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November 27, 2005

Backyard Fun

Last night as I was writing my blog entry about the Georgia Aquarium the dogs wanted to go out. Katie goes in and out anytime I am on the computer since I am right next to the door. I could hear one of them barking way out in the backyard. Sometimes they see dogs go by on the street behind me or they just hear other dogs barking. But this was more of a high-pitched bark. I decided I had better go back there and make sure they were okay and had not trapped a cat or other critter. They really enjoy chasing after chipmunks and squirrels during the daytime, but they never come close to catching them.

I got out the flashlight to make sure I wouldn't step in anything and could see what was back there. Along the back fence Katie and Clio were pawing at something on the ground. As I got up closer I could see it was a possum turned over on its back looking dead.


Its fur had wet spots I guess where the dogs might have bitten or licked it. I could see its mouth and maybe its tongue hanging out. I tapped it with my foot and it moved a little. It had fooled me, but it was just playing dead. That didn't mean that the dogs hadn't hurt it, but I didn't see any blood at least. It would be hard to get the dogs back in the house with something so interesting back there so I decided I should move it to the other side of the fence. It looked pretty benign and I was just going to pick it up by its tail, which doesn't have fur and tapers down to a point Jeb said he had picked one up one time. But, realizing that it wasn't dead at all and might just bite the heck out of me, I decided that was a bad idea. I took off my sweatshirt and wrapped that around my hand so that if it bit me at least it would hopefully just get a mouth full of cotton. I lowered it down to the ground on the other side of the fence. I don't know where it lives or if it will be able to get back where it wants to go, but I thought that sure beats getting played with by two dogs. Although it looked dead the whole time, of course it wasn't there this morning.

P.S.: In September 2006 Katie found another possum, this time in the front yard. I was able to get the picture above and, after putting Katie back in the house, I took this picture of him after he perked up and was walking away (they can remain passed out for about 4 hours, but I have seen resurrections twice and each time it just took a few minutes). I was reading up on opossums (not derived from Latin, so the plural just adds an s) on Wikipedia. It said that they don't play dead consciously, but are so frightened that they pass out and emit a strong odor (which I smelled last night). The article also said that in adults the tail is not strong enough to support their weight, so you shouldn't pick them up by the tail.


November 26, 2005

Georgia Aquarium

Today I took Susan to the Georgia Aquarium for her birthday. Though she doesn't usually like to take MARTA, tonight downtown they were having the Georgia high school football playoffs at the Dome, a Thrashers game at Philips Arena, and the Georgia/Georgia Tech game further uptown, so we opted for public transit. The aquarium is a hike from MARTA, at least a 15 minute walk, at the northwest corner of Centennial Park. Even though I had reserved the tickets before the aquarium opened, we still had to stand in line (though there was a second line for walk-up tickets that was longer) to get through security. I was stopped because I had my swiss army knife on my keychain and no knives or guns are allowed. I tried to talk the guard into letting me go through but she said my only choices were to throw it away, take it back to my car (40 minutes away), or hide it somewhere outside. I finally decided to hide it and picked a spot just outside the aquarium. I came back and thought I could have probably just stuck it in my shoe and she'd have never known the difference. Anyway, it was good hiding spot I guess because it was still there when I got out.

Once inside you don't see fish, but just huge swarming masses of people. The central room feels like a very crowded mall and the department stores are all different exhibits off of that central atrium.

The first place we went was Tropical Diver: The Coral Kingdom. The first exhibit in that area was a tank of garden eels poking out from their holes in the sand a few inches. There were tons of people crowded at the glass and it takes a while just to get in position to see anything. Because the eels live on the bottom, you have to be right up at the glass to see them. The eels are neat, but tiny, about the size of a pencil. After that they had the sea nettles and other jellyfish (they just call them jellies). These were neat to watch with a tank for each kind. They had loud classical music playing which might have created a nice relaxing ambience if not for the throngs of people and everyone talking loudly to be heard over the music. I think they definitely are letting too many people into the aquarium. It seems to me they would be better off letting in fewer people so the experience would be better rather than letting the maximum number of people arrive. I don't think they are acknowledging this though because they were still selling tickets to people who had not made reservations (though at 4:50 they were selling 6:00 tickets). The biggest exhibit in this area is a coral reef which had tons of colorful fish swimming around. The tank was vertical but then curved over your head so you could look up into a shallow part of the tank. They had waves and bright lights coming down through the water. We skipped some of the smaller tanks because there was no way to get a spot close enough to see. I thought maybe we had just hit a knot of people, but we came back later and it was just as crowded there.

