If you want to see God laugh, tell him your plans.

It is Saturday and Hurricane Charley has been here and gone. I was luckier than Servo5678 in Orlando, but we both had more storm than we had expected. Charley was supposed to be a class 2 storm, scheduled to hit Tampa on the southwest coast of Florida on Friday afternoon, September 13, and then blow north into the Panhandle. Instead, it strengthened into a class 41, turned east after landfall, hit Disney World squarely in the entertainment section, and did its final damage here on the east coast before heading to the Carolinas.

Tampa authorities were primed. Early on Thursday they began telling residents of the area to evacuate. Fortunately, there are a lot of hotel rooms in Central Florida because of Disney World, SeaWorld, Universal Orlando and the rest of the tourist industry infrastructure. Central Florida was supposed to be safe, almost as safe from hurricane damage as the Daytona Beach area on the east coast just north of Cape Canaveral. So everyone in the Tampa region packed the kids, the dog, grandma and the computer into the car and headed for Orlando. At the end of the day, the Orlando area was the hardest hit.

When I took the dog out for his walk early Friday morning I noticed a strange thing. Normally the squirrels are browsing at the base of the oak and pine trees. But this particular morning they were running frantically across the lawns of the neighborhood, investigating bushes. It dawned on me that perhaps they were looking for a safe place to spend the next 24 hours, knowing instinctively that the big trees would be dangerous later in the day.

This was reinforced when I drove out of my subdivision just before 7 am. To reach the main crossroads I have to drive along a wooded road; here I saw several armadillos investigating the roadside ditches. Night feeders, they are rarely seen during the day; I suspect they, too, were uneasy and searching for a secure spot.

By 3 pm Charley had changed direction and was headed our way. The closing of schools and government offices in our county had been announced on Thursday evening. Now private businesses and other agencies, including mine, were doing the same. We put a "Closed for Charley" notice on the door and left.

Driving home took longer than usual. There were long lines at the gas stations. It had been sunny in the morning; now the sky was overcast. At home I filled plastic containers with water, blew up an air mattress so I could spend the night on the floor of a walk-in closet, moved all the patio furniture into the garage, made everything as secure as possible, and hunkered down to ride out the eye of the storm.

The outer bands of Charley started blowing around 8 pm. I was working in my home office, which is sheltered by some pines in the back yard. I could hear pine cones thudding onto the roof, each sounding like a horse clomping around up there. The television was tuned to an Orlando weather station, showing Charley’s progress across Florida. By the time the storm hit the east coastline, 50 miles to the south, it had dropped to a class 3.

The electric power went out just after 10 pm. It was impossible to stay in the walk-in closet. I had Bronco on his leash to stop him from running away if any of the big windows came crashing in. Fox terriers are not calm dogs, even at the best of times, and he was in a panic, scrambling over me as I lay on the air mattress.

Storm advice is to stay away from windows and my house has an open plan. I finally spent the rest of the bad time in a small hallway, closing all the doors that opened into it. I ventured out with a flashlight at 11:30 pm. The entire street was carpeted with leaves, glistening in the rain whenever lightning flashed. I’ve never seen blue or green lightning before, but I did last night.

There is a huge live oak in front of my house and three tall pines. Off to one side is a sycamore. This lost half of its branches, some of the bigger ones driven into the ground to a depth of more than a foot. The other trees lost only leaves and needles. It was the same throughout the neighborhood; we have mainly live oaks so there were not too many uprooted trees. "Solid as an oak" was well-illustrated.

Whenever an oak was damaged, it was with a mighty crash. Live oaks branch out into several main trunks not far above the ground. There is an openess to their canopy. I cannot remember ever seeing a mature live oak uprooted; what generally happens is that one main trunk will splinter off. This in itself is often as big as a normal tree.2

Bronco and I took our usual walk this morning. Many of my neighbors were out, too, assessing the damage. It was like the morning after a big party, as if we all had hangovers.

One other interesting item: the odor in the air reminded me of a sawmill. So many branches had been torn off the trees that the scent of raw wood hung in the air.

