Commas Rule, This July Fourth!

Do commas matter? According to an Ohio Court of Appeals, they do.

As we U.S. Americans celebrate the birth of our democracy today, it’s fitting to celebrate recent court victories on behalf of the common man (and woman)—and common sense. I’m not talking about the Supreme Court ruling in support of same-sex marriage equality, though I celebrate that, as well. I’m talking about the Ohio 12th District Court of Appeals ruling which overturned a West Jefferson, Ohio woman’s ticket-and-tow citation when she left her pickup truck parked on the street overnight.

The reason her truck was towed? A village ordinance makes it illegal to park “any motor vehicle camper, trailer, farm implement and/or non-motorized vehicle” on a street for more than 24 hours.

The woman argued that her truck was not a “motor vehicle camper,” and should not have been towed. The trial court ruled that the ordinance meant to say, “motor vehicle, camper, trailer, etc.” and that the missing comma was just a typo.

No way, said the Court of Appeals. If your meaning requires a comma, you need to put the comma in. We’re not responsible for your careless writing. Yay! Let’s hear it for clear writing, I say!

You can read the whole story in the Washington Post, which seems to have rereported it from the Columbus Dispatch.

Now, if I could just collect a fine every time I caught the Boston Globe mangling grammar, spelling, or punctuation (as opposed to “grammar spelling, or punctuation”). It would probably cover the cost of my subscription.

A special tip of the hat today to copy editors everywhere!

 

Curse You, Skunk Baron! [PHEW!]

He looks innocent, doesn’t he? All doe eyed and mild mannered. Well, at 2:45 a.m. Sunday morning, when I took him out for a late-night pee, he wasn’t so mild mannered—not when he saw Philippe LePew in the bushes in front of our house. He vaulted over the side of the steps and dove after it, nearly yanking me head over heels with him. (Thank God for retractable leashes—and that he was on the leash.)

As I yanked him back, I saw the flash of white and black in the bushes, and I knew my night—which just hours before had been a pleasant gathering of friends for movie night—had just taken a serious turn for the worse.

Going inside was out of the question, even though it was cold and raining. I leaned on the doorbell, rousting Allysen out of bed. She began a long series of trips up and down the stairs, bringing me all the supplies: bucket, rubber gloves, old T-shirt, hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, dish detergent, vinegar, Nature’s Miracle, towels, etc. (Forget tomato juice; it doesn’t work.) Here’s the recipe we used (it’s on a refrigerator magnet that we got at the animal hospital):

1 quart hydrogen peroxide
¼ cup baking soda
2 teaspoons dish detergent

Mix it up, lather it in, and wait 20 minutes. I especially liked the waiting part, standing in the cold rain in bare feet, in shorts and t-shirt, trying to keep Captain Jack from shaking it off all over me. Then around the house to the hose, to wash him down. Repeat. We were soon out of H2O2, so I switched to vinegar and baking soda.

Eventually I toweled him down and poured Nature’s Miracle skunk treatment all over him. By the time we got upstairs it was 4:30 a.m., and Allysen had set up sleeping arrangements for us in the living room—Jack in his crate, me on the sofa on multiple sets of sheets, and a fan in the window. (No way was I going to risk taking skunk essence into our bedroom.)

Me sleeping on the sofa and Jack in his crate was the sight that met our daughter Lexi when she passed through early Sunday morning. What have they done to make Mom that mad? she wondered.

Amazingly, the next day, the skunk smell was almost entirely gone. But Captain Jack hadn’t forgotten. The next few times we went out, one thing was clear: He wanted to find that skunk and teach him a lesson he wouldn’t forget!

Fortunately, Philippe the skunk had moved on.

You Cannot Sell the Sun!

posted in: quirky | 0

I have a t-shirt with the warning “You cannot split the sun!” on the back. It’s a souvenir of the first time I spoke at the Odyssey Fantasy Workshop. It seems there was a student who wrote a story in which a character did something to split the sun in the half. The class unanimously roared, “You cannot split the sun!” And when they created their class t-shirt, that’s what they put on it.