Next we went to Coldwater Quest: The Chilly Unknown. One writer at the paper said this was the best exhibit because it features sea otters, sea lions, penguins, and the beluga whales. That's probably true. The belugas are very interesting and they are so white! Their tank didn't seem all that big for the four belugas that we saw. There are two males that came from Mexico, plus some females from New Jersey. Gasper is easy to pick out by his damaged skin, but they say that is getting better since he arrived in Atlanta. In this area we also saw the leafy sea horse, an amazing sea horse that looks like it has sprouted leaves. In the same tank there are also less spectacular, but still interesting, weedy sea horses. The sea otters were pretty active and would swim on their backs and wave their paws (which look more like flippers). They have it set up so that you can view them from underwater, then from above the water and then again from the land side of their habitat. You can go outside to see the sea lions, but you can also see them just as well (or better really) from inside.

Next up was Ocean Voyager: Journey With Giants. This exhibit snakes around and through the largest aquarium tank in the world, where the whale sharks live. They have a tunnel that goes along the bottom of the tank and features a moving sidewalk. Due to the number of people the moving sidewalk wasn't working (I think; could have been mechanical reasons). The whale sharks are very big, but not enormous. They are also very pretty as they glide by with their white spots. The tank is so big that you can't see all the way across, so they sort of come out of the gloom and just get bigger and bigger. And they don't just have whale sharks, there are tons of other fish in that tank. There are huge schools of yellow fish (golden trevally) that swarm around the bigger fish (the whale sharks and groupers) along with hammerhead sharks, saw fish, bow-mouthed guitarfish (a combination of ray and shark), and many others. They have concave windows so you can sit in the window and have water and fish all around you. Then, at the end, they have the largest aquarium window in the world that seems like a movie screen showing the ocean. They have it set up like a small theater so you can just sit and watch as long as you want.

The last area we visted was River Scout: Freshwater Mysteries. This was probably the smallest exhibit. It had a lot of tanks of colorful or unusual freshwater fish along with an area that had river otters (smaller than sea otters and more adapted to land than water). Many of these tanks also curved over your head so you could see the bottoms of fish swimming over you. There were a couple of catfish that looked dead, but they could have just been camped out on the bottom (or top).

We opted not to visit the fifth exhibit area, Georgia Explorer: Discover Our Coast. It looked like it was designed for kids and we had had enough of children at this point. We also did not eat at the cafe, see the ballroom, or watch the movie. We were there for about an hour and a half. We exited through the gift shop which is decent, but I didn't think there was a great selection of clothes: They only have a few different t-shirts for men.

I definitely enjoyed the visit to the aquarium and I know that everyone will enjoy it when Mom takes us there in December. If it is as crowded the day we go we will have a hard time keeping everyone together. Also make sure you don't bring a pocket knife (or guns). One thing I thought that was kind of disappointing was the lack of information about the different kinds of fish. Maybe as the crowds thin out they will be able to have people explain things at each exhibit, but that won't work for now. Some museums have a lot of places to watch short videos, or have learning stations which I guess could be added later. The key thing is to have tons of fish, and they certainly have those. The cross-section of people is also interesting. There are people from all over the place and we heard a lot of foreign languges. It is really a world-class aquarium.

November 22, 2005


In my excitement to find out more about The Killers I didn't end up watching the rest of that episode of Austin City Limits. Sunday night I watched the next act, an Austin-based indie band called Spoon. In the AllMusic entry for The Killers they had Spoon listed as a similar artist, so I thought I might like them too. They are pretty different though. Whereas The Killers have a definite Cure and Oasis influence, Spoon has more of a Elvis Costello sound, though more like "Watching the Detectives" than "Alison". I think they sound at least a little like X though not rockabilly like X could be, more like "Blue Spark," at least with the songs they were performing which came from their current CD Gimme Fiction. On other albums they have a little different sound, but I like the spooky funky blues sound of these songs, particularly "The Beast and Dragon, Adored" and "My Mathematical Mind". Those titles make them sound geekier than they really are.

