The Snoozeletter @

Software Contest Rollercoaster(4).

Here's the latest update to the ongoing CIP odyssey:

On Thursday, the Council had another IRC meeting, and this time, the decisionmakers actually made a decision (20:18:18 to 20:38:34)! Yaay! Earlier, one of them had blogged about the judging process.

Louis Suárez-Potts agreed to notify the winners and losers, so I visited his homepage and found that he has a writing background (under "What I do..."). This also seemed enormously encouraging.
OOoCon 2008 Beijing
The Council even discussed inviting the winners to November's OOoCon in Beijing. This sounded very cool.

But mostly, I was just relieved that this long rollercoaster ride would soon be over, win or lose. So I sat back, and waited for my notification. From the sound of things, I expected it to arrive at any moment.

That was two days ago...
Lightshow aftermath.

The spectacle (below) continued for another half-hour. But when I turned on the TV this morning, all I could find was destruction and woe on our 5 local news reports. Evidently, the storm gained strength as it moved west, into downtown Phoenix. The winds were measured at 80-100 miles per hour, the velocity associated with a Category 1 or 2 hurricane. Trees were downed, structures were damaged, and there was a particularly striking helicopter shot of 22 telephone poles strewn across a one-mile section of street.

So I guess we're very lucky in this little corner of the world: lucky that we missed the destruction of this powerful storm, and lucky that we were able to appreciate its fierce beauty.

An incredible electrical storm is taking place outside my window right now. The percussive sound is nearly continuous--rolling thunder--and the air-to-air lightning strikes are flashing through the entire sky like disco strobes. I've tried to time their frequency, and it's between 3 and 15 times per second. Sometimes the clouds will go black for half a second, but not much longer. The lightning has been going strong for at least 20 minutes, and shows no signs of letting up, even though the rain is tapering off.

What an amazing spectacle. I felt compelled to go stand on the back patio and applaud.
I recently saw this documentary on cable, and I've been recommending it to everybody who'll listen:

After being unceremoniously axed by Oscar-winning director Woody Allen, actress Annabelle Gurwitch examined the experience of getting canned in a successful stage play. And a book. Now she's made a film. Celebrity interviews include Tim Allen, Sarah Silverman, Anne Meara, Illeana Douglas, Harry Shearer, Fred Willard, David Cross, Andy Dick, Tate Donovan, Bob Odenkirk, Ben Stein, Richard Kind, Jeff Garlin, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich (who plugs his son's website), and many others.

But Gurwitch also talks with everyday people who have been terminated. The movie is both touching and hilarious, with generous dollops of philosophical reflection. (IMDb, Amazon, Netflix)
Showtime schedule (Sept. 15, 19, 27)

Reclamationist of the Year! 

I had a nice reunion with Jim Gusek, an old high-school buddy, last night. He was on his way from Denver through Phoenix to a meeting in Cottonwood (an hour's drive north of here), and planned to stay overnight at the downtown Hyatt, so I offered to pick him up at the airport. We had a couple of beers in the hotel bar and chatted for several hours.

I've kept in touch with Jim over the years, and we've seen each other quite a few times, so I knew he was making a big name for himself as an international mining consultant. I had heard that he founded the Denver chapter of Engineers Without Borders, but I had no idea he was doing some groundbreaking environmental work in cleaning up old mining sites, or that he had just received the prestigious "Reclamationist of the Year" award from ASMR! Their press release sums it up like this: "We think of his work of the last twenty years as aggressive approach to passive treatment."

Way to go, Jim!

Later: Nauthor...

James J. Gusek
Whine and cheese. [The latest pain report.]

The magnet seems to be helping my shoulder, but not as much as I'd hoped. I can now lift my hand to 112 degrees in the forward direction; the final goal is 180. But at the end of June, it was less than 90, so I guess I should feel grateful.

This excruciating rehab (most of the pain has to be self-induced) will continue for several more months. The exercises have forced me to identify--with dismaying precision--the point at which the pain becomes unbearable. So I have become quite skilled at approaching that point every day, with the least possible delay. Fun!

My physical therapist recently mentioned that some patients need anesthesia for this scar mobilization work. I wonder why... ;-)
Tracking international flights.

Anikó is flying to London right now (on the way to Budapest), and I wanted to see her location on a real-time tracker. Most of the websites I tried were pretty useless ("positional tracking is only available when the flight is in US or Canadian airspace"), but then I found It's hypnotic, watching that little airplane move slowly across the blue Atlantic...
The dubious advantage of having an insane motherf*cker as President: US Navy warship sails into Georgia (AP). Surprisingly, the Russians are still scratching their heads. I just hope our city is at Ground Zero for one of their inevitable nukes, so we won't suffer for too long.

