Jeff's Random Thoughts

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

In retrospect, some depressing advice

I did a show today with a jazz trio. All of the musicians were college students, and better at jazz than I expected. One of them talked to me after the show; he's working towards a degree in sound engineering, and wanted to know if I had any deep insights into the profession or the academic side. My first piece of advice is universal: be the guy everyone wants to work with. Don't complain, be helpful, learn more than just your job, be friendly and pleasant and good at what you do. There are jerks in the field -- as in any field -- but when they get hired, it's in spite of what they are, not because of it. They'd be better respected if they kept the same degree of competence, with much less attitude. I stand by this piece of advice, and would gladly offer it to anyone in any field, professional or personal.

The other piece of advice was in answer to the question, "what advice would you give yourself when you were starting college, knowing what you know now?" And the answer was improvised, sincere, and surprising. My advice was roughly this: run from this profession as fast as you can. I've got one of the better jobs in my field, and in a lot of ways, my job sucks -- way too much unpaid overtime, a bit too little respect, and I can feel myself sinking into a rut. There's an old management joke that condenses to, "I've got twenty years of experience!" --"No, you've got one year of experience, repeated twenty times." And I can feel myself starting to sink into that; I have to work to keep my attitude fresh, and it's getting harder.

If I had to give my younger self career advice, it'd be to work hard at something that paid well, and get good at it: go to med school, or study law. Some of my high school classmates are doctors and lawyers; they worked hard through school (though probably no harder than I did in undergrad, once I started taking it seriously), and worked hard afterward to establish themselves in their fields. And now, they're enjoying the benefits of all that work. They're still expanding, learning, growing, and their careers are at a healthy early-middle to middle stage, with good options for growth and moving forward -- and, they make at least three times what I do in a year, for almost certainly less work than I do. I've basically peaked in my current job, and almost peaked in my profession; unless I want to tour (which would feel like a step backward) or start a business, I'm as far as I can take my career.

I know a huge number of professional musicians. Most have day jobs, and of the rest, most are either living hand-to-mouth or have a spouse or partner who covers a lot of their financial needs. Music just doesn't pay well. And I know one musician in town, a sax man of much skill and talent, a few years older than me. He's not a full-time musician; he's a doctor, in a good specialty. He takes a lot of vacation, and when he does, he might go to New Orleans for a week and play sax with some serious blues musicians. Or he'll go to Chicago and study with jazz masters, or go to New York and take lessons and jam with some of the best musicians the city has to offer. Music is his hobby, but a serious hobby, and money is no issue. When he performs, he hires in some of the best backup musicians in Indy, even bringing in other horn players from out of town; he doesn't make anything on the gig, but he gets to play, and he pays his band well. He gets to be a serious musician, and he doesn't have to worry about making the mortgage payment. Plus, he has enormously more freedom than most professional musicians; he doesn't need to take bad jobs or work with jerks, because he doesn't need the money. His path strikes me as close to ideal, though it might not have when I was eighteen.

I have a moderate degree of envy for these people, really. I don't know if they are happier than me or lead better lives, but their collection of problems is different than mine. I occasionally wonder what my life would be like had I made different, smarter choices when I was younger. I wonder if there's an alternate-universe version of me who stuck with the original collection of science majors, who ended up starting a company and selling it for a fortune, who drives a new car and has free time and can travel at will and doesn't worry about the things I worry about. I'd like to believe that the alternate-universe me would feel a little envy for his alternate-universe clone who worked in the arts, the guy the band waves to when he walks into a bar....

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Not really paranoid...

According to T-shirt slogans everywhere, you're not paranoid if they really are out to get you. That said, we're reactivating our alarm system at home for the first time since we moved in. We've had two burglaries in the last week within 150' of our front door, and we're understandably nervous. We don't have nice stuff, but a burglar wouldn't know that until the damage was done. So we're embracing some necessary paranoia. I don't like the thought that an alarm system is a mandatory part of life in our neighborhood now, but we're getting in the habit of turning it on at night and whenever we leave the house. It's better than the low-grade dread I had been getting whenever I left the house; I was a low grade of constantly anxious that I'd come home to find the door glass smashed in, cats kicked around, and important stuff missing. The alarm system helps a bit with the anxiety.

The fact that the house had an alarm system was a real bonus when be bought it; we didn't find out until we moved in that the seller didn't know any of the codes for the system. In 2000, this was problematical. The alarm installer had gone out of business, and another company would gladly sell us a new system, or reinitialize the old one for a few hundred dollars. So I unplugged it and pulled the battery and it sat unused until this week. I'm still a bit amazed by technology these days; what was an insurmountable problem ten years ago, took me an hour with Google to resolve. That proprietary programming and set-up guide nobody had on hand or was willing to share: available for free on at least eight different websites in pdf format. The top-secret method for resetting the installer code, even after the original installer specifically locked out the reset feature: freely available in a five-year-old archived bulletin board discussion among alarm installers. We're living in the future, in a lot of ways I regularly take for granted, but I was amazed by the ease of solving a problem that wasn't really solvable ten years ago.

So I replaced the backup battery (which had died in ten unused years), reprogrammed the system myself from scratch after a hard reset, and reconnected the phone line to the autodialer. We've now got a fully functional alarm system. I've got new cat-proof motion sensors on order; in the meantime, the old ones are set at an angle such that a cat on the sofa won't set them off, but anyone coming in through a window will. I've got an unused zone, as well, so I'm thinking about adding a glass-breakage detector. This is still something the cats can set off accidentally, but I can work around this by removing all breakable cat-level glass from the entire house. Or maybe I'll just depend on the motion sensors.

As soon as I had finished programming and testing the alarm system, a neighbor dropped by and told me she had locked her keys in their detached garage, and couldn't get in the house or back in the garage. I went over to pick the lock on her garage door and let her in, and I made sure I locked the house and turned on the alarm system when I left. The universe seems to strongly prefer irony, and the most ironic possible moment for a break-in would be immediately after I installed an alarm, but didn't turn it on, while I was breaking in to someone else's place....

Sunday, January 17, 2010

If you're keeping count...

...we're now up to seven inside cats. We've still got Laura's original cat (Chaka), my favorite kitty add-on (Koko), and the two we've had for four or five years (Meeper/Jayne and Emmett). We've since added three rescue cats. We brought Bowie in when it got extremely cold, and she's still in until we get her spayed. We also acquired an extremely damaged kitten late this summer. We named her Picasso, then found out he was a she; she's now Picassa. She lost a fight* with a raccoon or opossum, and had serious, infected wounds. We did wound care, took her to the emergency vet for antibiotics and a huge abscess, and took her to Virginia to visit Laura's family so we wouldn't have to find friends willing to not only feed our menagerie, but also willing to do wound care and risk return trips to the vet. She's also inside until we get her spayed. The seventh still has no name; naming a cat is a precursor to keeping them inside, and I'm hoping to avoid that. We've been calling her some diminutive: Itty Bitty, Teeny, Micro Cat, something like that. And the vet just informed us that she's a he, which makes us nervous since we've got two unspayed females in the house and a lot of unsprayed furniture. It adds a certain urgency to getting them all spayed/neutered.

So that's it: seven cats, four of whom are permanent. The amount of upkeep on seven cats is surprisingly higher than for four. With seven cats at home, you can't travel -- or, you have to be willing to impose on friends to feed and water them and empty their litter boxes twice daily, which I'm not willing to do. Just asking someone to drop by daily seems like a huge imposition. It's also surprising how much more dirt and hair seven cats produce. I'm sweeping the downstairs twice a day, usually, and regretting it if I don't. I even have to clean the bathroom more frequently, for reasons I can't grasp.

There are perks of seven cats, too, especially because all of ours are friendly and willing to be lap cats. When I lay on the couch to write, it's not unusual to have three or four cats join me to keep me company and make snide remarks about what's on the computer screen. They're all cute, and they all get along well. But it'll be nice to reduce the census.

* I assume she lost, given that she was a tiny kitten. But I never did see the other party in the fight. Maybe she won; she is rather scrappy.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Reality in fiction: setting

I'm having an internal debate (turning external now), about how realistic fiction needs to be. You can establish almost anything as part of your world, if you're writing fantasy of science fiction. Artificial gravity, warp drive, demon-summoning equations, slower-than-bullets energy weapons, magic swords: you can do almost anything in spec-fic genres. But for fiction set in our world, in the here/now, the options are more limited. You can set your story in a fictional location and invent the geography of, say, Felport or Pickaxe, to suit your story's needs. But if you set your story in an existing well-known locale like London or New York City, you need to stick with the real. You can't have Grand Central Station in Queens, you can't have Trafalgar Square in Leeds, and you can't see Hoboken from the roof of the Flatiron building.

But how deep does this detail mine go? If I describe a police station in New York*, does there really need to be a police station that matches my description? Is this a small enough detail that I can fictionalize it? If I mention a bar or restaurant at a specific corner, does that restaurant need to exist? At a finer level of detail, if I describe the restaurant as being run by a fourth-generation descendant of the man who originally opened the restaurant in 1902, does this history need to be accurate? I've heard that Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder novels are almost travelogues. When our hero walks around the corner from a specific apartment building and walks into a seedy bar, both the apartment building and seedy bar exist exactly as the author describes them; the seedy bar is probably owned by a person exactly as described in the book. Is this degree of realism, this extreme accuracy of locale, necessary?

I think I have a workable answer: if I'm setting the scene, I need to be accurate. Background details have to match reality. If a main character takes a cab from real point A to real point B, the scenery outside his window needs to be real. If my location is a real place, I need to respect the place and the people familiar with it. And I can't get any facts wrong.

