5 July, 2004

Yeah, the forum is now up and running. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it. Right now, there is a daft message or two from me. There is a poll about Star Wars movie titles, and I posted a modified answer to an email I once received. Now, having done that, I don't want people to think the forum is just for asking the egomaniac questions. I think it would be cool if people talked about any old subject that they wanted. The forum is not about me. Hell, the rest of the website is all about me and my random insanities. I see no reason to dominate the forum, too. Talk about anything you want. Talk about String Finger Theatre or any other odd thing from the website if you want. Openly speculate about whether or not that idiot is ever going to stop complaining and just finish The Etymology of Fire.

Mostly, just go there and say that you actually check out the website on a semi-regular basis. I'm hoping to discover that there are at least three people who read String Finger Theatre and will admit to it.

But, boy, what a job I had getting the forum to work. Thanks to the suggest of a friend of mine—hi, Jason—I didn't use the create forum button on my website's control panel. I actually did all the work of downloading phpBB 2 from its website, unzipping, and then uploading to my website. Of course, I did use my website's control panel to create the MySQL database and database administrator. Everything was simply and straightforward up to this point.

I remembered to change the permissions on the config.php file or whatever the correct filename was called, and then I used my web browser to visit install.php, which is when the fun began. I clicked install and was rewarded with Error! Error! Error! Cannot contact database! which is exactly the kind of message you want to see when you've been doing your best to follow the directions exactly.

It took me about an hour to figure out what the problem was. I had downloaded & uploaded the correct files. I had changed the permissions of the correct file. I had told the phpBB installation page the correct database name. I had entered the correct database user name and password, but clicking the button did not work. Argh! This is what I get for trying to do it myself. I should have just clicked the create bulletin board button in the control panel, but nooooo.

Okay, what else could be wrong? The database page in the control panel even listed what you needed to use to communicate with the database so I double-checked all of that. Then, I realized that the admin user name had been truncated. Okay, try that. Nope, phpBB still gives an error message. Okay, try deleting the database user and create another one without a truncating name. Nope, that wasn't it either. Still getting an error message.

Well, just for the hell of it, try changing the database path on the phpBB install screen. Okay, different error message but still no good. Change the path back and still not working. So, study the code snippet on the MySQL control panel page. Maybe, I need to locate the php install script and change it to what the control panel says. This isn't something I really wanted to do, but I was feeling a little desperate. Okay, maybe not desperate, but I sure wasn't happy.

Which is when I finally figured out what was wrong. It only took an hour. My poor little brain finally registered something funny about the name of the MySQL database, and I realized that up until that moment I had been doing some mental grammar correcting without even realizing it. I swear I wanted to scream. No, that can't be it. I'm such an idiot. I didn't even want to believe that I had reversed two letters in the database's name.

So, I figured I had two choices. I could delete the database and set-up a new one while being much more careful with its name, or I could just accept the fact that my database had a screwed-up name. Well, I decided it would be more fun to have a screwed-up database name so I screwed-up the name in the phpBB install page. And, wham! The phpBB forum install script worked.

Oh, boy, I actually cheered when I saw the installation successful screen.

So, I spent the rest of Saturday pushing buttons and changing options on phpBB's configuration page, and I think I'm finally starting to get the hang of it. This is definitely still a work in progress, but hopefully, there won't be a whole message of surprising changes.

I even made some stupid avatar images based on pictures from my website so you don't have to supply your own image if you don't want to. You can use one of my daft little pictures, and following my brother's advice, I'll probably be adding some images based on String Finger Theatre, but we shall see how that goes.

Oh, and speaking of working on avatar images, that is what I was doing last night when some geniuses decided to set off a really big firework or something in the car-park right outside my window. There was an almighty bang and flash of bright white light that cut straight through my window blinds like they weren't even there. I swear it shook the apartment and set off all the car alarms all up and down the street. So, I figured it was some stupid Fourth of July bullshit or other, but I figured I should investigate anyway. I opened the window blinds, and I see this huge column of smoke rising from the car-park. And, I think holy fucking shit! Somebody has blown-up a car or set one on fire or both! That is just more smoke than I'm used to seeing from a firecracker! And, I remember how every so often some crazy goon or other decides it is really fun to set my apartment complexe's car-parks on fire. And, I think shit! My car is over there! So, I reach for the phone and dial 911. I mean if there is a fire in the car-park right outside my window then I want the goddamn fire department putting the fucking fire out as fast as they can.

