Sunday, December 31, 2006

I resolve

New Year's Eve, the traditional time to get hammered and make resolutions. I'm skipping the drinking, but I think I might make a try at resolutions. Here's the list:
  • Write one whole heck of a lot more than I am now.
  • Read more, and stretch my book selection a bit.
  • Consume a lot less high-fructose corn syrup. I drink too much soda now, and I need to cut back.
  • Snack less. I tend to snack more than I should; I recently cleaned out my car, and I removed four empty Pringles cans from my back seat. I've gotta stop that.
  • Stop eating when I'm full. I have a tendency to clean my plate, so I should pay more attention to when I'm full -- and actually stop eating then.
  • Exercise somewhat regularly.
  • Stretch more. I'm feeling a lot stiffer these days than I ever have before. I don't want to think it's because I'm getting old; I'd prefer to think it's because I don't stretch enough.
  • Eat out less at work. It's expensive and unnecessary.
  • Spend less money in general.
I just read those again and noticed that they break down into writing , health, and finances. I want to get better at writing, and I'm not doing enough of it to improve my skills much. And I'm tired of feeling out-of-shape. I know it's all relative; I'm still in good shape, but it's the worst shape of my life. I'm 30 pounds above my rock-climbing weight. And I think I spend more money than I should. Personal budgets are fixed-sum systems; any money I spend on anything else is money I'm not using to pay down debts. I'm not part of the consensus that agrees the economy is improving, and I want to be debt-free in time for the recession.

This seems like a lot of resolutions, and it probably is. But they're mostly little things. I think it also helps that they're all somewhat vague. It's hard to keep a resolution that requires giving up something completely, or starting something new. But a goal like "snack less" is a lot easier; I'm not trying to cut out snacks, just to do it a bit less. I think it'll make a difference in my health, and I don't think I need to take it to an extreme. My big goal is writing. Wish me luck!

cigar bar

I don't drink and I don't smoke. So Nicky Blane's cigar bar is possibly the last place in Indy you'd expect to find me. But the job of designated driver knows no boundaries, so I had to spend a few minutes while I was waiting. I had never been there before, so I was curious what the place was like. The answer? Dark and smoky. I wasn't surprised by the smoke; it's a cigar bar, after all, and one of the few places indoors downtown where you can smoke. And, on reflection, I wasn't surprised by the dark either. Smoking tends to be hard on the body, so the hardcore smokers willing to pay $5 for a place to smoke are probably happier looking at each other away from the harsh glare of halogen lighting. :-) I've never seen the appeal of smoking, especially cigars. I can see lots of disadvantages, and no real reason to do it. The only possible motivation I can think of is the ever-ephermeral coolness. And I've never been able to figure out how it's cool, either, but I'm not one of the world's coolness experts.

A minor irritation: I had to pay a $5 cover charge to get into the cigar bar. $5 for the privelege of wandering into the smoky gloom to pick someone up for a ride. It might be the worst money I've ever spent. I was also amazed at how little cigar-smoke exposure it took to make my sweatshirt stink.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Nice to his friends?

I spent the last two days at Indiana Repertory Theatre loading out their Christmas Carol. Much fun, and I'm good at it. I got to move heavy things and be an expert at stuff and load a truck and indulge my type-A-ness by cleaning the absolute crap out of the stage. I'm always happy for the chance to do some hardcore lifting and hammering and schlepping; the closest I usually come to a workout in my typical day would be when I move monitor speakers around, and I've got a maximum of four of them. I'm so energetic about the occasional chance to do hard work that I dive into it with extreme gusto. The IRT shop is always happy to have me on a call. It's easier to find people with skill or strength than it is to find people with hustle and good attitude. Plus, I could use the money; 'tis the season. So thanks to IRT for calling me to work whenever they can.

An aside: while I was chatting with a few of the IRT staff, another staffer's name came up. I mentioned that I didn't particularly like him. I had always found him rude and a bit of a jerk. It was a common opinion, but someone in the crowd defended him. Essentially, they said that he was a great guy once you got to know him; he could seem rude if he didn't know and like you, but once he liked you he was a lot more pleasant. I'm thinking that's pretty faint praise. I think the same argument could be restated, "he's nice to his friends". That's not so much a virtue, as a bare minimum standard for human interaction. If you're rude and mean to your friends, you tend not to have any. So he's nice to his friends -- what a prince.

