Chatter #75: January 31, 2003

12/14/2001 — I started the Chatter section on July 27, 2000 when I noticed that the rest of my site was sometimes getting cluttered with lots of text. I'm a talkative guy, after all! So now I talk about my life here, instead of all over the place. Originally this was one huge section, but in December of 2001 it simply became too large to remain as one page, and I broke it into dated sections, as you can see. —>PM

January 31, 2003

A Momentary Loss of Consciousness

This first bit is slightly gross, so if you'd like to skip over it click here.

SSo now I've passed out two times. Sunday afternoon I had a murderous headache; after several hours in a state of stupor (which has never happened to me before), I took some Tylenol and thought I was better.

But at work the next morning I was suddenly hit with awful cramps and nausea. Throughout the day it got worse and worse; every hour or so I was hit by a spasm of agony and had to run to the men's room. The crescendo came at 2:15. I was in the men's room when I suddenly realized that I was going to be massively sick right now. I barely managed to spin around to the toilet in time when a series of massive spasms tore from my throat.

And found myself peacefully waking up once again. This time, though, rather than lying with my face on a Brookline street curb, I was draped over a toilet. Someone was standing outside the stall, asking if I was okay. "I'll be okay, thanks" I replied feebly, and assessed the situation.

Things were a mess (I'll spare you the details), so I cleaned up as best I could and got out of there. I was sweating like a fire hydrant, but I felt as if I were made of ice. I told my boss I needed to go home, which may have been stupid of me; I don't know if I was in good shape to drive, but all I knew was that I needed to go home and go to bed. Fortunately I made it home in one piece, although when Teri saw me she pointed out something I hadn't realized: when I fainted I must have crashed pretty hard into the toilet, because not only had my inner lip gotten cut on my teeth, but I had some large bumps on my skull from the flushing mechanism. In fact, two days later I discovered that I also had a good-sized gash on my scalp beneath (what's left of) my hair!

I was also pretty dehydrated, but it was very difficult to drink anything for the rest of the day. I felt as if I were sloshing around when I moved, like a water-balloon filled to the point of bursting. It was not unlike my experience with food poisoning, although I still don't know if it was that or a stomach virus—there's been a nasty one going around (and Teri, Sebastian, and my parents have all had it within the past month).

The rest of the afternoon was bad. I felt as if I were buried in a glacier; no matter what I did I was freezing and shivering. Teri took my temperature, and it was 101F. The spasms every hour continued as I tried to ride it all out.

The night was torture. I slept on the couch in order to be near the bathroom, but for the first several hours I felt as though I was still packed in dry ice; Teri had put layers and layers of blankets over me, but they didn't seem to help. Of course, hourly visits to the bathroom didn't help me to feel warmer. Later, around 4AM, I started to feel as if I were boiling, and was sweating like mad. Somehow I made it through the night, but didn't sleep much.

The next day the course of the illness slowly wound down. I stuck with tea and toast until evening, when I could no longer stop myself—I was ravenous. So I had a regular dinner with Teri and the baby, and there were no ill effects. I'm still a little shaky, though, and the bruises on my head still hurt, but the storm seems to be over.

Thank goodness.

Arisia 2003, Part II

I'd left out one last picture of Arisia, it turns out, and here it is: the Green Room, which is where program participants (i.e. VIPs) can go to get hot food and hang out. It was around 8AM when I got there, and the guy running it was still pretty out of it—I gathered he'd had a late night—so I grabbed a plate of croissants and took off.

Now here's the rest of what happened at the con.

I'd taken both Friday and the following Monday off; that was the first time I'd done that, and in retrospect it was a great idea. It's awful to feel pressured getting to a con in time on Friday night, and even worse to feel all wrung out and zombified on Monday morning.


My first panel was at 8PM Friday night, so we started out around 4PM; we knew we'd hit rush-hour traffic, but since the trip would normally take an hour and a half to two hours, I figured we had plenty of margin to spare.

But that was no ordinary rush hour. A car had overturned in an overpass, as part of a 5-car pileup. Further down, yet another multi-car pileup had taken place—which is unusual in Boston. And as a result, route 93 (a major highway) was actually shut down for a while! The traffic was horrendous, and Teri turned to me and said she didn't think she could take it for more than another hour.

