Separated At Birth?

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 9:10 am

Just a quick note. I don’t know how I could have missed this over the years, but since Margaret and I exchanged a few Doonesbury books this Xmas, I had occasion to steep myself in Doonesbury for a while and this thought finally percolated in.

Have you ever noticed the eerie similarity between Marcie (of Peanuts fame) and Honey Huan of Doonesbury?

Marcie Honey Huan

How progressive of Marcie’s parents to adopt an Asian baby way back in 50’s. I wonder if they ever told her she has a sister.


‘Twas The Day After Christmas….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:06 pm

Well, I hope everyone had themselves a nice Xmas holiday. Margaret and I got up around 10, fed the cats, opened our prezzies and went off to her parents’ place in Bellevue to stuff our phizzes in the company of her family. Not bad, all around. I really wish we could have made it to my folks’ house in Hawaii this year because it was the first time in a while that my brother and sister-in-law were able to visit from Southern California. That would have been fun.

I’m still trying to figure out what Christmas means to me in my long, protracted post-adolescence. Probably like many of you without children, there doesn’t seem to be much magic in the season any more. It’s a time for relaxation (if you can get away with it), for visiting with friends and family, and for joyful gluttony with no thought to the enduring consequences, and that’s all great stuff. But the last time I can remember being really excited about Christmas was probably the second one I spent with Margaret, where the anticipation of giving was still very fresh. Obviously, I still enjoy getting presents for her (and others), and I enjoy receiving gifts as well, but the breathless anticipation, the lying awake at night, the power of it all, seems to be gone.

I’m not complaining, really I’m not. Plenty of things change as you get older, and this would seem to be one of them. I just think it’s interesting.

The missing ingredient is, of course, the children. I don’t have the sense of wonder of a child any more, and since we neither have children nor spend the holiday with poeple who do, we don’t get to experience the side-effects of breathing in some other child’s second-hand excitement. This, to me, is something of a mixed bag. While I love my own nieces and nephews and cherish many of our friends’ children as well (I’ve mentioned this before), tragically I was born with the “paternal instinct” switch in my brain turned off, possibly even turned off and glued shut. To me, kids are like any other form of motion-oriented entertainment such as television; as soon as they stop being entertaining, I want to change the channel or leave the room…at least hit the “Mute” button. There’s really no place in my life or my worldview for children of my own.

It’s kind of ironic that the thing I think is most missing from my Christmas holiday would be a byproduct of something I feel the rest of my life in no way requires. Oh, well; I suppose I’ll have to try to fill the gap with social interaction, crass materialism and decadent overconsumption. Poor ol’ me. 😉


Step 1, Private Contractors In Iraq….Step 2….Step 3, Profit

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:35 pm

Heard this one on Marketplace today: commercial contracting firm Contrack International has decided to suspend its operations in Iraq, citing concern for the safety of its employees and the excessive cost of maintaining necessary security.

The primary job for which this company contracted with the US government to perform in Iraq was…..may I have a drumroll please…..rebuilding the roads.

Does anyone besides me think that civilians patching potholes in a region known for roadside bombs might not be the greatest idea?

Um, I know it’s supposed to be more efficient and fiscally responsible and Republican and all for the government to contract non-essential jobs out to private companies, but doesn’t the Army have a special Corps of, like, Engineers, to do this sort of thing in war zones? Guys who not only have the tools and the training to build roads, bridges, stuff like that, but also have guns, mortars and rockets and the training to use them?

What the hell are these companies doing in the heart of a war anyway? Even if I accept the idea that a private company can do a job more economically than the US government (which, by the way, I do not), I really feel that there are certain situations where no one but soliders should be allowed. Incredibly dangerous occupied territories, where soldiers and civilians die almost every day, would seem to be one of those situations.

Contrack claims that the cost of security alone was adding 60% to the bill for their services. If there’s a job that no one but trained personnel from a particular organization can perform, why can’t the US military provide security?

I have trouble believing that private firms can provide armed escorts for employees in the field cheaper than Uncle Sam can. Not given the abysmal wages our troops receive.



Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 3:31 pm

I had to do a bit of soul-searching before I posted this entry, because the story contained herein is not my own, nor do I have permission from the author to reproduce it. I decided that I would go ahead and do so because a) my readership is freakishly small, reducing the act to the level of reading the story aloud in someone’s living room; and b) because I really, really wanted to.