Well, the smoke stopped billowing and undulating while I had 911 on the phone so I tell the nice lady that it didn't look like a fire, but I swear I've never seen that much smoke from just an illegal firework before. I was really concerned that something more serious had happened. So, I left my blinds open and looked out the window every couple of minutes. I saw a police car drive by a few minutes later, and then I think I saw an unmarked police car cruise the car-park. But, nothing came of it.

Scared the crap out of me that is for sure. I mean the actual explosion wasn't that bad. It was the Fourth of July and all of that. It was just watching the thick black smoke rising from the car-park that spooked me. It took me hours to get to bed last night, and I couldn't concentrate worth crap after that. Oh, well.

Oh, yeah, they kept at it, too, but much farther away. Yeah, about an hour later there was another unholy boom that shook my apartment, but it wasn't so loud. And, I didn't notice anything amiss. I figured it was the same damn punks amusing themselves farther away from my window.

This kept up until about 1:30 in the morning. It didn't bother me so much when there were multiple firework sounding explosions. I mean when there was a big boom followed by a bunch of little bitsy crackly-crackly-pops like little firecrackers I knew it was just some geniuses or other enjoying the holiday.

What was that line from The Simpsons? Celebrate the independence of your country by blowing up a small piece of it? Yeah, I think that was it.

11 July, 2004

I walk home from work whenever I get the chance, which works out to about three or four times a week. I only do this during the Summer since it gets too dark during the Winter. I've got an exercise bike at home for those times of the year when I'm not walking. The walk is a good three or four miles and takes me about an hour and a half to do the whole thing. Depending on my mood or whatnot, I'll take a bus part way, and then I've only got about an hours walk before I get home. The road I usually follow when doing the whole walk is pretty busy with lots of cars and whatnot, taking me past Forest Hill Station. If you know San Francisco, then you may know where that is. In fact, Forest Hill Station is where I get off the bus if I'm only walking part-way home. Anyway, one of my coworkers had been bugging me to change my path and take one of the more residential streets. I should get away from all the cars and smog and whatnot. I had thought about changing my route before, but the more residential streets all go steeply uphill. I think I'm doing quite enough with the walk and don't really need to make it any more interesting by adding any more climbing. Anyway, the coworker was persistent, and I do happen to agree that it would be nicer to be farther away from all the traffic.

So, I've tried the walk once or twice, and it is harder. It's not as much fun because of the hill. I found I wasn't even admiring all the pretty streets and lovely trees because I was far more concerned with breathing. But, I will admit that it sure is nice to be off that heavily trafficked road.

Well, anyway, last Thursday, I had finished the main trudge up the hill and was starting to get my breath back when I noticed a garage door start to open a little ways ahead of me. The door had barely managed to open when this scruffy little longhair black and white dog darted out from under it. The dog was on one of those extender leashes, and I remember thinking that this was really stupid. Whoever was on the other end of that leash couldn't tell what the dog was up to and it was only a couple of feet to the street. The dog could have been a pancake long before the door finished opening. People could have been standing there. The dog could have taken offense to the mailman. Dognappers would have had no problem making off with the poor little critter before the owner even knew what was going on.

I'm not a big fan of the extender leash, can you tell? It's an issue of control. Those extender leashes are just too long and have too much slack in the line. A leash needs to keep the dog basically under your feet, and if you should have need to give the leash a yank, the dog should feel it. I'm not just talking here. I knew a dog that was kept on a harness leash, which I had thought was the most humane thing until they switched the dog to a collar, and I was impressed by how much more the dog respond to commands when connected to the collar than when he had been on the harness. The collar only bothered the dog when he became overly excited about something and would pull so hard he would start to choke himself, and he knew how to slip out of it so it wasn't really as if he was totally against the collar.

But, enough digression. So, this dog out from under the door went to work rooting around and sniffing everything in sight. I don't think the garage door had quite finished opening by the time I had reached the house, but I could see into the garage. There was some lady standing there with the other end of the leash, and she was paying only the slightest attention to what the dog was doing.

So, the dog spotted me and started watching me with that intensity that only dogs can muster from the middle of the sidewalk. I could tell that I wasn't going to be able to get around him easily so I decided to be sociable. I came up to him slowly, stretched my hand out with the fingers curled just enough so that they are not sticking out, and looked slightly to the side of the dog's face. You shouldn't look a strange dog in the eye. They don't like it.