I should interrupt myself here and explain that in the past Arisias have been something of a trial for Teri. She's into books about vampires and watches some science fiction TV, but she's not a geek at heart—not at all. She has no interest (and doesn't get) MST3K, for example. So she finds herself stuck in a small hotel room while I'm out having fun for the weekend. Being who we both are, it's inevitable that there's some argument and stress.

At the same time, there's no way I could have enjoyed Arisia without her and Sebastian. So when Teri said she didn't know if she could take it, I worried.

But the traffic slowly got better, and before long we pulled up to the Park Plaza. We couldn't afford to park at the hotel this year (it's too bloody expensive, and between the mortgage and various other expenses—and this *~&^ing Bush economy—we just don't have any extra cash to spend), so we unloaded the car and Teri and the baby stayed at the hotel while I drove off to park it under the Boston Commons, which was supposed to cost only $23 for the weekend. I'd have saved even that much money by leaving the car at Jon's place for the weekend, but Teri wanted access to the car just in case—she wasn't going to be getting a con membership this year, and feared that she'd be bored.

It was deadly cold, by the way. The past two weeks have mostly been in the single digits on the Fahrenheit scale (approximately -15C), with wind chill at night taking it down to -35F (-37C) sometimes! It was a long three-block walk back to the hotel. Sebastian had cried a bit in the elevator; the press of strange people scared him. But he calmed down once we got into the room. There was still an hour or so before my first panel.

Normally we'd go and have dinner at the Swan's Court, which is the restaurant in the hotel lobby. If I had my way, I'd have been wearing my white tie and tails; one of my favorite things about the con has been that it's usually my one chance in the year to really dress elegantly. In that outfit, I can feel better dressed than anyone, and that's a really nice feeling.

But since Teri wasn't getting a membership I wouldn't be going to the dance, and in any case I couldn't find my bow tie. So I spent the weekend in jeans and T-shirts.

Whoops, I went off the point. Since we were broke this year, we'd brought along a cooler and a lot of groceries; cold cuts, rolls, soda, fruit, and other snacks. So after a quick sandwich for dinner I headed out to my first panel.

Ah, panels. I should explain. Since the early 1990's Arisia has invited me to be a guest at the con in order to participate on program panels. Panels are...complicated. Usually, two to six "experts" sit in a hotel conference room in front of an audience ranging from one to perhaps fifty people, and discuss the topic of the hour.

There are many ways in which panels can go bad, and I've seen quite a few of them. Sometimes one or two panelists take over the conversation, drowning out everyone else. Sometimes ONE panelist with a bee in their bonnet on a particular subject (which invariably has nothing to do with the actual topic) decides to go on and on about it without letting anyone get a word in edgewise. Sometimes none of the panelists is prepared or has much to say on the subject. And sometimes nobody shows up to watch the panel. There's an old joke in such cases, which I first saw on SCTV's "Shake & Bake" sketch (which was about the rollicking derring-do adventures of William Shakespeare and Francis Bacon): "It is the law of the land that when the cast outnumbers the audience the show is over and we can go home".

I try to be a good panelist, and in fact I feel pretty safe in saying that I am a good panelist; I try to keep things balanced and interesting, and do my best to give both useful information and some good laughs to the audience. That's a big part of doing a good panel, by the way: being funny.

I wasn't all that confident about the first panel; it was called "Is Cordwainer Smith Addictive?", and was about the incredible science fiction author Cordwainer Smith (you can read more about him here). I've read his works over and over, and thanks to my trick memory I can quote chunks of text verbatim and come up with stuff that nobody else remembers, but I'm NOT a published writer (maybe someday, I hope), and I have no particular qualifications. When I discovered who the other panelists were I felt even less qualified; one was the head of NESFA Press, which has put Smith's science fiction in print (and has said that the books will be kept in print "forever", since they can print on demand), and the other was a published author who I must admit I hadn't heard of (but then, I don't follow modern SF).

Alas, I don't remember a lot of the details of the panel, but I do remember that there were at least 15 people in the audience (which is amazing for a Friday-night panel on a relatively obscure subject), and that I got a number of laughs—and had a number of very productive and interesting exchanges with the panelists and audience members. Darn, I wish I could remember some of the funny things I said. Maybe next time I'll bring a tape recorder and record my panels.