As more than a few friends and family members have no doubt noticed, I have something of a black streak running through me. I tend to like dark, creepy films, dark, creepy music and dark, creepy video games. Not to the exclusion of everything else, certainly, but if placed before a table upon which sat both an an adorable, fluffy bunny and a three-headed, bat-winged vampire toad, I’d inevitably gravitate towards the toad. Even more so if it ate the bunny.

That having been said, I love dark Christmas tales. My very favorite of all time is The Santaland Diaries, the story of writer David Sedaris’ experience working as an elf in the Macy’s Santaland display. The story that follows comes in a close second.

This story is by Donald Westlake, and was originally published in the January 1964 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, under the pseudonym Curt Clark. As far as I know, it is available now only as part of a collection of stories by Harlan Ellison called Slippage, which is a wonderful read if you are of the three-headed bat-winged vampire toad persuasion.

I offer the story here solely because I think it is a wonderful take on the mythology of Christmas. Should Donald Westlake, his agent(s), publisher(s), or any other legal representative(s) thereof contact me and tell me to take it down, I will do so with no hesitation. Until then, enjoy!


A short story by Donald Westlake, writing as Curt Clark.
Used without permission.

Did God create men, or does Man create gods? I don’t know, and if it hadn’t been for my rotten brother-in-law, the question would never have come up. My late brother-in-law? Nackles knows.

It all depends, you see, like the chicken and the egg, on which came first. Did God exist before Man first thought of Him, or didn’t He? If not, if Man creates his gods, then it follows that Man must create the devils, too.

Nearly every god, you know, has his corresponding devil. Good and Evil. the polytheistic ancients, prolific in the creation (?) of gods and goddesses, always worked up nearly enough Evil ones to cancel out the Good, but not quite. The Greeks, those incredible supermen, combined Good and Evil in each of their gods. In Zoroaster, Ahura Mazda, being Good, is ranged forever against the Evil one, Ahriman. And we ourselves know God and Satan.

But of course it’s entirely possible I have nothing to worry about. It all depends on whether Santa is or is not a god. He certainly seems like a god. Consider: He is omniscient; he knows every action of every child, for good or evil. At least on Christmas Eve he is omnipresent, everywhere at once. He administers justice tempered with mercy. He is superhuman, or at least non-human, though conceived of as having a human shape. He is aided by a corps of assistants who do not have completely human shapes. He rewards Good and punishes Evil, And, most important, he is believed in utterly be several million people, most of them under the age of ten. Is there any qualification of godhood that Santa Claus does not possess?

And even the non-believers give him lip-service. He has surely taken over Christmas; his effigy is everywhere, but where are the manger and the Christ child? Retired rather forlornly to the nave. (Santa’s power is growing, too. Slowly but surely he is usurping Chanukah as well.)

Santa Claus is a god. He’s no less a god that Ahura Mazda, or Odin, or Zeus. Think of the white beard, the chariot pulled through the air by a breed of animal which doesn’t ordinarily fly, the prayers (requests for gifts) which are annually mailed to him and which so baffle the Post Office, the specially garbed priests in all the department stores. And don’t gods reflect their creators’ (?) society? The Greeks had a huntress goddess, and gods of agriculture and war and love. What else would we have but a god of giving, of merchandising, and of consumption? Secondary gods of earlier times have been stout, but surely Santa Claus is the first fat primary god.

And wherever there’s a god mustn’t there sooner or later be a devil?

Which brings me back to my brother-in-law, who’s to blame for whatever happens now. My brother-in-law Frank is—or was—a very mean and nasty man. Why I ever let him marry my sister I’ll never know. Why Susie wanted to marry him is an even greater mystery. I could just shrug and say Love Is Blind, I suppose, but that wouldn’t explain how she fell in love with him in the first place.

Frank is—Frank was—I just don’t know which tense to use. The present, hopefully. Frank is a very handsome man in his way, big and brawny, full of vitality. A football player; hero in college and defensive linebacker for three years in pro ball, till he did some sort of irreparable damage to his left knee, which gave him a limp and forced him to find some other way to make a living.

Ex-football players tend to become insurance salesmen, I don’t know why. Frank followed the form, and became an insurance salesman. Because Susie was then a secretary for the same company, they soon became acquainted.