I'm fairly certain that the guy in question doesn't have any particular social phobias. He's just a jerk. But thinking about him helps me sympathize with people who do have social phobias. If you seem rude to people you don't know, you don't tend to make many friends. It would have to be an alienated life.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Chicago Burning

Funny bit for the day: I stopped at Trade Secret to pick up some of Laura's nail polish. She had a manicure on Tuesday, and she wanted a bottle of the OPI nail color the stylist used. The color name is "Mrs. O'Leary's BBQ". It's a pretty color, but my brain translated the name as, "Chicago Burning". The funny name is normal for OPI; two of Laura's other favorites are, "Russian To A Party" and "I'm Not Really A Waitress".

And, I gave my friend Clint the Jayne hat I knitted for him. But it's a bit too small; I'll have to re-knit a new one. I'll try to be good and get it done before winter ends....

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Ow.

I've had a headache going today. All day. I didn't actually do anything other than make coffee this morning and lie on the couch the rest of the day. How bad was the headache? I spent the entire day at home, and I never once checked my e-mail until just now. I spent the day in a mostly-dark room feeling the throbbing concussions of individual photons banging against my head. There were a lot of photons zinging about, even with the blinds closed and the blankets pulled up over my head, so it wasn't a particularly pleasant way to spend a day.

I don't like squandering days off by spending them miserable; today would've been the perfect day to call in sick. Wasting a day off is almost as bad as the headache itself. Well, okay--that's not true. But it does add another layer of ugh to the day.

I'd love to share deep thoughts of some sort, but the edges of the headache are still lingering so I'm not having any deep thoughts. Sorry; I'll be coherent tomorrow.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

I'm spending some time contemplating the best possible Christmas present: Laura. We've gotten to spend a lot of the last week together, and almost all of the last four days. It's been wonderful. Our schedules don't normally allow us to spend so much time enjoying each other's company, so when it happens I really appreciate it. I have a wonderful wife and a wonderful home and wonderful cats, and I'm grateful for all of it. So I hope you're spending the holiday with your loved ones as well and making the most of the time together.

Merry Christmas, and best wishes from me and Laura. May the holiday find you in good health and good spirits.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas eve!

Tomorrow's Christmas. Christmas Day, that is; this is maybe the only two-day holiday in existence (unless you count the Thanksgiving/Black Friday dyad as a two-day event). Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are both part of the same holiday, and both of equal importance. At least that's how it works for us. On Christmas Eve we traditionally spend the afternoon with my parents and siblings, and in the evening we have our little Christmas party. Our record attendance was around twenty-five; this year will be closer to a dozen. A lot of our regular attendees aren't coming this year. A larger number than usual are travelling out of town for the holidays. Just a few friends and a few family members, those who don't have a Christmas tradition of their own to interfere with our cool Glover/Mountjoy party.

Christmas Day Laura and I spend together. We generally sleep in, then have highly leisurely coffee and breakfast, then open our gifts to each other. We take our time, and are generally done with the opening around noon. Then we spend a relaxing day together and have a nice dinner. We call a few friends to extend holiday greetings, we chat with family on the phone, and we take it easy for an entire day. It's the ideal low-stress way to spend a holiday. If I don't post anything tomorrow, it's because I'm too busy taking it easy.

In the meantime, best wishes from Laura and me. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

problems with the Jeep

Laura's had a minor problem with her Jeep for a few months now. If the Wrangler sits in the rain for too long it refuses to start. We first noticed this when we took our anniversary trip. When we packed up to leave, the Jeep wouldn't start. When it finally did start an hour later, it sounded like someone had installed a bug zapper under the hood. The problem was obvious: wet spark plug wires. On my Saturn this would be an easy repair: pop off the old wires, replace them with new wires. On a Jeep to get to the spark plugs you have to remove the air filter assembly, the serpentine belt, the air conditioning pump, and the intake manifold. I keep noticing this whenever I do any work on the Jeep; when I replaced the radiator a while ago, I was amazed at how complicated a radiator replacement could be. I'm pretty sure it's on purpose, that the new Wranglers (1997 or later) are difficult to work on by design. I've found too many little problems for it to be coincidence; it defies probability that they could make a vehicle so difficult to work on by accident. I'm also a little fuzzy on why the all-American Wrangler is assembled entirely with metric bolts. I've got metric tools, but my metric collection isn't as robust as my SAE toybox. So any work I do on the Jeep is just that little tiny bit harder than the same work on my Saturn.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Church audio