I walked around a bit to check out the con and then headed back to the room. Somewhere along the way I ran into Virgil, and he came along. When Sebastian saw him, though, he burst into tears; sometimes strange men scare him (he hasn't seen Virgil all that often). Eventually he calmed down, but for a while Virgil had to hang out in Lois' room. She and her nephews had the room next to ours, and had a connecting door to our room. Virgil and I hung out and had some sandwiches. Sebastian eventually stopped crying when he saw Virgil, but eventually he couldn't resist the call of anime (which is his latest area of interest) and took off for the anime room.

It was getting late, but it was hard getting Sebastian to sleep; he was full of energy, and had absolutely no interest in the travel crib we'd brought. Normally he goes to sleep at 8PM or so, but that night he was up until 10—and I only got him to sleep by taking him in the Lois' room, rocking him in my lap and singing to him.


We met my parents for breakfast at the Swan's Court the next morning; it was a buffet, and quite good. Since there was no highchair available, we had to put Sebastian on a couch between me and Teri. He was quite good about that.

Dad wasn't feeling well and had to go home (he had the stomach thing), but Mom hung around with us up in the hotel room. I'm not sure what she thought of some of the strange costumes she saw in the hallways (but I later found out, and was quite hurt by her reaction). Since Teri didn't have much to do and I had a panel at 11AM, she and Mom and Sebastian bundled up for a visit down the block to the Copley mall. As always, I was sad as I watched my cheerful little boy being wheeled away in his stroller (it's hard every morning when I have to say goodbye).

But there was no time to lose, as the next panel was going to be starting shortly. It was "Gaming Without Tolkien", and I was sure that this would be my best panel of the con; certainly it was the one I was most qualified to be on. Plus, I was moderator. This would be the high point of the weekend.

Remember when I said I should tape record my panels? This is a good argument against that idea: some of them might suck as bad as "Gaming Without Tolkien". The audience varied a bit during the panel, as people came in and went out, but there were never more than five people there at a time. We three panelists kicked ideas around as best we could, but we didn't have a lot to work with. We were supposed to address the question "What would gaming be like if it wasn't for 'The Lord of the Rings'?", and frankly, well, what's the point? I mean, if people had three arms instead of two, which arm would they wear their watched on? The description of the panel didn't do justice to the title, which I'd thought would be about breaking the stereotypes of modern fantasy. And we did discuss that a bit, but somehow the panel never caught fire and we just slowly sputtered on until the end of the hour relieved us from our pain. Okay, it wasn't quite that bad, and in fact I've been on worse panels; part of the problem also was that there wasn't much of an audience, and sometimes a good audience can make a HUGE difference in the success of a panel. Although they can also be another way in which a panel can go bad, when someone in the audience decides to interrupt over and over. Inevitably they seem to suffer from Asperger's Syndrome, and are totally unaware that they're being totally disruptive.

Incidentally, that was a joke that Lois and I kept making during the entire con—that most of the people there had some degree of Asperger's, as (I must admit) I may myself. Although in my case it would be about as mild a case as possible, and I've overcome the symptoms through many years of practice. Still, we cracked each other up whispering back and forth as we walked around the con, imagining panels called "Why You Act That Way" or "Why You've Memorized Every Episode of Star Trek: Voyager".

Later that day we dressed Sebastian up in his little fantasy costume and took him on a tour of the con. He was remarkably good; toddled around the Art Show looking totally adorable, and drawing many admiring stares and comments. At one point someone said something about his costume being too big, and he shook his head determinedly and said in a firm little-boy voice "No-no-no". It was too precious. The art show was pretty cool, by the way, a bit larger than in past years and with some neat stuff as well as the usual amateur arts.

The dealer's room was as it always was; a bunch of cool stuff I'd love to buy, but nothing new (alas, The Weapon Shops of Isher seem to have disappeared for good—I haven't seen them at Arisia for years). I'd hoped to introduce Sebastian to Dina Flockhart, who made some wonderful costumes for me in the past, but she disappeared before I got over there. Since we had no money there was no point in spending much time window shopping. Someday I'll have money again...

