Sunday, December 31, 2006

Just a little bit older, but are we wiser?

Scientists have announced that their estimates of the universe's age were just a little off. So the hydrogen that comprises about half a typical human's body mass is not 13 billion years old, it's 13.7 billion years old.

Doesn't that make you feel young as an Elf?

I've always wondered, though, how scientists can live with the idea that Earth is at the center of the universe. They claim it's not, but every measurement of the size of the universe (which is correlated to its age) is expressed in terms of how far light has had to travel to reach us (or radio waves). That makes the Earth the center of the universe.

Or at least it's the center of the universe that we see (and hear). But why is it that scientists never ask if the light that reaches us didn't come from a source that sent light in the opposite direction? Are there huge cosmic lamps out there that only point light one way, like the great stands of lights that surround game stadiums at night?

Where does that light go? Is there some Earth-like planet in the middle of another section of the universe whose scientists are saying, "We're only Bleeple Mipps away from the edge of the universe", and in fact we here on Earth are outside the distance covered by those Bleeple Mipps?

When I was a tyke, or perhaps a lad, a strapping young man, some older friend of mine (he may have been all of 14 years old at the time) tried to explain to me that -- according to Einstein, who knows all things about gravity, mass, light, and relativity -- a beam of light directed at the edge of the universe would continue on its way until it reached its point of origin. That is, the universe is so massive that somewhere the light's path -- though seeming to remain straight to a point of observation concurrent with the light particles' position -- would seem to curve to an observer positioned at the point of origin.

Supposedly, the curvature would be so great that the light would come right back in to its point of origin -- or wrap around the universe about halfway and then come right back. Sort of like a rock being thrown up that eventually has to come down.

The problem is, if that theory is correct, we should see ourselves coming back to meet ourselves. I mean, at some point, the light sent out by Sol -- our sun -- should return to the Solar system. And if we could detect that ancient light from Sol, we should be able to determine how long (relative to our own position in the universe) it took that light to zoom out to the edge of the universe, curve around, and come back.

Ideally, you'd want to do that with a nearby pulsing star's light, although I suppose that pulsing stars don't last very long in cosmic terms as they pulse because they have captured or been captured by the mass of a nearby star-like body. But how do you measure the distance of a universe where you haven't seen the light come back around?

Scientists depend on the radiation they detect from the Big Bang, the supposed event of origin for this universe. That is, the radiation has moved out so far it has already bounced back to us. Except, if the radiation we detect is from the earliest experience of the universe, when did it bounce back? That is, if the universe is constantly expanding -- or if the universe was constantly expanding for some length of time in the past -- then why did the radiation fall back into the universe? Did some particals have less energy than others, and there are still particles farther out that didn't bounce back at the same time as the radiation we have already detected?

There should be a fall-edge or event horizon for the universe somewhere in all directions, where light cannot escape. We are essentially a light hole in the space of the greater nothingness that surrounds the universe. That is, if the universe is expanding, it must be expanding into something or else it is not expanding at all. That something may have nothing in it, but it remains something into which time and space and move. Call it Absolute Distance, where the laws of relativity do not apply because -- except for our universe and perhaps a multitude of other universes -- there is nothing to produce the laws and relativity. There is no mass in the greater expanse of Absolute Distance.

So our universe, if it has an event horizon, is bright unto itself, because all light remains within it, even though that light may be moving farther away from center. Eventually, though, the light loses its energy and the mass of the universe pulls it back in, just as the mass of a black hole pulls light into itself, and the light falls back into the universe.

We are standing in an ever-constant, gentle storm of lightfall, showered by the memories of the past. But we still don't know if science is right or if it has missed the obvious universe sitting right next to us. After all, perhaps Absolute Distance is tightly packed by universes which almost touch each other, constantly jostling for more room, but constantly sucking their light (or its equivalent) back into themselves. We see not the darkness which surrounds us, but we feel its absence within the walls of our universe, and we ask, "Is there anything else out there? Or is that all there is?"

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Mary's Band celebrates New's Year Eve in Houston

I really wish I could be in Houston this weekend. I would love to see Mary's Band again. She recently sent out the following announcement on her mailing list:

Please, go to WWW.MARYSBAND.COM for information on our schedule this week.

If you don't have any plans, Mary's Band will love to invite you to celebrate with us the arrival of the new year 2007.

Celebrate New Year's Eve in Style at the Hyatt Regency Houston! Your night of celebration includes two live bands: "Mary's Band" and "Commercial Art", a DJ, dinner, and an incredible 50,000 balloon shower at midnight. For more information, please call 713.654.1234 or visit

The Marysband URL actually redirects to Mary Fometa's official Web site, for what it's worth.

If you've never heard a live Latin band before, and you have the opportunity to hear Mary's Band, I don't think you'l regret the experience. She's an incredible performer.

