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July 29, 2006

Vacation, Part The First: Oil City

We’re back from Oil City. Actually we’ve been back for a week now, but all posts on mere cat are aged for a full seven days then dry-rubbed in a scintillating blend of herbs and spices for enhanced flavor. Aren’t you glad?

Speaking of flavor, we didn’t eat at the McDonald’s after all, thus striking another blow for “enhanced flavor.” Our getaway weekend wasn’t supposed to be all about food and beer, but it played a big part in how good a time I had. Do I like to eat? I guess maybe I do.

The trip takes about six hours, so that involved one meal on the road. I’m a huge fan of “road food” (out-of-the-way places with great stuff), but turnpikes and interstates are dominated by chains. Although some chains have fine food (I like the sandwiches at Starbucks), I didn't want a hamburger from under a heat lamp. Besides, I was ready for a change of diet from the unending fresh fruits and vegetables.

We made a little detour to Allentown, looking for a place found on the Web that sounded promising, but was closed. I expected a city the size of Allentown to offer more, but other than pizza places, we couldn’t find much happening, and in the “suburbs” we only saw the ubiquitous chains and, of course, a mall. We got back on the road and had the idea to check out Jim Thorpe (the Carbon County seat). It’s a well-preserved little town on the Delaware that would make a good base for biking, hiking, kayaking or rafting. All the restaurants here looked promising, but we chose The Molly Maguires, a pub. It’s a cozy place that inexplicably had about eight TVs showing eight different channels, although no one seemed to be watching any of them. We started with Murphy's Amber on tap and chased that with some delicious sandwiches. I tried putting malt vinegar on my fries as is the custom in the area, but it’s not a taste I’ve acquired yet. A refreshing meal that really hit the spot.

Our next meal was dinner at perhaps the best restaurant in Oil City (which is bereft of fine dining), the Yellow Dog Lantern. Its menu featured mostly dishes that were fashionable twenty years ago, but everything was flawlessly executed. It was good to see that the place was almost full of patrons, although people eat earlier here. By 8:30 the place was empty.

This weekend capped Oil Heritage Week with such diversions as a church carnival, a concert series in the park, and a large parade that included Ed Rendell. We had visited here during the festival five years ago, and on this trip had planned to make side trips to some of the surrounding towns instead. It rained hard the day of the parade, and I never found out if it went off as planned.

Saturday we headed to Titusville, the home of the first commercially-successful oil well. Oil, shmoil, when do we eat? Lunch was on my mind, of course. We stopped at Four Sons Brewery, sampled two of their microbrews and enjoyed two more delicious sandwiches. Who cares that it was pouring rain outside?

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring oil history, first by taking a ride on the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad. The train features some ancient coaches that make SEPTA’s look ultra-modern, but they were charming. The trip is billed as a ride through the Valley That Changed the World, but you really have to use your imagination on the train, because all you see are the picturesque woods of Oil Creek State Park. Apparently 140 years ago it was a different sight—mostly treeless hills and oil everywhere. After the train ride, we stopped at the Drake Well Museum, which required no imagination whatsoever. It includes a working replica of the original steam-powered well that is still pumping oil. I was fascinated by the machinery, but, oops, look at the time. Dinner!

Off we scurried to Franklin, the county seat of Venango County. We found a restaurant there that was the match of most any place in the big city, Bella Cucina. Suddenly we were transported back to 2006 again and enjoyed a delicious and creative meal. Summer House Coffee Roasters was right next door and offered free wifi, but they were just closing for the evening. This was Saturday night at 8:00. We didn’t stick around to watch them roll up the sidewalks. I kid Franklin, but I’m not much for nightlife myself.

On Sunday, we stopped by Spilling the Beans Coffee House right in Oil City. The bacon, egg, and cheese croissandwich is a favorite dish of mine that I usually order from Dunkin’ Donuts. Spilling the Beans made the best one I’ve ever had, and their coffee wasn’t too shabby either. We had another six-hour drive ahead of us, which we broke up by swinging by State College for lunch at The Corner Room, apparently a Penn State tradition or something. I don’t know about that, but they make a mean catfish sandwich, which I washed down with Yuengling. Penn State alums feeling nostalgic should check out the web cam, which offers a view from The Corner Room.

