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Saving the Great Hamster of Alsace


Some say the European Union is useless, but think again! Brussels is all that stands between the Great Hamster of Alsace and total annihilation. The Great Hamster (or European Hamster), Cricetus cricetus — an animal substantially less fictional than the Giant Rat of Sumatra — has been on the endangered list since 1993. At which point French farmers (presumably) stopped giving sweeties to children in return for severed paws and tails.

But the little blighters are still in decline. France no longer grows so much of the hamsters’ favorite foods — wheat, barley, alfalfa and cabbage — in favor of the more lucrative corn. Great hamsters fucking hate corn.

So what can the EU do about that? It can by-god impose fines on the French government, that’s what! €68,000 per surviving hamster, that’s what! If that doesn’t work, they’ll set up a training program to teach hamsters to eat corn. That’s what.

Y’all think I make this shit up, don’t you?

June 30, 2009 — 8:00 pm
Comments: 16

Jammin’ with Uncle B


Got a little jammed up tonight.

Ho ho ho.

Bit of a pickle, really.

Hee hee.

Seriously. If I ever see another strawberry, I’m going to wrestle it to the ground, shove a thermometer where the sun don’t shine and beat it to death with a wooden spoon.

June 29, 2009 — 6:26 pm
Comments: 14

D’oh, a deer. A preemie deer.


Rupert the Deer, born two to three weeks prematurely by c-section after his mother was hit by a car. On second thought, don’t follow the link — despite the best care, Rupert didn’t make it. Check out Smoothie the Squirrel instead, and join me in laughing at the misfortune of others. There, isn’t that better?

Brought to you by St Tiggywinkle’s Wildlife Hospital. Because Britons are bugfuck crazy about animals.

Good weekend, all!

June 26, 2009 — 6:25 pm
Comments: 16

Shall. We. Play. A. Game?


I was going to post tonight about how I made my first strawberry jam, but I didn’t make strawberry jam. I made a big smelly bowl of angry black napalm. Mmmm! So, seeing how much fun everybody was having geekin’ out, I dared Uncle B to dig out his old Osborne 1 and see if we could kick it back to life.

Remember the Osborne? It was the first sort-of portable computer. They called it a “luggable.” I saw my first at the very same 1985 computer fair where I bought that copy of Hack. I thought it was the most unbelievably mindblowingly cool thing ever.

All packed up, it was about the size and weight of a typical Singer sewing machine. Lay it on its side, the bottom came off and became the keyboard. There was a tiny green monitor in the middle, like an oscilloscope. There were buttons and knobs (buttons! and knobs!) and 5¼” floppy drives (Uncle B was rich enough to buy the dual-floppy model, but not rich enough for dual-sided drives. The operating system was on one floppy and the program on another). Oh, it was very. So very.

Uncle B had TWO. That’s right, beyotches; that’s how cool he was. He doesn’t know where the other one got to, but we’ve been lugging this one around from place to place. So I made a high-pitched keening noise until he let me plug it in and switch it on (I did so well with the strawberry jam experiment, why not?)

Did it boot? No, of course not. He doesn’t know where the OS floppy is (though you can bet he’s got it somewhere). But it woke up and it by-god TRIED to boot.

Anybody know where we can get a single-sided 5¼” copy of CP/M?


June 25, 2009 — 7:51 pm
Comments: 19

…and it only took me 24 years…


I bought my first computer in 1985. It was completely retarded. It could do nothing. But I didn’t know that; I thought I was Buck Fucking Rogers. After several months of booting it up and staring at the C:> prompt, though, even I got a little restless. Then I went to my first computer fair (goodness, I was impressed by the smell and, for some reason, the fact there were several nuns attending) and bought a fistful of shareware programs on floppy disk.

One of which was a game called Hack — thereafter known as The Game That Ate A Year Of My Life. I still have that original floppy, by the way, which may be the world’s only surviving copy of the original IBM port. Wish I could read it.

