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By Samuel Stoddard

July 1999

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Tuesday, July 20, 1999

Reader "scArA" poses the following reader question: "Which is better, peaches or a film projector?" Email me your answers.

Monday, July 19, 1999

I have a reader question (actually a reader reader question as the reader question in question was sent by a reader), but it will have to wait until the next journal entry, because today I would like to tell you all what a complete moron I am.

Because our current living arrangements are not abundant with garage space, tools, and elbow room, and because my wife's parents live only a short drive away, I generally wait until we visit them to change the oil in our car. Yesterday afternoon, I pulled the car up into their garage, collected the appropriate oil changing tools, and got to work. I put the oil pan under the car and, twisting under the car in ways I never realized my body could bend, unscrewed the bolt. Dirty oil came pouring out.

The next step was to remove the oil filter. Repositioning the pan so it was under both the bolt and the filter, I set about unscrewing the oil filter. The oil filter in our car is positioned such that, to reach it, you have to stick your arm under the front of the car, twist it back around this plastic guard thing, then move it still higher, changing directions again some distance up to reach the filter. This kind of maneuvering generally results in huge creases against my wrist, caused by the plastic guard, which makes it look like I'm recovering from an attempted suicide. Nevertheless, I miraculously managed to unscrew the filter, and again, dirty oil came pouring out. I dripped a couple drops on the garage floor, cleaned them up as best I could, and regretted the soiling of a garage floor that wasn't mine.

Oil drained, the next step was to screw the bolt back in and put on the new filter. The first wasn't so much of a problem. The second involved navigating the new filter up that tortuous path (twisting it around a couple times on the way), and by the end I only had about two fingers that could be used effectively in that strange position. There is, however, a way I can get the other hand in to help, for in the plastic shield guard thing, there is a small hole, somewhat smaller than the size of my arm, into which I can jam my other hand, provided I have no further need for the outermost layer of my skin. In this manner, I can place one finger on the end of the filter, thus holding it against where it needs to screw in, and I can turn the filter around with two fingers on my other hand.

Fitting it where it needs to go is understandably difficult. Yet fit it I did, and once it was on enough to stay, I disentangled my assorted limbs, then put my right arm through the too small hole and tightened it that way. I tightened. And I tightened. And I tightened, until I could tighten no more.

Finally that part of the job was finished, and I was greatly relieved, particularly the wrist parts of me. Dumping the new oil in was easy. I laughed again at the silly precision with which the car's manual states the engine oil capacity: 3.49 quarts. I round off to three and a half, and, with the satisfaction of an irritating task well done, I backed the car out of the garage and into the driveway.

When I looked forward, I almost died. I inhaled more air in a sudden instant than I ever knew my lungs could hold. I was out of the car by a reflex action, not altogether sure the car was safe to exit at the time. There, in an ten inch wide swath from garage to driveway, lay my 3.49 quarts of new oil.

I stumbled into the house and told my wife, "You don't want to look outside." She looked outside, later telling me she was afraid I had hit her sister's car or something -- I would have realized how my words might have been misconstrued and phrased them so as to avoid that, but I was still in shock and couldn't think about such things. Moments later, piles of my in-laws were outside, heaping rags all over and diagnosing what had gone wrong. I was assured that everything was ok and that I wouldn't actually be disowned and exiled to a small third world country where malevolent bacteria are not actually diseases but menu items. I was grateful but only a little relieved.

It turned out the oil filter wasn't actually screwed on straight. Somehow it had tightened smoothly with the illusion of being secure, but obviously it wasn't. My wife's mother gave us both a ride to get new oil and "oil absorbent" (actually repackaged kitty litter) to clean up the mess. In the car, when all we could do was sit and reflect, they both laughed. I did too, but not by choice and only only between futile pleas for them to stop. I'll laugh more freely after I'm done reviling myself for my idiocy. Posting this journal entry should do the trick.