But I can take much more liberty with anything that's central to my story. I can invent the coffee shop owned by my main character. I can invent a glitzy nightclub owned by the mafia don who ends up dead in chapter two, where half of the story takes place. I can create a townhouse that gets burned to the ground by the arsonist my detective is chasing, and avoid burning down any real buildings. I can't have London Bridge connect the wrong parts of London. But I can have my main character be the main architect of a new bridge linking Dover and Calais, the new (completely fictional) 25-mile span linking France and England, which is threatened by terrorists.

I'm still a bit fuzzy about the precise division between things you can invent for story reasons, and real-world details that writers need to report accurately. But for now it's less of an issue; The Novel is fantasy, so I can make up pretty much anything I want to make the story flow....

* As an outsider, it seems that 95% of the usage of "New York" means "New York City," and 90% of that usage refers specifically to Manhattan.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Another year

I just reread my new-year's resolution from last year. It was pretty simple: finish a novel, no matter how bad. I didn't, and I have no good excuse. I've got a few bad excuses, of course. At the top of that list, I lost my part-time guy at work this year, and I worked an inordinate amount of unpaid overtime. This was a real problem; not only does the extra work cut into my writing time, it can leave me with very little mental energy to write. December was particularly bad. The first three weeks of the month, I had around 90 hours of unpaid overtime....

So, I'm planning on continuing last year's resolution: finish a novel. I've got a few much more minor plans: exercise regularly, take a real vacation, clean and organize the basement. But finishing the novel is the big one. Wish me luck.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The future (and past) of horror

Warning -- this contains a few spoilers. So if you see a movie mentioned but haven't seen it yet, skip a few sentences.

In keeping with long-standing tradition, I rented a non-Laura-approved movie while she was out of town last week. The movie: Phantasm, which might have been 1979's creepiest movie*. I hadn't seen it since the late '80s, and was curious if it was still creepy. And, it really wasn't. I was almost impressed with how non-creepy, almost funny, some of the "scary" scenes were. I wonder how much of this is due to the evolution of film as a medium -- that is, due to the fact that today's audiences and filmmakers are so much more genre-savvy. And this works both ways. We're less scared by things that are now cliche; when we see a guy open a door from the right camera angle, we just know a bad guy's going to be standing behind the door when it closes; the first time we saw this happen (Halloween, I think), it made us levitate out of our seats. Also, a modern filmmaker has a different set of expectations to exploit. They know their audience, they take advantage of our assumptions, and those assumptions are different than they were 30 years ago.

I wonder how a 1979 audience would react to a really creepy modern movie -- The Grudge, maybe, or The Descent. I suspect they'd wet their pants. Some of the creep factor comes from our assumptions being broken; in the beginning of The Grudge, when Yoko peeks into the attic, we the audience are conditioned by years of horror movies to expect that it's a false alarm, that we're about to get a false scare, maybe a mannequin falling over or a cat jumping out. It's too early in the film for us to really meet the creepies. When the ghost grabs her, it's doubly shocking. It's a scare, and it was totally unexpected. Plus, the level of allowable gore has changed significantly; Phantasm's silver sphere spewing a stream of fake blood while attached to a man's head is less than a shadow of the moment in The Grudge when we meet the girl with her jawbone torn away, her tongue waggling in the gaping space.

Dehumanization is also creepy; Linda Blair's head spinning and her spider-walking down the stairs in The Exorcist were among the film's scariest moments, largely because she had blatantly crossed into the realm of no-longer-human. Phantasm tried this too, to less effect than The Exorcist, and extremely less effect than The Grudge. Phantasm's mutant dwarf reanimated-corpse attacks are much less creepy than the first time Toshio opens his mouth unnaturally wide and the only sound to emerge is the screech of a cat. We saw glimpses of this in some earlier movies, but the concept has been taken to a new height in recent years.

The Grudge is also scarier on a deeper level. The heroes in Phantasm learn of something odd going on in the old mortuary, and their quest for the film is to solve the mystery of what's happening, and to defeat the servants of evil (or aliens). In The Grudge, every character who enters the house dies. The quest is to figure out the house's history, mostly to pass the time until the evil that dwells there snatches you from between your own bedsheets after driving you insane with fear. There's no fighting the curse, no winning over evil; our heroes (and, by extension, the moviegoers who put ourselves in their shoes) are all doomed from the beginning. It's a more existential horror.

So, my question is: what will horror be like in another twenty-five years? What will they be doing then, that will make a 2009 audience member wet himself? Unless movies shift to virtual-reality simulators, I can't even guess at the next paradigm shift.
* 1979 was a good year for creepy movies, with The Amityville Horror, David Cronenberg's The Brood, John Carpenter's The Fog, and the film adaption of Stephen King's Salem's Lot....

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mouthy, for a cat

I got home from donating platelets after work and decided to take a little nap on the couch. Unfortunately for the napping plans, the new kitten really wanted to play with me -- specifically, the head part of me. The following conversation ensued:

"Stop chewing on my ears, evil cat!"
Picassa raised her head. "I'll have you know that I'm not evil, and I can prove it."
"Okay, this I've got to hear."
"Well," she started, pondering her response while cleaning her claws, "evil is an abstract concept. And I am clearly a concrete kitten. Therefore I cannot possibly be evil."
I snickered. "There are so many logical fallacies in that argument, I don't know where to start."
Picassa shrugged, contemplating which of my ears looked like a better target. "I'm a kitten. You were maybe expecting Aristotle?"

Oh, yes -- this one is going to be a handful.

Monday, August 24, 2009

No Cash For Our Clunkers

Laura and I briefly debated using the Cash for Clunkers program to get a new car. We didn't, partially because we can't afford a car payment at the moment, but mostly because our only government-defined Clunker is the Jeep, which Laura really likes. And you can't use the program to trade a Jeep for a newer Jeep. My 1995 Saturn with 140,000 miles on it that won't drive on the interstate: not a clunker.

But we thought about it. It's an interesting program. And we would love to own at least one vehicle that could drive more than 50 miles without needing some sort of major repair.

I thought about what this program is designed for. I'm a wee bit worried that it's the vehicular version of a sub-prime home loan. The target market consists of people driving old cars that are worth less than $4500 for a trade-in, and people whose older cars get poor mileage. This looks like they're selecting, to a large extent, for people who have never bought a new car before. To what extent are they pushing people who can't necessarily afford it into buying a new car?

We heard some fuss made about the fact that most of the cars purchased through the program are foreign cars. I'm fine with this. Detroit has spent decades cranking out inefficient, poorly engineered, poorly designed cars. They invented the concept of planned obsolescence, and now they're reaping the whirlwind. I feel utterly no pity for them. It's a shame so many good people are hurt by their impending doom, but the companies themselves are getting what they deserve.

Health Care Reform Made Simple

Nobody asked me, but I came up with a brilliant solution for the health-care problem. Here goes:

Push the enrollment age for Medicare down to 60.

This is all kinds of brilliant, as far as I can tell. For one thing, any change will need to happen slowly, both to give people time to get used to the change, and to minimize negative economic impact. This is a tiny step. It also dodges pretty much all of the non-substantive arguments against health care reform, the ones bandied about on talk radio. It's an existing program, and it hasn't been self-funded for years anyway. And it won't require creating any new bureaucracy.

It'll also keep insurance for the under-60 crowd cheaper. Following the theory that older=sicker (in a broad actuarial sense), cutting these older people from the regular insurance rolls will help drive down costs for everyone. And, it's an easy solution -- no five-hundred-page legal tomes are required to explain this plan. There could be no questions about how or whether the program will work; it already does.

As a side note, it'd be nice if Medicare could bargain with drug companies for lower drug prices. But that's a question for another time....

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Let Me Sum Up: Virginia, Kitten, Matrix, GenCon

It's been a busy couple of weeks. Laura and I spent a week in the Washington, DC area visiting her family, and I spent the next week working 40 hours plus attending all four days of GenCon. So now that I've got a minute to sit down at a keyboard, let me sum up:

It's always nice getting a chance to spend time with Laura's family. We took a side trip to visit her brother Gary, and that was a blast; I like him and his family. We also made a lunch date with Laura's old friend Bruce, and I'm always happy when we can get together with him. The real adventure of the trip was that we had to take a kitten with us; we've recently acquired a fifth indoor cat (you may commence with the Crazy Cat People jokes), and she's been sick for most of the time she's been in. She barely survived a fight with an opossum, so we took her in and rescued her from Certain Doom, and took her to the vet for repairs and a tune-up. One of her wounds had gotten infected, so she had a huge abscess on her chest; she went to the vet the day before we left and had kitty surgery, and the vet put a drain in her chest. We couldn't leave her unattended here, and we would've felt bad dumping her on any of our friends, so we took her with, where I could engage in the wound care regimen and give her antibiotics. Traveling with a cat -- especially a sick kitten -- takes a lot more energy and planning than a normal trip. But it was a fun trip, and the kitten is excruciatingly cute.

Of the fun, we rented a Toyota Matrix for the drive. We really liked this car. It might be even better than our previous favorite, a Toyota Rav4. Its fuel economy was impressive (it's rated 32 mpg on the highway, but our number was closer to 35), it was smooth and quiet and comfortable to ride in, and it was surprisingly roomy. The seats were nice, the stereo was good, and it was well-designed in lots of little ways. We originally picked up a Dodge Caliber, which we were happy with when we got it; then it developed a mechanical problem, and we had to trade it for the Matrix, which is a similar vehicle. And the Matrix was a step up in every way. Plus, they're cheaper. Seriously, the Caliber should come with a factory-installed bumper sticker that says, "I didn't do my research!"