Well, that was a long one. All I can say is, What’s for dinner?


Ah, the memories... but didn't we drink Victory lager at the Corner Room?

sounds like a nice tour of PA! i'd like to get around to that at some point.

July 27, 2006

Cultural Literacy: Segue Music Dept.

Yesterday on “Morning Edition” there was a story about how napping is becoming more acceptable in the workplace. After the piece, they played a version of “Sleepwalk.” I felt a warm glow of smug pride at recognizing the tune and the connection. Yeah, I'm pretty hip. The glow faded quickly when I realized how rarely I “get” the connection. I mean, NPR plays a snippet after almost every piece, and when I recognize the tune it makes perfect sense. I have to assume that all the segue music is as carefully chosen, but the vast majority... ::makes sweeping motion over head::

Another thing is New Yorker covers. They're typically seasonal or topical, but they always have relevance. These aren’t as subtle or obscure as the segue music, so I do much better with them, but sometimes I draw a complete blank. I know there's something there—it’s right in front of me—but I don’t see the connection. I should post the next cover I have trouble with.

It would be great to get more of the references, but it’s enough fun when I do. As for NPR, I have some advice: “Mister Sandman” would have been a hipper choice for the napping story, both more appropriate and possibly more obscure. So there.

July 25, 2006

Tales from My Location Bar

I am usually surprised when something I type in the location bar (the thingy with http://) doesn’t take me quite where I was expecting. These tales demonstrate nothing as nefarious as typosquatting or phishing, but I found them interesting nevertheless. Maybe I should enter one in the Bulwer-Lytton contest. “It was a dark and stormy night as I sat hunched over the keyboard, lights flickering, the UPS beeping irritably...”

I guess at URLs all the time, especially when I’m not using my own computer. I wanted to read Robert Scoble’s blog recently (in a browser for once instead of RSS) and, knowing that he had migrated to WordPress not too long ago, I typed Surprise! That address belongs to someone known as Maxi-Scoble who says, “I am not Robert Scoble, I was surprised as you when this name was available.” Me, too. and aren’t owned by Robert Scoble either, but that’s not as surprising.

Here’s another example. I was reading Guy Kawasaki’s feed and instead of Guy’s usual wit and wisdom found an entry by some, um, guy named Mike, who wrote, “You are subscribed to an outdated Feedburner feed that Guy allowed to lapse... By allowing your Feedburner feed to get deleted, you’ve opened your subscribers up to having somebody else (like me) to come along, create a feed by the same name in Feedburner, and capture the eyeballs of your subscribers.” Mike had no malicious intent; he only wished to highlight a problem with Feedburner. Interesting lesson.

Another example I happened upon might barely fall under the category of typosquatting, where the change in URL is not a typo, but the substitution of a different top-level domain. is a USDA site that introduced the new food pyramid last year. is a satirical replica of the government site targeting agribusiness. That’s fine with me. At least they’re not trying to cash in on the domain name.


I assume you're from Philly? I am as well. Thanks for the link dude.

Yeah, URL squatting. Some Scandinavian is holding onto yoko dot wordpress dot com and is doing nothing with it. meh.

Yoko, Sorry about that. For what it’s worth, I like balladofyoko better. It’s more meaningful and memorable than just the name.

July 24, 2006

Smoked Joint Has Closed [nanoblog]

One of the best barbecue joints in town has closed, but apparently not from lack of business. Here’s hoping they find a more sympathetic location soon. Via PhillyFuture from Foobooz from City Paper’s Clog. Word really gets around.


that's nuts! i just walked by their booth on the Parkway during the fireworks. i've only heard good things about that place. too bad they had such a horrible location for their storefront. that's probably what did them in.

Awwww - I've been there a few times - they were really good! I hope they relocate soon.

