first man set off to find the first woman.

The angel saw that the first man was also walking very quickly, but he was not quite as fast as the first woman, and she showed no signs of stopping or slowing down, so the angel decided the first man could use some help. So, the angel returned to where the first woman was walking. The angel had the power to cause the plants to flower, and for those that bear fruit to do so; and that is what he did. As the first woman walked quickly along the path, flowers bloomed all around her. The magnolia, and the dogwood, and the honeysuckle and the rose and the daisy; they all bloomed around her, and the angel hoped that the first woman would stop and smell the flowers, and perhaps the edge would wear off her anger, and thus the first man could catch up to her.

But the first woman's anger was fierce, and she did not stop or slow down.

Then the angel caused the fruit trees to bloom; the pear, and the apricot, and the orange and the peach. And he hoped that the first woman would grow hungry, and stop to eat, and thus the first man would be able to catch up to her.

But still she was angry, and still she continued to walk.

Then the angel caused the berry bushes along the path to bloom; the blueberries, and the huckleberries, and the blackberries and raspberries; but still the first woman walked on.

So the angel went back to the Creator, and reported on the things he had seen and done. "I have reached the limits of what I can do," the angel said. "I have failed."

"No, you have done well," said the Creator. "I just think this situation needs something extra. Something new."

So the Creator went down to earth. Now the angel could do many remarkable things, but he could not create anything new, and the Creator felt this situation called for something new to be created in the world. So he went to the path, where the woman was still walking very quickly, and he caused a new type of berry to grow, and flower, and ripen into fruit the shape and color of a heart. Now the first woman had seen the flowers before; she had seen the fruits of the trees before, and she had seen the other berries before; but this new berry was something new, and its sweet scent reached up to her. The edge came off her anger, and she stopped, and she picked some of these new berries, and began to eat them. And soon enough the first man caught up with her, and they sat and talked, and he apologized for the harsh words he had said to her, and promised never again to be unkind to her. And together they shared this new kind of berry.

This new berry the Creator had created was of course the strawberry. The Creator made it in the shape of a heart, and He made it sweeter than the other berries, to remind us that love is the most important thing in our lives, and sweet above all else.

About Where Strawberries Came From


My house has no yard to speak of. We like it that way, because none of us particularly likes yard work. We have a garden of sorts, though; scattered around the deck in the back are several planters, some of which grow things like chives and the sage we use for our Thanksgiving stufing every year, and some of which grow flowers. They haven't really started in yet this year, but from the window in my office I can look out onto the deck and see a planter, conveniently placed at eye level, which when the flowers are all in bloom is a riot of pansies, and peonies, and marigolds and a couple other flowers I can never remember the names of.

And down beneath the stand that that planter sits on, are two planters, each about four square feet, full of strawberry plants. The strawberries are flowering right now, but soon enough they will turn into fruit, and we'll get to watch as the fruit goes from green to red, and grows and ripens . . .

and then the crows will start eating them. They're mad at us, you know, because we have a little bird feeder attached to the office window that's just big enough for the swallows that frequent the house to perch on and eat from, but small enough that the crows can't get into it. (Don't ask me about the squirrels. They're kind of a sore subject. I haven't yet figured out how they get into this planter, six feet off the ground attached by suction cups to a window; but once or twice a year I'll see one of them in the bird feeder.) So the crows retaliate by getting into the strawberries. Last year we managed to harvest about four or five berries ourselves, and they were very good strawberries; maybe this year we'll get a few more. Here's hoping.

There's a number of stories about strawberries. Perhaps the most famous in the grand scheme of things is this Zen koan about living in the moment:

A monk was being chased by a tiger. He was fast approaching a cliff, but having no choice other than to be eaten by the tiger, he jumped over the cliff, not knowing what was below.

As he jumped he saw a vine down the side of the cliff, so he grabbed onto it as he went by. There he clung, gasping for breath, and he looked below him to see a ravine full of sharp rocks. If he let go of the vine he would surely fall to his death.

So there, with the tiger above and the rocks below, he noticed that two mice were gnawing at the vine, and would soon have it gnawed through, sending him crashing onto the rocks anyway. As he followed the vine, he noticed a strawberry blooming on the vine, just within his reach. He reached up, picked the strawberry, and ate it. How sweet the strawberry was!

So today you get two strawberry stories for the price of one.

Once again my memory fails me. I heard this story a couple of weeks ago on Global Griot, and I can't remember now who told it. If I can find the teller I heard it from I'll be glad to give her credit. She did, after all, create a beautiful story.

Thank you for coming by! I hope you enjoyed the story (and the strawberries), and as always, cheers to all of you and good stories to you until we meet again.