GenCon was a lot of fun, too. Laura got me a four-day pass for my birthday, and I spent pretty much all of my non-working time at the 'con. Along with the games, GenCon also features a writer's conference, and that's where I spent my time. This year's guest writers included Jean Rabe, Pat Rothfuss, Anton Strout, Richard Lee Byers, Paul Genesse, Elizabeth Vaughan, and a dozen or so others. They offered seminars on world building in speculative fiction, on selling your novel to a publisher, on a pile of different subgenres, about the mechanics of writing. I enjoyed all of them. And, I've gotta say: if you get a chance to see Pat Rothfuss on a panel, I highly recommend it; he's an interesting guy and a good speaker. And, he and I share the tendency to answer a question with a story. I've always wondered if it was amusing or annoying for the people around me. If I do it anywhere near as well as Pat Rothfuss, it's amusing....

I'm not entirely sure the gaming crowd is still my crowd. I walk through the show floor at GenCon every year, and it's becoming increasingly apparent that I'm out of the loop on a lot of this stuff. I've never played a collectible card game; I've never LARP'ed; I haven't played a real Dungeons and Dragons campaign for almost twenty years. I'm even years behind on my video gaming; I've never played MMORPGs, or online multiplayer games, or even Counterstrike. On the plus side, I'm probably close to the median age at GenCon; there are a lot of folks older than I am, who are still playing tabletop games and still painting miniature battlemechs. Still, whether it's my crowd anymore or not, I still have a blast wandering around and seeing what's new.

So, that's been my life for the last few weeks. Now I'm trying to settle into a regular routine that includes writing....

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Yet another cute thing Laura does

My wife has designed lights for a huge number of shows, set to a wide variety of music. So there's a lot of music which she associates with a show she's lit. So, every so often, she'll be listening to the radio, singing along under her breath with a song, and suddenly the lyrics turn into production notes. Today, a Beatles song came on the radio, and the lyrics she sang looked something like:
"Get back, get back lights GO, get back to where you once belonged."
She does this with classical music, too; it sounds something like:
"hmm hmmmm, dim da de dumm scrim out, lights go, hmm da de de dummm...."

I'm not entirely sure she realizes she's doing this, which makes it even cuter.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Working-too-much Saga

To help with my GenCon Writer's Seminar planning, I made a list of the twelve seminars I most wanted to attend. Then I realized that I would miss nine of the twelve because I'm working. I also realized that I'm only available for two of the seminars with the guest of honor, Pat Rothfuss. I'm more than a bit grouchy about this.

For one thing, the Artsgarden is supposed to be shut down for the first two weeks of August -- no performances, no events. This conveniently (and, believe it or not, completely coincidentally) means I've usually got a flexible schedule for GenCon. But this year we've got eight shows in those two weeks, and we've got one every day of GenCon. So no shut-down time, and no free days for GenCon.

This is compounded by the fact that, right after my part-time tech guy quit in March, we got our budget cut. The easiest way to trim is to leave open positions vacant, so his job was eliminated. We also lost a part-time person at the info desk whose position was then eliminated, so I'm covering a lot of that time, too. I'm on salary, so I don't get paid extra for the extra 10 or 20 hours I work in a week. I also don't get days off; if there's a performance or event, I need to be there for it. There's no one else to cover. So I'm expected to be at the Artsgarden for all of the 400-ish performances and events we do in a year. There's just no way for me to have a fair schedule with that work load. Working seven days a week some weeks, even if one or two of them are short days, is just too much.

Honestly, I'd be better with the schedule if I were actually compensated for the extra work I do. I'm on salary, so the concept of overtime pay doesn't apply to me. I'm not sure from which philosophical framework I should approach this. If I work 60 hours in a week, I could view it as working for 2/3 of my standard rate, which drops my hourly rate down to just a few dollars more than minimum wage. Or, I could view it as working 40 hours for my standard wage, then volunteering for the next 20 hours. This option somehow feels better to me; I'd rather think of myself as volunteering than working for cheap.

A restaurant manager recently told me about their overtime pay: they get half time for overtime. If you're on straight time and you work 60 hours, you get paid for 60. If you get time and a half for hours over 40, 60 hours of work will earn you 70 hours of pay. They get half time for hours over 40, so if they work 60 hours, they get paid for 50. They're getting paid for less than the time they work, but for me even this would be a huge improvement.

The other hammer-blow with my schedule is that it cuts seriously into my writing time. When I have to work an extra 15 hours in a week, that time doesn't (ideally) come from my sleeping/showering/eating time, or my mandatory home/yard-maintenance time, or my spouse time -- it comes from that elusive, tiny chunk of "free time" I get in a week. This is the time pool from which my writing time and my reading time comes. And chopping 15 hours out of the Free Time pie leaves me with an impractically small amount of writing time. I've read an average of only two books a month since my schedule exploded, which is contributing to my surliness. And about half the time, I don't even get to write my daily 30-minute writing exercise, which is the absolute bare minimum for anyone who wants to write. And, even on some days when I've got a little time, it's not unusual for me to be too mentally or physically wiped out to use it; I just want to take a nap.

It's been over four months now, and my schedule is really starting to wear me down. I'd love to go back to my previously-mandated 40-hours-per-week limit. I sometimes worked more (occasionally, much much more -- my record was over 100 hours in a week, for which I was paid for 40), but it was comforting to know that my norm was a standard 40-hour work week. Now, my norm is whatever the schedule demands, which is a bare minimum of five days a week, more typically six or seven, with at least one day over 12 hours. If we were living in a different economy, I'd be job-hunting; I'd even take something that paid less, if it meant a less punishing schedule.

And, it occurs to me that I'm already working for less. By working 50 hours for 40 hours of pay, I'm essentially working for 80% of my normal rate. If I work 60 hours in a week, I'm down to 2/3 of my usual rate. If I could find a job that actually paid overtime, I could take a job that paid significantly less than my theoretical hourly rate now, work the same number of hours I do now, and come out ahead....

Okay, done venting and whining now. Back to the grindstone.

Gen Con Writing Seminars, in Google Calendar Form

I'm very psyched to be attending GenCon this year. Before last year, I only went for one day; I wandered the show floor and people-watched and hung out with friends and generally had a good time. Last year, I attended all four days, mostly so I could go to the writing seminars and workshops. They were good for me (and hopefully my writing) in a number of ways, and I'm looking forward to going again this year. I made a Google Calendar with all of the writing seminars and workshops; I pasted it in below. Most of the time, there are two different seminars or workshops at the same time, so I'll need to decide which of the two I'd rather attend. Some of them are tough choices....

Here's the link to the calendar,

Here's the actual calendar:

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The bane of sociologists

I wonder if sociologists are irritated that the word meme is rapidly losing all academic meaning, and instead means stupid internet-transmitted quiz. The study of memes was serious business for a while; now, it primarily means "What variety of potato are you?" or "Which famous bridge are you?". If I were an academic sociologist, I know this would get under my skin, just a wee bit.

A yam, and the Brooklyn Bridge, by the way.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Rope Access: the safety factor

In my wild rock-climbing youth, I did what we called "speed rappelling". We'd put on a harness and pre-rig a descender, then run up to an edge, attach the rope to something as quickly as possible, and race to the bottom. A typical time frame would be five or ten minutes to check rope, harness up, rig the descender, and double-check; twenty seconds to tie on, drop rope, and clear the edge, or five seconds to clip on (depending on where we were); and about eight seconds for a hundred-foot drop. The goal was to tie on and get down, fast. The pre-rigging could take as much time as needed, but once you ran for the edge, it was all about speed.

Rope-access work is in extreme contrast to that. From the time I decide to head up, I've got over half an hour to collect and inspect gear and bag it for transport. Then, twenty minutes to harness up and get me and my gear to the top. Then, depending on where I need to work, I'll spend somewhere between twenty minutes and an hour doing the top-rigging to set and check my safety line, working line, and positioning line. The actual repair takes five or ten minutes at most. If I need to do another repair that's not near the first one, I'll probably need to redo the top rigging to reach a different area. When I'm done for the day, it's another half hour to strike my top rigging and get down, and another twenty minutes to check gear and put everything away.

The time difference here is the safety factor. Speed rappelling is fairly safe, really; you double-check your rigging before you start, and you make sure you have a solid anchor point before you start. The only danger moment comes from potentially screwing up your anchor rigging; there's a chance that, in a hurry, you could screw up you knotwork or anchor in a sloppy, unstable way, with dire consequences. Rope access work, on the other hand, is 100% safe. Everything is checked and double checked, and everything is redundant. You don't do anything risky, ever. Your gear is fail-proof, and your skill set is absolute. You're slow, and careful, and methodical, and there are no surprises. Nothing under your control will go wrong, and almost everything is under your control. I could take about a third of the time, and use about a third of the gear, and still be 99% safe. But that extra 1% is important. It's what separates daredevil kids from professionals.