Was Susie dazzled by the ex-hero, so big and handsome? She’s never been the type to dazzle easily, but we can never fully know what goes on in the mind of another human being. For whatever reason, she decided she was in love with him.

So they were married, and five weeks later he gave her her first black eye. And the last, though it mightn’t have been, since Susie tried to keep me from finding out. I was to go over for dinner that night, but at eleven in the morning she called the auto showroom where I work, to tell me she had a headache and we’d have to postpone the dinner. But she sounded so upset that I knew immediately something was wrong, so I took a demonstration car and drove over, and when she opened the front door there was the shiner.

I got the story out of her in fits and starts. Frank, it seemed, had a terrible temper. She wanted to excuse him because he was forced to be an insurance salesman when he really wanted to be out there on the gridiron again, but I want to be President and I’m an automobile salesman and I don’t go around giving women black eyes. So I decided it was up to me to let Frank know he wasn’t going to vent his pique on my sister any more.

Unfortunately, I am five feet seven inches tall and weigh one hundred thirty-four pounds, with the Sunday Times under my arm. Were I just to give Frank a piece of my mind, he’d surely give me a black eye to go with my sister’s. Therefore, that afternoon I bought a regulation baseball bat, and carried it with me when I went to see Frank that night.

He opened the door himself and snarled, “What do you want?”

In answer, I poked him with the end of the bat, just above the belt, to knock the wind out of him. Then, having unethically gained the upper hand, I clouted him five or six times more, then stood over him to say, “The next time you hit my sister I won’t let you off so easy.” After which I took Susie over to my place for dinner.

And after which I was Frank’s best friend.

People like that are so impossible to understand. Until the baseball bat episode, Frank had nothing for me but undisguised contempt. But once I’d knocked the stuffing out of him, he was my comrade for life. And I’m sure it was sincere; he would have given me the shirt off his back, had I wanted it, which I didn’t.

(Also, by the way, he never hit Susie again. He still had the bad temper, but he took it out in throwing furniture out windows or punching dents in walls or going downtown to start a brawl in some bar. I offered to train him out of maltreating the house and furniture as I had trained him out of maltreating his wife, but Susie said no, that Frank had to let off steam and it would be worse if he was forced to bottle it all up inside him, so the baseball bat remained in retirement.)

Then came the children, three of them in as many years. Frank Junior came first, then Linda Joyce, and finally Stewart. Susie had held the forlorn hope that fatherhood would settle Frank to some extent, but quite the reverse was true. Shrieking babies, smelly diapers, disrupted sleep, and distracted wives are trials and tribulations to any man, but to Rank they were—like everything else in his life—the last straw.

He became, in a word, worse. Susie restrained him I don’t know how often from doing some severe damage to a squalling infant, and as the children grew toward the age of reason Frank’s expressed attitude toward them was that their best move would be to find a way to become invisible. The children. of course, didn’t like him very much, but then who did?

Last Christmas was when it started. Junior was six then, and Linda Joyce five, and Stewart four, so all were old enough to have heard of Santa Claus and still young enough to believe in him. Along around October, when the Christmas season was beginning, Frank began to use Santa Claus’ displeasure as a weapon to keep the children “in line,” his phrase for keeping them mute and immobile and terrified. Many parents, of course, try to enforce obedience the same way: “If you’re bad, Santa Claus won’t bring you any presents.” Which, all things considered, is a negative and passive sort of punishment, wishy-washy in comparison with fire and brimstone and such. In the old days, Santa Claus would treat bad children more scornfully, leaving a lump of coal in their stockings in lieu of presents, but I suppose the Depression helped to change that. There are times and situation when a lump of coal is nothing to sneer at.

In any case, an absence of presents was too weak a punishment for Frank’s purposes, so last Christmastime he invented Nackles.

Who is Nackles? Nackles is to Santa Claus what Satan is to God, what Ahriman is to Ahura Mazda, what the North Wind is to the South Wind. Nackles is the new Evil.

I think Frank really enjoyed creating Nackles; he gave so much thought to the details of him. According to Frank, and as I remember it, this is Nackles: Very very tall and very very thin. Dressed all in black, with a gaunt gray face and deep black eyes. He travels through an intricate series of tunnels under the earth, in a black chariot on rails, pulled by an octet of dead-white goats.