So I did some more research with AllMusic to find out their best songs, then over to Amazon and iTunes to see what is popular. Then I would play the free samples to see if it sounded interesting. While some on Amazon say that maybe half of an album might be filler, it was hard to pinpoint the strongest songs. It seems to me that they must make pretty cohesive albums without too many really standout singles. But I didn't want to buy three CD's so I thought the best approach would be to buy a few from each one on iTunes. Besides the two I already mentioned from their current album, I also bought "The Delicate Place." In the concert they had a guest guitarist, named M. Ward (who has his own following on Amazon), come on and make some neat feedback and sustain noises, giving additional texture to "Beast and Dragon" that isn't on the album, but it's a very good song either way.

From Kill the Moonlight I bought a really neat, fun song called "The Way We Get By". Susan heard a few seconds of it and said it sounded like the Monkees. I'm not sure about that, but it is very catchy, like maybe like one of the upbeat later Beatle songs ( "Eleanor Rigby"?). And the Monkees were a Beatles ripoff, so maybe Susan is right.

From Girls Can Tell I bought "Everything Hits at Once" which is very popular and AllMusic likes, but it doesn't have that sound that I like on the other songs. "The Fitted Shirt" from that album has more of a grunge sound and is pretty good. "Me and the Bean" was my third purchase from that album and is good but conventional.

Anyway, being an indie band, Spoon has a tendency to come up with a neat riff or a great lyric and then just repeat it until the song hits 2 or 3 minutes. Some of the songs are more complex, but they really lean on the centerpiece parts. I might get a few more songs if I can do some more sampling. I'll also look for some of their CD's at the library since I'd really rather hear entire songs (or albums) before committing.

November 20, 2005

The Killers

Austin City Limits is a live music show on public television. They have pretty good taste and the show has been around for a long time. Based in Austin, they seem to spotlight a lot of Texas bands. Lyle Lovett has probably been on a lot, Stevie Ray Vaughan was on it. They had The Pixies when they got back together. So if something seems remotely interesting I'll try to record it. (For a while another PBS show had a similar lineup of well-chosen talent called Sessions at West 54th, but it disappeared after a couple of years.)

Friday's show had The Killers. I know Nicole has probably told me about this band, but I didn't know anything about them other than that I should record them and see what the deal was. I'm glad I did. They have that 80's post-punk sound that is a mishmash of Oasis, The Pixies, Green Day, The Cure, and U2, with a result that they sound a lot like The Strokes or Franz Ferdinand. The first song was "Smile Like You Mean It" which sounds a lot like a Cure song. The next was "Somebody Told Me" (you had a boyfriend / who looked like a girlfriend / that I had in February of last year). It's an interesting line and they must think so too because they repeat it a lot. I was watching and thinking "This sounds just like music I would like."? The next song was "Under the Gun" and now I started thinking that not only did they sound like a band I would like, but I did actually like them. Next up was "Mr. Brightside" and that song cinched it: this was a good band. It is a fast-paced but nice song that has a piece at the end that sounds kind of like Beethoven's "Ode to Joy". Then they played a kind of overly catchy song called "Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll". The last song in the 30-minute set was "All These Things That I've Done" which sounded like U2 or Big Country and finished up by bringing a Baptist choir out on stage to provide backup vocals. It really worked.

So before I could see the second act of the hour-long show, I went to the internet to do some research. They only have one album, called Hot Fuss, which came out last year. But this year they released a Limited Edition of the album with three more songs, including two songs they played on Austin City Limits ("Under the Gun" and "Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll"). AllMusic gave the original edition three stars and said they were just a Duran Duran imitation (they didn't have a review of the Limited Edition). I think they're more punk than Duran Duran, but I would agree they kind of look like Duran Duran. I don't see why you would hold a band's looks against them though. I found a few other favorable reviews, but many of them pointed out the sound was derivative, one saying that it seemed too early to have a Strokes tribute band. But most reviews seemed to agree that there were some good songs on the album.

Amazon had the CD for $11.99 but since they are incredibly slow, I went to Target to get it. They had one copy of the original version for $13.29. Not a good value. I went to Best Buy who had the limited edition for $13.99 but they had a sale going where it was only $11.99 so I got it (more on that later). Austin City Limits got most of their best songs (with the exception of the album's first rate lead-off song "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine"). Their album sound seems a little over-produced compared to the more stripped down sound in concert, but it was still a good purchase. Since they only have the one album I didn't want to end up buying 3 or 4 songs from iTunes and then wind up buying the whole album.