Yesterday, in the middle of the shopping day, Laura and I dropped by our nephew Alex's preschool to watch him in their Christmas show. It was highly cute, just like every other show cast entirely with children five and under, and I enjoyed supporting the neph. What really impressed me was the sound system. I'm a professional production tech guy, and a bit of a gearhead, so I recognize good gear when I see it. And the church that hosts Alex's preschool had some great gear. I'd guess they spent over a quarter of a million dollars on production, between sound and lighting and projection.

The most notable thing about the gear is that it's so much more than they need. The room is small enough that if I were on stage I might not feel the need to use a microphone, but they had a 56-channel Midas console, a 16-channel Heath-Allen console running a submix, and a huge pile of digital processing. Their lighting rig consists of a dozen Source 4 pars and lekos, plus a dozen Mac250 moving-head lights. They've got three projection screens with fixed projectors. They actually need maybe a third of what they've got. Churches are often over-geared; it's in their nature. There's nobody to tell them what they actually need. They'll hire a consultant, paid a percentage, who talks to salesmen, paid a percentage. The only potential for an honest opinion comes from their own sound guy, who's generally bad at what he does -- and, he also wants the most toys possible. So churches always end up with a pile of production gear they don't need.

I'm not complaining; churches keep the production business afloat. Even in a major theater town like New York City, churches outnumber theaters a hundred to one. But I'm always amazed to walk into a 500-seat house of worship and see pro audio gear better suited to a major concert venue. I'm also amazed at how poorly chosen some of their gear is. They've got ten monitor sends (a huge number), but they've only got three wireless mics. They've got a rock-and-roll line array speaker system, but they've only got six mic stands. They've got a huge video patch bay with only three patch points wired up, and they use duct tape instead of gaffer's tape.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas Shopping!

Today was the big shopping day for me and Laura. We started and almost finished our Christmas buying, even for each other. We tend to have fun shopping together, and today was no exception. I've gotten Laura some fun gifts, some of which will be complete surprises. I can't tell you what any of them are; it's possible she'll read this. I'll fill you in later.

I keep forgetting that Laura hates Fry's Electronics. The store feels oppressive, and she's never had a good experience there. Today, for instance, we were window-shopping for a handheld computer for her. A staff guy who wasn't knowledgeable about the product attached himself to us like a lamprey. As soon as Laura touched one of the display models, the anti-theft alarm sounded. It took a few minutes for a manager to get over with a key to turn off the siren. The fact that you couldn't touch the display models without triggering an alarm didn't really affect the shopping experience, though; they had already stripped every removable part from the handhelds, so they were essentially as useful as the plastic no-working-parts demo cell phones they had on display a few aisles over. For a Fry's, the selection was pretty limited, too, and they didn't have anyone who knew anything about the products who could help us. And their selections on display were only the high-end models, starting at $300. The middle-range models were all in a glass case. Then we hopped a few aisles over to peek at a cheap ergonomic keyboard we had seen in last week's Fry's ad and couldn't find any for sale, just the demo model. We asked and found that the computer showed they had several dozen on shelf. It took three staff guys a few minutes to figure out that the particular shelf in question was two hundred feet from the keyboard aisle. I did see a nice toy while we were there, though: Sony's new e-text reader. The e-ink display was impressive. And it only uses power when you change pages. I didn't check the price; the display model was pretty effectively bolted to an end cap, so I didn't get to really play with it. You couldn't even reach most of the buttons. I think part of the problem with Fry's is that they have so many obvious anti-theft systems in place. The whole time you're there it's obvious that Fry's thinks you're a criminal. All retail establishments have to choose a balance between being secure and being customer-friendly. Fry's isn't balanced at all; you get the impression that if they could get away with it, they'd have all the merchandise behind shatterproof plastic. We bought a few gift cards for people, but we went to Best Buy for them; we didn't want to throw any extra business at Fry's.