I was worried about Dealer's Row; the odds seemed good that Sebastian might get upset, since it's usually awfully crowded and noisy. But apart from a whimper or two at some loud noises, he was wonderful. There was a lot of neat stuff for sale, but of course I couldn't buy anything. By this time I had been carrying Sebastian for a while, and my arms were about to drop off; so we headed back upstairs. Teri and Sebastian hung out in our hotel room while I watched the Masquerade (the big costume contest) on the TV in Lois' room. Alas, once again there wasn't a real stand-out costume. Some years there have been costumes that have simply taken my breath away; the Banshee, for example, with the ice-blue glowing makeup and the terrifying red eyes. And there was a demon a few years ago that was simple amazing; terrifyingly real. But while there were some amusing and interesting costumes, none of them had that magical quality this year.

Speaking of which, something I miss from the old days of Arisia is the laser show. There hasn't been one in years, unfortunately. I suppose they're sort of old-hat, but I'd give a lot to see a show like the one at the second Arisia: that one was simply amazing, a room filled with all sorts of strange gizmos and clockworks with the most bizarre laser effects. It was like something out of a dream; I remember that a little toy train kept running around on a track suspended from the ceiling, for example.

My third and last panel was "Reading and Eating" at 2PM. Once again I was the moderator. I quickly discovered that both of the other panelists were published novelists, so I had by far the least impressive credentials on the panel. But once again my trick memory (that and my life-long love of food) saved me: I was able to come up with example after example of food in literature, not only in science fiction but in all sorts of books. My two co-panelists came up with quite a few funny stories, and told them well. The audience, 15 or more, was excellent too—lots of good participation but no jabbermonkeys trying to hijack the conversation. I remember getting some huge laughs from the audience as I came up with some of the darkest and most disturbing examples of "food" that I could remember...a great panel.

Once again Sebastian resisted going to sleep and had to be rocked and sung to before he was too drowsy to protest being put in the travel crib. He'd had a long day.


Sunday morning I got up early. Unfortunately I'd left my sneakers in Lois' room, and everyone there was asleep; so I had no choice but to go out in my socks and check out the Green Room. But first I did something that every experienced convention-goer does: I went to the main desk and requested a delayed checkout. You see, although Sunday is the end of the con, events continue until 5PM or even later; but hotel check-out is at noon, and once you've checked out it can be a nightmare trying to carry around all your luggage and have fun. The con provides free coat/luggage checking, which is basically a huge pile which is watched by somebody, but it's all basically a big hassle. So the thing to do is delay checkout if you possibly can, and often the hotel will give you an extra hour or two for no extra charge. Which they did in this case. Incidentally, I later found out that you could pay $40 and stay until 4PM, or $80 and stay until 8 or 9PM—something I'd definitely like to do in the future.

That accomplished, it was on to the Green Room. It was dark in there; most of the lights were off, and a couple of other program participants were drifting around. The guy running the room was pretty groggy and explained that he was running behind schedule—he'd overslept. There were some platters of pastries—croissants, muffins, bagels and such—plus fruit and cereals, but no coffee yet. The percolator had just started. I wanted to grab some pastries and take off, but it was too dark to see what sort of muffins there were (it can be hard to tell a blueberry muffin from a chocolate-chip one, and I loathe blueberries). So I grabbed a plateful of croissants (yum!) and took off.

Later we went to the breakfast buffet at the Swan's Court again, but since I'd already had a plate of croissants only Teri and the baby ate (the waiter tried to charge for me as well but Teri set him straight).

We looked around the con a bit more but had to pack up and get moving; time was running short. If I had my way we'd have stayed all day, mind you; one year Lois and I stayed and helped with tear-down, and had a lot of fun at the Dead-dog party at the end. But Sebastian and Teri weren't really up for that, so we checked out at around 1PM and went straight to the car. Or rather, I went to get the car while Teri had a porter bring our stuff down.

The Boston Commons parking garage people were crooks, it turned out; they were only supposed to charge me $19 for the weekend (I had a discount ticket), but instead they charged me $26. Bastards, but I didn't realize it until too late. I drove over to the hotel, picked them up, we hit a gas station, and in a little more than an hour we were home.

So overall I didn't get to do anywhere near as much as I would have liked, and some day I plan to do a lot more—wear my white tie and tails, do more events, arrive earlier and stay later—but almost everything I did do went well, there were no arguments or hurt feelings, the baby seemed to enjoy himself, and I had a lot of fun. Bravo, Arisia!

Sites Nuked, Effie Glitched?