1The famous Andrew that totally destroyed much of the area south of Miami in 1992 was a class 5. Charley is the strongest hurricane since that time.
2In the entire subdivision of approximately 200 homes and perhaps 500 - 600 live oaks, only three of these giants lost one of their multiple main trunks. Other smaller trees such as mango, avacado, and grapefruit were pulled out of the ground, roots and all.

Alas, my favorite dream. I'm surrounded by a breathtaking country side. Green grass straight out of Oz covers gently rolling hills, spotted with pink blossoming crab apple trees. There's a cool breeze tenderly playing with my hair, embracing my body, caressing my face. A sunrise sprawls its hues of yellow, orange and red on the horizon, and I'm completely alone. No animals, no people, no thoughts, confusion, responsibilty, mind games or anything else. Just the boundless scenery shaded in by sun. This place belongs to no one, and its earth is virgin. I am the only one to tread its ground, and there will be no one after me. It's my home, my retreat. I feel alive.

A couple of years ago, I was in a grocery store with a friend. We had been discussing movies all afternoon and as we weaved through aisles in a quest for grillables, the topic of Sneakers (the 1992 Robert Redford film) came up. We were in agreement that we enjoyed the film, but my friend had a nit to pick.

"Do you know what's always bugged me about that movie?"

"That they had Ricky Jay consult on it but didn't even give him a bit part?"

"No." he said, "The bit near the end where they're at the "Toy Company". Cosmo flips out and pushes a button, and suddenly there's guards everywhere. Maybe they cut out the part that shows where the hell all those guys came from, but it's always stood out to me. Boom, alarm goes off, a load of guys with shotguns are in the stairwells."

As we threaded the needle between trundling shopping carts, I thought about it. "That never occurred to me but I guess you're right," I said as we reached the end of an aisle. "It just doesn't make much..."

As I rounded the corner at the end of the aisle, my basket tapped a display stacked high with spray-cheese in little metal tubes. The impact was enough to start a chain reaction, sending a few dozen canisters of bacon flavored synthetic cheese clattering across the floor of the store.

My friend and I looked at each other for a moment, then looked up to see that no less than 10 employees had immediately materialized and were already corralling the loose cylinders and replacing them in the display.

"...sense."

We both started laughing at the totally absurd appropriateness of the incident. The store employees waved us off as they cleaned up the mess and we both tried to squeeze thanks and apologies in-between fits of incoherent giggling.

I feel dull, devoid of anything interesting to write or to say – just dull to the bone. Had a boring couple of days really, just passing the time until I can sleep – I am dull and sleepy. The damned pills I am taking for my insomnia seem to be working – no longer am I lying awake for hours when I should be sleeping. This new-found ability to sleep has come with a price however; all I want to do is sleep.

My eyeballs ache. Whilst not a new sensation it is usually not present unless I haven't slept for days; or at least not to this extent. It feels as if, at any moment, a stream of blood and entrails will erupt from beneath my eyelids, spraying all those who happen to have been standing too close. I am starting to wonder which was worse – the insomnia or the somnolence.

There seems to be little I can say, so I shall recount what has happened over the past few days at work – just because I feel as if I have to do something lest I give in to the drowsiness.

I was hired as a telephone-monkey. I am but young and with little experience, and all I need is a job to pass the time between now and university at the beginning of next year. So a little marketing company in Singapore's Central Business District (CBD) hired me to do some follow-up calls on one of the events that they are managing – some random art competition that is being held by Epson. It started off well; I made the phone calls, found out whether the person would in fact be participating, and if not, why they chose not to.

Things rapidly started going downhill they discovered that I actually know my way around computers. Suffice it to say, I am no longer on their payroll as a temp – apparently my ability warrants being put in on a permanent basis as a 'IT Consultant.' It seems that in Singapore, no matter how menial the task may be, they will always come up with some elaborate title which makes you seem to be of far more import than you actually are.

So how did they discover that I would be of use to them in that capacity? Having made a few dozen phone calls my throat was rather dry, and as I wandered over towards water fountain I happened across a group of Senior Marketing Consultants who were going from one computer to another trying to find one that would play a certain video they had on CD – the videographer hadn't given them any information about the method of encoding. So I gave them a hand with it; called the videographer, found out what codecs were used, and eventually managed to get the video to play.