Best quote from the article, by Merdiko Peredze:

"I'm an old man but I will return to Abkhazia," he vowed. "Russian, Georgians, Ossetians - we should all be living in peace together, like we did under Stalin."
Somebody To Love (Saltshaker Remix): the perfect blend of music and literature.

This song is starting to get some replays on our local dance-music radio station, so I felt compelled to dig up the original Hunter S. Thompson excerpts/samples...

From Novel: Fear and Loathing in Las VegasFear and Loathing in Las Vegas:

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like "I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive...." And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: "Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?"

Then it was quiet again. My attorney had taken his shirt off and was pouring beer on his chest, to facilitate the tanning process. "What the hell are you yelling about?" he muttered, staring up at the sun with his eyes closed and covered with wraparound Spanish sunglasses. "Never mind," I said. "It's your turn to drive." I hit the brakes and aimed the Great Red Shark toward the shoulder of the highway. No point mentioning those bats, I thought. The poor bastard will see them soon enough.
The trunk of the car looked like a mobile police narcotics lab. We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers... and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.
Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked in a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can. [¶] The only thing that worried me was the ether. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge. And I knew we'd get into that rotten stuff pretty soon.

Software Contest Rollercoaster(3).

Regarding my recent posting about the CIP software contest:

Hm. Discouraging news. It sounds like the contest decision, originally scheduled to take place "on or around 21 July" has been postponed until "maybe the first weekend of october" - they're also talking about the need to "get the Council back on track". I wonder if these extended delays are typical for all open-source entities?
Thumbs UP!

Enter the Arizona Highways Photo Contest... and/or give my pix two thumbs-up votes!

My shots should be the fifth and sixth thumbnail photos on this page #6 (with 8 images per page), but I guess they might move to the #5 or #7 pages, so when your mouse is hovering over a red-rock hill formation, look for the "Kachina Woman Rock" index card, with this URL displayed on the bottom line of your browser:

When you left-click the thumbnail, it will show a larger version, offering a choice of voting options: thumbs-up and thumbs-down. The photo just to the left of that one should be a cactus picture, so look for the "Soft Cholla" index card, with this URL displayed on the bottom line of your browser:

Thanks for taking the time to vote!
Toenail & Nosehair Salon.

Salon now hosts blogs, and I just HAD to get one.

LATER: my three postings have been marked "Editor's Pick," and two of them have been showcased on their home page. And they gave me ten bucks for opening one of their Tippem accounts. No strings attached. Cool.
Phelps Phrenzy.

On Friday night, I was caught up in the Olympics hype about Michael Phelps, just like the rest of America. I knew the "live" NBC feed was tape-delayed to our Phoenix market, so I looked up the race results earlier, on the Internet. And I was thrilled to read that Phelps had delivered a dramatic, come-from-behind, hairsbreadth finish, to win a record-tying seventh gold. I called to Anikó: "You won't want to miss this!"

So we sat down in front of the TV, to watch Phelps butterfly his way into history. After we saw the Phelps-Čavić finish from the traditional side angle, we were entranced: "How did he pull that out? Did he really win?" Then NBC showed the overhead angle, and our doubts grew. When they started showing the underwater angles, our mouths dropped open in astonishment. We could hear the hesitation in the announcers' voices, as they tried to explain a finish that couldn't be explained. Čavić had clearly won, and Phelps had clearly lost. And now those announcers were telling us that we couldn't believe our eyes? What the f*ck?!

The Fédération Internationale de Natation Amateur (FINA), competitive swimming's governing body, has refused to release their underwater video. Does anybody wonder why?

The Serbs have been forced to concede, and Čavić has made nice on his blog. But here are some excerpts from the AP story:

Branislav Jevtic, Serbia's chief of mission in Beijing: "In my opinion, it's not right, but we must follow the rules. Everybody saw what happened."

Bronze medalist Andrew Lauterstein of Australia had yet to catch a super slo-mo replay, but he heard other swimmers reacting with shock and disbelief at the results. "They couldn't believe Phelps got there," he said, "and I'm sure I'll feel the same way."

Silver medalist Milorad Čavić: "People will be bringing this up for years, saying, 'You won that race.'"
Phelps DIDN'T win #7!

Did you see that? The Serb wuz robbed!

NBC showed the 100-meter butterfly finish from at least 3 different angles, and Phelps touched second in ALL of them. The myth-making machinery is out of control. Are we going to find out that the Chinese fudged other results, too?
Cuban missile crisis, redux.

Bush hits Russia on 'bullying and intimidation' (AP).

At that point, the rest of the world glanced at Iraq and started laughing loudly.

After making these remarks on the escalating crisis in Georgia (and brokering a dangerous deal to put US missiles in Poland), Bush left the White House and flew to his Texas ranch for a two-week holiday.
Software Contest Rollercoaster(2).