In Target's toy aisle I saw a Star Wars action figure that tweaked me a little. they were selling a Star Wars Force Battler, a medium-sized Obi-Wan doll with kung-fu grip -- and authentic kung-fu weaponry. He was holding not a lightsaber, but a pair of nunchukau. I found the weapon selection a little surreal, not to mention that it's no part of the Star Wars universe I know of. I haven't read all of the books, of course; maybe I missed the novel wherein the jedi receive ninja training. It reminds me of the Superman action figure I saw a few years ago that came equipped with a Super Sword and Super Shield.

Laura and I stopped for lunch at McDonald's. We need to not do that again, ever. I spend too many meals eating healthy to dive into a Big Mac without paying the price. And if you actually pay attention to the experience of eating, McDonald's food isn't even that good. I feel heavier every time I eat fast food, and McDonald's might be the worst of the lot. It was convenient, but it's not worth the convenience.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

actual dialogue

Here's some actual unretouched dialogue from the Glover/Mountjoy household this morning:

Jeff: "Honey, the cats were laughing at me."
Laura: "Aww, what for?"
Jeff: "I was singing, and they were making fun of me."
Laura: "Well, let's go make them apologize."
--- later, after the cat apology ---
Laura: "What were you singing, anyway?"
Jeff: "Earth Angel. The falsetto parts."
Laura: "Upstairs. You have to apologize to the cats."

This is why I adore my wife: not only is she so adorable that we do silly things like make the cats apologize, she's also honest enough about my falsetto that she'll make me apologize to the cats.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

It's The Tree!

It's officially the holiday season: we got our Christmas tree! We're doing it late this year because our work schedules haven't lined up to give us a day off at the same time all month. The gang at the Lost 40 said that we were among the last customers they were expecting for the season. I suspect that my lack of holiday spirit might have had something to do with the lack of a tree in our house. Now that we've got a tree I'm feeling much more Christmasy.

We have much fun with our tree. Every year we pick a weekday, go to a local tree farm and cut our own Christmas tree. This was the first year that we didn't have snow on the ground and bitter cold for our tree hunt; today was 55 degrees and beautiful. Maybe because of the weather, we spent more time picking out our tree than in years past. Then we got it home and began bolting it into its stand and leveling it -- difficult, since we've never picked out a straight tree, ever. Then we string the lights, add the angel on top, and hang the ornaments. We're very cute when we decorate our tree. We even talk to the ornaments.

Somewhere in the middle of playing with the tree we hung our stockings. And I already snuck a gift into Laura's. It's a tiny thing, but it's the thoughtful, clever gift I'm most proud of so far. She's occasionally reading my blog here, so I can't tell you what it is yet -- but I can tell you that I found it 600 miles from here, because I probably couldn't have found it any closer. And, it's one of the few anythings anywhere you can't buy online.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Nickelback, sort of

Laura went to a Nickelback concert a few months ago; she was totally unfamiliar with the music, but she has a friend on the tour so she got free tickets. She asked me about the band; I explained that they did one good song -- "Breathe" -- and a whole enormous pile of generic rock crap. She thought the show was average, and that a lot of their music sounded alike. Since then, when we're driving around listening to the radio, she'll hear a song and ask me if it's Nickelback. It's usually not. But I didn't realize until she asked that a lot of hard pop rock bands sound more or less identical. The newest single could be from Staind, or Saliva, or Seether, and they've all got the Nickelback sound. This is one reason I'm getting irritated with the radio. Too many commercials, too much mediocre old music, too much generic new music. Too much of the Nickelback Sound. I'm considering splurging and getting myself an XM radio for Christmas, or shortly thereafter; I've got some extra work coming up, and XM might be a good way to spend the paycheck.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Not posting.

So, for the first time this month, I'm not doing a blog post today. It's a little late, I'm brain-dead and can't think of anything clever to write, and I'm going to bed.

Hey -- I just realized that this counts as a post! :-)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Santa Claus

Favorite government-sponsored Christmas activity: the NORAD Santa-tracker.

No kidding.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Pants. And, Ferraris.