Sunday, July 18, 1999

Today marks the opening of a new half serious, half not so serious tool, Fantasy Name Generator. This is a pretty specialized site, and a minor one at that; nevertheless, it can be very useful and very funny sometimes. The history of the tool is given in somewhat abridged form on the site itself. What it doesn't say is how hard Dave and I used to laugh just sitting in front of the computer and imagining naming characters with some of the things it generated. In fact, what started me writing it, besides the desire to create a tool that was actually effective at generating names, was Dave and I generating names from the original name generation program (the one I speak of on the site's history page) and laughing at them. Maybe it's not actually funny, and we're just hopelessly silly people, but silliness is part of what RinkWorks is all about. So I ported my name generator program, from back in 1994, to the web for your use and enjoyment. If you use the tool for amusement purposes, I definitely recommend generating "very long names."

Silliness aside, I've actually gotten a lot of good fantasy names from that program -- more than I could use. Within the last three days or so, I've used it twice to generate names for The Game of the Ages, my work in progress that will eventually end up on Adventure Games Live.

Friday, July 16, 1999

Shawn replies to Elyse's letter from Wednesday:

"In response to Elyse, yes, I do 'live' here in the Tongass, for I do love the rain. I often hike up mountains and along streams while its pouring, and there is a very special beauty in the fog and clouds as they puff about the mountaintops and drift through the passes, and in the streams that swell in the torrent...and then I come home and grill some hamburgers for my dinner. But I also cherish the sun -- perhaps even more so because I fly (a fair weather pastime if ever there was one).

"Some days are better than others for certain activities -- flying and campfires on the beach come immediately to mind. But I think the point is why reserve any kind of day for any activity? I admit, I don't grill only when it's raining -- I was being just a bit tongue-in-cheek there. But I assure you there would be almost no point to my even having a grill if I were only to use it on sunny days when I'm around the house.

"Rainy days are ordinary, sunny days extraordinary. I usually will do what I'm inclined to do no matter what the weather, but I won't deny having my inclinations affected by the state of the sky and what is or is not falling out of it (and hopefully my airplane is one of the things not falling out of it)."

Wednesday, July 14, 1999

I'm pleased by the number of insightful letters that have originated from my simple comment about grilling in the rain. Here are three more letters, in no particular order, which I found extremely interesting:

From Kara W.:

"I just read the note you posted about what a different world Alaska is and the part about people envying others for 'getting' to live there really struck a chord with me.

"I live in Virginia, and the particular tourist trap that we have here is called the Mill Mountain Star. It's a lovely little waste of money whose only purpose in life is to attract tourists and glow all night long.

"Anyway, the other night I was up there looking out over the city and reflecting on how much I hated living here (there is very much a 'small town' mentality here which disturbs me), and then this couple came wandering onto the balcony. They stopped and gaped at the view. The woman said to the man 'Oh, honey, isn't this just gorgeous.' Even I, in my cynical little hovel, couldn't resist the awe in her voice, and I stopped grumping to myself and looked.

"It did look beautiful from afar. Sometimes, it pays to step back and look at the big picture."

From Howard M.:

"I loved Shawn's bit about tourist in Alaska. It was interesting that he used the term 'tropical birds.' As a teenager, I lived in south Florida where tourists were sometimes called 'snow birds.' Do you suppose they were the same people?

"I've traveled in all fifty states, but I have long since stopped thinking of myself as a 'tourist.' I'm a traveler. People everywhere tend to be friendly, and that includes Alaska where they also have a sense of humor. I think that comes from the extremes they face all time. Extremes of temperature, the length of daylight, extreme tides, great distances between towns -- without a sense of humor, you couldn't survive there.

"Tourists tend to rankle the locals everywhere. It's because they don't do their homework. People who don't read up on the area they are going to visit won't know what they're looking at. Like dirty glaciers. The soil and rock is as much a part of the glacier as the ice. I knew that. I've read about glaciers for years, but before I went to Alaska, the only one I had ever seen was on the north side of the Grand Teton, about five miles away.

"Once, at the Rotunda in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, a ranger explained to the tourist that potassium nitrate, used to make gun powder, had been mined inside the cave. When he called for questions a lady tourist raised her hand and asked, 'Was the cave here before they started mining?' She didn't know what a cave was, yet she was on vacation in Mammoth Cave National Park."

From Elyse:

"I know I'm a little late, but I still must reply to Shawn's original letter.