Great food and best bloody mary in town. Come back, we miss you!

This is crazy i havent been there in over a year .. obviously ..... but just mentioned it as a place to have a christmas get together....

Is anyone aware of them reopening ..

July 20, 2006

Film at Eleven

Or more like 11:30, and this shot really is film (Fuji Astia slide film). We’re heading to Anne’s home town for a short visit. This was taken in 2001 on our last visit. We actually ate at that McDonald’s then and probably will again. Once every four years can’t hurt you.


Click for larger version.


Wow, when I first glanced at this shot I thought it was of a chalet in an Alpine ski area. Funny. Mickey D's. I actually had my first Big Mac in a year or two...and I must say it was pretty tasty.

Strengely enough, my teenage sons don't like it, and haven't for a few years. My 14-y-o watched Supersize Me in his AP Bio class this year and was really struck by what happened to that guy. Thank goodness they are aware of healthy eating...I certainly didn't learn it when I grew up (Irish Catholic cooking is all meat, potatoes and sweets after the meal. Yikes!).

July 19, 2006

Shell Snippet to Fix File Dates

When I advanced the hour on our camera for daylight-savings time, I inadvertently changed the year back to 2005. About six weeks of pictures were affected. No biggie, but it bugged me, so here's the shell script snippet I used to fix it. I used stat to get the month, day, and time of the files and then touch to reset the date. Note that this does not change the date in the EXIF data, which is still wrong.


for f in *.[jJ][pP]*[gG]
	if [ -e "$f" ] || continue
	echo "$f"
	# show the date before the change
	stat -f "%Sm" -t "%m/%d/%G %H:%M:%S" "$f"
	# change the date
	touch -t 2006`stat -f "%Sm" -t "%m%d%H%M.%S" "$f"` "$f"
	# show the date after the change
	stat -f "%Sm" -t "%m/%d/%G %H:%M:%S" "$f"
	echo "No JPEGs in `pwd`"

It’s odd that I am blessed with the ability to fix this kind of problem, but cursed with the stupidity that caused it.

July 18, 2006

MacBook Discoloration [nanoblog]

Owners of white MacBooks have been complaining of a yellowish discoloration. While Apple has finally acknowledged that the discoloration is a manufacturing defect, I think some users just weren’t forthcoming about the real reason for the discoloration: butter. At least one person used his MacBook to fry an egg. Who knows how many others have been doing the same—and more. While a MacBook isn't hot enough to sauté or stir fry, it’s great for whipping up a grilled cheese sandwich or French toast. From Jim via email.


I'm thinking of getting two MacBooks and making Panini...

July 17, 2006

When Houseplants Attack...

...they’re vewy vewy kwiet. (You were expecting maybe explosions?) Consequently it can be weeks before you realize they’ve breached your defenses. Here are two terrifying tales from the front lines. The assailant in both cases is epipremnum pinnatum, commonly known to law-abiding citizens as pothos, but in underworld circles as the “marble-leaf ninja.” Swift, silent, and deadly. OK, maybe not swift.

Pothos view 1

This pothos obviously resented the solitary confinement of the mantle. In a daring attempt at escape, it has sent out an exploratory runner, attached itself to the wall, and starting climbing.

Pothos view 2

On the right, you can better see how firmly the plant has attached itself. It won’t be long before it will be able to make its escape. You can almost hear it boast, “There ain’t a pot built that can hold me!”

A friend sent me a link to the picture below. It’s an iMac under attack at the University of Minnesota by another pothos. This pothos realized it was hopeless to escape, so it sought revenge by sabotaging the nearby computer. Note the tendrils inside the Mac intent on wreaking destruction. If you have any of these diabolical plants, I urge you to be eternally vigilant. Don’t let this happen to you!



ha! same type of thing is going on at my parent's house back in NY. a few months ago when i went home for the first time in awhile, the front room was a jungle. i think they have 2 of those plants and they're running amok! not to mention the other huge potted plants [almost trees] growing inside.