One of the things on my Christmas list: new pants I can wear to work. I got a lot of new clothing at the same time a few years ago, and now it's all starting to look a little ragged. And it's also one of the things I hate spending money on. I know that's a bit generic: pants. But that's okay; the list of people buying for me is pretty short this year.

A friend was observing recently that my Christmas wish lists have toned themselves down recently; a few years ago, my fantasy Christmas list included a Ferrari and a yacht. This year it included a laptop and a Saturn. I don't think that's toning down in any practical way, though -- my chances of getting a yacht this Christmas are identical to my chances for getting a MacBook. But it's true that I wouldn't really want a yacht or an embarrassingly expensive car. My fantasies have gotten realistic enough that they no longer include a sports car for which I can't afford the insurance, which I really wouldn't drive faster than 70mph anyway. And I don't know how to pilot a yacht, nor do I have a place to park (dock?) it....

I do have one specific item on my wish list this year. They've finally released the old Police Squad episodes on DVD! I've been looking for this for years, but it was only available on VHS until a few weeks ago. I didn't realize it was available now until I was browsing through Best Buy's DVD collection looking for a copy of Firefly for my brother (sold out -- sorry, Mike!) So, Police Squad. In Color. If nobody else gives it to me for Christmas, I'll give myself a copy. Because watching it would make me happy.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Toasted Nano

My mp3 player, a 1gb Zen Nano, died last week. No warning; I plugged it in to transfer files and the display told me that it had a File System Error. Half a dozen e-mails back and forth with Creative's tech support later, it's toast -- unrecoverable, and out of warranty. I'm debating what to do now; possibly get a memory card larger than my current 256 for my Axim PPC and listen to music on it, possibly get another mp3 player, possibly use my old CD discman that plays mp3's in the meantime. For now I'm not spending money on anything, partially because I'm cheap, partially because our pre-Christmas ban on buying stuff for ourselves is in effect.

As a side effect of having no portable audio player, I'm discovering again that radio sucks. X103, Indy's rock station, has a bad repertoire; this morning, immediately following the station blurb that says, "Indy's best new rock first," they played "Heart-Shaped Box" from Nirvana (1993), "Dragula" from Rob Zombie (1998), and "Vasoline" from Stone Temple Pilots (1994). Good songs, sure, but it'd be nice if the "new rock" station played more music from this century. And it's probably the best staion in town. Flipping channels in the car over the past two weeks I've heard bits of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" five times and Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London" four times. I don't actively hate "Werewolves" (and it contains Laura's favorite musical alliteration: "A little old lady got mutilated late last night"), but it's a sign of how limited Indy's airwaves are for variety and music choice. It'd be nice to hear more music I don't already know all the words to....

Also, I've gotta mention that Creative's tech support -- based in Singapore, I believe -- isn't great. There are real advantages to having your tech support speak English as a native language, even if it will cost you some cash. Not only that, they don't actually think. When you call them, like most tech support these days, all you get is the spoken-word version of the MS troubleshooter interface. I e-mailed them a detailed description of the problem, including the fact that my computer wouldn't recognize the player when I plugged it in. And they e-mailed back that I should connect it to the computer and try to access the files. I cut-and-pasted text from my original e-mail pointing out that the computer didn't recognize the player and sent it back. They sent me back another e-mail suggesting I try formatting the player from the computer. I once more reminded them that my computer didn't know when the player was connected, and it finally clicked with them.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

That Evil Mosquito

I've been getting a lot of sidebar ads recently that are similar to the classic "punch the monkey" ad, featuring a mosquito and a stun gun instead of a monkey and a boxing glove. Most sidebar ads are invisible -- I don't even know they're there. The mosquito would be the same, except for the fact that it comes with sound: a shrill, wheezy horsefly buzz, or possibly a low, bassy mosquito whine. And it's loud. When the popup appears, you've either got to turn off your speakers or reload the page until a different ad appears. It's highly irritating. I'm assuming everyone else online is experiencing the evil mosquito too, and I can't imagine anyone likes the sound.

My deep question: do they think this is good marketing? Who sat around a conference table and decided this was a good idea? I can't imagine anyone actually clicking on the ad or buying the product at the end of it. I wouldn't, just on principle, even if the ad was for something I really wanted. For site owners, it's probably a wash; the extra ad revenue from added pageviews they get when people reload to make a different ad appear are probably balanced by the people who just hit the next site on their bookmarks list and skip their site for the day.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Baking day!