Mary's Band is performing at Cantina Laredo Thursday, December 28 and Friday, December 29; at Plaza 59 on Saturday, December 30; and at the Hyatt Regency Houston-Downtown on Sunday, December 31.

In memory of George Budabin

Andru Edwards is one of the organizers of the Seattle MindCamp, an unconference where several hundred people from diverse technical fields come together and share what they are doing with each other.

He probably has no idea of who I am, although we've exchanged a couple of emails. I might have said "Hi" to him at the Seattle MindCamp I attended in October.

Andru made a personal request of MindCampers recently and I've decided to comply. I wish I could do this for everyone, but tha's not possible. Still, let this commemorative post represent my heartfelt compassion for all families who have recently lost loved ones. Here is Andu's request:
Andru Edwards here. I wanted to first send a general thank you to those of you who emailed me to express your condolences for the passing of my father two days ago after reading the article I wrote about him on my blog:

For those who don't know me, I have a favor to ask of the blogoshpere. My family (my mother and six siblings) have each decided on a "section" of life that they will take the helm of to create a memorial of our father. I chose "Internet" as an outside the box approach. I work on the Internet, and it is a part of who I am. That being said, here is my request:

If you have a blog, and you wouldn't mind, could you link the term "George Budabin" to the article above where I talk about my father? Also, if you use tags, use the tag "George Budabin" in your post as well?
So here is my contribution to the effort.

George Budabin

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

And now for the second year...

Today marks the beginning of the second year of my semi-official blog. I can't really think of anything great to say, but I didn't want the anniversary to completely pass without saying something.

Over the past year, I've learned a great deal about what to say on the blog, what not to say, and what piques people's interest. Perhaps it is no coincidence that I tend to get more visitors when I share intimate details of my life -- the sort of things that I shouldn't say on a blog.

You people are evil.

Still, it's been a worthwhile experience overall, and I'm glad to see I haven't lost my audience yet. As 2007 unfolds, I hope I can keep sharing the kinds of neat thoughts and anecdotes that have entertained you folks.

If nothing else, I have a record of some things I've forgotten through the years but remembered long enough to write about. I'd link to them to show you what I mean but I can't remember any specific examples.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas, Mizuo Peck

Who is Mizuo Peck, you ask? She's the lovely young lady who plays Sacagawea in "Night at the Museum". While I'm not crazy about Ben Stiller, I liked this movie. It's a fun, light-hearted romp through history that gives some old-timers (Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney) a chance to come out and play. To be honest, I thought Mickey Rooney was dead. I'm glad to see he isn't.

The movie has been almost universally panned by critics, which just proves once again that it doesn't take much intelligence or character to be a film critic. While "Night at the Museum" probably won't make it into the "Classic Comedies of All Time" category, this is the best work from Stiller I've ever seen -- meaning, he didn't bore me to tears as he usually does.

The movie is fun because it's not really a Ben Stiller vehicle. It's a "let's poke fun at Hollywood cliches" vehicle, and it takes down quite a few cliches.

Still, what caught my eye (besides the lovely Carla Gugino) was the nice performance by relatively unknown actress Mizuo Peck. Her casting as the Native American Sacagawea museum replica was not well received among online Native Americans, who rightly feel there is plenty of Native American talent capable of performing well in the role. But Mizuo won the part and the film is done and I think she deserves a little recognition.

So I've created a feature article about Mizuo at Xenite.Org. As an added bonus, I included some content and links about Savagawea (but since there are people who can tell her story better than me, I decided to just recommend a few good sites, including the Lemhi-Shoshone Tribe's official Web site).

I hope that Mizuo Peck picks up more roles in films I'll want to see. Her career has sort of wandered across the map for now, but maybe this will be her breakout role. And, if it is, I think Xenite has the privilege of hosting the first "fan" site for Mizuo.

Welcome to the Xenite family, Ms. Peck, and Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 23, 2006 - Change your tactics NOW

I'm never happy to see that my sites are being scraped, but I'm even less happy to find that an intermediary firm is sending robots into my server to scrape content for their clients to look at surreptitiously.

I did not set up Web sites so that companies out there can sell private access to their clients.

Brandimensions has been sending robots to look at discussions on SF-FANDOM about the movie "Eragon". I can understand why the movie studios want to know what people are saying on the Internet, but this is not acceptable.

Brandimensions does not own that content, they do not manage it, and they are not entitled to make any money by providing directed access to it.

My partner and I will be discussing how to block Brandimensions and other movie studio spy firms from our server in the coming days.

In the meantime, if you are a movie studio executive, contact me and let me know what you would like to know about fan reaction to your upcoming movies. I can help you get involved in the fan communities without your having to pay Brandimensions or other companies to do it for you.

