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May, 2009:

Bichonicon, Day 1

We got here last night seven-ish, and had time to lay on our backs on the bed and just decompress after the 330-mile blast down I-55. Carol washed QBit earlier this morning, and is now “tipping” him (snipping off the small “tips” of his hair that stick out beyond the general contours of his coat) just for practice. Aero’s up next, as he will be in the ring both Friday and Saturday and needs to be at his absolute best.

The hotel is about what we expected. Hotels willing to host dog breed specialties have certain common characteristics: They’re older, somewhat careworn, and ripe for large-scale rehab. The occasional piddle spot is acceptable, given a four-day full house at what I consider premium rates for an ever-so-slightly crufty property like this.

The faux-Swiss Sheraton Westport Chalet actually isn’t bad. We love the standard Sherton beds, and our room-service breakfast was nicely done, arriving hot and right on time. The Wi-Fi, though; aggghh! It’s $10/day, four days for $30…and it drops the connection every five or ten minutes. I have 48%-60% signal strength, which should be more than enough to maintain a connection. I can generally restore the connection by breaking and remaking association with the access point, which is a nuisance, but it’s better than nothing. It’s notable that I’ve had Wi-Fi problems at other Sheratons, especially in Des Moines, where I could never get the damned thing to work at all. (I got my money back.)

While we were walking QBit and Aero around the hotel earlier today, we passed a restaurant that ferdam looked like a Panera–except that it was called the St. Louis Bread Company. Once I had a connection again, I discovered that that was what Panera was called when it was created here in St. Louis in 1993. Restaurants in the St. Louis area still bear that name.

As for the show itself, things are still being set up. The opening banquet is tonight (dogs do not attend, which in one sense is a shame) and for the rest of the afternoon everybody’s likely to be in their rooms or out on the lawn grooming the contestants. We’ve already run into most of the people we know in the bichon metaverse, though alas, neither QBit’s nor Aero’s breeders will be attending.

One final unrelated item: Several people have sent me notes about the announced sale of Borland to Micro Focus. What this means for Delphi is absolutely nothing, since Borland sold off all of its programming language products to Embarcadero Systems in 2008. Most of what Borland still sells is StarTeam, a revision control system, which is evidently what Micro Focus wants.

It’s a quiet day. I’m helping Carol as needed, and when not needed, I’m quietly thinking about how I think about the things that I think about when I’m thinking. Being free means knowing your own mind, and making sure that no one and nothing receives your unquestioning obedience. If you can’t do that, you are not free.

Off to Bichonicon!

Carol and I are packing up for the dash down I-55 to St. Louis, where we will be for a few days, attending the Bichon Frise Nationals at the Sheraton Westport Chalet. Hundreds and hundreds of bichons in one hotel! Furballdemonium! As always, it’s hard to tell how often I’ll be able to post while there–hotel broadband is a very uneven phenomenon. I’ll try and get some pictures for those who can’t imagine it. (On the other hand, I know that most of you can imagine a lot.)

But in the meantime, I want to post more broadly what Jim O’Brien pointed out in a comment to yesterday’s entry. Spelled correctly in Irish, “oonchick” would be “oinseach”–not that I would have had a chance in hell of guessing!–and means what I think Sade meant: a person of pathetic and foolish stupidity. And although Jim had not heard the term “gomog,” a “gom” is Irish slang for idiot. I greatly appreciate Jim’s tips, and again, spelling is key: If you can’t spell it, you can’t find it.

And for quick grins, Domino is now pushing certified CarbonFree sugar! (Yes, yes, yes, I know what they mean. But multibilliondollar corporations should maybe filter their merchandising efforts for that species of completely avoidable howler.)

Redshanks and Omathauns and Gomogs, Oh My!

I had an Irish grandmother. Her Irishness was off the scale, pinning the needle and wrapping it around the (green) post three times, one for each Person of the Trinity. She was wry and cranky and as a younger woman had an operatic voice, which she used mostly to ridicule the whole idea of opera. (If I had inherited her voice, by God, I’d use it for the same thing.) Sade Genevieve Prendergast Duntemann (1892-1965) was quite the character. Back in 2005, I published the marvelous letter she was writing to my father when WWII ended. She gave me her Underwood typewriter–the same one from which that letter emerged–when I was only ten years old, and in doing so changed me forever. Words, both spoken and hammered in uneven type on a smeary two-color cloth ribbon, were the bond we had together.