This calls for a premptive strike! Does weed killer work on house plants? Let's find out!

It's like the blob, but in plant form!

Malnurtured, I took pity on the plant. A stay of execution is in effect, although the plant is under heavy guard. I’m hopeful it can be rehabilitated as a productive member of society.
Howard, Yes The Blob! I put Blobfest on the calendar for next year, and a trip to the Sly Fox is always welcome.

That's funny. One of the managers at my company has an office that is being taken over by some poorly groomed pothos and philodrendon. I offered to take the scissors to them, but he resisted. One of these days I'm going to walk in and find him restrained by his very own plants.

Melissa, I have the same situation at work. A coworker had a pothos that she let wrap around her cube a good ten feet in both directions. I inherited it from her when she left the company. After moving it a few times, it lost some leaves and really needed a trim. Scissors took care of all that and today it’s quite lovely. I’m keeping my eye on it, though...

In the first picture, I noticed that you have a bird's-eye-view of Oil City by T.M. Fowler. Is it original? If so, any interest in selling it? I collect Fowlers.

you shd know pothos is highly toxic to cats.

I have three large pothos. I have one in a pot on the floor. Across from it I have another plant. The pothos went across the floor and into the pot with the other plant(which is not a pothos).It had buried itself far down in the dirt.I finally removed it.

I gave up the coffee table to the pothos & presently have it confined by wrapping it round & round itself. But the philodrendon is seriously on the attack! I've had to wire the container to the baseboard to keep it from turning over. Now I'm wondering if I can lop off a big section (ouch!!) without completly ruining the plant. My apartment isn't big enough for the two of us.

I have one of these growing in my apartment ... the little devil that it is started in one pot then one branch broke and unwittingly i put it in another pot and now 2 of the segments out of the 5 total are both 20 feet and 27 feet long. Im wondering if i can wrap it around the cieling and if it will be able to survive the .. growing conditions

July 15, 2006

The Best Ringtone of All

I have a high tolerance for the minor lapses in etiquette and other ill-mannered behavior we all endure on public transportation, mostly because they are rare and trivial. For example, I’ve never seen anything like what Frank witnessed on the R5 recently (we take the same train, but in opposite directions). Not much bothers me, but some people...

Last night, the person sitting next to me was auditioning all the ringtones on their (presumably brand-new) cell phone. I kind of couldn’t believe it. I might expect a callow youth to play thoughtlessly with their new toy, but this was a well-dressed adult. Of course, I said nothing, but what I was thinking was, “I think you’ll find that ‘vibrate’ is the best ringtone of all.”


"High tolerance" means that you can endure large amounts of it. You can't have a high tolerance for something that is rare and trivial... actually, in my opinion, that fact that you would be moved enough to post this story on the internet suggests that you actually have a relatively low tolerance for this sort of thing. In my experience, most people enjoy hearing the ringtones that others have, probably because it says a little something about that persons interests in music and sometimes even in life. Think about it, it couldn't be that so many peoiple would be hypocritical enough to hate the annoyance of ringtones and then use ringtones themselves. The vast majority of people do not agree that "vibrate is the best ringtone of all," otherwise, 'vibrate' would be the most popular ringtone of all.

And who says just because someone is well-dressed, they have to act it? What has this world come to when people get annoyed by a few minutes of noise?

July 14, 2006

A Popular Recipe

We made a delicious and extremely simple recipe the other night: Start by blanching some greens (we used chard). Heat a little oil and garlic in a pan, add raisins and pine nuts until golden brown, then add the greens. It’s a nice combination I never would have thought of. The next day, Anne happened upon a video segment from “Everyday Italian” that illustrated basically this exact recipe (with broccoli rabe for the greens). I mentioned this to a friend this morning and darned if he hadn't made the same recipe three days ago.

July 10, 2006

Hello, World!