Several weeks ago I noticed something unusual: five RuneQuest sites were all listed in the Die-Roller's Top 50 list (including this one, of course). Being me, I couldn't resist trying to improve the exposure of RQ to other gamers—so I wrote to the RuneQuest Rules list and the RQ Addicts board on Yahoo with a list of the five sites plus handy URLS to vote for them (listing my own site last, of course—wouldn't want anyone to think I was trying to take unfair advantage). I made it clear that you could only vote once per site per day, and asked people to visit the sites and vote honestly—while also pointing out that a vote of less than "5" would only drive down the overall rating of the site (which is true).

For a while things went really well. All the RQ sites rocketed up in the ratings—my site was #1 for four or five straight days, and Tony Den's was #2 for about the same amount of time. The other sites went up ten or more places in the rankings as well. But suddenly...

One night Tony and I were the top two. The next day we were gone, completely off the list. What had happened? Had we been voted all the way off the site by a troupe of jealous munchkins? It was hard to believe. We'd both had a large number of votes, among the most on the board, which gave us a certain amount of inertia. A vote of "1" added to 10 "5"s brings down the average quite a bit, but does far less to 100 "5"s. It would have taken a lot of votes from a lot of people, OR someone was cheating.

Or, of course, there was a glitch. That had happened before, of course, and at the time Effie fixed it.

I posted a query to a forum on the RPG Gateway (I'm "RQPete" there) and someone pointed out a way to find your rating: it's an ALT tag for the number of stars at the end of your site description. When I checked my site and some of the other RQ sites, it turned out that we both had over a 4.9 rating—enough to put us far above the current #1 site of the day.

So I was even more confused. We obviously HADN'T been voted down, so what was the problem? A glitch? A moderator posted to say that Effie was away, so he couldn't say what the problem was, but that possibly we'd been punted for abuse—that someone might have tried to cheat in our favor, which would result in our sites being banned.

That seems remarkable unfair and even stupid to me; we didn't cheat, after all, and we've ranked high on the list for a long time without cheating. And it's a seriously weakness in the system: anyone could eliminate any site just by trying to cheat on their behalf? Apparently so!

But right now I just don't know. It could be that someone cheated, or that there was a glitch, but until Effie gets back to me I have no way of finding out. It has been more than two weeks now and I've yet to hear from her; I sent her a private email this morning, and if I don't hear back from her within a week or so I guess I'll give it all up as a bad job, delete the voting links from my page (no point in promoting them if they're not promoting me), and wipe it all from my memory.


It has been an amazingly cold month. Arctic temperatures brought us weeks of sub-zero temperatures, with wind chill pushing as low as -35 some nights; that happens to be about the point at which the Centigrade/Celsius and Fahrenheit scales match up, by the way.

So in the mornings I've run out to my car, cleaned off the snow if necessary, started it up, turned on the heat and run back into the house to wait for fifteen minutes or so while it warms up. It's not really all that bad, though; I was only forced to stay outside for more than a few minutes once during this cold snap, when I had to put oil in the car and clean off the windshield. That took about 15 minutes, and when I was done my hands and fingers were literally shriveled with the cold, and completely numb!

It has warmed up over the last couple of days; the temperature might actually just edge above freezing today. But those many weeks of deadly cold froze ponds, lakes, rivers, and even produced a good amount of ice on the ocean's shore. Travel has been difficult at times, and furnaces have been running non-stop.

You can find a strange beauty in the terrible cold, though. There's a large waterfall just a few minutes from our house; it's the waterfall which is the source of the name "Woonsocket", in fact, which (as I've mentioned before) means "Thundermist" (a lovely name, isn't it?). It roars day and night through concrete channels (I'm pretty sure it's used to generate power). Recently I was amazed to see that large portions of the waterfall were frozen! Foamy white ice that looked as if it had been frozen instantly in mid-fall. I'll see if I can run over there tomorrow and take a picture, weather permitting—if it hasn't melted in the meantime, of course.

On my morning commute I cross the Charles River as I enter greater Boston; it's a pretty area at the point where Route 1 becomes the VFW parkway, not far from where my grandparents used to live. As I crossed the river recently, I was surprised to see a large ice floe in the middle of the water...and a large flock of Canada geese all over it, some sleeping, some simply sitting and watching the cars go by. It was a curiously moving sight.

But I hope it warms up a bit soon.