November 18, 2005


I've always thought it was neat that some of the biggest companies in the world were so old, so powerful, and so well respected that their stock symbol was a single letter. AT&T was one of those: T. Ford is another: F. Citicorp is C. Not all big companies are one letter, for instance, General Motors is GM. And anything on the NASDAQ has to have 4 letters regardless, like MSFT, GOOG, and YHOO. (I found one place that said "M" and "I" on the New York Stock Exchange were being reserved if Microsoft or Intel ever decided to leave the NASDAQ). Other tickers are kind of interesting too: 3M is MMM, Southwest Airlines is LUV after its home base, Dallas' Love Field.

Anyway, in August 2003 I bought some stock in SBC which had formerly been known as Southwestern Bell, (one of the "baby bells" born when AT&T was broken up). The whole reason I bought it was that no one was providing a decent interest rate at the time, but SBC was offering a 5% dividend every year. Power companies pay pretty good dividends too, but I decided against Southern Company. Things have gotten better lately with interest rates. Paypal is paying 3.9% and ING is paying 3.5%. CD's are over 4%. But at the time nothing could come close to that, plus SBC was even going up in price, so I bought more later that year. The price has stayed about the same since then, but it does keep cranking out a nice quarterly dividend.

Well, SBC just bought its former parent, AT&T, today. Because so many people haven't heard of SBC, they are going to keep the name AT&T for the whole company. All of the stock traded under T will become shares of SBC, I guess on Monday. But on December 1 this year, my shares will change their symbol to "T". For Ted, of course.

November 16, 2005

Good Potato Chips

At Kroger they have Cape Cod brand potato chips that are kettle fried. One of the varieties is a reduced fat version that has 40% less fat. It is kettle fried too, but also baked. I tried them. They seemed just like regular kettle fried potato chips to me except they use little potatoes that yield small (but almost always whole) chips. They don't come in nearly the variety of flavors (just plain), but they are worth trying, especially if they are on sale. I think they are just as good as the Ettensohn favorite, Krunchers.

Slow Amazon

After my birthday even though I really liked all of my presents, I decided I still needed to get some headphones, a U2 CD, and a Palm stylus. So I ordered them that night. The headphones and CD were ordered from Amazon, the stylus (I ended up ordering one for each of my two Palms and one extra to defray the shipping cost) from Styluscentral. Monday I got an e-mail from Styluscentral saying my order had shipped. Amazon listed my order as preparing to ship and I was not allowed to change or cancel the order. Today the styluses arrived in the mail. However I checked several times over the last couple of days and Amazon still had my order preparing to ship. When I ordered my AirClick it took weeks for it to arrive and I wasn't looking forward to that again. I checked out buy.com and nearly placed an order for both of these things for the same price except that buy.com's free shipping icon disappeared once the headphones were actually in my cart and they wanted $7 for that. Just before writing this entry, Amazon sent an e-mail saying the items had shipped, but that's still four days before the item shipped. Earlier this year an order of CD's took 6 days to ship, a headset took 5 days, and it took an amazing 26 days for the AirClick though Amazon warned it wouldn't ship for 1-2 weeks (still took almost four).

Here's my solution: don't let them combine items into one shipment. Even though you would think they have just about everything in a big warehouse somewhere, apparently they have millions of warehouses with one item in each one. So you always end up waiting longer. Also, don't hesitate to use buy.com who ship faster (on three orders this year they always shipped the next day) and are usually about the same price.

November 13, 2005

XL Birthday

It is harder to get everyone together and we were still lacking Bob, but I certainly am thankful for everyone coming to my 40th birthday. It was great to see Michael running around and I was very surprised to see Danny come up from Spring Hill and glad Nicole could make it too. Susan really enjoyed seeing everyone too since she is usually out of town for the big holiday get-togethers and vacations. The food was delicious! Thanks too for all the great presents; when I got home I got really, really drunk, baked cookies, and watched movies.

Thanks for all the good food and the loud company. It was an XLent birthday!

(XL is 40 in Roman numerals - ed.)

November 8, 2005

That Google

Susan and I recently rented a newly released DVD starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn. Later on I was writing the review (B+) and I wanted to look up some information on the movie, so I went to Google. I entered "the translator" (not in quotes). It gave about 3 results and then under that said "Results for The Interpreter" with the first link going to imdb's page about the movie I had watched and whose title I had not been able to remember correctly (getting only "the" correct). I've always liked that Google could detect misspellings and ask "Did you mean . . . ", but this is a new level of outhinking otherwise less intelligent human beings.

