Camels for Christ

Our local Methodist Church is getting a bit inventive with their sign. I think the church sign is really an underappreciated form of speech. Some of them are quite entertaining, while others are just uninteresting. Obviously, the pastor or priest who comes up with each week's message is largely responsible for the wittiness or lack thereof, but I think there's a correlation between the liberalness of the individual church and the humor value of the signboard. Here's the pic:

It's a metaphor, folks. God cares, but he can't be bothered to clean up your shit, clear?

Went to a local candidate forum for the upcoming primary election here in Pennsylvania last night. What a fun event! I'm not being facetious at all, by the way. I enjoyed it from beginning to end. I won't bore you with all the details; suffice it to say that somewhere, there is a picture of 5th District Representative John Evans looking like he's ready to bite the head off a small animal. The cause of his ire? PA Clean Sweep, a statewide effort to unseat every incumbent in the Pennsylvania legislature.

This all started when the legislature voted itself a nice fat pay raise at an after-hours session, incidentally making the raise retroactive as well. This went over like a bowl full of dead kittens, and the raise was repealed within a few months. The question now is what individual legislators did with the extra money they'd received in the interim. Theresa Forcier, 6th District Rep. and local whack-job, took the money and gave it to charities that she then refused to reveal, on the apparent grounds that charities are embarrassed to get money from donations. Sounds likely to me.

Anyway, in his summation, Rep. Evans took the opportunity to slam PA Clean Sweep, quoting the leader of said organization as claiming he'd prefer anyone to an incumbent, even a liar or a thief. This didn't go over well with Carol Loll, one of his challengers and a member of Clean Sweep herself. She started off her summation by saying she was neither a thief, nor a liar. Evans defended himself, and there was a twitter of applause (for Loll, not Evans) from the audience, which had been strictly warned to remain passive and silent.

After everyone's summation--and another implied rebuke of Evans's attack--an older gentleman in the audience stood and said something like, "That was a low-down dirty thing to say, Evans!" Thankfully, this not being an event involving the President, the older gentleman was not tackled by a scrum of Secret Service agents. Instead, Evans fired back a crack about the man needing to turn up his hearing aid, which is certain to score him political points with the anti-old-people crowd.

That was the most entertainment for the evening, and I was very disappointed by the performance of some of the Democrats in attendance. Keith Abbot (Click here for a look at the local Democratic party website) stammered like a fifth-grader in front of an audience for the first time. I can sympathize, but it was still a sad sight. Jason White (also no website), Democratic candidate for the 5th District, was marginally better, but I think I heard him mutter "shit" once when he misspoke.

All of this makes Bug-Eyed Kitty think he may have a chance at winning public office; he is, after all, a five-time debate champ. Here he is, printing up some campaign letters--just as a hypothetical possibility, of course!

Just kidding! The BEK doesn't want to win an election! He wants to RULE THE WORLD! Bwa ha ha ha ha!

Elgar and Soup

My wife Lauren and I have frequented the Pittsburgh Symphony for several years now; each year, we purchase a subscription series, usually for 10 concerts (thought they've upped that to 14 for the '06-'07 season). They PSO is marvelous, one of the better orchestras in the United States. They are not considered part of the Big Five, but are perhaps in the top ten and are, at any rate, replete with virtuosity.

Sunday, we heard Edward Elgar's Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61, performed by Gil Shaham, a spectacular performance of an obviously difficult piece. I don't have the best ear for differentiating between the highest levels of instrumental excellence, as far as tone and color, but I thought Shaham's playing was exceptional, especially on the highest notes, where his tone was crystal clear, and his intonation flawless. The fast sections were many, and certainly challenging, but smoothly attacked. As often happens, this was the first time we'd heard this particular piece, and we both enjoyed it.

The second piece on the program was Gustav Holst's The Planets, perhaps one of the most famous symphonic compositions in history. Hearing a piece with which I am intimately familiar brought on a whole different listening experience. Now, I was able to judge the orchestra more objectively (as always, they exceeded my expectations), and discern the finer points of conductor Leonard Slatkin's interpretation of the work. Slatkin's choices were well-made, and I enjoyed the ending of Mars, where some conductors rush through the final, dramatic beats.