Anyhow, Hack (later Nethack) was an astonishingly complex game. I won’t even say “for the time” — it’s still one of the richest gameplay universes ever hacked together (which is why, incidentally, it was called Hack). It’s the familiar Rogue formula — you go into a dungeon, fight monsters, retrieve an amulet and skedaddle. But the wands, potions, magic scrolls, traps, monsters, characters, weapons, armor, food and everything else you encounter along the way are designed to interact with each other in all sorts of ways, planned and not planned.

Nethack is one of my all-time favorite games, one I’ve been playing since 1200 baud was smokin’ fast. — Actor Wil Wheaton

Because Hack was different every time. It wasn’t played on a fixed layout; the program had a formula for generating random dungeons. It could do things that surprised its own programmers (though the development team was famous for anticipating just about every weird-ass thing that might happen in gameplay).

Because it was essentially a game of text messages, it could be HUGE and hugely complex, even on the most primitive PC’s. But your character was a letter that you moved around with the arrow keys, so it was easy to learn and visual enough to kick your imagination in the ass.

In short, NetHack 3.1.3 is the most elaborate role-playing environment you are ever likely to explore. This is a place to return again and again, each time for a different experience. You’re really going to have to play it for a year or two and see for yourself. — “Fatal Distractions” by David Gerrold

The journey was so much fun, I happily played it for 24 years without ever winning a game. Oh, I got close. I once escaped the dungeon with a cheap plastic imitation of the Amulet of Yendor. Several times I got the amulet but did something incredibly stupid on the way out — stepped on a dead cockatrice and turned to stone, or ate one too many food rations and choked to death. This is a phenomenon known on Usenet as YASD — Yet Another Stupid Death. And every new incarnation of the game was more complex and added sidequests and pitfalls.

Thank you for the latest release of gradewrecker. My GPA just went in the corner and shot itself. — USENET posting, author unknown

Meanwhile, Berkeley began to ship its version of Linux with Hack on — my old friend, the simple original version that ate my 1986. I discovered it by accident on one of my shell accounts. And a mere two years and several hundred games later — this Sunday, specially for the solstice — I finally escaped the dungeon with the Amulet of Yendor!

It was…a howling letdown. After all the late nights, the YASDs, the near misses, the little dogs and shopkeepers and orcs and killer bees and demons and dragons, it all boils down to this:


Now what? Trying to beat the newest (and last) version, of course.

June 24, 2009 — 8:23 pm
Comments: 33

I’m getting good at this!


I’m the best damn mouser in Badger House! w00t!

Charlotte keeps bringing them in lightly injured — mildly annoyed, really — giving us a good look and then letting them loose in the livingroom to skitter around under the furniture, leap alarmingly in the air and scramble repeatedly over my bare feet. I now have a special mouse-trapping cup (which doubles as the spider-trapping cup in Uncle B’s hands) into which I am developing a facility for snaring meece.

I don’t mind. It beats the HELL out of bludgeoning the tragically crippled ones I would find dragging themselves across the carpets at Weasel Towers. I can only assume she maimed them more horribly in those days in competition with Damien, who was an utter feline psycho jerk. God, I miss him.

However, there’s apparently one that didn’t get off so lightly. For several days, we’ve been struggling to cope with the most unbelievable stench in the stair and landing area. Something has obviously crawled into the walls and died. We can’t quite pinpoint where, so we’re reluctant to start prying up floorboards.

If it gets any stronger, I’m going to have to set it a place at the table.

June 23, 2009 — 8:19 pm
Comments: 22

Thank christ it’s the solstice


Yesterday was the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in our hemisphere. Thirty thousand hippies turned up at Stonehenge, but it was cloudy and they couldn’t see the sun rise, so all they dressed up like assholes and got stoned. Oh, wait — that’s what they were going to do anyway.

This is the first I’ve spent time in England in Summer — it costs a fortune to fly overseas during the tourist season, so all my trips were off-peak — and I am so damned happy to see the solstice come and go.