Case in point: a few weeks ago I went up to patch a leak. It was overcast, but not expected to rain. But the weather changed its mind in the two hours it took me to get ready, get up, and get working. I noticed it was suddenly dark and looking like rain, so I hit top and started striking my gear. I had just finished packing the last of it when the rain started, and hard. This had danger potential; I was on top of a big glass-and-steel domed structure -- nearly frictionless when wet -- and I had already struck my safety line. If I were at the rock-climbing level of safety paranoia, this would be that 1% hazard zone. But, I'm at the rope-access level of safety paranoia. So I have ladder hooks. At the rock-climbing level of paranoia, I would just climb a ladder. At the rope-access level of paranoia, I use safety gear to climb and descend a ladder, and to get to the ladder from the top anchors. At no point was I ever unsecured. So even if I lost my footing on the wet glass dome or the steel ladder, I still wouldn't have taken a real fall. And even if I lost my footing, all my gear is attached to me; none of it is going to fall and land in the street. I made it down without incident, and never had to put my gear to the test. But incidents like this are the reason for all that extra weight and time and gear. Otherwise, that 1% will eventually catch up with you....

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cabaret: Nina Simone tribute

This weekend, the Cabaret at the Connoisseur Room features Pauline Jean, in town from New York to perform her Nina Simone tribute show. I'm psyched about the performance; not only was I impressed with the Pauline Jean clips I caught on YouTube, I can't say enough about the reinvented Cabaret. It's everything a cabaret should be: the atmosphere is perfect, the bar is everything you need, the menu is light and snacky. It's an intimate space, with no bad seats in the entire house. They do real cabaret-style shows, which is nothing like the ACT I worked for fifteen years ago. And, it's well managed, which is also a radical departure; in the Claude days, I often got the feeling I should be wearing a wire when I talked to the people in charge....

But that's a long set of sordid stories, none of which apply to the new Cabaret. I'm happy to be moonlighting for them, and I'm impressed with their professionalism, their style, and the extremely high quality of their performances. So if you're free and feeling like a good show, check it out this weekend!

Rope Access: the tool comparison

In the name of comedy, two pictures. First, this is the collection of tools I need to repair the leaks in the Artsgarden dome:

Tools for the repair work by you.

And, this is the collection of tools I need to get to where I need to do the repairs:

Tools for getting to the repairs by you.

None of this is optional; I'll use every piece of this before I'm done. The total weight is close to fifty pounds, not counting the tools in the first picture. And, this isn't a complete picture. I'm missing my suction cups, the kind glass installers use. And, for some places on the dome, I'll need an extra rope. The orange one is the safety line, the red dynamic line is my working line, and I'll need an extra positioning line for about a quarter of the repairs. That is, the orange one will (theoretically) never hold any weight. The red one holds me up, and the third rope will pull me sideways into position.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Because crack is still illegal

The law is keeping me from picking up an addiction to crack or heroin. But the police are strangely silent on the subject of flash-based in-browser games, even though they're possibly more addictive than hard drugs. You can only shoot so much smack in a day, but you can easily sink 24 consecutive hours into a game.

So, in the interest of doing y'all a huge, huge disservice, here are links to a few highly addictive games. First, Learn to Fly, a game in which you get a penguin airborne. My deep advice: those little dots for air resistance and ramp height are skills you can buy, not score markers. Second,Crush the Castle, in which you use a trebuchet to demolish medieval structures. Much fun, and fun to re-play earlier castles once you acquire heavy armaments. These two games are nice and simple; you can replay them, but you can also finish either one in an hour or so. The third game,Gemcraft, is much, much more addictive, and also takes a lot longer to play. It's possible to sink days into it, I suspect, though I put it down before I got too hooked. For a writer, one of the real perks of a netbook might be that the in-browser game window for all these is too large to fit the screen of my wife's HP Mini, and you've therefore got one less possible distraction. I don't have any games installed on my old writing laptop, both because it's too old and underpowered, and because I know that the games are distracting, but it'll run any in-browser game without a problem....

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Writer's Block

I've been having a bit of trouble with the novel for the past few weeks. No, scratch that -- I've been having an enormous, crushing amount of trouble. I've hit a point where I know what just happened, I know what happens in two more chapters, but I have no idea how to get from here to there. I've written the next chapter six or seven times, six or seven different ways, but none of them work. I'm still hammering on that, but in the meantime, I just decided to skip ahead a few chapters and keep writing from where I can grasp the story again.

It's odd, but when I can't write, I also don't blog. Whenever I try, I feel like I should be doing Actual Writing instead, so I skip the blogging to continue my not-writing. But I'm back at the writing, and also back at the blogging.

It occurs to me, the lack of blogging was the first sign that I was seriously stuck on the novel. By the time I realized the Doom Of Writers had settled into my head, I had already gone blogging-free for three or four days. This might make a good mental barometer for me.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

A short vacation!

Laura and I have an entire weekend off together! Woo hoo! So, in celebration,we've decided to spend the weekend doing absolutely nothing! Woo hoo!

Okay, not absolutely nothing. We're cooking yummy meals, and we're cleaning the house a bit, and we're reading, and we're napping. But other than that, no real plans of any kind. We've each finished a book, and I've made breakfast both days, and she's made dinner. It rained all day yesterday, but the weather didn't stop our neighbors from the usual Independence Day displays with big airburst fireworks and the traditional celebratory small-arms fire. Our neighbors just down the street put on an impressive fireworks show, with a few hours of mortar-launched fireworks. Maybe the highlight of the show was when a police car came roaring down the street; he was going too fast to see the mortar launcher (basically, a 16" piece of iron pipe welded to a steel base, with a cinder block as ballast) in the middle of the street, or at least to avoid it. It sounded like it did some damage to his undercarriage. He stopped and got out of the car (Laura: "oops! Now we get to see some real fireworks!"), checked for damage, then took off again. We complain often about the police not actually enforcing the law in our neighborhood, but I'm glad they're ignoring the fireworks laws. That is, I'd be irritated if they don't send a car for gunshots or wild dogs, but stopped people from holding private fireworks displays....

Gotta mention, we spent last night on the porch in fleece jackets. In early July. Weird.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A sign that I have no taste

After I finished my bagel this morning, I noticed there were several bite-size pieces of my napkin missing. Assuming the teeth marks are mine, I probably ate 10% of my napkin without realizing it. In my defense, I was seriously multitasking while I ate; the eating was to ward off hunger, not for the pleasure of enjoying good food. So, given that taste is obviously irrelevant to my multitasking eating, I think this means I can eat the cheapest possible food while I'm working. I mean, why spend extra on better food, when I'm paying so little attention to it that I can eat paper and not realize it? Maybe I could even eat the cardboard prop bagel with the spray-foam cream cheese -- the one that's been in the countertop display for the last month -- without noticing. Though, now that I think of it, the prop bagel is probably more expensive than a real bagel. But also probably more filling....

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Humongous Mecha Theory of Foreign Policy

While listening to people discuss the possible use of US military power to somehow solve the electoral crisis in Iran, I invented a new guideline for military force. I call it the Humongous Mecha Theory of Foreign Policy. It's generally acknowledged that the US has the best-equipped, best-trained army on the planet. We've got an unstoppable naval fleet, with dozens of ships that can flatten any coastal or near-coastal city and, via cruise missles or aircraft, even strike targets a thousand miles inland. I mean, really -- picture that. We can park a missile carrier off the coast of New York City, and it can drop ordnance on a specific house in Houston, Texas. We've got aircraft that can outrun bullets. We've got tanks that can accurately hit enemy tanks six miles away. Our technology and training are the best in the world.

Everybody (that is, everybody who plays Mechwarrior or watches Manga) is familiar with a variety of Humongous Mecha: giant mechanized war machines that walk on two huge mechanical legs, armored like tanks and bristling with an array of advanced weaponry and military electronics. They can lay down enormous firepower over long distances and soak amazing amounts of damage; they're the ultimate battlefield weapon of the future. Now, for any potential military engagement, picture that you've got an enormous army of Humongous Mecha. Will they help the situation? If you're fighting a front-line battle against soldiers and tanks and helicopters, yeah! They're the war machine of the future! If your goal is to Blow Stuff Up and Sow Carnage, bring on the MadCats! If your intention is Shock And Awe, go for it!

On the other hand, if your objective is political or social, giant war machines are probably a bad option. They're not the right tool for quelling civil unrest; they're not good for winning hearts and minds. And they're inappropriate for securing voting rights, unless you need to blast some voter suppression attack helicopters.

Thus, the Humongous Mecha Theory of Foreign Policy: if you wouldn't use Humongous Mecha, you probably shouldn't use the US military, either. We've got incredible armed forces. But they're not the right tool for every job. I think our political leaders and pundit class fall too easily under Maslow's Hammer: if all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail. We spend more on our military than every other country in the world, combined. It'd be silly to do that and never actually use the resulting armed forces. But we never think of spending a non-ridiculous amount on the military; rather, we justify our expenses by looking for places to fight. Plus, it's hard to wield diplomatic or economic pressure well, but Blowing Things Up is fairly straightforward. Not necessarily easy, not necessarily useful, but straightforward.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Botox math

I thought I'd share some numbers about Botox. First, botulinum toxin is the most toxic naturally-occurring protein known. Lethal dosage for humans is roughly 1 nanogram per kilogram of body weight; by contrast, the lethal dosage for potassium cyanide is roughly 8 million nanograms per kilogram. A therapeutic Unit of Botox is defined as the average lethal dose for a mouse, or roughly 50 picograms (that's trillionths of a gram). A typical dosage is 5U per .1 ml. And a typical procedure may involve 60 Units (25 for frown lines, 20 for crow's feet, and 15 for the forehead). Doctor's cost for a Unit is roughly $10 to $15. Doctors perform roughly 4,600,000 Botox procedures a year. So, math:

Raw botulinum toxin costs $200 billion per gram.