Aren't you feeling a little bit more educated now? I had no idea that there was such a great collection of classical links available on the great internet, but Google rarely disappoints.

After a tiring weekend, Bug-eyed Kitty had to spend his Monday morning filing:

Aren't you glad you didn't have to wade through that mess? Then again, maybe you did. You have my regrets if that was the case. By the way, today's Sam and Fuzzy is friggin' brilliant. If you don't already read this comic, start now. It is my favorite, and that should be good enough reason for you!

Christ! I almost forgot the whole soup reference there in the title! After the symphony, we went to eat at Pho Minh, your best bet for Vietnamese soup in Pittsburgh. The food is amazing, plentiful, and very inexpensive. It's BYOB, which is a plus, really, considering how much restaurants charge for booze. Seriously, if you live in Pittsburgh or visit it at all, check this place out. You'll like it.

Work on Saturday?!?

Yes, I do work on Saturday. Every third Saturday and Sunday, actually, with a few exceptions. This weekend is actually the first one I've worked in four weeks, which is a bit of luxury. On the other hand, that means that I'll have only next weekend off before I have to work another one, so there is a price to be paid.

Needless to say, this sort of thing tends to cut into plans, whatever they may be. Getting into the office at 7am on the weekend means that late Fridays and Saturdays either suck, or just aren't happening. It used to be worse, actually, when I had to be in the office by 6am. Urgh. On the plus side, we're only here until 11am, so it's not like you're losing the whole day; just the happy, sleepy part.

Anyway, have any of you ever been to Hong Kong? I'd really love to go there sometime. I've been to Burma, and to Thailand, but having watched more HK Cinema than is probably good for me, I would really love to visit. Plus, there's this:

Is that not one of the most incredible skylines you've ever seen? I love it. Just looking at it makes me feel excited to be there. Here's a few more cool Hong Kong pictures.

That's it for today!

Why Won't They Listen?

So, for anyone who doesn't know, I work for the Meadvill Tribune, in Meadville, PA. For more than four years, now, I've been in their Circulation Department, working on customer service. Of course, I have a few amusing stories to tell. But I'm guessing, since this web site is far from anonymous, that any specifics would be a bad idea.

This morning, I had a call from a customer who had not received her paper. I responded solicitously, but I think people actually call with a specific rant in mind. No matter what I say, these people are going to have their rant. It's not that I blame them, mind you. I mean, they don't have their paper; obviously, we screwed up somewhere, and we need to fix that. But listen to this conversation:
Customer: This is [redacted] at [redacted], and I didn't get a paper this morning!
Me: I'm very sorry about that, let me pull that up. [A moment's pause] Yes, I'm sorry, they must have missed you. I'll have a paper brought out to you.
Customer: I called my friend, and she already had her paper, so I know the man's been around. Can I get a paper brought out?
Me: Yes, that's what I just said.

OK, admitedly, putting this down on paper, as it were, it comes off sounding pretty innocuous, but I just wish people would actually listen to what I am saying. This is what I mean by the prepared rant.

I prepare rants when I call people who have irked me in some fashion. Like the credit card story from earlier this month; I was ready to spring into action with threats and shouting and whatnot, but I was immediately defused. The person on the other end complied with my request before I'd even finished making it. There are some people would have continued their rant anyway. These are the people who piss me off. They may have a legitimate complaint, but if I am working to solve whatever problem they are experiencing, can't they lay off already?

I'm sad to say it, but this kind of thing is going to be common on this blog, I think.

Could be worse, though. You could be stuck on the phone all morning, making vital calls, like the Bug-Eyed Kitty was:

Springy Sprungy Sprung

Thought I'd snap a picture of some flowering trees for you:

Not that it's a surprise, but spring is the best time of year in Meadville, in a lot of ways. Lots of flowers coming up, the long, dreary winter finally ending. Of course, it's likely we'll get another snowfall before the end of May, but it will be a brief cold snap. This winter was entirely unimpressive anyway; I did not get to ski even once, which is sad since I got new skis last winter.

