The Astral Log

29 February 2016

Back to License Plates Once More

Filed under: License Plates, The World In Which We Live, US-Illinois — Andrew T. @ 08:00

My license plate collecting interest waxes, wanes, and shifts. I find it impossible to be enthusiastic about the license plates of a state unless I'm enthusiastic about the state...and any last vestige of enthusiasm for Wisconsin was torched and burned when my adversaries spent three times handing the state to Governor Voldemort for the kill.

It had been a very long time since I had last attended a regional plate meet...since September 2014, to be precise. But when an invitation appeared on the license plate collectors' listserv to attend "the largest MAPA meet ever" in the northern Illinois map-speck of Peotone, I figured...why not? After all, it would be a chance to get out of town, showcase a display, be around people with similar interests, and find a few things for the themed runs I've been trying to put together. Right?

This is what a plate meet looks like.

I pulled myself out of bed at a ridiculous hour (4:20 in the morning) and pointed the car in a direction somewhere between Chicago and Kankakee. The temperature hovered around the zero mark (in the sensible Celsius system), with no snow visible until I was south of the Windy City. After three and a half hours, I was there...just in time to find people rushing into the building and snapping up all the closest tables before the "official" 8 a.m. opening time had even begun.

I lugged my two-panel display out of the back of the car and set it upright so that I could free my hands and fetch something else. Suddenly there was a gust of wind, and...CRASH! The display landed face-down on the pavement. Fortunately the license plates on it were little-damaged, suggesting that my decision to overbuild the display with thick rubber washers and protruding sheet-metal screws wasn't in vain.

Andrew in Illinois

To make myself easier to spot, I had dressed in a bright green T-shirt and bright green shoelaces. I wound up back-to-back with Roy Michalik, a collector from Michigan who outdid me in both wardrobe (his was a bright pink T-shirt) and travel distance. A third collector admitted to actually driving overnight to get to Illinois from Virginia; a sleepless shot from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. It wasn’t fun getting up at 4:20 in the morning, but the tenacity that other collectors have in getting to their destinations continually surprises me.

What else went on? I was able to plug the most embarrassing hole in my Marriage Equality Run (Illinois) and found a few ancillary things to work into the birthyear collection. I was tormented by an equal number of near misses; including Nebraska and Ohio plates with expirations one month off from the DOMA strike-down of June 2015 and an Iowa that was three off from containing my ALPCA number. Unfortunately, close only counts in horseshoes. It only took an hour for me to comb through all the tables and traders ("largest meet" pronouncements notwithstanding), and by lunchtime, it was over.

The silver lining of the day? I actually sold license plates at this meet; enough of them to more than offset my admission fee and travel expenses. I don't know if I'll come back to Peotone, but maybe I should dress in bright green more often.

Wallace should stay dead

While I was there, one attendee went on a minute-long rant about her contempt for the poor and how much she hated the homeless and jobless people who beg for food on the streets of her city in Wisconsin: It's people like her who vote for Walker, applaud his sadistic food-stamp cuts, and measure the worth of politicians by the amount of cruelty they can inflict on "undesirable" demographics. A second collector made the point of sticking a "NOBAMA" bumper sticker prominently to the side of his trade box...a personal affront, considering that the target of his vitriol has done more to support my health and civil rights as a queer guy than any president in history. A third person was selling memorabilia from the 1968 presidential campaign of George Wallace...the opportunistic Alabama asshole responsible for the quote "segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."

Multiple cars in the parking lot were bearing obnoxious license plates emblazoned with the exclusionary "In God We Trust" slogan; whether from Indiana, Missouri, or my unwilling home state of Wisconsin. There were no Confederate flags this time, but just about all the other squares on my "angry white Christian bigot" bingo card were filled in by the end of the event.

With an atmosphere like this, I question why I bother being involved in the license plate collecting community at all.

8 February 2016

The Laptop Conundrum

Filed under: Technology — Andrew T. @ 12:48

My Dell Inspiron 2600 laptop from 2002, shown below in better times, finally died.

Dell Inspiron 2600

It was a slow and protracted demise. First, the battery stopped keeping a charge. Then, the plastic around the hinges disintegrated. The ethernet connector became loose. The power cord shorted out, requiring me to splice the bare wires together. The trackpad malfunctioned forcing me to resort to keyboard combinations.

While trying to cope with these maladies one day, I slapped the computer in frustration...and the hard drive immediately fell into the click of death. Turning it off and on generated the on-screen message "Operating System not found." For all intents and purposes, it is kaput.

This brings about a dilemma, though. What do I replace it with? Every option is a poison pill.

