Buh Bye Bellsouth

Today, Turkey – 2, a process I started back in June has finally come to fruition. The second and last of the business lines I had with Bellsouth are now safely and completely ported over to “Vonage”:http://www.vonage.com (as in Voice over IP). If you’re just a residential kinda guy, it shouldn’t take that long, but with biz lines, one should always proceed with caution.

Not to get into boring details, but let’s just say that I ordered service back in June *in addition* to my existing biz lines with Bellsouth. It took a few weeks to work out some funkiness with my internet connection. Basically, my dsl connection at my current location has never been as stable as the one I had with Mindspring when I lived on the other side of town. Three ISPs, 2 truck rolls and it’s still flakey after all these (3) years. VOIP doesn’t like a flakey connection, nor does it like latency in the network. Packets get stalled and stack up, resulting in a chattering conversation over a telephone. Most people have good luck with voip and dsl; I didn’t. After I set up a cable internet connection, I had much better throughput and basically, voip calls aren’t any different from calls made over a pots line.

Anyway, two months to get the chatters worked out, and another 6 weeks apiece to get my telephone numbers ported from Bellsouth to Vonage. Porting the lines is apparently something Bellsouth doesn’t like to do. A lot of roadblocks appeared along the way, but eventually I got it done. Talking with Bellsouth biz support people, I thought there might be a fraction of a chance that they’d try to entice me to stay, with a deal of some sort. The closest I got to that was one of them remarking, “hmmmm…looks like you’ve had service with us since 1977.” That’s 27 years of paying ~ $180/month for two biz lines with caller id, etc. Oh well, just more churn to them.

So what am I paying now? Let’s see, $42/mo for the cable internet service (even though I don’t just use it for telephones). $62/mo for two business lines from Vonage, which come with more bells and whistles than I know how to use, caller id, voicemail, call hunt, unlimited long distance in the US and Canada, it goes on. Then I’m paying another $7.95/mo. for “Send2Fax”:http://www.send2fax.com/. You see, I could never get reliable fax reception with VOIP. So instead, my 27 year old published fax line is now ported to Vonage, but it auto-forwards to Send2Fax. So, you add all that up and get roughly $112.00/mo. I also had a fairly cheap long distance company over the Bellsouth lines, so add in another ~$20/mo for long distance and you get….tada…..$200/mo over Bellsouth land lines vs. $112/mo, voice over IP. Since $42 of that is my cable internet connection (after the 6 month deal of $22/mo runs out), getting rid of Bellsouth is like getting a big discount plus free broadband.

Yes….I know….I need to get out more.

Sunday at the Museum

Went to see the Van Gogh, Mondrian, Picasso exhibit on Sunday. As always, I learned a great deal; I’m not much of an art historian and it doesn’t take a whole lot to impress me. The fact that the exhibit actually *was* a “whole lot” in itself, didn’t escape me, though.

For me, museums have always been like temples and cathedrals. The idea that I’m pretty much ignorant of most of what I see in them kind of misses the point. It just means that I missed that particular part of my formal education is all. My heart’s still good.

Very good. And it was very receptive during my Sunday tour of the worlds of Vincent Van Gogh, Piet Mondrian and Pablo Picasso. When I was 4 years old, I used to nag my parents to take me to the Denver Museum week after week, and they sometimes gave in, allowing all kinds of creative energy from the ages to swirl about my 4 year old brain. My preferred section was down some old stairs where some photos of ancient Indians hung. One of the photos seemed very familiar, but I can only guess what that meant to the little 4 year old kid. I’ve speculated that I used to see the old man out on my favorite part of the prairie where I’d run with my dog and chase birds. But who knows this many years later? It’s a nice memory, though.

When I finished the Picasso and other Cubists exhibit, the tour led out through the gift shop of all places. As I walked through, I was drawn to one of the glass cases. There in the top, on the top two shelves were “my” pieces. I don’t really need the “” around my; I make a living with jewelry and “our” pieces were in the showcase. What I meant was, I didn’t design them; my partner did. But I was heavily involved in the creation process. The artwork that drew my attention was a five piece necklace, cast in sterling silver. The five pieces are sensous shapes that swirl down from a cabretta leather tie. Each piece is 4 or 5 inches long.

The pieces are lost wax cast,quite difficult to produce, and that’s where I come in. Each piece starts off as a wax sculpture that gets fixed to a base and surrounded with plaster. After the plaster hardens, the wax melts out and I fire up a gas furnace, which melts the sterling silver sitting in a graphite crucible. At some point, when the surface of the molten metal “looks” right, I pour it into the plaster mold under vacuum pressure. The plaster mold, hollow now, is the one that used to surround the wax sculpture of the sensous necklace shape.

Knocking it out of the mold and polishing the sterling is another long drawn out process. Suffice it to say that when molten metal cools, it’s tricky getting it to harden on the outside into a smooth, sensous shape. It has to be helped at that point by a jeweler’s polishing wheel. But not “helped” too much, because if you polish through the dense outer shell of the metal, the interior is even more porous, because it was the last to cool after the metal was poured.