Of course, winter is going to be less and less impressive as climate change continues. I've been hearing a lot of buzz about Al Gore's new movie, An Inconvenient Truth (Trailer). I also just watched the tail end of an episode of NOVA the other night, called Dimming the Sun, wherein various climate scientists reveal that global warming may have been significantly underestimated in its intensity, due to the cooling effect of particulate pollution in the atmosphere. A global average temperature rise of more than 5C, say these scientists, is quite likely in the next century, assuming we do nothing to attempt to slow or reverse the trend.

This means devastation on a global scale. Will the Earth be destroyed? Of course not. The issue is that humans and many (most) other species will have a much more difficult time living on this new, hot Earth.

What can we do? Not much, considering the current administration. If you like, you can read an interesting discussion on Metafilter about Al Gore's potential presidential bid in 2008: Click here and enjoy the liberal ranting.

In case you're wondering, today, the Bug-Eyed Kitty installed some new software on his computer; I swear, it's not a game!

It's tiring work, being the Bug-Eyed Kitty.

Real Estate

Well, as promised, I have a few pics from the other side of Meadville. This house is near the downtown area, obviously built as a large, single-family dwelling, now in a run-down part of town and split into apartments:

The architecture is pretty unique, actually. I'm not sure what the siding is, or how long it's been that way, but there are a lot of pretty little details on the building. For example:

In this window, you can see some of the leaded glass, which has more color than really shows up in this picture. This is obviously original to the house, and I'm a bit surprised that it's survived as long as it has. Unfortunately, the only reason it has survived is the lack of care that the landlord is putting into this building. Eventually, either the place will be torn down or someone will install new windows

This home is not in an area where someone might decide to put it back the way it was. On either side are more modern apartment homes, across the street are more homes converted into apartments (most of them in much worse shape than this one), and just down the block is the old Middle School, recently sold to be converted into apartments and retail space. There's just no reason, no logic, in restoring a home like this where it stands. And that means it won't ever happen.

Of course, I know it's financially impossible for all the homes like this in an area to be saved, because they are simply too big for most single families to sustain. There are a few homes this size in the city (several, actually) that are in good shape and still used as dwellings, and we're lucky we even have those. But it's still sad to see these noble homes fade away, replaced by ugly brick blocks or featureless whatevers.

Pretty Morning in Meadville

Walked to work this morning, feeling much better than yesterday. Not that I said there was anything wrong yesterday. Anyway, the sun was just starting to rise, and everything looked very pretty, especially with the 3/4 moon hanging in the sky above. Of course, as more of these clear, sunny days accumulate, we're going to have to start watering the garden, which is a chore I could do without.

Meadville is a town of contrasts. For example, take a look at this picture:

Pretty, isn't it? Maybe tomorrow I'll upload a pic of some of the dilapidated homes around the area. Meadville is known for its Tooling industry, and some of those companies still exist, like Channellock Tools, while others have moved on to other places, their Meadville plants shuttered (Talon, maker of the first zipper, is an example).

While unemployment has been hovering between 5% and 8% over the last few years (not great, but not awful), there are very few high-paying jobs in the area. Naturally, this was not always the case. Meadville has its share of mansions and expansive houses, some of which are still in decent shape; others have slowly fallen into disrepair. Many are now law offices or other businesses, while some have been converted into apartments.

All of this doesn't make Meadville much different from a thousand other towns in the United States, but we were ranked as one of the top hundred towns to live in by this website, presumably on the low cost of living. Of course, if you don't have a job, any cost of living is high cost of living!

As luck would have it, Bug-eyed Kitty has a job, and a good one at that. He has some trouble with the tape dispenser, however:

He's got no thumbs, dammit! How do you think you'd do with no thumbs?

I suck at blogging

Donít think thatís true? Itís been five days since my last entry! What the hell is up with that? Whatever. Hereís a link to the latest Maccabee, thrillingly titled The Release of Death. You like that? Well, wait until you read it! It's friggin cool, if I do say so myself.