Yesterday was Baking Day, the annual floating holiday whereupon Laura and I spend a day off at my sister Cindy's place baking Christmas cookies with our nephew Alex and niece Amelia. This year was much fun; we made spritz cookies and chocolate chip cookies, and any time spent with the kids is punctuated with funny cute-kid moments. This year's list:
  • Alex and Amelia had a system going for adding chocolate chips to the batter: drop a handful in the dough, cram a handful in the mouth.
  • Amelia kicked the KitchenAid stand mixer on high right after we added the flour. POUF! She ended up covered in flour from her hairline down. She very briefly whined about getting flour in her eyes, but Cindy was too busy laughing to wipe her down right away.
  • We made several shapes of spritz cookies: Christmas trees (very traditional); Hanukkah armadillos (a reference to a Friends episode I never saw; Cindy assures me it's hilarious), and Kwanzaa hot dog/angels (we were on a roll).
Another non-baking moment of cuteness: Alex and Amelia's favorite song is Kiss's "Rock and Roll All Night"; I think their father's enormous level of Kiss fandom might have something to do with this. A & A dance to the song, and it's really funny to watch. They dance at least as well as I do, and in a very similar style.

And, I was impressed with Amelia. Since I saw her last she's turned from a toddler into a little person. She was a lot of fun to bake with. As were Alex, Cindy, and Laura. I don't have a lot of holiday traditions, but I think I'll keep this one for a while.

Monday, December 11, 2006

holiday namespace

I'm interested in namespace. I was thinking about namespace today in terms of the holidays. One of the most overplayed, sappily sentimental songs of the season is "The Christmas Song". The Christmas Song. Forget "What Child Is This"; forget "White Christmas"; forget "Silent Night". The song that begins with "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire" is the real Christmas song. Score!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

wordplay of the day

For English nerds only, the Fun With Words website. I'm currently being fascinated by the list of autoantonyms: words that are their own opposites, like fast (firmly in place, as in "to make fast") and fast (speedy), or weather (to withstand) and weather (to be worn down). They've also got an online Boggle engine and a hangman engine for fans of word games. I can think of better ways to spend time online, but it's an easy way to stretch your brain a little if you need a quick break from whatever you do on the computer all day.

And, I'm amused by the fact that people use the hangman engine to communicate. You're scored based on how many letters you miss. You can miss as many as eleven; if you don't miss any, your score is 12. And you get to enter your name on the online high-score tally, which lists the eight most recent high scorers. Hangman is pretty easy (though I played a game with the subject "movie titles" and ended up with some obscure Italian art-house film from the early 1970s), so some people use the scoreboard as a sort of very slow skill-based chat room.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Great American Novel

I'm trying to think of a story to tell. My unfinished NaNoWriMo novel was a murder mystery, but it didn't really talk to me; I started it because I hadn't thought of anything better to write when November started. So I'm doing time-killer writing while I try to think of a good story. Or at least a good beginning. Or a cool character. Anything, really, that can hold my interest for the length of a novel. And I'm not having much luck.

On the other hand, the time-killing is fun. I'm re-telling familiar stories, doing outlines from memory, describing walking into a room, describing what people look like using as few words as possible, things like that. It feels like work, so I don't feel bad that I'm not working on a story at the moment. Plus, I've been busy; even if I had the brilliant idea I wouldn't be able to work on it much....

Friday, December 08, 2006

Christmas Angst. And, The Christmas List

Laura and I are having yet another busy Christmas season. I know this is nothing special. Absolutely everyone everywhere is having a busy holiday this year. But we're both having a hard time getting into the holiday spirit. I've been trying to figure out what the difference is, but I'm having no luck. But this is definitely the least holiday-like holiday season I can remember. Neither of us is Christian, but we've always enjoyed celebrating Christmas. For one thing, it's really an adopted pagan celebration anyway. For another, it's been at least a decade since Christmas was a religious holiday in a practical sense, given that the focus of the modern holiday is only mildly about celebrating Christ's birth.