Then things started to get a little bit more difficult. A sizable part of the video consisted of a software demonstration, captured from the screen and then shrunk to a far smaller resolution – the text was fuzzy and, in parts, unreadable. They wanted to know why. Imagine me trying to explain to a large group of marketing consultants, who are completely ignorant of all computer-related things aside from the Microsoft Office suite, things such as resolution as it relates to computers – in specific, trying to explain such matters as display resolution and why the screen captures had to be shrunk before they could be made into a video, and why this resulted in unreadable text.

One of the consultants needed me to fill her in in as much detail as possible, simply because she had to take the video over to the client later that afternoon, and the client would also demand to know why it was unreadable. This consultant, lets call her Claire, knew next to nothing about computers, using them only to type documents – but I tried very hard to explain it to her, she even took notes, and then off she went to the client later that afternoon.

I had nearly forgotten about it, until I received a call from Claire later that afternoon – the client wasn't happy, and wasn't accepting the explanation that had been given. Apparently the client thought that the videographer was just stupid, and didn't know what he was doingafter all, whenever you see a screen capture on television taken from a computer everything is so much clearer. So I tried to explain to Claire that the font size used was so much larger in what you see on television, and she went off to explain that to the client.

Ten minutes later, I get another call – this time it is not only Claire, but the regional director of the client's company (a rather largish multi-national database solutions company) as well as the project head of the team who created the software, all on conference call wanting to speak to me.

I wasn't hired for this!

So suddenly all these big important people wanted me to explain to them what I had explained to Claire – and not a single one of them was as nice about it as Claire was. Somehow I landed myself with the personal responsibility of making sure that the video looked clear and sharp in the final edit. I spent quite a long time immediately after the call had finished wiping sweat from my forehead and cursing myself – we all know that we shouldn't admit to knowing such things!

To make things worse, the computers in the company's office are completely overloaded with all kinds of nasty viruses, spyware, and a variety of other things which make them slow and hang unexpectedly – and I am now responsible for fixing them all. I was offered the job before I realized how much work their was to be done, and I am just now starting to regret it. I have started to keep score in my head on who has the most amount of garbage on their computer – the winner had 3 mass-mailer viruses, 843 critical pieces of spyware (as described by AdAware), and approximately 8 programs which would hang or crash randomly.

So that is the tale of my incredible transformation from Telephone-monkey to technical support hotline. I suddenly have newfound respect for those who have been doing this kind of thing for a living. Also, all the tales of stupid computer users have new meaning for me – I no longer feel that they are funny.

Lets face it, most people who work with computers are pretty clueless about how they work. They learn as much as they have to, and that usually encompasses email, internet browsing, and word processing – little more. We laugh at the tales of stupid people who don't know how these things work, but all they are doing is learning as much as they have to. The people who I now have to deal with on a daily basis are not stupid people, they have all been to university and had at least 6 years industry experience, its just that they never felt it necessary to learn any more about computers than they had to.

As much as I feel like grinding some of them into little crimson patches on the office floor, I keep on telling myself that – and hope that I will be able to believe it. Everyday now I am confronted by people who tell me that their computer hangs, but don't think to remember any details about what they were doing at the time – it is annoying certainly, and it doesn't help me when I need to fix it, but getting angry over the fact that they didn't realize that these things could be caused by any number of things doesn't help matters.

So that is my account of the past few days. If you have read this far then I have much respect for your patience – I am also harboring suspicions that you might be a masochist. Sorry if it is dull, but at least I had to stay awake for a bit longer in order to type it – hopefully I will have this whole sleeping properly thing licked in a week or two and I can start thinking about things that are worthwhile noding.

Power's back on
Power's back on
Been off since Charley roared through on Friday night. Quite the exciting night it was too; Winds must have been around 70mph as it roared thru my yard and I was able to stand within feet of those winds and rains and was never touched by a gust of wind or drop of rain.