I don't think this is good for our future. Evolution worked for centuries making people stronger, with better vision, hearing, etc. Then we came up with machines that could make up for our weaknesses, made glasses for the myopic and hearing aids for the hard of hearing. Now Google is taking away the penalties for being stupid.

By the way, I tried this on MSN and Yahoo just now and got a bunch of results for translator-related stuff.

When I started putting rotating quotes in the blog description I would go to Google and enter the name of a movie and then the word "quotes" (not in quotes) and the first link would be imdb's page of quotes for that movie. Compare that with going to imdb, searching for the title of a movie, picking that movie from the results page, then scrolling down to some quotes and clicking "more". It's actually easier to navigate imdb's website using Google than it is by going to imdb.

November 3, 2005


I started this as a reply to Kelly's blog entry about Halloween, but it got to be too long so I decided it should be it's own entry. Oh well, that's one less comment for Kelly and one more entry for me . . .

I ask people what they are as much as a I can. Sometimes the answers are pretty funny, even though I didn't have any Zombie Pirate Clowns come by. I had a record number of people come by without costumes. Three of them showed up and I asked what they were dressed as. They said "Nuthin'". And I said well, you don't get any candy. They looked shocked as I shut the door.

I wound up giving out Sweetarts, Starburst, and Sugar Babies. I wanted to get the Sweetarts that come in the paper package with 3 pellets because they are so cheap. I figured they would be good for people who didn't wear costumes. But this year the store didn't have those so I had fun-size packages which had about 10 or so in each package. I had some left over packages of saltines from getting chili at Wendy's the night before so I thought that would be good to give to people without costumes. I put them in the bowl with the candy and gave one of the packages to a girl without a costume. I don't think she noticed. Then in the next group this guy (in a costume) says "Oh, man saltines! I love saltines!" so I gave him the other package of saltines.

The funniest group was a little girl in an Incredibles outfit. Her Dad was with her too and *he* was wearing an Incredibles outfit. But then behind them was the girl's little brother who could hardly walk, also in an Incredibles outfit and then behind him, the mother Incredibles! So it was the whole family.

Avondale was a zoo as always. There are just tons and tons of people. I went through half of my candy in the first half hour and saw only one white kid, so I know most of the people weren't local. Later on I got a better mix of people but ran out of candy after about an hour and a half. That's okay because thirty minutes later (at 8:00) Halloween officially ends and the police drive around with their bullhorns telling people to go home. It turns out the Starbursts were pretty cheapo because each pack only had two squares, but I had a lot of them so the candy held out longer than in most years.

November 1, 2005

Rotating Descriptions

After some success with the rotating banner images, I decided to take Jeb up on his offer of doing rotating descriptions. I've had Gandalf's quote about tempermental wizards for a while now. I don't really have much else to say, but I picked up some movie quotes from Holy Grail, Raising Arizona, and Princess Bride. I like some of the quotes, but others have to go. If there are any you don't like, let me know and I'll get rid of them.

Jeb sent me some instructions and code about how to make this work. First, even though you might see http://mac.fiveforks.com/ted/blog/ in the URL of your browser you are actually viewing http://mac.fiveforks.com/ted/blog/index.html The internet always defaults to index.html if it can find a file of that name. Otherwise you see a list of all of the files in that location. But you can't do this random stuff with simple html code, you need php code. That means I had to get rid of index.html and write a file called index.php. On this site, the internet looks for index.html first but then tries index.php. So you will still just see http://mac.fiveforks.com/ted/blog/ but you will be viewing http://mac.fiveforks.com/ted/blog/index.php.

But Movable Type doesn't seem to allow you to delete files. Even though I renamed index.html to index.php, it still left a copy of index.html in place. So I had to FTP to the site to delete (actually rename) index.html. I had tried to FTP this weekend without success, but somehow I was able to log in last night without a problem even though I wasn't even logging in to the correct folder. I logged on to mac.fiveforks.com but somehow it knew to stick me in the users/fiveforks/sites/ted folder.

The different quotes are included in a file called blogquotes.inc. Jeb said I could create this as new template, but when I did that, I didn't actually see the file anywhere and neither did the code in index.php. So I wrote a text file by that name with all my quotes and uploaded it to the site. Once I did that it worked out fine. That was the first php file I have written.

All pages except the main page will keep the Gandalf quote because I would have to change all of those file names to .php and also make sure all the links are pointing to .php files. That seems kind of overly complicated for what I'm doing. Eric gets around this by including his description in the banner graphic. The other advantage of that is the description always goes with the picture showing.