See this map? I threw a lassoo around Britain and pulled it directly West. You’ll note that London is more or less in a line with Hudson Bay. Here’s what the forecast said for the day of the solstice:

                sunrise    sunset
London           4:47       9:21
Providence       5:13       8:24
Nashville        5:31       8:08

Given that it’s light long before sunrise and stays that way long after sunset, you can easily see that it never gets dark in England. Land of the Frakkin’ Midnight Sun, that’s what it is. Also, lucky me, it’s The Year It Never Rains Along the South Coast. The sun, it burnnnnssss ussssss.

Of course, I’ll catch up on my sleep in Winter, when it’s dark for six months. Natural born Mole Person, me.

June 22, 2009 — 7:53 pm
Comments: 15

Dog’s breakfast


Dog’s breakfast: (mainly British, idiomatic) An unappealing mixture; a disorderly situation; a mess.

This post is a dog’s breakfast, not the thing in the picture. That would be a pizzurger: a double Whopper with a slice of pepperoni pizza between the beef patties. Brought to you by the fine folks at This Is Why You’re Fat.

Hell’s yes I’d eat one. Right this minute. No monetary wager required.

So, my RSS feed is down. Any ideas how I fix it? Yes, I realize there’s probably mucho documentationio on the WordPress site, but I’m in the “I’ll sit here with my mouth open and hope a ham sandwich falls into it” school of technical support.

I only vaguely grasp what an RSS feed is and was astonished to learn mine had been working before. Wonder how I did that. Presumably, it were the last WP upgrade what killed it. Thanks to everyone who wrote and told me it’s dead.

And the answer to this question is: lawnmower. I peeled that decal off the deck of my new (old) pushmower prior to treating a couple of rust spots. Not much help, is it? I guess the third icon describes pebbles being kicked out by the blade, but I’m still bereft of clue what the monolith is all about.

It’s American, by the way (trust me to run to the only American-made mower we saw and throw my arms around it). So that there’s probably good old-fashioned Yankee impenetrability.

Good weekend, ever’body!

June 19, 2009 — 6:56 pm
Comments: 13

Mixed metaphor


When the Beatles sang “blackbird singing in the dead of night…” as a metaphor for the civil rights struggle, I’m guessing they had no idea how confusing that would be to Americans. Our blackbirds go graaaaaaak.

But, sonofabitch, it turns out the British blackbird is a whole ‘nother species — Turdus merula (stop laughing, you in the back!) — and it has a great song. A burbling, silly, happy, random thing. It sounds just like — if you’ll permit me a metaphor without any poetry in it at all — a bird version of the mechanical stylings of R2D2.

We have one in the garden. I don’t know if he really follows me around, or if his sound is so distinctive I’m just highly aware of him whenever he’s out there.

That’s him, at the peak of the roof. (Note the bottle cemented into the masonry; we still haven’t worked out what that means). I waited ages for him to fly away so I could get a picture of him taking off, but he out-waited me. There’s only so long I can stand with a camera pressed to my face.

How do I know it’s just the one? Our blackbird is a bit leucistic — his head is mostly white.

I’m sure that’s a metaphor for something, too.

June 18, 2009 — 7:07 pm
Comments: 13

There’s a plaice for us. Somewhere, a plaice for us.


We went antiquing today and I bought was this attractive plaster cast of a fish.

One of my teachers in art school was the last of the old-time plaster casters, or so he told us. It’s a dying art. Incredibly important stuff, once. From the prosaic plastering-of-walls to medical casts of two-headed babies and bunions in the shape of George Washington. Those fabulous ornate ceilings, frames and gilt mirrors? Plaster — cast, carved and covered in gold leaf. Art students learned to draw from casts of great and famous sculptures and to sculpt from carving the stuff. Death masks, molds for ceramics, prototypes. Fresco. Gesso.

And don’t get me started on cement!

Anyhow, this is a modern cast of a Victorian cast from the British Museum. Presumably cast from an actual fish. It’s a plaice; a very tasty and popular flatfish. I’ve spent the whole day saying, “I’ve always wanted a plaice of my own” and “would you like to see my special plaice?” and “a woman’s plaice is in the kitchen.”

That’s twelve pounds worth of fun any day.

June 17, 2009 — 6:43 pm
Comments: 20