Tolkien Studies site now has a blog

After much dithering, hemming, and hawing on my part (and begging of Dixie to help me), Tolkien Studies on the Web now has a Tolkien Studies Blog.

The blog will allow me to post content more often, and I hope to invite a few guest bloggers to eventually post content.

I expect to start making regular posts by the first of the year.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Thank you, Ms. Dewey

Ms. Dewey sends this blog traffic. I have no idea of why. I use Google Analytics to track the statistics for this blog (as part of a year-long experiment) and as stat tools go I find it to be pretty limited. Nonetheless, Google Analytics says that Ms. Dewey is one of my leading referers.

Have no idea of why, but at least I know that other people are sitting around, laughing their heads off at the Web's sassiest search engine.

If you haven't given Ms. Dewey a try, and you have a multimedia-capable computer, do it. You'll love what you find. She is a marketing gimmick that Microsoft put out to help promote Live, but she's a much better interface than any of the search engines have so far.

Just don't ask her "Who is mickey mouse?" That still leaves her stumped and confounded, and it will eventually crash your PC.

Beowulf was an email spammer

I maintain a couple of email addresses through a free service just in case the Xenite server crashes so utterly we cannot get email through (happens maybe once every two years). We use one of the email addresses to handle domain info, too.

Well, someone publishes that email address (probably the domain registrar) and therefore it gets lots of spam.

Once or twice a month I go in and scan the incoming messages. If I see nothing useful I flag the whole kit'n'kaboodle as spam, delete the junk mail, and move on.

Tonight I saw a message from "Eoforhild" something or other. I thought, as I flagged everything as spam, "Waitaminnit. That could be a Tolkien fan trying to contact me through an unlikely back door."

Well, I opened up the message and found I could not read it because it was written (partially) in Old English. While the average "Beowulf" scholar might have gotten a chuckle out of the experience, I onlly rolled my eyes. I couldn't even see what the spammer was selling.

Maybe someone is just having a little fun with me. I don't know. Don't care.

But if you're going to send me spam, at least make it legible. The SEO forum spammers are actually much better at constructing almost believable text than the email spammers. I guess that is because the biggest email spammers are based in Russia and their content is so poorly fabricated they make Nigerian scammers look like eloquent and articulate academics.

I maybe some of the spammers are experimenting with Old English to see what they can slip past the Bayesian filters that are looking primarily at Modern English. But spam is spam. As soon as enough people report the Old English spam to their filtering systems, the Old English will become useless.

Friday, December 15, 2006

I survived the Seattle windstorm

Everyone at work is relating how they lost power in their homes. I feel almost deprived, as my only real inconvenience was the hour-long drive home last night (short by comparison with other people's horror stories -- but at least I made better time than the buses).

At one point my cable service died for about 3 minutes. And the lights flickered a little bit.

But the worst part of the evening for me came after I went to bed. The winds were so strong they shook the repeatedly building. Now, tall buildings are built to sway a little in the wind. Even taller buildings have internal mechanisms to help shift the energy from wind so that the buildings don't break.

But I couldn't help wondering what tolerances the Seattle building codes specify for wind stress. It didn't feel like my building was built for this kind of windstorm. And this morning someone told me they don't have wind-storms like this.

Maybe a few Balrogs blew into town as a tempest of fire or something.

So, anyway, despite the debris-littered streets, the fact that people who rely on public transportation are getting into work late, and the fact that I was without cable for about 3 minutes (3 minutes of silence gives you time to say to yourself, "Huh?"), I don't really have anything to report.

Shame. Would have made an interesting blog post.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

I have no heart and you must eat my soul

Sounds like the title for a science fiction or fantasy story, doesn't it? I should probably run a contest for whomever can write the best story to the title "I have no heart and you must eat my soul". But I'm not sure what I could give away as a prize. Maybe a couple of autographed copies of my books? Yeah, I can see the legions of fans beating down the doors to write blazing copy for me.

Maybe a $50 gift certificate from Amazon? I'll have to think about that.

In the meantime, I went walking along the street a little bit tonight. It's the first time in weeks I felt like going out. In fact, I had to mail a letter to my sister and forgot to do so at lunch, so I walked down to the post office. And after I got home from work I walked down to the corner store to buy my dinner. Not that I needed to buy dinner but I wanted to go out for a walk.

I got pretty sick in November. Everyone at work was coughing, sneezing, hacking, and wheezing. In fact, a few people are still struggling to get healthy and the rest of us are struggling to stay that way. I finally went back to the doctor and begged for help. "You're not really sick," he said. "It looks like an asthmatic reaction to me."

Reaction to what? The antibiotics he had given me a week before? I'm still in the process of getting to know this doctor, and he me. We understand each other to a point so far: I complain and whine, he waits for me to shut up, and then he does something doctorish. This time around he told his nurse to stab me twice and wrote a prescription for me.