And what does Nackles do? Nackles lives on the flesh of little boys and girls. (This is what Frank was telling his children; can you believe it?) Nackles roams back and forth under the earth, in his dark tunnels darker than subway tunnels, pulled by the eight dead-white goats, and he searches for little boys and girls to stuff into his big black sack and carry away and eat. But Santa Claus won’t let him have the good boys and girls. Santa Claus is stronger than Nackles, and keeps a protective shield around little children, so Nackles can’t get at them.

But when little children are bad, it hurts Santa Claus, and weakens the shield Santa Claus has placed around them, and if they keep on being bad pretty soon there’s no shield left at all, and on Christmas Eve instead of Santa Claus coming out of the sky with his bag of presents Nackles comes up out of the ground with his bag of emptiness, and stuffs the bad children in, and whisks them away to his dark tunnels and the eight dead-white goats.

Frank was proud of his invention, actually proud of it. He not only used Nackles to threaten his children every time they had the temerity to come within range of his vision, he also spread the story around to others. He told me, and his neighbors, and people in bars, and people he went to see in his job as an insurance salesman. I don’t know how many people he told about Nackles, though I would guess it was well over a hundred. And there’s more than one Frank in this world; he told me from time to time of a client or neighbor or bar-crony who had heard the story of Nackles and then said, “By God, that’s great. That’s what I’ve been needing, to keep my brats in line.”

Thus Nackles was created, and thus Nackles was promulgated. And would any of the unfortunate children thus introduced to Nackles believe in this Evil Being any less than they believed in Santa Claus? Of course not.

This all happened, as I say, last Christmastime. Frank invented Nackles, used him to further intimidate the children and spread the story of him to everyone he met. On Christmas Day last year I’m sure there was more than one child who was relieved and somewhat surprised to awaken the same as usual, in his own trundle bed, and to find the presents downstairs beneath the tree, proving that Nackles had been kept away yet another year.

Nackles lay dormant, so far as Frank was concerned, from December 25th of last year until this October. Then, with the sights and sounds of Christmas again in the land, back came Nackles, as fresh and vicious as ever. “Don’t expect me to stop him!” Frank would shout. “When he comes up out of the ground the night before Christmas to carry you away in his bag, don’t expect any help from me!

It was worse this year than last. Frank wasn’t doing well financially as he’d expected, and then early in November Susie discovered she was pregnant again, and what with one thing and another Frank was headed for a real peak of ill-temper. He screamed at the children constantly, and the name of Nackles was never far from his tongue.

Susie did what she could to counteract Frank’s bad influence, but he wouldn’t let her do much. All through November and December he was home more and more of the time, because the Christmas season is the wrong time to sell insurance anyway and also because he was hating the job more every day and thus giving it less of his time. The more he hated the job, the worse his temper became, and the more he drank, and the worse his limp got, and the louder were his shouts, and and the more violent his references to Nackles. It just built and built and built, and reached its crescendo on Christmas Eve, when some small or imagined infraction of one of the children—Stewart, I think—resulted in Frank’s pulling all the Christmas presents form all the closets and stowing them all in the car to be taken back to the stores, because this Christmas for sure it wouldn’t be Santa Claus who would be visiting this house, it would be Nackles.

By the time Susie got the children to bed, everyone in the house was a nervous wreck. The children were too frightened to sleep, and Susie herself was too unnerved to be of much help in soothing them. Frank, who had taken to drinking at home lately, had locked himself in the bedroom with a bottle.

It was nearly eleven o’clock before Susie got the children all quieted down, and then she wen tout to the car and brought all the presents back in and arranged them under the tree. Then, not wanting to see or hear her husband any more that night—he was like a big spoiled child throwing a tantrum—she herself went to sleep on the living room sofa.

Frank Junior awoke her in the morning, crying, “Look, Mama! Nackles didn’t come, he didn’t come!” And pointed to the presents she’d placed under the tree.

The other two children came down shortly after, and Susie and the youngsters sat on the floor and opened the presents, enjoying themselves as much as possible, but still with restraint. There were none of the usual squeals of childish pleasure; no one wanted Daddy to come storming downstairs in one of his rages. So the children contented themselves with ear-to-ear smiles and whispered exclamations, and after a while Susie made breakfast, and the day carried along as pleasantly as could be expected under the circumstances.