It’s positively unnerving to visit Philly Future as I so often do and see my name up there in lights, as it were, as the Featured Blogger. In real life, I pretty much shun the spotlight, yet at the same have a web site for all the world to see. Yeah, that’s consistent. I like to think I’m a complicated person of many contradictions, but the reality is I’m a simple person who’s really confused.

You’re probably wondering what it’s like. Well, the roses were very nice, and the statuette is quite impressive—that thing is heavy. Too bad I only get to keep it for two weeks. Seriously, I would like to thank Howard for his tireless efforts producing the Featured Blog poll, Karl for all his work keeping Philly Future so vibrant, and especially thanks to Yoko, who nominated me. To all who voted for my blog, I don’t know what you were thinking, but thanks to you as well.

If you’re new here, you’re probably wondering just who I think I am to have my own website. That’s a good question, and one I ask myself almost every week. If I ever have a good answer, y’all will be the first to know. That’s how this blog thing works. Anyway, what’s here: Other than the blog, the most up-to-date and somewhat worthwhile sections of this site are devoted to photography (newest stuff is in “projects”) and lobster rolls. And even though the Internet is supposedly awash in cat pictures, don’t miss the ones at the top of the home page (as if you could miss the adorable little rascals). Click on the picture to see the next one and hover the mouse to see the cat's name. Please have a look around, and thanks for visiting. If you want me, I’ll be in my trailer.


Now that I have read your lobster roll observations (is that the right word to use?), I'm now obsessed with trying one myself. I'm planning to go to New England and points northwest this fall, so perhaps I'll get my chance then.

That's the first time I ever realized the pictures changed just by clicking. I knew they changed, but here I was hitting F5 all that time!

“Observations” makes my work sound more scholarly; that’s a good thing. Obsessed is a good thing, too. I should know. :-) Please be advised that many places (in Maine at least) close down for the winter in October. I wouldn’t want you to miss having a lobster roll!
Earlier versions of mere cat used a script by Dan Benjamin that only worked on refresh. I wanted it to work by clicking as well, so I rolled my own script.

July 9, 2006

New Writing Software Expedites Procrastination

This started out as a post about word processors, but it’s really about writing and the fine art of avoiding it; hence it is not filed under Computers.

Let’s go back to the early days of computer-assisted composition to the first word processors. Here’s a screenshot of Christopher Smart composing “My Cat Jeoffry” c. 1760:

My Cat Jeoffry in vi

Note that Smart is using vi. It was the only tool available on the 18th-century steam-powered hardware he was using.1

Those were simpler times. The text was green, the screen was black, and there was little or nothing superfluous on screen to distract the writer from the task of writing—just you and your words. Today, things are different. Here is a screenshot of Smart’s poem in a 21st-century version of Microsoft Word:

My Cat Jeoffry in Microsoft Word

You can hardly see the poem for all the toolbars. Would Smart have been more productive and creative in this environment? Would anybody be?

Of course I’m exaggerating. You don’t need any toolbars visible to write in Word, but the program is chock full of features that don’t support creative composition. While you can disable all of these features, to me Word always feels “heavy.” If not Word (or another conventional word processor), then what? If I could peer over the shoulder of some hipster in film-school glasses pecking away frantically at Panera Bread, what program would I see?

It could be one of several. Lately I’ve been seeing concrete signs of a backlash against bloated word processors and evidence of a desire to get back to basics by creating a streamlined tool just for writing. Khoi Vinh conceived of a program he calls Blockwriter that would emulate a typewriter. He makes a good case for software that doesn’t let you edit or even backspace in order to prevent what he calls “authorial dawdling... that propensity to continually re-edit a sentence or a paragraph.” Gee, I’ve never done that. Blockwriter would also mute sounds, hide other apps, and disable network access to lock out distractions. Sounds good; too bad you can’t buy it.

Jesse Grosjean of Hog Bay Software actually implemented many of these ideas in the new program WriteRoom, which looks a lot like that vi screenshot above. It’s free and it’s cool, so check it out. Another editor, Ulysses, also offers a minimalist full-screen mode as well as a host of features to aid the writing process, as opposed to the typesetting process. Often-overlooked plain-text editors by their nature offer a no-nonsense environment for composition. You probably already have one of those.