"I, too, live in a temperate rain forest. I am proud to say it. After all, not too many people live in the northernmost rainforest worldwide. I love the rain. It adds a touch of renewal to an already amazing place like my little town. Shawn, do you really live in the temperate rain forest? To live is to cherish the rain. You grill in the rain to leave the sun for biking, canoeing, hiking and such, but why not the other way around? Have you ever jogged down the street in the middle of the pouring rain? Or taken a hike up a mountain while it came down in sheets? I don't know about you, but with my one kayaking excursion, I was wet anyway. (Though I still maintain it was not my fault.) Save the grill for a rare, yet still boring, sunny day. Take advantage of the rain -- and the fewer people."

Saturday, July 10, 1999

Shawn has more to say, this time about Alaska:

I'm amused by your parents' reaction to Alaska, as that's where I have lived all of my life to date. To some extent, it reflects how we feel about tourists here -- as though a flock of strange, tropical birds has landed upon our beach and is wandering around, clamoring over how unfamiliar everything is. Many venture forth in search of the familiar, and souvenir-shop sanctuaries have sprung up to accommodate these befuddled transients. These shops are often (although not always) staffed by peculiar and much-despised migratory weasels that come and go with the season and feed exclusively off our tropical visitors.

Some seek out the unfamiliar, and the ways of doing this here are many and varied. Thousands flock to kiosks where they gain passage to strange sights via bus. Those of us who live here inevitably end up behind their bus as it creeps along through downtown while a cheery voice explains the many sights and reminds the erstwhile adventurers not to feed the locals lest they begin hanging around where they are not wanted.

Boats take them whale watching and fishing, helicopters and airplanes take them to see the mighty icefields above us. Most leave with a sense of awe, for this is such a different place. Some, however, cannot be appeased by majesty and complain mightily that the world is not as they feel it should be: it's too cold, the glacier is dirty, and why doesn't someone wash it so we can get a good picture, and that old mine is an eyesore and looks like a safety hazard, and it should be torn down before someone gets hurt, the streets have too many hills, and it's hard to walk, it hasn't stopped raining since we got here.... The list of complaints goes on and on.

Mostly, we don't mind the visitors, foriegn as they are. The ecosystem that once supported the local flocks has been all but destroyed by overzealous environmentalism, and the visitors leave money and prosperity in their wake. Many of us like to share what we have, and bask in the envy of people who can't believe we "get" to live here. But when I hear a visitor actually use that word "get," it makes me uncomfortable. Do these people really feel none of us are free to live where we want to live? That it's the luck of the draw, the decision of someone else, the grace of being born in the right place?

This is not an exclusive resort (although some feel it should be), nor yet a foreign country with closed borders (ditto), and some like it so much they never get around to leaving. After a few years, they become successful transplants and flourish in the life they have chosen. Sure, it rains a lot. An awful lot. But after weeks of rain, just as they are beginning to reconsider whatever brought them here to begin with, the sun comes out for a few days of glory and all ill thoughts are forgotten as they race for the beaches, the hiking trails, the skies...and they smile every time they hear a tourist exclaim at something the people who live here really don't take for granted either.

Hmm. Interesting to see where this ended up. I had intended to go on more about grilling in the rain, but perhaps later. For now, I shall change my subject line to something more befitting and proceed to work (I am late) despite that the sun is shining and I'd rather go fly up over the icefield.

Tuesday, July 6, 1999

About outdoor grilling in the rain, reader Shawn says:

"I live in temperate rainforest where it manages to rain most of the year. You're saying people cook on an outdoor grills when it ISN'T raining? Wow. When the sun comes out here, we're usually too busy hiking or beachcombing or boating or flying or whatever to bother mucking about with the grill. Rather, we gather driftwood and build a fire on the beach, cut roasting sticks from a nearby tree, then sit around and chat while we all roast whatever we grabbed out of the refrigerator before we left. Grills are for when it's raining and you don't want to mess up the kitchen."

It's amazing how different different parts of the world can be. My parents just got back from a trip to Alaska, and they were saying it looked so foreign to them, it seemed incongruous that the residents actually spoke English. And that's just the cultural diversity to be found in the United States, which has nothing on the cultural diversity of the world.

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