And some of those words were…odd. Four in particular come to mind, though she died 44 years ago and I may have forgotten a few. I always assumed she had made them all up, as making things up was one of her gifts. (I believe that my knack for storytelling came down from her through my father.) Then, as the years rolled on, I started encountering them in real life:

  • Redshanks, in her parlance, were small imaginary animals that burrowed in her garden, making a mess. As a preschooler I imagined them as bright red mice with little horns. I would build redshank castles with my blocks, and my father and I once made redshank houses with strips of papier mache laid over half-flattened beer cans. I later found out that redshanks were also Scottish mercenaries serving in the Irish army circa 1600. There may have been an ancient family tradition coming to the surface here; had the Irish Army ever marched through County Mayo and trampled the Prendergast tomato patch?
  • An omathaun was a silly, clumsy goof–a word she applied to me often, and my father perhaps more than that. Again, I thought it was a pure Sade invention, until we saw the scraggly Irish cartoon fox in Mary Poppins yell “You heathen omathauns!” at the pursuing fox hounds. As with a lot of things, it was hard to research because I didn’t know how it was spelled. I suspect that in the original Gaelic the “th” was the single letter thorn (which looks like a crooked “d”) and today it’s generally spelled omadhaun. Sade had this one precisely right.

So. That’s as far as I’ve gotten. The two other words I will give you phonetically. My favorite is gomog, which in use was a somewhat stronger version of omathaun, particularly when there was a lot of frantic motion involved. “Running around like gomogs” is an expression Carol and I still use to describe QBit and Aero tearing through the house at flank speed, yapping like hyenas. I’ve already used the term “gomog” as a sort of immaterial AI PDA in my magic-as-software fantasy novel, Ten Gentle Opportunities, which I may finish someday with some borrowed Irish luck. (Quick, where’s my shamrock?)

And finally, oonchick. (Again, the spelling is phonetic.) An oonchick, if I recall the nuance correctly, was a dullard, albeit one deserving of some respect. I suspect it was Sade’s opinion of President Eisenhower, though we never talked politics. Mostly it was spoken in conversation I overheard, about adults I did not know. Sade was never short of opinions, just as she was never short of words.

I miss her, as I miss all those who were ever kind to me; and I miss her more than many, because of the peculiar power that her kindness imparted. I’m sure, as my mother lugged the heavy cast-iron contraption with “Underwood” painted on the front out of the car and up to my room, she was wondering, “Now what in heaven’s name is he going to do with that?” Sade had a hunch, and she was right. Wherever she is, I hope she got the word.

Odd Lots

  • Still sniffling, still congested, still coughing, and still mostly lying on my back, taking a Zicam every three hours like clockwork. I feel better generally, but the growing pile of Kleenex on the floor next to the bed provides time-trend rather than anecdotal data. This has been worse and tougher to shake than I had hoped.
  • The Cassini Saturn probe can actually watch ring disturbances occur, especially those caused by the way-far-in moon Prometheus. Here’s the culprit making tracks in the ring system, courtesy Astronomy Picture of the Day.
  • There is a portable version of Scribus, the only open-source desktop publishing system that I respect. One key principle of degunking Windows PCs is to staythehell away from the Windows Registry, and portable apps, almost by definition, leave no fingerprints there. There’s more here than most people understand, and Wikipedia’s list of portable apps is a very good place to start. (I advise reading the entry talk page.) Here’s another big list.
  • Another key principle is to avoid software that insists on launching services all the time, having tray icons, etc. Most of these are commercial packages that are desperately trying to upsell you. Best path here is to avoid commercial software as much as possible, especially trialware and “basic” versions that are invitations to install nagware and are often very hard to get rid of.
  • (Next morning.) The nose is drying out (finally) but the cough is still with me. About to head out for some yummy McDonald’s iced coffee, with sugar-free vanilla flavoring, to chase a delectable Sausage McMuffin with Egg. I’m stuffing my pocketses with Kleenex, but after two days of self-enforced isolation, it’s almost within my grasp: The Contrarian Breakfast of Champions!
  • (Later.) It’s been a bad season for the Global Warming crowd. Freeman Dyson jumped the Tiber, and now says that the whole thing is a religion. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has admitted under duress that its Antarctic bases have shown a cooling trend since 1980. Another Australian, albeit a hated Tory, penned a pretty good summary of the problems to be found when you study the data and not the dogma. Word seems to be getting out: Only 30% of Americans support cap-and-trade, which has become corrupt even before becoming law. And here’s what one of the sponsors of the Waxman-Markey bill has to say about the dangers of global warming. OMG, if that tundra at the North Pole ever emerges from under the ice, we’re all gonna die!
  • Remember Global Cooling? I lived through it. It was scary. The lesson? We knew shit about how climate worked in 1975. And today? We know shit plus 15%. Some humility (and caution) are called for.
  • (Still later.) Gosh. I really must be feeling better. The needle has climbed out of “groggy” and is rising rapidly through “puckish” on its way back to “jovial and unprovocative.” Dare I hope to get all the way to “serene”? Not likely; the viruses are surrendering, but I still have 35,000 words to go on the book–and I can’t find any Diet Green River!