It was a little after twelve that Susie began to worry about Frank’s non-appearance. She braved herself to go up and knock on the locked door and call his name, but she got no answer, not even the expected snarl, so just around one o’clock she called me and I hurried on over. I rapped smartly on the bedroom door, got no answer, and finally I threatened to break the door in if Frank didn’t open up. When I still got no answer, break the door in I did.

And Frank, of course, was gone.

The police say he ran away, deserted his family, primarily because of Susie’s fourth pregnancy. They say he went out the window and dropped to the backyard, so Susie wouldn’t see hi and try to stop him. And they say he didn’t take the car because he was afraid Susie would hear him start the engine.

That all sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Yet I just can’t believe Frank would walk out on Susie without a lot of shouting about it first. Nor that he would leave his car, which he was fonder of than his wife and children.

But what’s the alternative? There’s only one I can think of: Nackles.

I would rather not believe that. I would rather not believe that Frank, in inventing Nackles and spreading word of him, made him real. I would rather not believe that Nackles actually did visit my sister’s house on Christmas Eve.

But did he? If so, he couldn’t have carried off any of the children, for a more subdued and better behaved trio of youngsters you won’t find anywhere. But Nackles, being brand-new and never having had a meal before, would need somebody. Somebody to whom he was real, somebody not protected by the shield of Santa Claus. And, as I say, Frank was drinking that night. Alcohol makes the brain believe in the existence of all sorts of things. Also, Frank was a spoiled child if there ever was one.

There’s no question but that Frank Junior and Linda Joyce and Stewart believe in Nackles. And Frank spread the gospel of Nackles to others, some of whom spread it to their own children. And some of whom will spread the new Evil to other parents. And ours is a mobile society, with families constantly being transferred by Daddy’s company from one end of the country to another, so how long can it be before Nackles is a power not only in this one city, but all across the nation?

I don’t know if Nackles exists, or will exist. All I know for sure is that there’s suddenly a new meaning in the lyric of that popular Christmas song. You know the one I mean:

You’d better watch out.


Oh, Hell Yeah!

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:32 am

I took this picture a while ago and this seemed like as good a time as any to post it.

It’s a little hard to tell because of my chop, but this is an Internet Explorer browser window on a pre-OS X Macintosh. The rest of the picture, I think, speaks for itself. 😉

Hell Yeah!


Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round Your SUV

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 1:17 pm

We’ve all seen them. Nestled in the corner of a rear windshield. Riding proudly on a back bumper. Displayed in pairs and triplets and quartets arcoss the lift gate. The ubiquitous Yellow Ribbon. Now also available in red-white-‘n-blue (“God Bless America”), black (“POW/MIA”) and camo (“I Like Camo”).

Of course, I have nothing against the basic concept behind these things—only a true zealot would take a stand against the security and safe return of our armed forces—but that concept seems to have evolved over time into something with which I’m not quite as comfortable.

Conservative radio personality Michael Medved said it outright on his program: if you do not support the mission objectives of the military, you do not support the troops.

I find this ludicrous. When I was seven, a older neighborhood kid rode me on the handlebars of his bike a mile or two to the local variety store. There he told me that he would abandon me if I didn’t help him shoplift a toy he coveted. Unsure of my whereabouts and thoroughly cowed, I agreed to help him. After he took me home, I told my parents, who promptly got him busted. There is no doubt that my parents supported me, and there is also no doubt whatsoever that they did not support my actions. Supporting someone doesn’t mean telling them that everything they do is good and just and right when you don’t believe it; that’s sycophancy. “Support” includes the principle of helping someone—without rancor or self-righteous indignation—to correct their mistakes and become more or better than they are.

I wouldn’t dream of lambasting our soldiers, sailors and airmen for being involved in the Iraq War. It is their job to follow legal orders passed on to them through the chain of command. I don’t want them to take any action that might threaten their safety, nor fail to take any reasonable action that might help to insure it. But that doesn’t mean that I approve of the decision made by their commander-in-chief to send them into harm’s way, underequipped and ill-prepared, on what seems to me to be poorly defined and ultimately futile mission.

So I am left with a blank spot in my internal symbolic library that matches the one on the back of my car, where things like yellow ribbons, American flags and patriotic slogans might otherwise go. I love my country, I support my troops….and yet….and yet….