Doctors use a total of almost 1500 gallons of diluted Botox a year. Dissolved in this 1500 gallons is .013 grams of raw botulinum toxin, roughly the mass of half a grain of rice.

This would be a lethal dose for over 160,000 175-pound people.

Did I mention I do math when I'm bored?

Friday, June 26, 2009

We have a Cabaret again!

Years ago, I worked for the American Cabaret Theatre. It was horrific, in ways it's probably not wise or legal to talk about even now. Back in those days, they did big not-very-original original musical-revue theater with some very good performers under some truly horrible management. My last gig with them was on New Year's Eve 1995, and I swore I'd never work for them again. They couldn't afford me, by definition; if they had called and wanted me to work, and they actually agreed to the outrageous fee I named, I would've raised the fee until they couldn't afford it, or until I couldn't afford to turn it down.

Since then, the American Cabaret Theatre has been through two changes of management and a change of venue. And, most importantly, a change of style. They're now The Cabaret, and they're doing actual cabaret-style shows: a cabaret singer, a small band, a small stage, an intimate space, subdued lighting, a well-stocked bar. It's now co-managed by Shannon Forsell, who I worked with in the ACT days; she's one of my favorite singers in town, and she's working hard to turn the Cabaret around, to reinvent it as a true cabaret-style company. So I did a show for them tonight, and it was great. Brenda Williams -- another of my favorite singers -- did two sets, just under two hours of music, and she was everything a cabaret singer should be. And the venue, the Connoisseur Room, is as close to a perfect venue for this kind of performance as you'll find anywhere.

So, in short: if cabaret shows interest you, Indy now has an actual cabaret! In every important aspect, it's no longer the American Cabaret Theatre we knew and abhorred. It's a new creation, and they do wonderful shows in the perfect setting. Shannon and Trina are doing something great downtown, bringing something new and cool to the city, so go see their shows and support them.

And, might I suggest, it's an ideal activity for a date: dim lighting, romantic atmosphere, good music, snacky food....

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Today's Schadenfreude

One of the biggest low-grade irritations in people's lives are people who believe The Rules don't apply to them. Society works because people generally follow The Rules: we're generally nice to strangers, we follow traffic laws, we wait our turn in lines. But, a lot of the rules are enforced only socially. So if you're sociopathic enough, you can break them and come out ahead more often than not. Some kinds of sociopath get in the habit of believing that rules in general don't apply to them. But some rules are enforced by a higher standard than social norms -- they're enforced by physics. And if you habitually assume the rules don't apply to you, you may not stop to differentiate which rules are social and which are physics.

I mention this because I watched a guy in a conversion van pull into a parking garage today as I was biking in to work. The hanging bar that says "CLEARANCE: 6'6" " bumped over the top of his van, but this was apparently one of those rules that didn't apply to him. He also didn't believe the sign that said "SPEED LIMIT ON RAMP: 10 MPH" applied to him either. Combine these, and picture what happened when he hit the pinch point at the bottom of the ramp. I really wish I would've taken a picture....

Friday, June 19, 2009

Indy by bike: Dorman Street

Indianapolis is full of fun little nooks where cars can't go. When I next travel them, I'll take some pictures so you non-cyclists can see what you're missing. For now, here's one I drive through every few days on my way home. Just north of Michigan Street, Dorman Street used to be a throughway (as shown on the old Google Maps picture here). It's since turned into a cul-de-sac, with a footbridge spanning the creek. It's a nice, quiet spot in a decent neighborhood, and the property owner hasn't seemed to mind if I hop off the bike and read for a while near the end of the bridge. A picture (click on them for the full-size version on my Flickr page):

Dorman Street Footbridge by you.

Friday, June 12, 2009


I've got a quadruple-shot latte sitting on the desk in front of me. I wasn't really planning on four shots of espresso; I just ordered a large latte with an extra shot, and I didn't realize that a large already has three in it. But it's a happy accident, because I'm going to need the caffeine to stay awake until I'm done with work. I've had a bunch of late nights this week, and I've been sleeping poorly. It's partially scheduling -- I've been busy, and at odd hours, and it's messing with my sleep schedule. We had houseguests last night, which kept me up late and woke me early. We had a serious storm Wednesday night, and the thunder kept waking me in the middle of the night. And Tuesday, I worked from 10am to 2:30am, followed by a late-night run to Waffle House. Tonight, I'm done at 9, at which time I go home and collapse into bed for (hopefully) ten hours of (ideally) uninterrupted sleep.

The incomplete novel is also partially to blame for my poor sleep; right before I drift off to sleep, my brain will lock onto some odd writing problem I'm having and thrash it around for a few hours instead of letting me sleep. It's not obviously productive time; I don't finish a late-night insomniac brainstorming session with problems solved (or, at least not consciously solved). The irony isn't lost on me that after a sleepless night, I'm generally too tired to write much the next day....

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Yet another thing I love about my wife

I worked a long day yesterday; since the departure of my part-time assistant (and the budget-cutting decision to not replace him), I've had a few of these, since I'm now expected to cover every performance and event myself. Yesterday I was at work at 10:30am for a performance, and was there until our second function of the day ended, around 2:30am. Laura called on the way home and asked when I'd be home, and I told her I was too wired from working to go to bed right away, so I was going to do some grocery shopping on the way home. She said that she had just finished a book, and also wouldn't be able to sleep for a while, so I stopped at home and picked her up so we could spend some time together. We did our shopping, then went to Waffle House (the only restaurant on our side of town that's still open at 3am) and had breakfast/dinner and talked until 4:30am, at which point we went home and napped before having to be awake this morning. We're a bit sleepy today, but it's worth it; I'm glad we got to spend some time together, and I'm glad we got to unwind after our long workdays by sitting in an otherwise-empty diner and talking over coffee.

We don't do this often, but I'm glad she's up for an occasional late-night, low-key adventure....

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Shrinking the Bookstore

American consumers tend to develop an internal Bullshit Detector. It's a bit like a Geiger counter, ticking an alert in the presence of marketing hooey. My detector was set wildly clacking away this afternoon when I visited Borders Books downtown. They're rearranging the first floor and adding a few comfy couches -- and losing, I estimate, over two hundred feet of shelf space in the process. What got me was the signage: "In Order To Serve You Better...". There were other words after these first six, but I couldn't concentrate on them over the staccato sounds of my Bullshit Detector on high alert. Because I can just imagine all the ways in which cutting their stock by over a thousand volumes in my preferred genre is Serving Me Better. Not to mention all the ways in which radically reduced shelf space will Serve my eventual writing career Better.

And, a sign that they're not Serving Me Better: I was looking for two books, neither of which is particularly obscure, and they didn't have either on the shelf. I'm looking forward to hearing Borders officers complain about lagging sales, with confused expressions on corporate leaders' faces, unable to understand why people are buying fewer books. Maybe they'll try to blame The Economy, or The Internet....

Gruel & Porridge

Some of my favorite breakfast and snack foods are of the Porridge Family: cream of wheat, oatmeal, grits, and the like. They're yummy, quick to prepare, and easy to clean up. They taste the same whether you make them in the microwave or on the stovetop. And they're a socially-acceptable vehicle for consuming brown sugar. Laura, on the other hand, is skeeved out by the porridge group. Not only doesn't she eat them, it even bothers her a little watching me eat them. It's mostly a consistency thing; the vaguely gloppy, slimy texture messes with her sense of order.

This isn't a problem I suffer from; the texture of my food doesn't bother me at all. Case in point: when Laura was working late last week, I conducted a grits experiment. They're better when they're a bit lumpy, so I reasoned that maybe they'd be good if you spread them thickly on waxed paper, let them dry a bit, and cut them into bars, which you could then eat with butter and brown sugar. (You see the lengths to which I'll go, to procrastinate working on the novel.) The grits experiment was extremely Not Good. But the point is, I did the experiment. I didn't mention this to Laura; just the thought of it would probably induce retching....

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Grease and Dough

I have an idea for a restaurant. I don't want to start it myself, but I wish someone else would; it fills a need, unlike most new restaurants, and I could see it being wildly popular. The name of the restaurant: Fair Food. The entire menu would consist of food normally only found at county fairs and church festivals: funnel cakes, elephant ears, lemon shake-ups, corn dogs, sno-cones, cotton candy, and the like. As far as I know, there is no restaurant in Indy, or anywhere else, that serves this kind of food. Sure, you can occasionally find a single menu item of fair food at some restaurants (the Ram Brewery downtown has funnel cakes on their dessert menu), and you'll see sno-cone stands sometimes in the summer. But I don't know of a year-round, one-stop shop for midway food, and I think the world needs such a restaurant.

I suspect this kind of place would make a fortune; if you charged fair prices -- that is, not equitable prices, but the prices you pay at the county fair -- your profit margin would be enormous. And your capital outlay to start such a restaurant would be relatively minimal; almost everything would be cooked in the same vat of hot grease. And, in county-fair tradition, you'd only change your grease once a season.

I'm thinking about this right now, because I really want an elephant ear, and maybe some rib meat on a bun....

Friday, May 29, 2009

Buckets of blood products!

I donated platelets this morning at the Indiana Blood Center, and when I finished they informed me that I had just donated my fifteenth gallon of blood products, spread over the last twenty years or so. One pint at a time, that's 120 donations. That equals three five-gallon buckets full to the brim, or 160 12-ounce soda cans full of blood and platelets. I'm still far from my grandfather's record of over fifty gallons, but I'm working on it.