This is the penultimate Maccabee, at least as far as Season Two is concerned. I have some thoughts about what's coming next for the website here. First off, of course, I will continue to be a sometime-blogger in this very space. I do have ideas for Maccabee's third season percolating in my head, but they are on the back burner for a little while. Look for me to post a bit of my un-named Swordsman project, though the whole thing is not destined for this part of the world. I'm trying to sell this sucker! Or I will be, when it's actually finished. That brings me back to the fact that Maccabee will be going on hiatus while I hammer away at this other project.

What then is anyone's guess. I'll keep you posted. Until then, enjoy some Scary go Round, truly one of the most awesome web comics out there, consistently weird, consistently funny! And read more Maccabee!

Credit Scam

So, I got my most recent credit card bill today. Nothing particularly surprising about that, except that my last payment was a few days late. So, what do I find here but a $39 late fee and $22 in finance charges! Well, thatís not much in the way of surprises either. I made a quick call to my credit card company, and before I could even finish asking, the friendly customer service rep on the other end of the line waived those fees for me. Total time on the phone: four minutes, three seconds. Easy work for $61 dollars.

Now, Iím not saying that the credit card company was technically outside its rights to charge me these fees (though they are terribly steep, all things considered). But theyíre obviously not concerned about waiving those fees if it means good customer service. As for all those poor saps who are too embarrassed or nervous or just plain stubborn to call, well, they get hammered with those fees.

A simple game to play at this point: letís say for the sake of convenience that my credit card company (one owned by a large conglomerate) has a mere ten million customers. I donít think thatís too far-fetched, considering that there are 300 million Americans, and it seems like almost all of them have credit cards.

Now, take those ten million. Perhaps one in a hundred will miss a payment by a few days and be charged these fees, $61 dollars a pop. Obviously the finance charges will be different, but I bet Iím on the low end of total dollar figures, so weíll go with my number as a reasonable average. So, ten thousand customers makes $610,000 for that month alone. A pretty penny.

Of course, there are those customers who canít or donít pay, forcing the credit card company to (temporarily) eat some losses, but I imagine these fees make a tidy profit, particularly, as we well know, when the finance charges keep rolling over from month to month.

These guys give predators a good name. Just remember to call if you ever get a charge on your card.

Printer Maintenance Day

Today was Printer Maintenance Day, in case you didnít know. Celebrations usually include lots of toner cocktails and paper cuts. Our service contract (no names will be named here, by the way) gets us phone service, apparently, and nothing else.

Not only do we not qualify for office visits, but we have to do our own maintenance, installing new rollers and a new fuser for the printer. And we have to buy the stinkiní kit, too, for several hundred dollars. What exactly are we paying for? Apparently to have curmudgeonly service folk shout at us.

On the plus side, I have more Bug-eyed Kitty Adventures for you!

Bug-eyed Kitty is one cool dude

Rock on, mister Bug-eyed Kitty. Rock on.

Bug-eyed Kitty Makes his First Appearance

Time for you all to meet the Bug-eyed Kitty. He is my friendly mascot, sitting on my desk at work and telling me, in his soft, gentle voice, that the world is not as bad as it seems, that the idiots on the phone are people too, and that I should water my plant.

That's important. I don't know how often I'll be bringing you the Adventures of Bug-eyed Kitty, but I imagine it'll be pretty frequent. Just one of the benefits of coming here, to Electron Glutton. Your source for all that is wonderful in the world.

Bug-eyed Kitty wanders through the teaming hell-hole jungles

Meadville Weather

So, last week was a perfect example of just how variable the weather in Meadville can be, especially in the spring, when we're jumping around from warm to cold, wet to dry, cloudy to sunny. I like to walk to work whenever I can, so here's a series of pics of one of our local churches over the course of just four days:





Pretty amazing, eh? The temperature variation wasn't quite as exciting.

By the way, these pics were taken using my new Motorola RAZR phone, on Verizon, which is frustratingly crippled in regards to its bluetooth and file transfer ability. When I take one of these pics, I have to upload it to Verizon's picture service (PIX Place), download it from there to my PC, then upload it to my web server. Anyone who knows an easier way to do this (understanding that Bluetooth on this phone has been, apparently, crippled, it does not allow USB file transfers, and I don't think I can e-mail files from the phone to my PC), I'd love to hear from you: E-mail me here