Another laptop old enough to run an activation-free version of Windows.

Not a very viable option since the very reason I need a laptop is to forge a link with the current world. That current world would be much better if Microsoft had been broken up in 1998, but there isn't much I can do to alter history now.

Windows XP refurb.

Windows XP is the last Microsoft operating system with an interface that can be configured out-of-the-box to be reasonably usable, with a cascading Start Menu, conventional menu placements, and no unnecessary theming. Every time I use Windows 7, I wish I could be using XP or 2000 instead. Unfortunately, Windows XP is also a ticking time bomb. "Support" for it ended over a year ago...which would be of minimal significance if not for the fact that it's bound and chained by an "activation" system linking the ability to install it or use it to the mercy of its maker. Tracking down a laptop with XP in this day and age also means dealing with seven-year-old hardware from seedy two-bit resellers with bad reviews. When hundreds of dollars are at stake, that's a tough pill to swallow.

Windows 7 32-bit refurb.

Were I to buy a Windows laptop with a post-XP OS, it would need to be the 32-bit version. Under no circumstances do I want the 64-bit version: It would eliminate my ability to run 16-bit applications or 32-bit apps with 16-bit installers, with no net benefit.

Once again, though, that means I'd be limited to refurbished offerings since OEMs have gone gung-ho for 64. The good news is that 32-bit Win7 offerings with warranties are still available from reputable OEM-connected outlets. Windows 7 will also be viable for a number of years to come; in spite of Microsoft's coerced Windows 10 downgrades, telemetry spyware "updates," and the lingering stench of the Product Activation cancer.

New MacBook.

If I'm sick and disgusted with Windows, why don't I "think different," liberate myself from the leagues of Redmond sycophants, take the most obvious option out, and buy a Mac?

Trouble is, I already did that. My iBook G4 in 2004 required a logic board replacement 3 weeks in, and I never trusted it again.

If Apple products didn't fail catastrophically and Apple still offered a laptop similar in design and capabilities to the iBook or PowerBook from ten years ago, I'd buy one in a heartbeat. Unfortunately its maker has instead gone mad gluing batteries in place, soldering RAM in place, and removing useful peripheral ports and CD-ROM drives in the Jobsian pursuit of slimness and flimsiness for its own sake. The elimination of Classic and Rosetta from the software side means that I'm prevented from using a version of Microsoft Office without ribbons, activation, or DOCX filetypes, and barred from using any piece of software more than a few years old. Apple is out.

"Just use Linux."

Pre-installed or bundled operating systems would be a moot matter if I didn't have a day job and I had the time and enthusiasm to tinker with computers for their own sake instead of using them productively as a means to an end. But I don't.

I've experimented with Linux off and on again for more than ten years, and I don't have the patience to deal with its case-sensitivity, its Byzantine file paths and multi-user emphasis, the complex rituals needed to achieve the functionality that goes for granted in Windows, or the fragmentation induced by rival distributions and desktop environments frantically trying to outdo each other with functional regressions and bad UI decisions.

"Just use BSD."

Many of the same caveats as Linux, with the added bonus that I know squat about it. Maybe someday...but that day is not any day soon.

So, that's the Laptop Conundrum I'm in now.

1 February 2016

Escape, Part 2

Filed under: Artifacts & Holdovers, Skepticon, US-Missouri — Andrew T. @ 12:01

(Continued from Part 1.)

Teague Texaco

This building in the city of Vandalia falls solidly into the "roadside artifact" category: It's an old Texaco building in the Walter Teague style that was so common everywhere once upon a time ago. It's also unusual for having three service bays (most had two), and for preserving the original porcelain enamel coloring instead of being slathered over in an indifferent shade of paint.

Turnbull Plumbing Inc.

I came upon this billboard somewhere near the edge of Pike County, and felt right at home.

Superstore archesCounty Market, onetime Kroger

As a final treat of the day, while driving through Louisiana, Missouri (see what I mean about being geographically confused?) I glanced out the window and saw some familiar-looking archways on the far end of a shopping center. It turned out to be the calling card of a 1970s-era Kroger store at the opposite end of the artifact of their long-defunct St. Louis division, no doubt. The building itself was now housing a store by the name of County Market, and had a fresh and modern renovation.

In reverse scenario from my drive the other way, the sun set on me as I crossed the bridge into my pictures ended there. I soon found myself driving through utter darkness looking frantically for a spot to take a diarrheic toilet break, since my lunch of the day had not gone over well.

And so ended my conference and road trip repertoire of 2015.

©2015-16 Andrew Turnbull