In honor of my 384 five-ounce wine glasses of bodily fluids, here's my favorite piece of blood trivia:

Somewhere between 9% and 11% of your body weight is blood. Blood weighs, roughly, 8.5 pounds per gallon. And you can lose as much as a third of your blood at once, and as much as half over a longer period of time, before you're at risk of exsanguination (bleeding to death). So, if you weigh 170 pounds, roughly 17 pounds of that is blood. 17 pounds is two gallons. So, you'd need to lose over 10 cups of blood before you need to worry about bleeding to death. Remember this the next time you see someone cut themselves and complain about bleeding to death. Then remind them that our hypothetical 170-pound person would have to bleed a puddle 1/16" deep and close to five feet across before they need to worry about dying of blood loss....

Thursday, May 28, 2009

My Job Is Getting Under My Skin

....literally. I think I'm a little allergic to the trees in the Artsgarden. Every time I have to work with the trees, I end up itchy and blotchy. And I think it's getting worse the more I'm exposed. I just pulled the can lights out of one tree, and I'm already debating leaving early so I can go home and hop in the shower, and maybe burn my clothes....

The trees aren't going away, so all of the coping will be on my end. Maybe I'll just keep some benadryl handy, and pop a pill or two when I know I'm about to play with the greenery.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Going Tactical

I know I just said I'm officially too old to be interested in speed rappelling. But I just found a sign that I'm not that old yet. About half of the gear I'm looking at comes in tactical black: the rope, the harness, the ascenders and descender, and some of the carabiners. I know I have absolutely no practical use for all-black gear. But the price is the same, and it's kinda tempting. It's all black! It's Tactical! It's just like being a Navy SEAL! Hoo-AH! I have the opportunity to experience all the thrills of using Tactical Gear!

And, reading that back, I'm realizing that maybe I am that old, if all-black gear is all it takes to add excitement to my life....

Monkeying around

I'm shopping around for some rigging and safety gear for work, because I've got a complicated, necessary repair job that requires climbing around on the outside of the Big Glass Dome. There's no way to access it from the ground, and renting a boom lift big enough to reach the top from the ground is prohibitively expensive. So I'm doing it the hard way, by climbing.

And, oddly, climbing isn't really the hard way. There's ladder access to the top, and it's easier to climb back up then rappel down to a new location, than it is to reposition a lift on the ground. And, I can reach anywhere by rope. With a lift, geometry isn't in our favor; a lift that can reach 90' straight up isn't hard to come by, but one that will reach up and over to the top of a 90' dome is a rarity. Not only that, but a boom lift will put you in a bad position to do the work -- it'll put you right above the work area, with the floor of the lift between you and your target. And a lift has blind spots. There are corners and curves where a lift won't reach.

I'm also convinced that climbing is a lot safer. With rope access work, I'm depending on a lot of analog gear, gear with a failure rate of literally zero when used correctly. I'm not dependent on complex mechanical anything; there are no motors to fail, no controls to stick. And the safety gear is absolute. For a safety-conscious, knowledgeable user, rope access is as close to foolproof as possible.

And, relatively speaking, the new gear isn't that expensive. For a complete kit -- harness, rope, ascenders, descender, helmet, fall protection, and assorted doodads -- I'm spending less than it would cost to get a permit to close down a lane of Illinois Street to position a lift for a week. The new gear is a sign that I'm taking the safety issues seriously. I already own my personal collection of good rock-climbing gear, which is adequate to do pretty much everything I would need to do. But it's not failsafe and, significantly, not OSHA-approved for rope access. So some new gear is definitely a wise choice. I'm officially too old to make wild whooping noises while speed-rappelling down buildings; I'm all about the slow and extremely safe these days.

And, I get to go shopping! For tools! Woo hoo!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

That's me, informative guy.

We recently lost a staff person at the Artsgarden info desk, and as part of the universal belt-tightening that's everywhere these days, we're not replacing her. So I'm spending a lot more time than usual at the information desk. I answer questions, give directions, and help tourists get to know the city. And I generally have a good time with it.

We've got a running joke that if we had an arrow on a stick, we could use it to answer about half of our questions, from "where's the closest restroom?" to "which way is TJ Maxx?". But the other half of the questions are fun. One of the biggies is, "what can we do in town tonight?", and people are universally impressed with the answers. Indy has a lot happening, and I like directing people to the live music and dancing and theatre and art galleries that Indy has to offer. I like selling people on our arts and cultural scene. I like telling people about the good non-chain restaurants downtown. I like talking about the free performances we host here in the Artsgarden. Indy is a great city, and I enjoy being able to talk up our good points for visitors.

My evenings at the info desk keep me informed about what's new in town, too. I start the shift by looking up all the live music in town and checking the performance schedules for shows. And, after having done this for a while, I've gotten to know a lot about downtown -- what's where, when it's open, how much it costs. I know where all the drugstores are and when they're open, I know where to buy a shirt with a picture of Monument Circle. And I know the closest Starbucks is in the Hyatt, though I'm always happy to tell people they should go to the South Bend Chocolate Company instead; the coffee's better, they've got killer hot chocolate and good ice cream, and you'll never have a better mocha.

And I like sounding knowledgeable -- it's practically a hobby. The first time someone asks me a question, I generally have to do some digging for an answer. But, the second or third time someone asks me an obscure question, I sound like a genius. I got to do this over the weekend; for some reason, I had a lot of people asking me about comedy clubs. The first guy who asked sent me to the internet for answers. But the third through fifth guys were extremely impressed when I knew who was playing where, all the showtimes, and all the prices, off the top of my head. One group said I was like the information desk guy in Airplane!, which is a funny and flattering comparison. No questions about cheetahs or orgasms yet, though....

Saturday, May 16, 2009

On Set!

Today: more teevee commercial, this time on location in White River State Park. I really like this kind of work. I'm normally a one-man show; I do all the everything technical by myself. So I enjoy a chance to be part of a team of experts. And, a film crew is a team of experts whose jobs I couldn't do. When I load in a set at a theater, I'm part of a big crew, but I'm an interchangeable part. I could easily step into any position on the crew, from carpenter to rigger to audio to lighting. But a film crew is packed with specialized jobs that are outside my area of expertise. So it's always educational; every time I do this kind of work, I walk away knowing more than when I started.

It's also rare, and nice, for me to be a part of such an efficient machine. Everybody has their job, and everybody is aware that everybody else is an expert at what they do. There's no second-guessing, nobody peeking over your shoulder. You just do what you're good at. The trade-off is that you have to be competent and you have to pay attention; everyone's expecting it from you, and nobody's looking over your shoulder to make sure you're doing what you should be. I hustle and work hard on this kind of call, because I don't want my part of the machine to be the one making the grinding noises.

Also, video pays well. I worked two short-ish days (actually very long days, but only because I coupled the video work with full workdays at my real job), and got paid enough that even after taxes I could afford a low-end netbook. I'm not buying one, of course; I'm paying off part of last year's tax debt. Still, the money's good, even if it doesn't get to go directly to the Shiny Tech Toy fund....

Friday, May 15, 2009

Not cycling to work

Today is Bike to Work Day in Indianapolis. And I didn't bike to work. I'm not being iconoclastic or engaging in any sort of rebellion here; I had to be downtown at 6am, and I won't be leaving downtown until 9:30 or so. I picked up some extremely last-minute work programming lights for a teevee commercial, and I head straight from the shooting location to my real job. The Pedal-and-Park doesn't open until after I'd need to park, and it closes four hours before I'd need to claim my bike. On the other hand, I got to experience BtWD vicariously; a hundred cyclists biked through our set this morning, on the corner of Mass Ave and Vermont. Most of them were friendly, and only a few were actively surly.

Speaking of cycling things: the city recently added bike lanes on a few major streets. I think I speak for all cyclists when I say that we really appreciate the effort. And I think I speak for the majority when I say that I hope they get it right next time; they didn't this time. One of the added bike lanes was on New York Street, and in a five-block stretch of downtown, the traffic lane and the bike lane crisscross six times. It's an active hazard to navigate, much worse than cycling in normal traffic with no bike lanes. And, now that there's a marked bike lane, we're expected to use the unsafe bike lane; we can no longer ride where it's convenient and safe, we're stuck in the Zigzag-o'-Doom. I ride two blocks out of my way so I can ride on a street with no bike lanes. I've got better chances there.

The design of the new bike lane on New York is bad enough that it almost suggests malice; I can't imagine anyone planning that monstrosity without seeing the dangers. In my more cynical moments I almost wonder if it wasn't some sort of punishment for the cycling community, a payback for us complaining about the lack of bike lanes. At least it's asphalt, though. The obvious non-cyclist who designed the Cultural Trail decided that paving stones were an ideal cycling surface. I can't wait to see what it looks like after a few winters....

Monday, May 11, 2009

Body Fondue: a (naughty) public service announcement

An R-Rated blog post -- if you're easily offended or too young, read no further. You've been warned!

I suspect most couples have experimented with edibles. From the moment Mickey Rourke broke out the bottle of honey in Nine 1/2 Weeks, and even before, we've been culturally aware of the erotic potential of food. From Redi-Whip to chocolate syrup to marshmallow creme, pretty much any edible that goes well on ice cream can also be slathered on, then licked off, a lover's body. It's a wildly erotic image, sensual and playful, and it adds another dimension of sensory involvement to passionate moments.

But it's often more fun in theory than in practice. Unlike the world of the movies, in the real world we need to deal with the aftermath: chocolate syrup dried in our hair, maraschino cherry juice soaked through the sheets into the mattress, honey smeared down the wall, smashed strawberries making a permanent sticky spot on the carpet. But I've got two pieces of advice that reduce the aftermath and make the slathering more fun.