Some of you may remember my recent posting about the CIP software contest. Well, it looks like they won't resolve this issue until next week. The IRC Log of today's meeting should appear here in a few hours. We'll see what they have to say.

Olympics Overload: in the rowing trials, when a team falls behind and fails to qualify, it goes to the "repêchage" (second chance) round.

Don't you wish they made this kind of opportunity available to us non-Olympians?

For example: when you say something stupid to the wife, you don't spend two weeks in the doghouse, you just head for the repêchage.

Did you paint the house the wrong color? Repêchage.

Pulled over by a state trooper? Repêchage.

Real life would be a lot easier, if it were run like the Olympics.
Oh f*ck, it's working.

At my twice-a-week physical rehab sessions, I use a Shoulder Finger Ladder to walk my fingers up a wall. The ladder's steps are numbered, so it provides a benchmark for my progress, while stretching out my shoulder. For the last couple of weeks, I have been stuck at step #30.

I repeat the exercise every night at home, without the ladder. For the last couple of weeks, I have been stuck at a point two inches below the top of my closet door frame. But even when I was making progress, a few weeks ago, the increments could be measured only in fractions of an inch.

Yesterday evening, my fingers climbed to a point one inch ABOVE the top of the door frame: a gain of three inches in one day.

The magnet had been on my wrist for 48 hours.

Eight, Eight, Oh Eight. (August 8, 2008.)

About a month ago, a British Zoetrope member heard about my pain whining, and suggested something a little unorthodox, that had helped her: magnets.

At first, I resisted: I'm glad this works for you, but I'm still a little skeptical about shelling out 50 or 60 dollars for a bracelet that will probably fry the magnetic stripes on my credit cards. [I also included this link to a debunking article.]

She countered by saying there was a good article in the British Medical Journal.

I wrote: Maybe there's an element of fear in my reaction, but to me, magnets fall into the category of crystal therapy, pyramid therapy, aromatherapy and voodoo. I know some people believe those things work for them, and they have catalogs of second-hand anecdotes to prove their claims, but if I strapped on a sixty-buck magnet, I'd probably just burst into laughter. After getting stuck to the fridge. [Then I posted a link to a skeptical article in the BMJ.]

But I finally relented, and apologized for pulling her leg.

The pain, of course, was unrelenting. So I finally got desperate enough to buy a 500 Gauss wrist wrap from BIOflex® Medical Magnetics. I've been wearing it for 12 hours.

I'll report on significant developments as they occur. So far, it's just making my wrist sweaty.
Software Contest Rollercoaster.

EXCITEMENT! In late June, I entered my Screenwright(R) screenplay formatting template in's Community Innovation Program (CIP) competition. They're offering a total of $175,000 in prizes, so the one-month waiting period was excruciating. The winners were supposed to be notified by eMail on July 21, and I waited a looooooooooong time after that (24 whole hours) before sending an inquiry. I was already starting to feel depressed, but their reply put me right into the toilet: "Look for the public announcement of winners on August 15."

CRAP. That meant I wasn't one of the lucky few who had received a private notification. So I moped around for several days, before stumbling upon the minutes of a meeting in which the CIP was discussed.'s Community Council makes the final decision on these awards, and the Council members have a meeting on IRC (Internet Relay Chat, a form of Instant Messaging) every so often. They're all based in different countries (Germany, Belgium, Japan, Czech Republic, etc.), so IRC is the best way for them to reach a consensus on big decisions. The IRC Log for the July 24 meeting revealed four crucial pieces of information: they had received 28 submissions of "very different quality," they wanted to get feedback from the project leads who actually studied/tested the submissions, they planned to vote "next week," and the final decision would then be published.

EXCITEMENT! The eMail notifications had NOT been sent, since the final decision remained up in the air. On July 31, I went poking around again, to see if I could find another IRC Log. That's when I discovered that the Council's next IRC meeting wasn't scheduled until August 14. Maybe when they said "next week," they actually meant "at the next meeting"?

CRAP. The days remaining until mid-August stretched out like an endless wasteland. To see what my 27 adversaries had come up with, I looked around the web until I found the mailing list archive where all the entries were posted.

EXCITEMENT! Some of the entries obviously violated a few of the stringent submission requirements, so I began to feel a whole lot better about my chances. But there are still many high-quality submissions.

CRAP. I hope there's a light at the end of this long tunnel...
Olympics Eclipse. Chinese cheered by eclipse a week before Olympics (AP)

For me, a total eclipse is almost unbelievable. It's a periodic reminder of the perfect harmony in the universe. If the moon were bigger or smaller, or closer or further away, this event would not be possible. Likewise with the sun. But from time to time, everything lines up, so that our moon is at the proper distance and size to fit over the sun EXACTLY.