Well, it seems there’s a lady in Madrid who has been making a nice little business of selling plots of “land” on the surface of the sun—selling them on eBay, in fact. Until eBay shut her down. Now she’s taking eBay to court. Here’s what Newser.com had to say about it:

She had been selling parcels of about 11 square feet for about $1 each and had racked up 600 orders before eBay shut her down….

“I am not a stupid person and I know the law,” Duran has said of her solar real estate gambit. She’s basing her claim on a loophole in the UN’s Outer Space Treaty that says no nation can stake ownership to a heavenly body but makes no mention of individuals.

The court, alas, will rule only on whether she violated eBay’s terms of agreement, not on whether she can claim ownership over these plots on the sun.

Happy Pi Day, Extreme!

(GOING LIVE ON 3.14.15 AT 9:26.  Five… four… three… two… [finger points])

Happy Pi Day! No, I don’t mean pie day. I mean Ratio of a Circle’s Circumference to Its Diameter Day! Or approximately 3.1415926, followed by a lot more digits, going on forever. It’s the universal number signifying the presence of an intelligent, sentient species. If we ever detect that number being beamed to us from space, it’s either from one of us, or there are Intelligent Beings out there, with both math and transmitters. My dog Captain Jack is pretty smart, but I don’t think he knows about pi. My cat Moonlight… well, she might.

Anyway, Pi Day comes around in a minor way every March 14. (3-14)  But today is Pi Day Extreme: 3.14.15. That won’t happen again for a century!

Pi Day is also when the MIT Admissions Department sends out its notices of acceptance. In fact, according to the Boston Globe, this year’s admission notices will be released on Saturday, March 14, at 9:26 a.m. That works out to 3.1415926, which is pi to seven decimal places. I love MIT.

Here’s a video MIT prepared, depicting the admission notices going out en masse by quadcopter drones, set to Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjw9-E3_GbM&feature=youtu.be

Excuse Me While I Reboot My Window

No, not my computer. My car window. Our beloved Ford Fusion, Katniss, suddenly developed a very odd problem with the power window: Press Down to make the window go down, lift Up to make the window go up—and then watch it go back down again, all on its own, and very determinedly. Weird. Also—perhaps related, and perhaps not—we found the car the other day with the battery dead, Jim, and no apparent reason why.

I solved the dead battery on Sunday by jumping with my handy Stanley jump-start unit, and the battery gave no further problem. (Though it worried me a little.) But when the window started going down on its own, I took Katniss straight to the Ford dealer and let them work on it.

The upshot? “We had to reinitialize the motor on the window.” Which is either Geordi fixing something in the computer of the Enterprise, or us rebooting our car window. I knew computers were everywhere in cars, but the windows? Apparently so. Got a problem? Reboot.

As for the battery? When I went to pick up the car, they assured me the battery had tested out okay. Except when I got in to drive it away, the battery was dead, dead, dead. An hour later I had a new battery (covered by warranty, of course), and I’m so glad it happened in the dealer’s parking lot, and not a number of other places I can think of!

Wardrobe Malfunctions at Worldcon

In my first post on Loncon, I mentioned a couple of wardrobe malfunctions that threatened to derail me at the con. No, I didn’t burst out of my bustier. But both stood to be just about as embarrassing.

Scheduled for a signing on Friday afternoon, I went a little early to the green room to have a cup of coffee. Sitting by myself at a table, I was sorting through some of the con literature when I moved my hand in the wrong direction. Oops. Oh frak! I had just spilled the entire cup of coffee across the table, toward me, and into my lap. Yeah, right into the crotch of my pants. Oh shit, what do I do now? I can’t walk around the con like this. And my nearest set of alternative pants is forty-five minutes away by tube. Oh damn, oh damn, oh damn. Fortunately, I was saved by the sun and the wind. The green room, by a miracle, had an open-air balcony! I sidled out quickly, and stood facing the sun and open air. And stood. And stood. Thank God, by the time I needed to go to the signing, I was all (mostly) dried out. With no visible stain. Go solar!

The next day, I was all set to walk through the art show, when I felt something snap against my waist. Looking down, I found my belt loose, and my pants sagging. My belt buckle had chosen that moment to snap clean off, leaving me without any means of holding up my pants except to clutch the waistband in my fists. (My pants were a little loose that day, something I usually feel good about.) My nearest other belt was… well, you know.