Odds & Ends

No Love for Leiberman

Senator Joe Lieberman recently announced that he was running for the Democratic nomination for President. So far, almost every Democratic voter I know plans to either not vote at all or vote for a third-party candidate if Leiberman is the nominee—including me. I'll never vote Republican, and if my state were in play for the Presidency I'd probably have to rethink this, but Leiberman is totally unacceptable—his attacks on the First Amendment alone make him absolutely intolerable.

Unfortunately I have no more respect for any of the other Democratic candidates, although I don't know much about Governor Dean. Every one of the Senators voted in favor of giving dictator Bush the royal authority to declare war against Iraq at will, thereby abrogating their Constitutional responsibilities and violating their oaths of office. Now that Bush is in the process of doing what they all damn well knew he would do all along (as did anyone else with a brainstem)—that is, send young Americans to die for the sake of his re-election, oil, and the millenialist fantasies of the Christian-Taliban members of his inner circle—suddenly some of the Democrats are whining and trying to pass a new bill to beg him to consult with them.

Sorry, boys, but you willingly let him stick it in you for what you thought would be your political profit and there's no way it can be undone at this late date. You're all whores now.

They're not as evil as the Bush/GOP monsters, but why should I vote for a bunch of political whores who won't stand up to defend democracy or keep their oaths of office? I'll vote for a third-party candidate and maybe they'll get the message eventually...probably around the time that Bush IV is having their children drawn and quartered for his royal pleasure.

What I wouldn't give for a decent, honest candidate of conviction and intelligence...

What A Difference A Year Makes...

I've been looking at old pictures of Sebastian and can't get over how much he's changed! Two pictures in particular are interesting: one of the first day he stood up by himself in the crib, his perfectly round little face beaming with cheerful and plump that he looks just like a perfect baby doll. The other picture, taken almost a year later, is of Sebastian in his Frodo outfit, looking like a model or a Jedi warrior. Sitting here, listening to "Travelin' Solder" by the Dixie Chicks, and looking at those two photos...for some reason it kind of chokes me up. But I have no idea why.

Incidentally, last night we had yet another first with Sebastian: he pulled down one of the baby gates. Fortunately no harm was done, but he has been quite determined to overcome all obstacles, it seems. He's been fiddling with the latches of the gates, and he simply pulled the whole thing down from the top, leaving the bottom still wedged in the door. Teri has increased the pressure on the gate, but of course he'll find a way through before long.

The Lord of the Ringers, Part III

I had one last post to make about the movie of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and since that blog has been down a few times lately, I might as well preserve it here—in slightly edited form, of course. I've removed the original comment to which I was replying.

(someone disagreed with my previous posts, insisting that they preferred characters for whom "doing the right thing" was difficult)

You're free to chose what sorts of characters you prefer, of course, but it's clear that Tolkien would not agree with you. Nor would the millions of readers who appreciated the original character of Faramir in TLOTR, not to mention the uncounted numbers of readers of the many other novels which feature characters who don't go through a schticky conflict.

But perhaps I'm being unfair, and you may have misunderstood me—I'm not saying that the choice to resist temptation should be "easy", only that it isn't always necessary for a character to go through an epic Fall and Redemption in order to show the power of temptation.

That's not to say that Aragorn and Faramir were beyond temptation, of course—I presume that Tolkien would hold that like all human beings, they partook of Original Sin—but they were exceptional in that they were good enough to resist it without actually falling. The difference which Jackson imposed on Faramir is that in the movie, he DOES fall and then changes his mind.

You simply DON'T have to turn evil and then repent in order to show how hard it is to do the right thing.

That's my point. A decent actor could have easily conveyed the awful temptation of the Ring, even in a split second, without having to go through the whole trite routine that Jackson forced on Faramir.

It's patronizing, both to the audience and to the actors. It's insulting to the author, particularly when it involves a complete reversal of some of his basic elements. And it's a gross disservice to the book which the movie claims to be based on. I'm sorry to say that Jackson seems to have consistently underestimated the intelligence of the audience; I believe that they could have understood and appreciated a more subtle movie which was true to the source material. The public understood movies such as "The Third Man" and "Citizen Kane", after all...

Peter Maranci [[email protected]] • 1/9/03; 11:35:15 AM


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[email protected] Copyright 2003 by Peter Maranci. Revised: April 09, 2003. version 1.2