First: don't dump or pour. Use a pastry brush or small paintbrush; it gives you a lot more control. You get to make Works Of Art (edible, tickling art!) on your lover's body, and it makes much less of a mess in the process. And, really, we're grown-ups. There's a limit to how much Magic Shell we can eat, and a brush is more suited to the quantity we'd actually like to consume.

Second: Body Fondue! Instead of chocolate syrup, use actual chocolate. Those wide, flat chocolate drops you melt for fondue are perfect, and squares of a chocolate bar are good as well. Apply them to your lover's body -- if you first lick the chocolate (or your lover!) they'll stick -- then apply your own body to your lover's, and squeeze and squirm together until the chocolate melts between you. Fun! And, the melted chocolate isn't as messy or runny or sticky as chocolate syrup. Plus, it tastes better, and you can pick chocolate that meets your tastes.

Movie Day!

Laura and I haven't seen a movie in a theater since The Day the Earth Stood Still, so it's remarkable that we saw two movies in one day this weekend. We started with the 10am matinee of Wolverine, which we enjoyed. I liked the cast; Hugh Jackman was ironic and funny and enviably muscled, Liev Schreiber was a very good psychotic bad guy, and Danny Huston made a good Stryker (though Brian Cox in X2 was probably better in the role). The action was entertaining, and I got so wrapped up in the story that even the ridiculous stuff seemed completely plausible at the time (sole exception: an early moment involving swords and bullets and Deadpool, which was so hokey it bumped me out of the movie for a minute). If you're feeling like a good action movie, I'm recommending it.

I've heard a few serious comic-book fans talk about how much they hated the movie because it violated canon in numerous ways. To this I say: aww, how horrible that your fictional worlds don't precisely coincide -- obviously the older one, in comic book form, is the perfect mirror of the platonic ideal of character and setting, and any deviation is clearly blasphemy! Seriously, this whole set of arguments is pretty funny coming from comic book fans, who by this point should be used to an extremely flexible canon which varies based on the year, the writer, and the mood of the publisher. And, it stayed pretty consistent with the world of the other movies, which I did appreciate. I'm fine with them reinventing a lot of stuff for the movies, but it's just bad writing if they reinvent stuff between movies.

We took a short break, then headed back to the theater for the second movie of the day: Star Trek! I really liked this movie. I was happy to get back to the early original-series Star Trek characters, and I liked what they did with them. And, without getting spoilery, they started the movie with a plot device that'll kill all of the Trekkie canon complaints. Any "it didn't happen that way!" complaints go out the window, and it makes the movie more fun to watch. And the cast was great; Kirk and Spock have chemistry, and everyone fought the urge to imitate the old series cast member they're replacing. And, the bad guy: fanatically evil. You see what broke him, which makes him "human", but he is in no way a sympathetic character. For the serious Trekkies, the movie has a bunch of little in-jokes. They're done nicely; fans will catch them, but they're subtle enough that they won't leave newcomers with the feeling they just missed a joke. I suspect I'll have to watch this movie once more on the big screen. I'll wait two weeks, when my free passes are good, then catch it again.

Oh, and: when did matinees in Indy jump to $7.50? Ouch!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Failed writing experiment

I have a tendency to rewrite while I write. I don't think this is necessarily bad; it makes my draft-zero text more readable than it would be otherwise, and if I change something important it's good to go back and change it in earlier paragraphs too -- if someone's floor changes from hardwoods to carpet, I need to correct that while it's still in my head, or make a note. But, in general, I'm working on finishing more text, even if it's not as polished. I don't know if this'll be my finished writing style, but it's a teaching tool for now, getting me in the habit of making lots words appear on the page rather than making the words perfect (ideally perfect; at this point in my writing non-career, I'll settle for legible).

So yesterday I played around a bit with writing text I couldn't edit. I switched my keyboard layout from Dvorak to standard qwerty, then touch-typed in Dvorak. The resulting text looked like gobbledygook until I ran it through a converter to make it readable; until I was finished and converted it, it wasn't even possible to read what I had just written.

This was a bad idea. Turns out, an important part of writing is the ability to read what I just wrote. But it was at least a learning experience....

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Mac(ScottishPlay) Experiment

Let me just state upfront that I'm not superstitious. I'll whistle onstage, I own two black cats who cross my path regularly without harm, I'll spill salt with wild abandon. So I take an amused, detached view to superstitions in general. One of my favorites: theater people believe it's the worst possible jinx to say the word "Macbeth" in a theater. Some go so far as to never say the word, on stage or off. I think this is a wee bit silly, though I generally avoid saying the M-word just to keep my fellow stage workers from hyperventilating and falling onto power tools. The preferred substitute for "Macbeth" is "The Scottish Play"; apparently referring to Macbeth is fine, as long as you avoid the actual proper noun.

Superstitions fall apart as soon as you try to quantify them too much, though. How recently can a black cat have crossed your path to cause bad luck? If it never wears off, good luck finding any place that has never been trod upon by a black cat. Do you have to see the cat cross your path? If he's within visual range, but you're looking the wrong direction when he crosses your path, do you still get bad luck? Is it the same degree of curse if he's closer to you? What's the half-life of bad black-cat luck? What if he wanders across your path, then walks back where he came from -- do the two crossings balance out to neutral, or does your bad luck double from the second crossing (that is, is bad luck a vector or scalar quantity)? If a black cat crosses over a bridge, and you're walking under it, did he cross your path, or is your luck unchanged? Are you protected by the cat's altitude, or by the material of the bridge? If the superstition is true, there need to be answers to all of these (and many more) questions. But after a while, it becomes a bit ridiculous.

So, my Macbeth question: at what point are you allowed to start saying the M-word if you're doing an actual production onstage? I assume that the actors are allowed to read their lines, even though they frequently include the Forbidden Name. When the person gives the curtain speech, are they allowed to name the play the audience is about to watch, or do they have to say something like, "ladies and gentlemen, the Theater Company is proud to welcome you to our production of *mumblemumble*!" How about rehearsals -- when the director has a production meeting onstage, is he allowed to use the name of the play? When the tech crew is loading in the scenery, do they get to say "Macbeth"? What if you're not yet in production, but you're discussing possible shows for the upcoming season? At what point in the production or pre-production does the jinx go away?

Which led to Laura's and my funny conversation this morning. What if a theater company believed that the jinx never goes away? The play would look like this:

Guard 1: "Here approach Banquo and Scottish Guy!"
Guard 2: "Where is Lady *coughcough*?"

Or, better, have someone bleep out the M-word, as if it were an obscenity:

First Ghost: Mac[beep] Mac[beep] Mac[beep], beware Macduff, beware the Thane of Fife!

Macduff: ...Mac[beep] was from his mother's womb untimely ripped! [glares offstage]
voice offstage: ... sorry!

(pathetic) sign of the times:

When you get a tune stuck in your head, and realize it's the default ringtone for your phone. This never happened to previous generations.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Bad writing advice

I've read an embarrassing number of books about the craft of writing. Some have been very good, some less so; a few have been full of actively bad advice. But I've been slowly learning that none of them have what I'm looking for. And none of them ever will. Like people who collect diet books or exercise manuals, I know that at least subconsciously, I'm looking for a magic pill. I'm inherently lazy, and I'm hoping that I'll read some piece of advice that will make everything click -- that will make writing into something that isn't work.

This is a dangerous idea to carry around. It carries with it the assumption that becoming really good at writing -- at anything, for that matter -- will ever be easy. It's nice to believe that the only thing standing between me and fabulous prose is some clever bit of advice that will trip some switch in my head, and I'll suddenly turn into John Updike. It's a nice, happy belief, that somewhere inside is this Great Writer, just waiting to be freed. But it's not true, even for the very best. Being good at something is a skill you acquire through regular effort and a truly stunning amount of practice. Talent helps, I think -- it makes your practice more efficient, so you don't have to do quite as much of it. But no amount of talent will make you any damn good unless you work at it, and work hard. In that regard, maybe the only really valuable piece of writing advice I've ever read was, roughly: it's important to realize that the first million words you write will be crap; the key to a successful writing career is to get those million words out of the way as quickly as possible. (I heard this attributed to David Eddings, but I can't find it now.)

The other danger is that reading about writing is yet another write-ish behavior that feels writing-related and doesn't trip my mental I'm-Wasting-Time alarm, but gets me no closer to finishing a novel. I've got a lot of write-ish things I do, and I'm trying to be more aware of them and cut them from my schedule. I just need to be constantly aware when I'm doing stuff that feels productive, without actually producing anything.

That said, I'm not ditching my collection of writing guides. In small doses, they serve the important function of being inspirational. As long as I'm not reading them instead of writing, a little inspiration is a good thing. But I'm now aware that I'm no longer looking for The Answer. I'll occasionally look for an answer; Orson Scott Card's book on character is a classic, f'rinstance, and has answers to questions I ask a lot. But I know there's no magic there....


Just noticed -- this was my 1,000th post here. I've got mixed feelings about that. On the one hand: cool! Landmark! On the other, look at all the time I've spent writing, none of which got me any closer to finishing a decent novel....

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Internet-free days

No, our ISP didn't crash. I just spent two days with no internet. I'm trying to take a day or two every week and spend it anywhere but online. It's too easy for me to sink time on le web; I'll be writing something, decide I need a fact of some sort, and go to Wikipedia or hit Google to gain some knowledge, and it's suddenly two hours later and I haven't gotten any writing done. What I did accomplish was Olympic-level link-jumping. So I'm just taking a day or two when I turn off the wifi and write. If I need to look something up, I make a note and look it up later. It's amazing how many ways I can find to waste time online.