"This may make you feel caffeinated," he said sotly.

Caffeinated? What does that mean? I had no idea, so I asked. "Doc, what does caffeinated mean? Like 'wired'?"

"Something like that," he said.

He gave me the prescription, shook my hand, and gracefully waited for me to exit his office. I glanced down at the prescription and saw some strange behemoth of a pharmaceutical name I had never heard of before. But it sounded familiar, like something I knew other people took on occasion. It seemed to me that I was about to start taking POWERFUL MEDICATION (sorry for those of you who have screen readers).

Well, I couldn't stop coughing so by this point I was willing to try just about anything for my "asthmatic reaction". I headed down to my pharmacy with my new insurance card in hand, looking forward to taking advantage of the company health benefits after waiting nearly two months. I didn't even have to wait very long. The pharmacist processed my prescription in about 15-20 minutes. I could feel that cough wrangling in its death throes.

Just to be on the safe side, though, I had warned my boss that I might seem a little different over the next few days. "Why?" he asked. I told him the name of the medication. His eyes grew wide. "Oh, yeah."

Did everyone know something I didn't?

Well, to make a long preamble longer, by the time the pharmacist came over to discuss the medication with me, I was ready to try anything. So I could barely contain my enthusiasm until she said, "And this may make you feel caffeinated...."


"What does that mean?" I asked. "Like, I'm going to be wired or something? Bouncing off the walls?"

"Yes, you could say that," she replied. "And some people take the entire dose in the morning, but you may want to spread it out across the day if you have never taken anything like this before."

Okay, I spread the doses out across the day. Didn't help.

I spent the next few days bouncing off the walls, yelling, screaming, crying, depressed, excited, laughing, joking, talking fast, slowing down, speeding up, turning sideways, doing cartwheels, handsprings, somesaults.

Yeah, they say steroids will do that to you.

All the women just laughed at me and said, "You're just PMSing. You'll be fine."

Okay, I understand so many things better now that I have stopped climbing buildings and chasing down armed bankrobbers. I know I said things I should not have said. I did things that should never be mentioned in the light of day. That doctor did things I would never disclose in therapy or under oath.

But I feel a lot better. Hardly cough at all now.

It's hard to complain about success. I just hope I don't go through any more asthmatic reactions again. Next thing you know, I may be running for President.

The Balrog of Moria

People ask some of the strangest questions (well, they may seem strange in the morning). I get a lot of traffic on Xenite.Org for various topics. When you have that much content, you capture a lot of queries in the search engines.

I used to see the question "Why did the Elves sail west?" (Answer: To get to the other side of the Sea) come up a lot. I suppose such questions were driven by the third "Lord of the Rings" movie, where everyone jumps on board the ship and no one really explains why.

Even in The Lord of the Rings (the book) Tolkien doesn't do a very good job of explaining why Elrond high-tails it out of Middle-earth after Sauron's defeat. Everyone says, "The time of the Elves has gone and the Time of Men has come", but they don't explain why that is so very well.

The Elves, of course, have really messed up Middle-earth badly. They tried to make Middle-earth as beautiful and timeless as Valinor, but they are not the angelic Valar. The sheer amount of power required to hold back the effects of Time across Middle-earth woud be immense. I can well imagine Tolkien saying to himself, "The Elves are drained and unable to withstand the onslought of time as it catches up with them" in the wake of the destruction of the One Ring.

The Elves had to leave Middle-earth and sail over Sea because they were too closely bound up with the power of the Rings. They felt the effects of Time washing over them while other peoples really felt nothing. The Elves felt suddenly old and weary.

In Valinor, which was essentially Paradise, the Elves would be renewed and rejuvenated. The Valar would heal them and help them recover their strength. The Elves would, in effect, be able to pick up the pieces of their shattered dreams and do new things, great things. They would be able to move forward, whereas in Middle-earth they had become stagnate, unimaginative, and incapable of accomplishing anything new.

That's the best answer I can muster to the question.

But people have many questions about Balrogs. "Did Gandalf kill the Balrog of Moria", "What were the powers of the balrogs", "do Balrogs have wings?", "what does Gandalf say when he face to face with the balrog of moria?" (I kid you not), "Where did the Balrog come from?", "Why did the Balrog not use wings to fly?".

And that's just a sampling.

What is it about Balrogs that so fascinates people? Well, I cannot answer that question, but I can answer some of the others.