I wanted desperately to fill this symbolic void somehow. A stronger-willed person might have weathered the assumptions of his fellow citizens, accurate or otherwise, without a second thought. A more serene person might have avoided the question entirely by refusing to take any public stance, reasoning that his feelings on this or any other subject were no one’s business but his own.

I, on the other hand, am weak-willed and easily agitated.

Fortunately, I am also a graphic designer.

I put together a design that I felt accurately expressed my feelings on the subject of war in general and this war in particular. The design is shown below (the copyright and the “uncle-andrew.net” do not appear in the printed version). I ran a test batch of nine-by-ten decals that look really nice. My next plan is to reduce the dimensions slightly and re-run them as static-adhesive, vinyl window stickers.

Peace Ribbon

If anyone would like one, please let me know.



Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 11:26 pm

This, my friends, is cool. Possibly one of the neatest uses of Flash I have seen yet. It’s—hell, it’s almost a new art form.

Being totally out of touch with the art scene as I am, I’m sure this has probably been around for a long time and I’m just showing my pathetic naiveté, but….woah….

Pay No Attention To That Man Behind The Computer

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 3:49 pm

Oh….my….GOD, what a blur the last few days have been. Got back from my sister’s place in Santa Fe late Thursday night, with a throbbing head, blurry eyes and mucous membranes like parchment. (In case you were unaware of this, New Mexico is to “arid” as Rush Limbaugh is to “fond of painkillers”. My second act upon returning to our home—just after petting my cat [I’d already kissed my wife, so spare me your indignant comments]—was to vault into the hot tub. My pores immediately began slurping up the water like a sponge, bringing my shriveled, dessicated body to its original moist and meaty dimensions. You don’t get boogers in New Mexico, you get Nose Stalactites.)

I only seem to have really serious, ulcer-causing trouble with computer setups at my sister’s house. Last time, the computer that was running fine and dandy before I left home fizzled the second I got to New Mexico (on contact with the dry air there no doubt, being a good Seattle computer and all). I ended up UPSing her my (at the time) current work computer and getting myself a new one, so I suppose it all came out all right in the end.

This time, Dame Fortune had a different but equally nefarious package of whoop-ass planned for me, probably because I took the precaution of having a brand new iBook to set up, instead of a 4-year-old SuperMac J700 Mac clone. Since the “computer fuckup” avenue was largely closed down, the old bat chose her next best option, the “broadband Internet service fuckup”. Always a winner.

The Earthlink DSL service that was supposed to be active before my arrival seemed not to be. I couldn’t get sync-up—or any activity whatsoever, in fact—with the local Telco to save my life. Many hours were spent on the phone with Earthlink tech support, much of it on hold. Covad, the subcontractor for the line, was called. Qwest, the subcontractor for the subcontractor (how in hell does anyone manage to make money on this crap, with all these middlemen?), was called and sent out a tech, who arrived and told me that it wasn’t Qwest’s issue because the service hadn’t been ordered through Qwest. (To give the guy credit, he was nice enough to test the phone lines and confirm that, indeed, we had good signal and were more than capable of receiving DSL.)

By this time, it became necessary to extend my visit by two days to make sure that I had time to take care of everything. I had hundreds of megabytes of software updates to download, both for my sister’s iBook and for the Insignia D300 I talked my brother-in-law into buying to replace his geriatric Compaq Presario 5724, which couldn’t seem to handle the processor overhead of even antivirus software. (In case you are in the market for a really cheap desktop computer, the Insignias seem like a very good choice. They are available through Best Buy.)

Soooooooo….another call was made to Earthlink, who contacted Covad, who sent out a tech from Albuquerque, who arrived four hours late, who checked everything out and informed me that….the DSL was working fine. Had, in fact, been working fine the whole time. Qwest had just put it on the wrong of two phone lines coming into the house.

Oh, sweet Jesus. Four days of phone calls, hand wringing, headaches, more phone calls….it was there all along, right under my nose; I’d just been using the wrong nostril. Boy, did I feel stupid for not checking that in the first place.

So, with our high-speed Internet access firmly in place, all I had to do was spend six or so hours downloading software updates, run tuneup utilities on both computers, and teach my sister and her husband how to use them….all before Thursday noon, when I had to leave for the airport.