Why mention all this? Because I’ve been to a lot of exhibits in a lot of museums over the years. I’ve seen a lot of incredible art work created by humans with maybe a touch of inspiration from whatever gods that be. After all the years of going to museums and all the years of producing jewelry, I’d have to say that last Sunday in the Gift Shop was the first time that it really hit me. That necklace and a few of the other pieces on the two shelves, will someday sit in another part of a museum somewhere as part of a permanent collection. I don’t think it will be in my lifetime; it might be 500 years from now. But I felt it in my gut. And there was something full circle about that. And there was something 4 year old kid about that too.


Aren’t spambots fun?

Okay, yes, I know. Dead Donkey in the Middle of the Web.

A couple of years ago I started this minimal project with a fun piece of blogware called B-2. All was well, except maybe for visitors who were looking for anything new on more than a bimonthly basis. Unfortunately, there soon developed a security hole that was fixed. All I needed to do was upgrade. And hey, it was easy.

After losing and replacing the database, (yeah, I guess you could call it EZ). But not to worry. I’ll never upgrade the bastard again. Oops, another security hole, another upgrade, another database. Finally, B-2 goes south and gets replaced by “WordPress”:http://wordpress.org. Aha! This should be stable. Again, another upgrade, another database, more hand-reentry of posts and comments.

I liked that version of WordPress a whole lot. But enter my casino spambot a couple of weeks ago. It decided that it liked my blog so much that it would put 50 to 100 posts on it per day, automatically and without human effort. Like a good blogger, I deleted them every day. At some point though, I started thinking, hey, this is why I run procmail and Spamassassin on my company mailserver, to avoid this shit. I go to the WordPress support forum and find that YES! someone has come up with a great spambot plugin. The only problem? You guessed it, my version of WordPress has to be “upgraded” again. Ahh, my favorite. Another upgrade, another database, another Dead Donkey in the Middle of the Web.

Okay, so as usual, I’ll just reinstall WordPress and re-enter all my data by hand. Right? Wrong. For all that crap, why not try a new blog?

Okay, so I go to Pair’s site and look at all the blogs they support. In fact you can install them with a simple command line from the shell. I check out “Bloxsom”:http://www.blosxom.com/, “Geeklog”:http://www.geeklog.net/index.php and “PHPbb”:http://www.phpbb.com/. I like PHPbb a whole lot, but it’s really overkill for a little donkey with 6 posts per year. I set it up for clients, though, all the time when they need a big discussion forum. Geeklog? Well, it looks great, but it may be hard for me to get back to a “simple” donkey look. A few too many bells and whistles. Bloxsom? Umm, not quite right either. So I end up trying “Textpattern”:http://www.textpattern.com/ after rave reviews from the community and friends.

So here I am. I just have to reenter all my former data. The next time I am forced to upgrade, I’ll see I made any headway or not. What the hell? Just another dead donkey.

The Old Flame

Politics has always been an old flame of mine. You know, the type of girl who stole your heart when you were young and innocent and
probably a lot more vulnerable than you are these days. No matter how many times she broke your heart, you’d run into her at a bus stop or a restaurant and she’d take your breath away. And all would be forgiven and you’d fall hard again, just like the first time, just like the last time and just like the time before that.

Eventually though, as time passed, you’d arrive at the point where you decide you just can’t take it any more and you kind of freeze
up inside, vowing that you’ll never allow yourself to get hurt like that again. And the years go by, and more time passes and at some point you don’t even remember what love was like, and that’s a good thing, and you’re thankful to the gods for making that so.

The turmoil of the sixties, SDS, Civil Rights and the Anti-war Movement, all took a toll on me. There were times of exhuberance, soaring optimism and a belief that ordinary people could stop bloodshed, could stand up for one another, could make a difference in the world. And there were times of huddling in dark doorways amid violence and explosions and screams, and frigid marches and cold rain that soaked you to the bone and a world-weariness that seemed to especially overtake that part of me that was once good.

By the mid-seventies, I’d had it. Friends and acquaintances were in prison or dead, or just went home to take jobs or get married. Another Kennedy was dead. Martin Luther King Jr. was dead. Some, like me, spent more time in bars, cursed the evil powers that were, and usually didn’t remember a whole lot in the morning.
Bitterness becomes a frequent companion the more you realize that you’ve been permanently jilted, and she isn’t coming back, and you find you’ve lost the part of you that would’ve ever gotten her to come back to begin with. Eventually, I guess, we all decide to move on with our lives, and we find ourselves living in the suburbs, getting into families, working jobs we never imagined and not really thinking too much about anything.

World events come and go, Presidents come and go, trends, fads, songs, entire seasons of television pass by unnoticed. As the years go by, I always vote, but the outcome never fazes me much one way or the other, and the various suburbs I live in come and go but nothing really changes much.

Until this year and this President.