Q. Did Gandalf kill the Balrog of Moria?

A. Yes, Gandalf killed the Balrog of Moria. The sequence of events goes something like:
  1. The Balrog approaches the Chamber of Mazarbul and Gandalf catches a glimpse of it
  2. The Balrog enters the Chamber as Gandalf tries to seal the door
  3. Gandalf and the Balrog struggle briefly and the roof collapses on the Balrog
  4. The Balrog takes an alternate route to overtake Gandalf and the Fellowship
  5. The Balrog approaches the Bridge of Khazad-dum
  6. Gandalf breaks the bridge and both he and the Balrog fall into the chasm
  7. The Balrog and Gandalf hit a body of water
  8. Gandalf chases the Balrog through underground passages until they emerge on the peak of Zirak-Zigil
  9. They battle on the peak
  10. Gandalf and the Balrog mortally wound each other
  11. The dying Balrog falls from the mountaintop

People often ask, "If the Balrog had wings, why didn't it fly out of the chasm and why didn't it fly off the mountain peak?"

Well, the whole question of the Balrog's wings has been misunderstood (and badly misrepresented by sites like The Encyclopedia of Arda). The wings were simply extensions of the darkness with which the Balrog surrounded itself. They were "shadow-stuff", there for show. Think of a Peacock's feathers expanding outward in a display of beauty (only the Peacock is trying to frighten you, not mate with you).

Don't know how to explain it any better than that.

But if we assume that Balrogs could fly (and there is no reason why we should assume they could not), then there was still no reason for the Balrog to fly out of the chasm. After all, it survived the long fall. It must have had a pretty good idea taht it would be able to do so (Gandalf, too, survived that fall). In fact, I have long speculated that the Balrog used its internal fire and heat to slow its descent. Gandalf was whacking at it with a sword all the way down, so it's not like it should have been unfettered and free to think, "Hey, I need to fly out of this chasm" (but where could it have flown anyway?).

And, of course, by the time it was falling off the mountainside, it was dead or dying. It would have been no more capable of flight at that point than a dragon who fell from the sky (and both Ancalagon and Smaug fell to their ruins after being mortally wounded).

Q. What were the powers of the Balrogs?
A. This smacks of a gamer-style question. In role-playing games, creatures have specific abilities and powers. In Tolkien, the Balrogs were fallen angelic beings. They were capable of shaping entire worlds. They took physical bodies of their own free will. They had immense power and to try to quantify that power or categorize abilities is naive. The Balrogs didn't have limitations that could be measured by comparison with an Elf or Man.

When Gandalf confronted the Balrog, he said, "You cannot pass! I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udun. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass!"

The Secret Fire, we are told in The Silmarillion, is the Flame Imperishable. Many people equate that with the Holy Spirit.

The "Flame of Anor" is the fire of the sun. Gandalf seems to be saying that he, like the Balrog, was in origin a spirit of fire. Unlike the Balrog, Gandalf (like Arien the Maia who guided the Sun) remained loyal to Iluvatar and the Valar.

The dark fire is the Balrog's power as wielded by it corrupted fire spirit.

He calls it "flame of Udun" because Udun was the ancient fotress of Morgoth.

People also ask "Did Sauron command the Balrog of Moria?" and there is plenty of speculation there. While Tolkien never explicitly says that Sauron controlled the Balrog, there is circumstantial evidence to show he probably did command the Balrog. Among other things, Tolkien wrote that in the Third Age Sauron claimed to be Morgoth returned to Middle-earth. Since Sauron and the Balrog apparently never came together during the Third Age, and since no other Maia before had been able to reconstitute itself, Sauron probably had a very good chance of fooling the Balrog from a distance.

You see a suggestion in the primary text, in the name of Gothmog (lieutenant of Minas Morgul), of this identification of Sauron. Also, when Aragorn says that Sauron does not allow his servants to use his right name, many people wonder what he is talking about.

Linguists suggest that "Gothmog" could mean something like "voice of (Mor)Goth" -- hence, Gothmog might actually be the Mouth of Sauron. Until Aragorn claims the throne of Gondor and openly proclaims Sauron to be the Dark Lord of Mordor, Sauron's ruse is still in effect. So Sauron's servants must have believed he was Morgoth right up until the very end. Only when Aragorn revealed the truth did the Mouth of Sauron name himself as "the Mouth of Sauron".

If Tolkien intended all these points to go together as I have presented them, then it is almost cerain that the Balrog of Moria regarded Sauron to be Morgoth and therefore its lord and commander.

And that's enough about Balrogs for now....

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Essay contest for Battlestar Galactica fans - win a copy of Richard Hatch's edited collection of essays

So, many of you know that I'm a big Grace Park fan and that we have a Battlestar Galactica Forum at SF-FANDOM (one of the first fan forums set up for the Ron Moore series, in fact).

Well, a while back I was contacted by BenBella Books and asked if we would help promote So Say We All: An Unauthorized Collection of Thoughts and Opinions on Battlestar Galactica, edited by Richard Hatch. They were willing to give us a few copies to hand out to fans.

Hm. Free stuff from a publisher with a book about a poopular science fiction television show. Agonizing as the decision was to reach, I grudgingly conceded that Xenite.Org might be persuadable to help the causes of commercial productivity.