My “vacation”, so to speak, consisted of twenty minutes spent gazing into the peaceful arroyo my sister’s place overlooks, on the day I was set to leave. That, and this photo of the front of their house.

Peace on Earth

Santa Fe is a beautiful place to visit. Maybe I’ll get a chance to someday. 😉


Tippi Hebren, Where Are You When We Need You?

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 12:13 pm


I shot this picture out my office window at home this morning. I don’t know what sort of insect bloom took place in our front yard today, but it attracted something along the line of 250 starlings. Little boogers decimated our suet feeder out back as well.

That’s fine; I like starlings. they make adorable litttle squeebly noises. And really, what was I going to do with all those bugs?


I’m Off To Be The Wizard….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 9:18 pm

Blog entries are likely to be a little thin on the ground for the next few days. We’re going to visit my sister and her family in beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico this weekend. Always a pleasure to hang out with Meg, Rad (yes, that’s really his name) and Anya; they’s good people. Margaret plans to do some Xmas shopping (Santa Fe is home to, among many other things, The Chuck Jones Gallery), go for walks and play with the dogs. Me, I plan to spend the entire visit crawling under desks and staring at a screen until my eyes bleed.

I have become the official Information Technology Department for my entire family. This probably sounds familiar to a whole lot of you out there. It’s the price of being part of the Generation Nerd; you have to spend a good hunk of your time in the aid of those family members who were not so fortunate as to be born with a silver DDR2 533 Dual-Inline Memory Module in their mouths.

It started with my Dad, who bought his first Macintosh back in the mid-90’s, eventually moving on to his current computer, one of those jellybean iMacs. My family still lives in Hawaii, where I grew up, and tech support was, well, problematic. The absurdity of troubleshooting a graphical user interface over the phone was exacerbated by the fact that my father hasn’t a technical bone in his body; he still waits until I come home on vacation to buy a new digital watch so that I can set it up for him. It nearly drove me to drink—Lysol—to be on the phone with him, telling him to hold down the “Shift” key while restarting, and having nothing going as planned, spending twenty minutes trying to figure out what went wrong….only to have him report that he had, in fact, been holding down the space bar.

Around 2000 I forced him to get broadband Internet access (under threat that I would no longer help him with his computer problems), and I installed remote-access software on his computer. Things have gone more or less swimmingly since then, except for the rare occasion when he listens to the Customer Service people at Road Runner instead of me.

I’ve since set up two of my sisters with computers of their own, salvaged from my own personal junkyard of machines, with varying degrees of success. Something I have learned from this experience is: do not give your family members used computers built from salvaged parts unless a) they live no further than across town from you, or b) they are shacking up with another nerd. And, in the case of b), vet that nerd carefully, people! My sister Libby had a friend tinker with her computer because he said he could make her Internet connection faster. Instead he hosed the thing so thoroughly that it never connected to the Internet again. The final score: Libby, down one computer; me, out about twenty bucks in long-distance bills.

This time, I talked Meg into buying a brand-new iBook, so that she can run all the lastest in desktop-publishing software. At the same time, I talked her into getting DSL, which will help greatly in getting her up and running on the new ‘puter, both from a remote access standpoint and in terms of software updates, troubleshooting, etc. Macs, thankfully, are relatively immune to Trojans, viruses and other malware (due to a combination of a tighter UNIX-based permissions system and a mere 5% market share—who’s going to spend their time writing software to fuck with only 5% of the potential base of victims?), so security considerations for her machine involve little more thank enabling OS X’s built-in ipfw-based firewall. Rad’s old Windows 98 PC, on the other hand, is a plump little sparrow with a broken wing flopping around in the middle of a suburban lawn. That’s going to take some real insulation, lemmetellyou. The land speed record for a Windows machine connected to the ‘Net with default security settings being hijacked by hackbots is now thirty seconds. And that’s with Windows XP, not an operating system that came to maturity before the medium through which it is being attacked. And this doesn’t even take into account all the crap that’s just gotta be on the thing already, that will have to be cleaned out.

So, let’s see…..I’m going over there to set up a home network; give an older machine a much-needed enema; configure, install high-end software on and train my sister on the use of a brand-new computer and operating system….all in four days.

Well, I guess you might be hearing from me Wednesday. Possibly later, depending on how the angioplasty goes.

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