I checked the dealers room for anyone selling belts, but the only thing I found was a costume belt for fifty pounds, with crossed, full-sized derringers mounted on the buckle. Uh, no.

Then along came my friend Tom Easton, who apprised the situation and led me off to the art desk. “Let’s see what they’ve got,” he said. What they had was some jumbo binder clips. Could they be used to clip the two ends of my belt together? Not really. “Let’s see what we can fashion,” Tom said. He pried the wire handles out of one of the clips. While I was trying to figure out what to do with them, he had already noticed that they could interlock, if there was a way to attach them to the belt leather. And there was. It wasn’t easy, but together we managed to squeeze the flared, open ends of the wire pieces through holes in the leather and have the handles come together just so:

The fix worked perfectly (though it took me about two hours of fiddling to get the right tightness), and it lasted the rest of the day! I have officially named it the Tom Easton Belt Buckle Mod. And someday I’m going to find a way to use it in a story. Thanks, Tom!
 

Staying on a Boat in London for Worldcon

It seemed like the perfect solution when Allysen found it on Air B&B: Houseboat on the Thames! What could be more charming? Besides, time was growing seriously short, and we really needed a place to stay at worldcon. And it was cheaper than the hotels, which were mostly full, anyway. Besides, it had a double-sized bunk, plus several singles, which was more than enough. Plus, it had a kitchen and a working toilet. What more do you need?  Well…

What we got was a charming little sailboat called the Catch-E, which really was a nice boat if you didn’t think of it in terms of B&B, or even houseboat. It did have the requisite number of bunks, but the smell of mildew and strong cleaners in the cabin caused Julia to immediately decide that she was sleeping on the cushioned bench seat in the upper wheelhouse/dining area. And the tiny kitchenette would have been just a tad more useful if it had had refrigeration. And the working toilet? Technically, it did work. But it also pumped straight out into the marina waters, so it wasn’t what you would actually call usable except in extremis. The fact was, we had to hike out to the external bathhouses for toilets and showers. For that purpose, we could choose between the one inside the marina’s gated fence (where the toilets worked but the lights and electricity didn’t), or the fully functional one that required going through two gates with pass-codes in each direction.

Still, it was cozy enough. And camping can be fun. It was pleasant to fall asleep to the rocking of the boat. And it was a very nice hike around the extensive marina area to the nearest supermarket and tube station. It was only a forty-five minute commute to the con, via foot, tube, and automated (driverless) light rail, which wasn’t bad. I had brought several outlet adapters and a power strip to charge our phones and tablets, which would have been great, except that while I had made certain all of our chargers were dual voltage, I forgot to do the same with the power strip. Which fried soundlessly, the instant I plugged it in, popping all the boat’s circuit breakers. Still, we were doing okay, in spite of its being… other… than what we’d expected.

Until the night came when—sometime after midnight—I ducked out in shorts and t-shirt to the bathroom and came back to the fence gate to find that the pass-code no longer worked to let me in.

WTF?!

No, it really didn’t work anymore. I hollered to Julia, who was reading in her bench-seat bed. She came to help, and she couldn’t make it work, either. Finally we were reduced to me walking along the outer fence while she walked the long dock, looking for a boat with a light on inside. (Most of the boats in the marina really were houseboats.) Finally she knocked on a boat window and found a kind soul who lent her his entry fob long enough to blip me in. On returning it, I thanked him and said we hadn’t been told about a change in the pass-code. “The swine,” he said. “They never do.”

The next morning, I got the new code (it changes fortnightly) from the marina manager, who was surprised to learn that we were paying to stay on the boat a few days. “Really,” he said. “Because that’s not allowed here.” He was perfectly genial to me, but it was clear that the owner of the Catch-E was going to have some ‘splainin’ to do.

We were able to laugh about it, most of the time. It certainly was different from your cookie-cutter con hotel room. But when we checked out of it after the con, and into a hotel near Greenwich (thank you, booking.com), we fell with joy upon the spacious beds and gaped with positive wonderment at the included bathroom, complete with shower!

Back from the showers
Laundry day on Catch-E
Tea time!

 

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