I had an amusing conversation with a Jewish friend a few weeks ago. We were talking about decorating for the holidays, and he railed about the commercialization of Hanukah -- that it wasn't really an important holiday, but is being celebrated as a huge feast because of its proximity to Christmas; that it's overly commercialized; that the true meaning of the festival has been lost behind the trappings. I said, "join the club!" I told him that I had heard the same complaints about Christmas for my entire life. It's strangely comforting to know the commercial influence is spreading even to non-Christians.

We're also undecided about what to call the season and which holiday greeting to use. "Happy Holidays!" seems too inoffensive and generic; "Merry Christmas!" is a little too Christian for devout heathens like us; "Merry Solstice!", while most accurately capturing our feelings, is a bit too in-your-face and confrontational (the purpose of a greeting being, after all, to greet someone, not to alienate people or start an argument); and "Happy ChristmaKwanzAnukah*" seems too cute.

I should mention that Non-Zero Chance makes shirts that express our feelings about Christmas: one for me, the science nerd, that says, "Axial tilt is the reason for the season" and one for Laura, the pagan, that says, "Co-opted pagan rituals are the reason for the season". We don't actually own the shirts, but they'd be perfect for us if we ever wore T-shirts.

And, I've had a few requests for a Christmas list, so people have some vague idea what to buy me; apparently I'm difficult to buy for. Like last year, I've got a very boring wish list. I'm a tightwad at heart, so I have trouble buying things for myself -- even if it's stuff I really need. I've needed new glasses for probably two years, but I'm keeping these until they break. It's a big expense, so I'm putting it off until it's necessary. Likewise with my car tires. I get out the bicycle pump and put air in my two front tires every few days because I'm too cheap to buy new tires. They're safe, they're just trouble. As soon as they become unsafe I'll replace them, but mere inconvenience isn't enough to justify the money. So with that in mind, my Christmas list consists entirely of things I know I won't get (like a MacBook or a new car), and things I need that I'm too cheap to buy myself (socks, work pants, tennis shoes). And my deal from previous years still stands: if you give me interesting baking supplies, I'll share the finished baked goods with you. Last year I got chocolate swirl chips and Andes mint chips. This year Hershey's is selling designer chocolate chips, hint hint.

*BTW, the holiday of ChristmaKwanzAnukah is credited to my brother Mike, who coined the phrase a few years ago. He's too clever by half. :-)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

ISC report: bad news

The Iraq Study Group just released their report about the prospects for Iraq. It's not good. It's actually worse than it looks; one of their chief observations is that the best hope for Iraq is for the Bush administration to engage in intense diplomatic efforts with Syria and Iran. Thus far diplomacy hasn't been the Bush Gang's strong suite. I'm also a little nervous about the panel's vague timeline for troop withdrawal. They propose pulling out combat troops by early 2008, assuming other criteria are met. But George Bush has a tendency to only see the part of a document he likes, so I suspect the only part of the commission's 110-page report that he actually connects with (assuming he reads the document, instead of its 2-page executive summary) is the part that says it's okay to start troop withdrawals. He probably glossed right over the section that talks about Iraq's situation being bad, and getting worse.

To give George W the benefit of the doubt, there's a problem with being president: you don't have any actual information. Everything you know is passed up the chain by hordes of lackeys with agendas, all of whom are willing to edit what you see before it crosses your desk. The lackey squad decides what's too much information, what you don't really need to know, what needs to be softened for your delicate ears. It'd be hard to do the job with the kind of information he gets. Still, I'm guessing he won't actually read the entire report -- which is pathetic, given that Iraq is at this point the defining issue of his presidency....

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

shower curtain paranoia

Okay, time to confess to one of my minor paranoid tendencies. In the bathroom of the men's dressing room at the Artsgarden, we've got a shower across from the urinals, so while you're standing at the urinals doing your business the shower is behind you. I experience some minor nervousness about peeing if the shower curtain is closed. It's actually a somewhat practical concern. We've had homeless people break into the dressing rooms via the emergency exit door and camp out, so it's not entirely impossible that somebody's curled up on the floor of the shower having a nap. And I'd hate to discover that we had an uninvited visitor while I was otherwise occupied.