Even though the moon is 400 times smaller than the sun, it's also 400 times closer. That's why the two bodies appear to be the same size in the sky. This unique set of circumstances does not exist on any other planet in our solar system; their satellites are either too big or too small to cover the sun so perfectly.

But our moon is slowly moving away from us, so in a billion years, it will be too small to produce total eclipses. Which means we are living on precisely the right planet at precisely the right time. They say that if you're on a mountain, you can see the moon's shadow as totality approaches, sweeping across the landscape towards you at more than a thousand miles per hour. How cool is that? I hope I get to witness one of these babies before I die.

Photo gallery at - don't miss these: @Hami China by Dr. Arthur Lee (showing Baily's Beads, a result of sunlight shining through lunar valleys) and @Novosibirsk Russia by Anthony Ayiomamitis (showing the sun's corona).
Omphaloskepsis: The Old Runaround, Or What Do You Do When Your Interview Gets Accepted & Gutted?

I did an interview with a comic-book writer and submitted it to a fancypants ezine on Wed, Jul 23 @ 1:39 PM. The interview was intentionally funny, all the way through. We worked really hard to make it entertaining. Well, the writer worked hard, and I egged him on.

>>> On Thu, Jul 24 @ 8:48 AM, Fancypants Editor wrote: Good morning. I hope you're doing well. I have no inherent prejudice against comic books or graphic formats, but I wonder if [fancypants ezine] would be the right place for this interview, given the literary/wordy nature of my audience. My feeling is the the interview would just sort of be lost. What do you think?

>>> On Thu, Jul 24 @ 11:08 AM, Alan C Baird wrote: I really appreciated the inclusive tone of your response! I chose to submit this interview to [fancypants ezine] because I thought it might be a nice change of pace for your readers, a peek into the lesser-traveled nooks and crannies of literary culture. Perhaps it could produce the same frisson of excitement that slumming provides, if you will. But it's your publication, and your call. Thanks for the quick reply.

>>> On Fri, Jul 25 @ 7:51 AM, Fancypants Editor wrote: Let's do it then. Please resend the entire text of the interview to me, and I'll get busy on HTMLing!

>>> On Fri, Jul 25 @ 10:43 AM, Alan C. Baird wrote: See below. -Alan

>>> On Sat, Jul 26 @ 8:40 AM, Fancypants Editor wrote: Hey, Alan. Give me a few days to go through this and get back to you. We may do some snips here and there, and may adjust the title which some of our readers might find too "cute".

>>> On Sun, Jul 27 @ 8:33 AM, Fancypants Editor wrote: I edited the intro just a bit [removing a second joke]. Soon here I'll get a draft loaded and you can take a look and see if it looks okay [in other words, the remaining jokes are still at risk]. Go to [URL] and you should be able to look.

>>> On Sun, Jul 27 @ 9:08 AM, Alan C. Baird wrote: Here's the text from the end of the interview - it may have been inadvertently cut off [it wasn't, I was just being polite about a third joke in my bio and four comic book covers].

>>> On Sun, Jul 27 @ 9:46 AM, Fancypants Editor wrote: Yes, the endnote did get lost from the transition. I don't remember reading it at all! I might try to stick in one cover, if I feel energetic enough. We normally don't run images, and it requires a little bit more htmling than I'm normally comfortable with. Let me mull it over.

>>> On Sun, Jul 27 @ 9:48 AM, Fancypants Editor wrote: We normally don't run credit/bio info, I'm going to go ahead and leave the endnote off, all right? Readers can google you pretty easily, yes?

>>> On Sun, Jul 27 @ 1:37 PM, Alan C. Baird wrote: Um, I'm getting nervous about this. The reason [comic-book writer] and I put this together was mainly for the humor, and to get some exposure for both of us. You've already deleted the title, which wasn't a great joke, but was part and parcel of the hokey charm we were aiming for. Then you deleted a joke from the intro. Now you want to delete the attribution, and leave out the covers. I thought that you and I agreed on a "slumming" concept. If you edit out all of the sleazy, fun elements, it will end up as just another boring, airless omphaloskeptic interview. [¶] If you need help with the HTML, I will set up the page on my site, and you can simply copy over the .html file. But if you don't feel comfortable with publishing the interview essentially as submitted, we will look for another publication.

>>> On Mon, Jul 28 @ 8:49 AM, Fancypants Editor wrote: I suppose I somehow missed the idea that you wanted covers enclosed with the interview originally. So what you're asking is that [fancypants ezine] change what it does in order to run this interview. I will be happy to pull it if you like.

>>> On Mon, Jul 28 @ 10:12 AM, Alan C. Baird wrote: Yeah, it sounds like we're trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, so let's pull it.

And thank you for jerking us around!