Cutting out distractions is more challenging. One way is to simply pull the plug. The science-fiction writer Jerry Pournelle installed a computer with no network connection in a room he calls the Monk’s Cell. You needn’t go that far, just yank out the Ethernet cable for a while.

Software solutions and strategies can help you concentrate on writing, but I don’t have a remedy for just plain old lack of inspiration and procrastination. In fact, evaluating software and strategies to improve one’s writing efficiency or whatever are for me just another distraction itself. I’m not really improving my productivity; I’m just treading water while waiting for those rare moments of inspiration. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, I actually enjoy it. There are times when I would rather just sharpen my chisels instead of actually building something in the workshop, and it’s good to know that at least I’m not alone.


1 This is actually GLTerminal running vi. GLTerminal slavishly emulates an old CRT terminal, flaws and all, including screen curvature, scan lines, and flicker. I imagine one of those standalone Wang word processors from the 1970s looked like this although I’ve never seen one.


First - congrats on the Philly Future win.

Second - I HATE HATE HATE MS Word so bad - in my job we "need" some of those "useful" features, but they'll just flake out mid-use alot of the time and are NOT easily corrected.

I wish I could get away without using it, but we share documents and that would mess up my coworkers.

I remember the bad ol' days when I was temping, I used WordPerfect with the blue screen and white letters in Courier type. Those templates for the function keys you had to put over the keyboard in order to remember which function does what. Needless to say, whenever I was doing any "real" writing at the time, it was not on a word processor.

(I second the congrats on the Philly Future featured blog! I enjoy reading your writing, and hope others may do the same.)

July 6, 2006

My Porn Star Name [nanoblog]

There are a few formulae for deriving your “porn star” name, the most common of which is the combination of your first pet’s name and the street you grew up on. That works for most people, I guess, although Fido 48th Street doesn’t have much marquee appeal. By that formula, my name would be Woody Price (Anne’s is Misty Bouquin). Over the weekend, we were talking about the Café Carlyle, where so many great cabaret singers have performed. I suddenly realized that the best-known of these artists would make a great porn star name for me: Bobby Short.


Ha! Mine would be Rocky Hidden Valley.

I don't know Tony, if I were a man, I wouldn't want the word "short" anywhere near my porn star name. But maybe that's just me.

Anyway, my porn star name is the very excellent, "Pepper Mills".

Yeah, that's just my warped sense of humor. I love Pepper Mills because it sounds so made-up and also suggests something hot and spicy.

July 5, 2006

Some Sad News

Well. Here it is the Fifth already, and it’s back to work for us. We had an alternately relaxing and productive weekend and a very quiet Fourth, starting with the local parade, which while tiny, included both fire trucks and a Scottish pipe band, so I was happy.

Later in the day, I learned via email that a fine jazz singer and pianist I used to work with died Monday night. He had been in poor health for years and had ceased performing. The email came from his singing partner, and by the end of the day, I had heard the news from several other people. When they were still performing together, they called themselves “52nd Street” after the street in Manhattan that used to be lined with jazz clubs. For those of you who never had the chance to hear him sing, I can’t think of a better way of honoring his memory than letting his talent speak for itself. Here’s “Oh-Shoo-Be-Doo-Be” from an album we made in 1985. I’m sure he’s swingin’ still.


Sorry to hear the news, Tony. On the flip side, good song; I especially dig the scat.

(Also, for what it's worth on an unrelated note, you were nominated for the featured blog poll this weekend.)

Glad you enjoyed the song. Eric was a master scatologist. Wait, that’s not a good thing, is it?
I was nominated for featured blog? Who would do such a thing? Ah, I found the thread... it looks like Yoko did it. How very nice! What a pleasant surprise. Since she’s been one of my favorite reads for over a year now, I’m voting for her. 100 Records is new to me but looks good, too. Now I don’t have to feel guilty for liking Yes.