Four years previous, I vote for Al Gore and he loses, and I don’t think too much about the winner, an inexperienced, smirking guy who is the newest occupant of the White House. I hope nothing bad happens on his watch, because I don’t think he can handle it, but that’s about it. Then 9/11 happens, and it blows my world apart as it rips apart the twin towers that used to be a part of my world when I lived in New York. The smirky president, Bush, initially falters, then impresses me with his bullhorn to the fire fighters standing at Ground Zero. I start feeling whole again, with my neighbors, with the new President, with everything American. It’s a good feeling.

But it’s a brief feeling. An uneasiness starts taking hold. As months go by, I start getting the feeling that we’re being conned, lied to. Instead of pressing in Afghanistan where we had the perpetrators nearly caught, We end up invading Iraq. My old Vietnam fears rise up, but I’m now, leery as I am, I’m still afraid of terrorists and suitcase nukes and I don’t say anything.

The war seems to go well initially. But as time passes, it seems to grind to a halt while the killing continues, but I still don’t say anything. A few critics raise their voices, but they are quickly squelched. Careers are ruined. A general fear seems to grip us all, me and my neighbors, and I’m not sure it’s terrorists we’re afraid of, or each other. I make small talk, I close up and walk quietly in the darkness.

Then I start noticing this strange funny little guy who thinks he’s going to run for President on the Democratic side, and he’s publicly against the war. I’m amazed at first, he’s so ridiculous, but I admire him for speaking up, for seeming to ignore the fear that surrounds us all. I don’t think he’ll win, of course….

…kind of like those early weird looking SDS people who were asking me to join them in stopping the Vietnam War. I thought they were crazy; if we ran out of Vietnam, the Communists would win, and they’d attack other countries, and pretty soon, all of SE Asia would be a sea of Red. But there’s something irresistible about them and I take a pamphlet. I go to a meeting; I go to another.

There’s something irresistible about Howard Dean, and like a train wreck, I can’t take my eyes off him. I’m not sure he’ll ever make it as President, but I find myself going to a couple of MoveOn meetings. I’m overly cautious, I don’t look people in the eyes at first. But at some point, I see that they don’t look a whole lot different from me or my neighbors. I notice a faint excitement in my step, I start watching political talk shows and reading up on the war and the economy and the different people who are running for President against Bush, the smirky President, and I remember how I didn’t think he could handle the really tough decisions. I run my litmus test against him and against his Democratic challengers. You know, the one where I try to imagine them in the Oval Office
during the Cuban Missle Crisis and see if I think they could rise to the occasion like John Kennedy did. A couple of the Democrats
pass that test, and eventually, even Howard Dean does. Bush doesn’t.

As the months pass, I barely realize it, but I’m becoming a political junkie. I check the blogs all day long and hit the cable talk shows at night. I start filling my head with positions and decisions and what this writer said and what that reporter did….I’m going to more meetings, I’m sending money in and I’m watching as the process starts settling on one challenger, John Kerry to take on the dangerously incompetent smirky President, Bush. I get emails asking me to volunteer for this and volunteer for that. Before I
know it, I’m calling volunteer canvassers in swing states for the Democratic Party. I make plans to visit one or two and get in on
some ground work. Then I’m providing technical support for MoveOn. I talk to precinct leaders in various states helping them with problems accessing the database of likely voters and streets in their precincts. It becomes part of my everyday ritual and I find myself getting caught up in the excitement and it looks like we’re winning. I press harder. I give it everything I’ve got and I lie awake at night wondering what will happen if we do or don’t win. I can’t imagine not winning. I speak to thousands of people on the ground in swing states. Something magical is happening, a force created by everyday people is rising up. We have power again, we can do it, we’re going to Win!!

And the polls all seem to confirm this, we’re rising in a mighty wave. We’re taking back our country. But then the whole thing crashes to pieces in front of my eyes. We crash against an even mightier brick wall of a highly organized Republican Party, willing to stop at nothing to hang onto power. I feel depression washing over me, I sit in my office stunned as John Kerry gives a moving concession speech from Faneuil Hall.

It’s raining lightly on the tarmac and in the darkness of the night an airplane slowly cranks up it’s port engine.
Ilsa stares into me through moist eyes, she wants to know “why my name, Richard?”
“Because you’re getting on that plane.”
“If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it.”
“Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.”
“But, what about us?”
I can barely speak.
“We’ll always have Paris.”

I fire off an email to one of the main organizers at MoveOn. I tell her that this isn’t the end, it’s a new beginning and that I want to play a part from now on. Doing nothing is no longer an option.

As the plane drones in the distance, Capt. Renault and I stand on the tarmac.
“So, Rick, it appears that you may be a bit of a sentimentalist after all. It might be good if you were to get out of Casablanca for awhile.
“There’s a free french garrison over at Brazaville and that 10000 francs I owe you could pay part of our expenses.”

“Our expenses?”

“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

The rain has stopped as the two of us stroll down the runway. Louis gives me a light, and I can see a faint glimmer of the sun,
rising far off in the distance.