So far so good. The dog seemed okay. He looked like he was just sniffing at my hand. He studied the back of my hand for a while with that doggy intensity I was talking about, and then he made a jerky move like he was going for my hand. So, I pulled the hand back a couple of inches and kept watching him. The dog stood there for a moment as if nothing had happened, and then he made a lunge for my leg. He got a good bite of my pant leg and started to shake it all around, and then he started to growl like a mad thing. He was really going at it too. He was quite a show of fierce intensity, flailing all over the place with a good grip on my pant leg and growling like he was the baddest thing this side of creation.

Makes me laugh just remembering it.

Sure, I didn't laugh at the time. I seem to recall making a noise like "wah!" or "whoa!" or something in-between. So, I stood up, and I hear the lady in the garage say "hey, hey, hey" in a real soft and utterly wimpy voice. No self-respecting dog would notice much less take orders from such a voice. Anyway, the dog got tired or bored or just plain forgot what it was doing and let go of my pant leg. It scuttled about a foot away from me and then just stood there starring off down the road as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened at all. In fact, the dog looked for all the world as if it had completely forgotten I was standing there and was completely and utterly oblivious to my presence.

So, I looked to the lady in the garage, expecting her to say something. Maybe, she would apologize and would say that her dog was really a sweetheart and never acted like this around people. Maybe, she would scold the dog and call it a bad doggy or something. Mostly I was waiting for her to say something along the lines of "oops, sorry" to which I would reply "hey, no problem." But, nothing of the kind happened. This lady just stood there watching me with the strangest look on her face, and I began to wonder if she was going to cuss me out. I thought it would be just the perfect capper if she decided to accuse me of attacking her dog or something. Obviously, her prized pet would only bite to defend itself.

Well, she just kept starring at me, which began to seem really creepy, so I turned and walked away. What else you going to do? I figured anything I could have said would have just given her an opening to start accusing me of some nonsense or other. Oh, well, we shall see if there are ever any updates to this story since I'll be walking right past that house every time I walk home. It really is much nicer than the road with all the cars on it, and I can always use the exercise.

The dog didn't even rip my pant leg, and it is funny remembering that shaggy guy just flailing all over. His whole body was into it. Growling like he was an uber-beast tearing his enemy to shreds. Yeah, it make me chuckle as I write this.

The whole thing reminded me of a time years ago when my dad and I were walking around the block, and there was this one house that had two tiny old dogs. I remember the owners were out front that time my dad and I were walking, and these neighbors had their two dogs out front with them. Well, this one little old dog started walking down the middle of the sidewalk toward us. My dad and I stopped to watch him and find out what he thought of us. Well, the dog stopped about a foot or so away and started to sniff the air like mad. He looked for all the world as if he had been startled. He looked as if he hadn't even realized that we were there, which I figured meant his eyesight wasn't what it had once been. After sniffing for a moment, he started into a furious round of barking, but it was just so funny. He had been so quite. This little guy walking. Stopped. Sniffed. And, then having realized someone was there started barking like mad. Well, the owners scolded, and the dog stopped. And, we all just laughed.

Anyway, to completely change the subject, the Stormsdream forum has been up for about a week, and I still feel like a kid with a new toy. I don't even know what to do with it. There are so many buttons to press and things to do. I can't even imagine getting to them all. I've changed a whole bunch of the options a whole bunch of times. I've read every posted message about a zillion times over, and I've posted way too many of my own. I don't want to dominate the site. I'm hoping that people who surf my site will take an interest in posting their own messages there. Greg Johnson is my old roommate, by the way. He was one of the three original roommates I had when I first started attending San Francisco State University. Greg and I also stayed roommates for something like ten years, which is a figure that just startles me every time I think of it. Hey, it is amazing how much cheaper rent seems when somebody else is paying half of it. Anyway, he finally got married and moved away. He is living wherever his Profile in the forum says he is living, and he is a forum message-posting machine. I'm not even trying to keep up with him anymore.

I had to completely change my forum ranking system because of him. Okay, I had always intended to revise it. I shouldn't blame people for stuff they had no part in doing. I had wanted some ranking right away so had thrown up a whole bunch of stupid names. Oh, they were so original. I mean the first couple were good- well, two. I liked Zed and Curious Bystander, but after that I had used Official Member, Dedicated Member and Serious Member. See, I couldn't think of anything, but I wanted something. Anyway, Greg hit Official Member in like two days so I knew I had to do something.