Yes, I found it most amazing myself; as Charley decided to cross this area of land as it made its way out to the Atlantic, it was roaring thru my backyard as I stood at the screen door and participated in its arrival and departure, thinking of my grandmother's hurricane decades before. For hours, I stood there and watched and listened as if I had a glass partition between me and Charley. But actually all I had was Charley's intent on moving from south to north..no desire to be bothered with east and west..for my domain is oriented on a true east/west line and Charley was headed north..no dilly-dallying around...I was aghast to be so fortunate to get this close, untouched...just another gift I suppose..

Unfortunately others didn't fare so well; thirteen lives lost as of this writing and unknown costs in many millions of dollars...and for me, just fallen trees, no major damage and a couple days without power, re-awakening me as to the blessed nature of life we enjoy on any given day...

My grandparents and I made the journey into Orlando this morning, and the area is pretty well demolished in some places. Many traffic lights were broken and some were just missing altogether. Signs were bent around, crushed, blown out, and otherwise twisted. Traffic was moving slowly as police directed the cars around. At my apartment complex itself the buildings are all still standing, thank goodness. There are shingles all over the ground, and one shingle was actually imbedded in a chain-link fence. The power will be out at my apartment for a while. A massive tree was torn out of the ground and tossed into a power pole, taking out the power line, the pole, and the transformer. There is water at the apartment, but it is not suitable for drinking or cooking. I lost all the food in the fridge as was to be expected. It's about 85 F inside the place. We gathered up some more of my things and headed back to Titusville. Of course, as is wont to happen, my one of the belts on my car engine came loose and we had to limp it back to town in the pooring rain. What a mess.

And for reasons I'll never understand, UCF is calling everyone back to work tomorrow. I see no reason for this. Nobody's mind can possibly be on working. The area looks like a war zone and the police are practically begging people to stay off the roads. Who could possibly be ready to go back to work right now? I do not understand. Every other aspect of county education and government will be closed tomorrow.

I went to the ER yesterday to have my thumb checked (since I thought it was broken). $750 worth of x-rays and two hours later, turns out it's not broken. It's just sprained. They put a splint on it and prescribed Motrin for it (which I couldn't afford to buy, whoops).

I'm playing a lot with TikiWiki today, because I finally got the bastard to work. It is very spiffy. I just wish I had some content to put in it...

I still feel like shit, but I imagine folks here are getting tired of hearing the whining without ever seeing any signs of progress or trying to fix or heal anything. Unfortunately, that means this'll be a shitty, short little writeup. Oh well, since I'm not writing about fucking Star Trek anyway here the downvotes will follow...

The Case of Vee that Got Away

I spent today at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course, officiating an SCCA National race, one of the last qualifying events for The Runoffs, the amateur road racing championship of America. I was assigned to corner station 8. Eight is located right in the center of the esses of Mid-Ohio, a set of curves the TV people named 'madness'. The esses constitute a very technical set of corners with significant elevation and camber changes. Car placement critical. 8 stands smack in the center and is the slowest corner on the course. Many drivers simply coast through eight. First of all, the wall is almost at the edge of the track, so screwing up at 8 can end your day. Even more important is that eight is a slow corner leading to another slow corner. The second corner leads to a straight enough section to make speed out of nine really imporant. Eight is usually driven to set up nine. But not always.

The day began with a bang, not a whimper.. Meaning the cars were doing a lot of 'rubbing' in NASCAR parlance. Lots of pushing and shoving. The opening salvo came with the American Sedan Race. The second place car shoved the leader aside in seven to take the lead. Later on he got chopped by a slower car leading to a synchronized spin. One Camaro tried to push another aside, relying on what we call "the chrome horn". Another guy got tapped, spun in and tapped the new leader, leading to another synchronized spin.

Next came the prods and small bore GT. Production class race cars began when people decided to start modifying the old MGs they were racing at the time. Many prods are British. If you don't know what that mean I shall refer you to a previous race this year when a Sprite driver pulled off in my station. When I asked him 'What do you think is wrong with it he replied, "It's British."

The British sports cars of the fifties were good. They remained competitive in the sixties, but possessed a certain 'character', by which I mean they broke a lot. British cars in particular suffered from electrcial systems provided by one Joseph Lucas, otherwise known as 'The Prince of Darkness". It is said that Lucas did not invent the darkness. But they did invent the sudden, unexpected darkness.