In reality, the publisher contacted me as I was getting ready to leave Texas and move to Seattle, so the timing was off. But I said I'd be glad to help out later. They got back to me in November and true to their word shipped the books out. I now have them.

So the contest is underway. We're looking for five essayists of our own. We'll publish their essays on Xenite.Org, give the writers a little biographical credit, and each writer will get a copy of the book and a gift certificate (from Amazon or maybe Barnes and Noble).

I've posted the contest rules in the forum and the contest runs through Midnight December 31, 2006 -- my time (Pacific Coast, Seattle, Los Angeles time).

Check it out.

Spread the word.

There will be more contests as we come down to Xenite.Org's 10th anniversary on March 14, 2007.

Stay tuned.

And thanks to everyone who has been part of the Xenite.Org experience for nearly ten years.

I found the Woodstock song! I found the Woodstock song!

Matthews' Southern Comfort did the cover of "Woodstock" in 1971 that I have so loved and been unable to find through the years!

What am I talking about, you say? Back in August I asked Who was that masked musician?. I started out that post by saying:
There's an old recording of the song "Woodstock" (lyrics include "We are stardust, we are golden, we've got to get ourselves back to the garden...") that keeps rolling through my mind. I haven't actually heard it in many years. The most popular version, the one that is always played, referred to on most Web sites, and virtually named as "the best" (not in my opinion) is the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young version.
Further on:
The version I'd like to track down was a studio cut by a glossy pop rock band of the late 1960s or early 1970s. They probably released their version in 1970 or 1971. The lead singer had a very high-pitched but soft voice. The group had great harmonies.
I really like the Matthews' Southern Comfort cover of the song because it's so smooth. I just like smooth, mellow, melodic, harmonic, resonating music.

I used to hear this version of the song all the time on the radio, but gradually the Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young version replaced it in popularity. Their version (the original, so far as I know) is just too raw for me. I don't really like it.

So, it's not like I really went on a quest to find the song. In fact, I've been so busy the past few months I just haven't had time for much personal entertainment. But because I needed Internet access in my new apartment I decided to subscribe to the low-cost digital cable service that includes music channels.

I've been listening to a variety of commercial-free music in my spare time at home while working on Web sites, ignoring email, etc. Every now and then an old song I used to really, really love comes on and I just sort of drift off into memory lane.

So here I was, spamming--er, posting comments on Matt Cutts' blog (sorry, Matt, but I really, really, really hate FireFox), and all of a sudden a very familiar song started playing.

I thought, "That's nice. Haven't heard that one in yea--EARS!"

I jumped up and ran into the other room to see what was playing. "Matthews' Southern Comfort, Woodstock, 1971". Woohoo! That's it! That's the song that's been driving me crazy for years.

Now I know.

I can rest peacefully.

I can enjoy my Kashi cereal in the morning.

Everything will be okay as soon as I publish this post and archive the group's name (because, like, I won't ever remember it).

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Introducing a new SEO Theory blog

It's my blog actually but I've decided that since I can now begin sharing some SEO theory on the Web again, it would be better to do it on a more general purpose SEO blog rather than my Google Says ... blog. I've decided to stop posting to Google Says ... so I don't have to keep up with so many blogs.

So, if you have an interest in search engine optimization, please keep an eye on SEO Theory. My first post there discusses Semi-Natural Linking and how the search engines may be looking at it.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

NASA wants to build a moon house

The Christian Science Monitor reports that NASA has announced a plan to establish a permanent base on Luna's south pole by the year 2020. That's just 13 years and a few weeks away.

That's more than a lifetime for a space program initiative. Many things can derail the progress of reaching out to other planetary bodies in the Solar System.

One has to wonder if the American people have the collective willpower to pull this off. Our representatives and sentators in Congress appear to be too concerned with advancing their own careers, playing politics, and disregarding the will of the American people.

Those of you who want to see a moon base established need to say something now: say it on your blogs, in your forums, on your Web pages, and in your letters to those senators and representatives you helped to elect.

Let them know that wasting 50 million taxpayer dollars on politically motivated scandal investigations is not acceptable. Let them know that investing in new technologies that will benefit everyone is what we want.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

More neat and cool stuff coming out...

I have actually been working on Web sites in some of my spare time lately. So has Dixie, for that matter.

She has redesigned the Tolkien Studies Web site and in the process given me a new template to beat to death (bwahahaha!). It looks pretty good, although I don't believe the blog is ready (haven't looked in a day or two).

I've also been working on the long-promised site about the Compuserve IMPs. Several IMPs wrote back to me with information I can use for articles. I just haven't put enough stuff together to make a decent beginning to the site. I don't think I'll wait until I have all the interviews and features done, though. It's just been too time-consuming a process and I'm not one of those people who puts off releasing a new Web site just because it doesn't have all the content.