Now, there are sixteen ranking titles, and I think they are pretty good. Samantha helped me with a couple, which I'm pretty sure were names she just suggested from the book she happened to be reading while I was sitting there with pen and paper. She then couldn't believe that I actually used her suggestions. So, when you reach the rank of Wiggins, Fluffy or Porphyria's Lover, you can thank my girl-friend for suggesting them.

Rank number sixteen is Squishy Poet from Beyond, which is from an episode of Futurama. The full quote is "Kiss me, you squishy poet from beyond the stars!" Anyway, it's an insanely funny moment from a really funny episode so I just couldn't resist using it. I'm chuckling to myself just remembering that scene from the episode while typing this.

I'm also trying to set-up a whole slew of gallery avatars so people don't have to worry about finding one. I've quickly discovered that I don't have too many pictures I could adapt into avatars so I asked my good friend Jason if I could use stuff from his website. I had remembered that he had a whole bunch of pictures of trucks playing around in some park where you could do off-roading type stunts in a fairly protected and controlled environment, and I figured that I could get some good avatars out of there. Fortunately, Jason agreed, and I think the avatars worked out rather well. There were a bunch more pictures I could have used, but I didn't want to get too carried away with the trucks.

For my next trick, I think I'll be asking my parents if I can go through the pictures of their world travels and find stuff that looks cool. I'll also be going through the String Finger Theatre archive to find anything that looks like I could use it. I swear I'm going to do this. I just don't know when. Thanks to my brother Ronald for suggesting String Finger Theatre avatars. I'm going to get around to it.

Anyway, there's more I could prattle on about, but I think this is enough.

[6 Sept, 2004: Oops, the full quote from Futurama is actually "Teach me to love you, squishy poet from beyond the stars." and not "Kiss me," which just goes to show that I'm not fanatical about this stuff and don't have complete episodes memorized, but I will go through the trouble of pointing out my mistakes when I notice them.]

24 July, 2004

I still haven't quite figured out what to do with the forum. I mean I don't want to dominate the thing, and I don't want to post so many tricks and tidbits there that I've got nothing to say in the journal. I'm really hoping that people feel that they can post messages and talk about stuff they just might be interested in discussing, and I mean any old topic. I feel liberated by the forum in the sense that I will post more random stuff there. I'll post just the comment about what book I've been reading or the commercial predicting reality or whatnot. I doubt I would have made journal entries out of any of that stuff. I feel a compulsion to make these journal entries longer, which generally means that I only get around to them on the weekend. I never feel I have enough time on any given weekday night to do something as involved as a journal entry so it feels really good to feel that I can just lay out a sentence or two in a post on the forum. It's also easier for people to respond to a post in the forum than to reference something I may have mentioned here in the journal. Oh, yeah, and I'm not going to start mentioning on the comics page every time I post something on the forum. I mean that would just be stupid. Tuesday, I posted a note on the forum. Wednesday, I posted a note on the forum. Friday, I posted a note on the forum. Oh, yeah, that would just go over like gangbusters. I would get a barrage of email from people begging me to stop. Does thirty email count as a barrage? That is pretty much how many people I think read String Finger Theatre. Oh, well.

Anyway, Samantha and I just finished spending the last week and a half apartment sitting for one of my coworkers. The coworker has three cats so she doesn't like leaving them alone for extended periods of time especially since she typically adopts older cats. In fact, the first two times we apartment sat for her she had four cats and now she only has three. Hey, she adopts old cats. Loosing one is going to happen.

The first time Samantha and I looked after my coworker's apartment nothing interesting happened. It went so well that we were invited to do it again. Well, the second time was a little more interesting. I can't remember if it was the first or second night, but the kitchen sink backed-up something awful. No, it didn't spill out onto the floor or anything like that, but there was quite a bit of gray water floating around in there. This, of course, happened at something like ten-thirty or eleven at night so there was no hope of walking to a store and getting some drain cleaner.

Well, that got all sorted-out and was nothing compared to what happened on the following evening. I managed to get us locked out. Yeah, that's right. Locked out. It was quite a feat of engineering, too. It took some serious skill and planning on my part to make this work, and it is actually kind of hard to explain what happened because it is kind of hard to explain the layout of the apartment. Well, maybe not so hard.

Okay, there is a front door with iron gate and a side door with rickety wood stairs. If you go out the side door and down the rickety stairs, you still have to get through an old wood door next to the garage. With me so far? Okay, we had been given key rings with what I had been lead to believe had included a full compliment of keys. Well, a full set of keys except for a key to the door next to the garage, but they leave a key hanging next to that door so no worries, right?