The worst are the ones that seem somehow writerly: reading author blogs, reading fanfic or online fiction, hitting the random button on the tvtropes wiki for story ideas, things like that.
It feels like I'm being writing-focused, but without producing any finished work. I'm trying to severely limit my diet of this writing-ish activity. And a few luddite days helps a lot.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Circle City Sound!

We've got a performance today by Circle City Sound (formerly the Pride of Indy Chorus), Indianapolis's barbershop chorus. Woo hoo! I really like these guys. They're extremely into what they do, and they all take it seriously while still obviously having a blast with it. And the music is excellent. I did my first show with them almost twenty years ago at the Warren, and some of the same guys are still singing; it's nice to see them still at it.

Down side: every time I do one of their shows, I spend most of the next week humming "Goodbye, My Coney Island Baby" under my breath. Usually I hum the baritone part.

Friday, May 01, 2009

my fashion statement

I'm wearing a cool black shirt today. I picked it out of the closet this morning because I think it's comfortable, it shows off my upper body, and it looks stylish without being trendy. But I was just informed of the actual fashion statement my black shirt makes. Apparently, it says, "I own at least one long-haired white cat!"

That's fine. I wasn't hung up on looking cool anyway.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

perfectly symmetrical violence

I found this unaccountably amusing, thought I'd share:

keanu reeves and hugo weaving

Can you tell I'm procrastinating writing?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Facebook is a window to your soul...

...and your pocketbook. Wired is currently featuring an article about how marketers use your public social-networking data to sell you things. If you've got a Facebook page, it's worth reading.

I'm of two minds about this. It instinctively creeps me out, knowing I'm under marketers' microscopes. The people who sell us stuff are extremely good at their jobs. They're so good, they've managed to turn "shopping" into a leisure activity. And their message is more layered than people realize. When a hypnotist says, "do you notice how sleepy you're feeling?", the language-processing part of your brain has to subconsciously accept the feeling sleepy part to process the grammar of the question. And any reflexive answer you give subconsciously assumes you're feeling sleepy. And ads do the same thing. You accept their subtext to process their message. They're not just selling you a laptop; they're selling you on the whole concept that you need a new laptop, that your two-year-old computer is now obsolete. They aren't just selling you beer; they're selling you the concept that you'll have more fun and people will like you more when you're drinking. And you can't fight both messages at once. According to NLP theorists, you subconsciously accept one message to reject the other. People who make ads do this kind of manipulation on purpose; they modify your perceptions of the world to make you more likely to buy their products, and the cumulative effect is staggering. And I'm not comfortable giving them too much information about me.

On the other hand, we do buy stuff, and ads are everywhere anyway. If better target marketing will reduce the ads aimed at me to things I'm actually interested in, that's not such a bad use of my personal information.

And, I'm really not seeing it as a privacy issue. It's on Facebook -- it's inherently public information, and information you entered yourself. If you want to keep something private, my deep advice is to keep it off the internet....

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

More Racism Revealed!

I suspect that most of our prejudices are invisible, even to ourselves; without an event to make them visible, they're just part of the background noise in our heads. We make an assumption or set of assumptions, based on our own experiences, that gets validated or invalidated by further experiences, but we don't do it consciously, and probably aren't aware of it unless an event happens that shocks the hidden stereotype into view.

I had one of these today. I had never realized that I've got a stereotype about Russians. I don't think it's a normal social prejudice; I think it's just something I picked up based on my own experiences. The stereotype is, roughly: Russian=Intelligent. And thinking back, I can see where I picked it up; in my entire history with various Russians, I've never met one who wasn't pretty darn smart and well-educated.

And today I met an exception. After a few minutes talking to the guy, I caught myself thinking, "you can't be this stupid -- you're Russian!", and I realized I had this prejudice lurking in my subconscious. It makes me wonder how many other prejudices like this are living in my head....

an unmasculine thing to admit

I read manuals.

I know, I know: real men aren't supposed to read the manual. I lose guyness points merely by admitting that when I open a box I usually read the manual before I start playing with wires and widgets. But I use a lot of technical gear, and a lot of it is so complex, you'd never figure it out by just punching buttons. And even if you did, you'd miss a pile of little tricks that are in the documentation. So I've been in the directions-reading habit for a while.

Maybe the first place I learned the importance of RTFM was the first time I tried to assemble a piece of IKEA furniture sans instructions. I ended up with pieces not fitting, holes stripped from using an off-size fastener, and a very wobbly bookcase (which I immediately reinforced with plywood, construction adhesive, and pneumatic staples; reading manuals doesn't completely invalidate my other guy qualities). Now, even if I've assembled something just like it before, I still read the instructions first, just in case.

Also, I get a moderate amount of comedy by reading manuals. Maybe my favorites are for Rane audio gear. My splitter/mixer manual begins like this:
Realizing that in most areas there are laws against reading owners manuals, and that reading them under the blankets at night with a flashlight makes you feel stupid, we therefore provide this brief, yet legal description of how to use the SM26B just in case your batteries are low and your mother is about to come in the room.
To achieve a quick understanding of the SM26B, think of it as a six channel mixer with faders and pans only. Or think of it as a 2-to-6 channel splitter with output level controls and a mix knob. If you get that, you may stop here. If you're really hardcore, wiring block diagrams are in appendix B. Otherwise, read on.
See the tech comedy I'd miss out on if I skipped the manual!

Believe it or not, I also at least glance through the owner's manual when we rent a car. This is how I find the extra aux jacks for the radio, figure out how to turn off the emergency alarm (good to know this in advance!), how the cruise control or hybrid controls work, things like that. The irritating car company: Nissan, whose manuals are in the glove box, but on DVD ROM. So, great -- if we accidentally activate the alarm, we need to find a computer to figure out how to turn it off. Laura had an Altima (otherwise an extremely nice car!) for a week on tour, and we never knew you didn't need to use the buttons on the remote to open the door. It works on RFID; as long as you've got it with you, you only need to push that little button on the door handle. This is a handy feature, one it would've been nice to know about in advance. And it's the kind of thing for which it's better to read the manual. Sure, you could learn almost everything through experimentation. But it's much more efficient to read the directions than to waste time fumbling and bumbling. And I'm fine with sacrificing a little macho on the altar of information.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Wild Ratio Swings

Since Valentine's Day, our cats-to-humans ratio has gone from 4:2 (the Chaka-Koko-Meeper-Emmett standard) to 5:2 (plus Bowie) to 8:2 (Bowie plus her kittens). As of yesterday morning, we're back to 4:2. We put Bowie and her three new kittens out in the garage. We enjoyed having the kittens in the house; they're still in the Cute phase, while being a month or so from the Cute But Underfoot phase. But we thought it'd be easier to put them outside sooner rather than later, so they wouldn't get adapted to life inside. If they did, it'd seem a bit cruel to put them outside. And, the longer they stayed inside, the more likely we'd get attached to them and let them stay inside. Eight cats inside is too many, even for us; four or five is the solid maximum.

People who don't own cats don't know that having friendly, well-adjusted cats in the house takes a lot of energy. I'm not talking about task-oriented cat maintenance, the changing of litter boxes and feeding; that falls under the major heading of Household Chores. If you have cats, and you want them to be happy, you need to pay attention to them. You can't just ignore them or treat them like pests. And if you want them to be well-adjusted and friendly, you need to do it at least partially on the cats' schedules. If they want attention, you need to pay attention to them, at least most of the time. I know cat owners who disagree with this, but they tend to have cats who are surly, skittish, or invisible. And we don't have the time and energy for eight cats. If we kept the kittens inside and adopted them, we'd pretty quickly find ourselves with a house full of unhappy, surly cats....

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The highlight of my day

This afternoon we've got a performance by this guy, and he's the highlight of my performance week -- maybe of my whole month. He plays extremely good instrumental guitar in a unique style, and he's great fun to work with. We've got a rule that we only hire local performers; some of them come from as far away as Bloomington or South Bend, but most live in Indy. He's the most distant musician we've ever hired, by at least an order of magnitude -- he's French, and he lives in England. So if you get a chance, he's worth stopping by for.

We really don't have any bad performers, or even any who aren't actively good. But this guy's so unique and so entertaining to watch, he's special even by our high standards....

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Seasonal Sartorial Disorder

I suffer from a fairly common bicycle commuter's malady: Seasonal Sartorial Disorder. SSD is close to Seasonal Affective Disorder, except instead of getting moody, we suffer angst about what to wear on the bike. We're in that odd time of year when it's close to freezing for the morning bike ride, and over 60 degrees for the ride home. And there's no good clothing option that keeps you comfy at both temperatures. Our options are to either be cold in the morning, to be hot in the evening, or to be overloaded with an extra set of cycle clothes, in addition to our work clothes.

I'm better suited to dressing for the ride home. I'm cold on the ride in, but I'd rather be cold than hot. And, as long as I keep my ears warm, I've got an easy solution for getting chilly on the ride: pedal faster!

I don't know any cyclists who go for option three, packing extra clothes. Serious cyclists are happy to spend a few thousand dollars on a bike that's a few pounds lighter; they're not going to nullify their weight savings by packing extra cargo if they can help it. I suspect there might be an Option Four: buy extremely expensive bike clothes that work across a 45-degree temperature range. I don't know if such clothes exist, but if they do, they're out of my price range....