Keeps people coming back if you keep adding content, you know?

In other news around the Xenite network, we now have a pretty cool Science Fiction Search Engine that I created through Google Coop's Custom Search Engine. It may not be as sexy as their featured CSE role models but it was still one of the first Custom Search Engines created.

And this past weekend I surpassed even myself by creating the Entertainment News Search Engine, which is even way cooler than the Science Fiction Search Engine because it can be configured to do Harry Potter News searches, and Spider-man News searches, and Star Wars News searches.

That is, it scopes out the mainstream media AND all the large science fiction mega sites for news about actors, directors, movies, whatever.

So you can satisfy your entertainment curiosity in one place, from Paris Hilton News to Narnia News.

I'm not too happy with the weighting (basically, there is NO configurable weighting), but hopefully CSE 2.0 will allow us to say, "Site X is more important than Site Y" in some reasonable fashion. I'm thinking if they would give us a scale of 0 to 20, that would work well (and no one would confuse it with that stupid Google Toolbar PageRank).

Of course, it would help if -- when they introduce a new feature for the custom search service -- they would actually explain what they are talking about rather than just say, "Hey, we've added this service". What's up with the circumspect posts, Googlers?

But enough about Google Custom Search. I've incorporated the Entertainment News Search Engine into several older Xenite news search pages, so I think it will get some long-term use. I have to tweak it a little more, but it's a pretty flexible search right now. I had to look at several hundred online news sources to get good indexing. Unfortunately, services like UPI and Reuters don't make their content very crawlable. Why do they have Web sites if they don't want people to search them? Guys. Drop me a line. I can hook you up with some great search engine optimization experts.

And then there was the October Fiasco, where I thought I had redesigned the Xenite.Org poster store pages so that I wouldn't have to update them as frequently as the old way required. Nope. I mangled that badly. Our most popular page in November was the Santa Claus Posters page and all it showed was "Chronicles of Narnia" stuff.

Yeah, you can guess how many posters we sold in November. I saw the problem some weeks ago but didn't have time to fix it. And all I can say is that I'm glad I cranked up the Google AdSense earlier this year because it's been paying the server fees. We normally sell a lot of posters in the last four months (September through December) of the year. Didn't happen this time around, but hopefully December sales will pick up.

I'm not happy with the way AllPosters has reconfigured its affiliate service. The interface just absolutely sucks. But if their dynamic poster stores work better than downloading static code, well, maybe that will be okay. I don't know. I'm just afraid I'll have to restock the dynamic stores every couple of months. That's the problem with being ambitious. You get to be too big for your britches -- and you don't have enough time to fix everything that goes broke.

So, anyway, that's the latest from Xenite.Org, although I'm sure I've left out a few things.

In a dark and crazy moment

Love the title. Don't really have anything to go with it.

Other great titles considered for this post included: "Whatever happened to Mary Sue Frances Ellen Katherine?", "How many light bulbs does it take to change a crazy Iraqi insurgent?", "When will Lebanon get a clue?", and "Did George W. Bush really just say he wanted to change the constitution to allow third terms?"

Not that I expect anyone to care about titles for blog posts. It's the substantiality of the post that matters, right? After all, there you are, searching through blog posts that are listed with title and possibly coherent snippets of text, and you're thinking, "Hey, this blog post looks like it explains quantum theory for the layman in less than five paragraphs. I think I'll read it."

And here you are, looking for an explanation of quantum theory (wait, I've changed my mind -- or maybe I never had a mind at all, so pay no mind to this statement).

It's not that blogging makes one interesting so much as one's interests make blogging worthwhile (or boring). I've written some bad blog posts in my time. And I've written some interesting ones, based on the feedback I've received (or just the traffic and links).

I do have to say I was a bit disappointed that my post on how to steal the planet Venus and make it your own didn't create the buzz I was hoping for that day. I think it's a pretty cool idea. Not that I'd really want to live in the atmosphere of a very poisonous planet, but living on Mars isn't very appealing to me, either.

Maybe we can just skip the old colonizing Venus and Mars cliche and head right for the stars. After all, we now know what kinds of planets are good for human life, and that cannot be all that bad. But maybe the space colonizing crowd just haven't found this blog yet, and so I'm trying to warm up to the wrong crowd.

Many of you showed up throughout the year while I was rambling about my various personal issues and adventures in Houston. Sorry for the lack of adventures in Seattle. It's not that that I don't intend to go out there and do stuff. It's just that it's so cold.

Based on what people tell me, I should be feeling adventurous here in Seattle sometime around late May, up through early August.

Stay tooned because I have plans. BIG plans.

In the meantime, in the interest of attracting the space-seekers (maybe I should call them star-seekers or star-explorers), let me put my finely honed search engine optimization skills to work.