So, we were taking out the trash late on the third night and quickly discovered that it was really dark in the little side yard type area. And, we couldn't find the key for the door leading to the garage because it was so dark and we had only been able to find one flashlight. So, we went back up the rickety stairs to get the huge key ring that we had seen hanging next to the front door, grousing that we should have just taken that key ring in the first place. Well, I had thought we had all the keys we needed and hadn't needed the huge key ring hanging next to the front door. So, we got back to the side door and discovered that none of our keys worked on this door, which is about when I realized that the key ring for the side door and the door leading to the garage were hanging from a peg next to the side door. In fact, I had though about grabbing that key ring since it was the ring of keys we had used on the occasion of the first time we had apartment sat for my coworker, but I had not done so because I had thought our limited key rings had included everything we needed. Obviously not.

All of which means that we were stuck in the side yard. We couldn't find the key to the door leading to the garage, and none of our keys worked on the side door. So, we started to get creative. We tried to do the credit card trick on the door leading to the garage with absolutely no success because neither one of us had the faintest idea of how to go about the credit card trick. It probably didn't help that the door leading to the garage had a really good lock, but I would still like to place some of the blame on my lack of skill in this endeavor. After we gave up on that, we tried to figure out if we could go over the fence. If one of us could get over the side, we had all the keys we needed to get back in through the iron gate and front door. Once back inside, the side door could be opened, and the other person rescued. Well, getting over the fence proved to be a rather dangerous endeavor, and we finally abandoned that option.

I had conveniently left my cell phone in the apartment so we couldn't even call anybody for help. I even climbed the rickety stairs all the way up to the upstairs neighbor's apartment, but of course, the place was dark. Nobody answered when I knocked. It was beginning to look as if we were going to be stuck there until morning, but we set about the epic task of really trying to find the key that had been beside the door leading to the garage on the occasion of the last time we had apartment sat for my coworker. It was while trying to do the credit card trick on the door leading to the garage with a key this time that Samantha just happened to swing the flash light up in the right direction and spotted the key.

Oh, man, we were so happy. We got the door open, which left us standing in front of the garage door, and we had access to the front door with iron gate. So, we got the garage door open and deposited the trash, closed the door leading to the garage, and made for the iron gate. We got through the iron gate with the key from our precious key rings, unlocked the front door, and quickly discovered that I had put the chain on the front door.

I tell you. I mean I really tell you that there are few sensations quite like the feeling of relief of having overcome a tricky spot only to have those feelings dashed when one discovers the means of one's salvation chained shut.

Yeah, we were really in a spot thanks to my great planning and foresight. It takes real genius to not only not bother to bring the correct key ring with you but to also go through the extra precaution of chaining the front door just on the off chance that you happen to escape from the first trap.

And, you know what? Those chains work. We couldn't get it off the door. Samantha kept saying she thought she could rip the chain out of the wall, but I really wasn't in favor of that option. What I did recommend was that we go back to the garage and find some tools. I had seen great big hulking key rings hanging in the garage, and I was hoping through blind hope that one of those rings just might happen to work on the side door. If not that, I was equally blindly hopeful that we could find a screw driver with which to wage war against the chain and remove its evil influence without actually damaging the door or the wall.

Now, I will admit that I wasn't totally in favor of the idea of getting a screw driver because that would be the point when a police car would just happen to cruise the street and we would have to explain why we were attempting to gain access to an apartment that wasn't actually ours with something other than the key.

Now, if only we had remembered there was a big fat ring of keys hanging from a hook next to the door. Oh, wait, Samantha did remember, and she was able to reach the ring. This is not a detail I'm worried about revealing about my coworker's apartment since you first have to be able to slip past the iron gate and get the front door open enough to reach through the gap and snag a big ring of keys. The only problem was that at this point we didn't actually know if this big ring of keys included a key for the side door. With just that perfect mix of giddy hope and desperation, we went back around through the door leading to the garage, up the rickety stairs, and tried any number of keys on our newly acquired key ring until one of them actually worked.

We were back inside! We were back inside! Whee! Oh, yeah, and the first thing we did was to unchain the front door, and we made a pact to leave the door unchained as long as we were inside and not asleep.

And, in spite of all of these adventures, we were invited back to apartment sit a third time. Samantha and I made a very simple deal for this third adventure. She would be responsible for the cats, feeding them, cleaning the litter boxes, and I would be responsible for not getting us locked out again. Seemed like a fair deal to us.

So, of course, first night we are apartment sitting this most recent time around, the shower head explodes.

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