Of course these are race cars, and all of the Lucas has long been replaced with much more modern stuff. But they remain British, and the full prep rules for Production allow for engines and transmissions that are . . . ahem . . . very highly stressed.

In other words, the fast cars break a lot. They also leak, smoke and smell. A transmission housing decided to throw a snit at Nine. Goodbye, oil. The result was a series of pirouettes the June Taylor Dancers might envy. A Fiat even chipped in (those old Fiats were sooooo reliable) by converting itself to a tricycle. Needless to say, the driver was quite surprised.

But the piece-de-resistance came during the session for Formula 500's and Formula Vees. These are lightweight, inexpensive cars to operate. A Formula Vee uses the suspension, transaxle, brakes and engine from the early sixties 1200cc Beetles, and puts them into a formula car that weighs only about 800 lbs (380kg). The engine mods are limited, so they don't have a ton of go juice, but Vees are light and when running on racing slicks can turn a bit.

Formula 500 are open wheel racers using a Rodax 500cc snowmobile engine. They have NO suspension, other than a set of bushings. You adjust the handling by changing bushings, and they are tricky to set up and drive. On the other hand they have a lot more go juice than a Vee, and weigh 800 lbs. with driver. Given a good setup and a good driver they can go like stink. This was a National, with several former and the reigning national champions in the field.

The first thing about open wheel cars is they weigh nothing so they're all fast in terms of lap times. The second thing is that they're fragile. Those exposed wheels and suspension parts break when hit. It's easily possible to lock wheels, which is often followed by a rousing chorus of 'You Chose a Fine Time to Leave Me Loose Wheel'. I'm sure you know the song.

Another thing is the Vee tendency to run in packs. They do a 'nose to tail' trick whereby one will quite deliberately put his nose into another's transaxle. That can add 300 RPM to the anemic motor and the close draft pulls the following car along behind. Both drivers go faster, but nose-to-tail isn't for the fainthearted. The practices leads to long 'Vee Trains' whee a bunch of cars come dancing by even though Don Cornelius is no where in sight.

The next thing I know is that a Vee simply forgot about my corner, did a quick 'Oh shit', locked 'em all up and slid directly onto the tire wall. Hard.

Tire walls do move, and the Vee moved his section. In return the tires flipped him. So I grabbed my fire bottle and at the first break in traffic and sprinted across track to check the driver. He was hanging from his seat belts, and oil was pouring out of his dipstick and onto the track. I frantically signaled for help, and a full course yellow. I got both.

The driver was fine. We pulled the car up on it's side so he could exit easily and the ambulance took him to medical for a precautionary physical. Then we flipped the Vee on its wheels. Really, except for a rather torn up fiberglass nose, the car looked fine. It would take five minutes to hook up a wrecker to hoist it out of there. Or we could put it in neutral and push it out of the way.

Great idea. Except that the apex of three is at the crest of a hill. We got the Vee rolling easily enough. Almost immediately gravity took over. The car accelerated. Four grown men found themselves running at full speed trying to slow the car. Finally we let it go and it rolled downhill, on its own until it was stopped by yet another tire wall near station nine.

Talk about humiliating. Seems like something out of a Laurel and Hardy movie. But it cleared the track quickly, and the car was not hurt any more than before.

But no sooner had we cleared this incident when two 500's locked wheels entering 14 and ended up doing a full Olga Korbut tumbling run with back flip, handspring, triple jump and an iron cross before the dismount. Ambulance now! The stewards decided they had seen enough and checkered the session.

And this was before lunch.

After lunch people played a lot nicer. Perhaps the word had spread through the paddock and penetrated into the 'red mist' that so often occupies a driver's helmet, but they played nice. My friend Tom Sloe broke the GT-1 lap record by a over a second. For four laps in a row. And still had Phil Lasco's Mustang on his tail at the end.

Way cool. Actually, it was a ton of fun. But if I ever push a Vee downhill again, I'll make sure someone is in the car to work the brakes.

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