Star travel -- why, yes, this blog discusses star travel, as in travelling to the stars, colonizing other worlds, and utilizing quantum theory to control time and space.

Space exploration -- Indeeed, my friends, space exploration interests me. Why, I've been exploring the empty space of my mind since I was a kid. In fact, I used to watch Star Trek all the time, boldly going where no one had ever gone before. Colonizing other worlds.

Get the message? I thought so.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Seattle Transition

I have been reluctant to get on the buses here in Seattle. There is no reason why I should not, except that I don't know where they run and don't really want to find out. People use the buses every day and, technically, I only need to travel in a straight line from home to work and back again.

And it's free. I live and work inside the free zone in downtown Seattle.

So why do I continue to pay for parking near the office?

For one thing, if I need to get to my car, it's at least a 20-minute bus ride away -- and that doesn't allow for however long I would have to wait for the bus. So what is the value of saving 30 minutes of my time by walking for 30 seconds to get to my car? Multiply that by two, going both ways. How much is an hour of my time worth?

On a busy morning it takes me 10 minutes to drive to worrk. On a busy evening, it may take 15 minutes to drive home.

Like so many other Americans who don't live in downtown Seattle, New York, Chicago, etc. I am married to my car. I refuse to go shopping at stores that don't have parking lots. I don't care if I have to pay for the parking. I want to have my car there. And that is because when I walk out of the store, I want to take as many packages as I can put in my car.

A few weeks ago I tried walking about 4 blocks to a local store to buy some groceries. It was raining but like a good tourist I took my umbrella. Naturally, when I came out of the store with a load of plastic bags (they did not have paper bags, which would have been easier to carry), I had to keep switching the bags from one hand to the other as the circulation in my fingers choked off.

And then I dropped the bags on the wet sidewalk, and had to scramble to pick up my groceries in the rain while I missed being able to walk across the street. So I had to stand there in the rain, waiting for the walk light to change again.

"I won't be doing this again," I told myself. Once was enough for me.

Now, with practice you can learn to do anything well. I see people carrying their groceries and parcels on the street all the time. But there are a lot of sick people here in Seattle. I mean they have colds, flus, bronchial infections, etc. I got one myself and after 10 days of taking antibiotics I don't want another.

How did people live without cars in past generations? I cannot imagine how much time had to be spent taking care of tasks that cost so much time out of the day. Would Henry David Thoreau have been able to write Walden while living in a city where he had to go buy his groceries every day because he couldn't carry more than an armload for a mile?

I don't think so.

Not that I write anything like Walden with the time I save. Mostly I just stay out of the cold and wonder what I'm going to do with all my spare time.

To be honest, I've been living on a budget because it's expensive to move 2,000 miles and set up in a city you've never lived in before. I've been spending my discretionary income on dining out, parking fees, and the occasional splurge with my girlfriend.

In Houston, everything was so spread out where I lived. You would see people walking on the street but most of them were doing it for the exercise. There is public transportation in Houston, to be sure, and some people use it. But you almost need a car to get around town in any decent amount of time. I lived close to everything in Houston, but I still had to budget anywhere from 45 minutes to 90 minutes to go grocery shopping just because it took time to drive there, park, and get into the store, etc.

4 Houston blocks' worth of traffic equates to about 8 Seattle blocks of traffic. I mean, when I get on the streets here, I usually can drive a half mile to a mile before having to stop. The traffic signals are so much better syncronized. In Houston you start and stop, start and stop. Of course, the traffic signals are placed much farther apart in Houston. A city block in Houston is equal to about 4 city blocks in Seattle.

Of course, when I lived in Houston I actually lived in West Houston, outside Interstate 610 and inside the Beltway. I didn't live in downtown Houston. I'm not sure anyone can live in downtown Houston. The two cities have very different downtown areas.

In Houston, I planned short trips on the basis of how long it would take me to get to my destination, park, and finish my task.

In Seattle, I plan my short trips on the basis of whether parking is available or if there is rain.

In Houston, you assume there is parking to be had.

In Seattle, you assume that anyone fortunate enough to park their car is fighting the clock and may come back to find they no longer have to worry about parking.

In Houston, people mostly think that anyone who doesn't drive a truck is poor or just plain crazy.

In Seattle, people mostly think that anyone who drives is a tourist.

My boss commutes to work. He parks his car in the suburb somewhere and rides a relatively comfortable train. He doesn't have to fight with traffic. He doesn't have to look out for pedestrians. He is a pedestrian.

I'm lost without a set of car keys in my pocket. Even though I walk to lunch at work, and there are maybe 70-100 restaurants within 3 blocks of the office in almost any direction, I feel vulnerable without those car keys. Just in case I need to get in that car and drive somewhere.

How long does it take to get over the feeling of being lost without a steering wheel in your hands?