I'm also sure some tiny part of the paranoia is that I've seen hundreds of bad horror flicks. Picture the scene: slowly the curtain slides open, unseen by the unsuspecting victim, machete raised, etc. Similarly, every time I go swimming in a lake I remember the Stephen King short story ("The Raft") about the blob creature that devours a group of teenagers on a swimming platform in the middle of a lake. It doesn't stop me from swimming, it just never lets me swim in complete peace. And I know more than a few people are nervous about swimming in the ocean because they saw Jaws....

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Night At The Opera

Laura stopped by the Artsgarden today to help me with the lighting for tomorrow's opera performance. An actual excerpt from our conversation:
---
Laura: "This backlight color looks a little harsh for a dream sequence. What's the dream about?"
Jeff: "Dead babies."
Laura: "No, really."
Jeff: "Dead babies."
Laura: "... What the hell is this opera about, anyway?"
---
It's about Biafra's attempted secession from Nigeria in 1967 and the resulting humanitarian crisis and mass starvation. Not cheery, but hey: it's opera. The author, John Sherman, was a Peace Corps volunteer in Biafra at the time; he was one of the emergency evacuees, and he wrote a book about the experience. He wrote the opera as part of his Creative Renewal Fellowship from the Arts Council. The music is composed by Nathan Bloom, who also works for the Chamber Orchestra and the Indianapolis Youth Wind Ensemble. The score is excellent, the libretto is opera-quality, the musicians are talented, and the production overall isn't bad for a sixteen-minute excerpt. Showtime is 7pm on Wednesday December 6. It's a free performance, so feel free to drop by and catch a few minutes (that is, the whole opera).

I should also mention that I'm a bit nervous about the lighting. I don't do much lighting design, and I'm not very good at it. I'm a techie, not an artist, and it shows when I dabble in things artistic. But I think the opera lighting will be adequate. I'm glad Laura helped me choose colors, since I'm especially bad at that. But I try hard; can I get an effort grade for the lighting?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Old people's language and Old Man's War

I'm rereading John Scalzi's Old Man's War. It's the first book I've read more than once in years; it and its sequel, The Ghost Brigades, are among my favorite sci-fi books ever. I'm strongly recommending the two books. Both books tell interesting, creative stories about people you genuinely like, and they're thoughtful and observant in lots of tiny ways. They're almost a textbook study of how to write and structure good fiction.

Since I read OMW the first time I've read several reviews, and some of the reviewers' comments stuck with me. In particular, one critic didn't like that that the old people in the novel don't talk like actual old people. I've been paying attention while I read, and I've decided that it's not a valid criticism. It's based on a misunderstanding of how old people talk. The book, set centuries in the future, is peopled by septuagenarians who talk more like middle-aged people than like old people. Which old people? Old people today, of course. How do old people talk? Almost exactly like young people talked 60 years ago. In fifty years we'll have a generation of senior citizens who say "cool!" and "sick!" to mean "good!", just like we've now got a generation of old people who will gladly tell you if something is indeed the bee's knees (or how far out it is, depending on your definition of old).

Complaining that old people in the future don't sound like old people now shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how language changes over time. The fact that we can understand people from the distant future at all is somewhat of a fictional device, yet I'm sure no one has yet complained that the Americans of the future aren't speaking an English/Spanish/Hindi/Chinese creole, which is the direction the language seems to be heading now....

Sunday, December 03, 2006

XM Radio

I've spent a lot of time recently listening to the XM Radio. It's Laura's, and it's installed in her Jeep, so I only listen to it when I'm driving with her or when it's jacked into the stereo at home. But we've done a lot of driving together recently, between Detroit and the Thanksgiving trip to Virginia, so that's a lot of XM time. And one of the advantages of XM didn't even hit me until I was driving in my own car without it: you can look and see what song's playing and the artist who recorded it. I didn't realize what a cool feature this was until I started driving my car again and my MP3 player died. I have a terrible memory for song info unless I've actually worked with the performer in question. I keep hearing 70s oldies and trying to remember who the artist was: Journey? Foriegner? Night Ranger? They all blur together. When I hear a song I keep glancing at the car stereo hoping it'll tell me the artist and title. But I'm low tech in the Saturn, so the only thing the radio tells me is the incorrect time, since I have not yet readjusted from daylight savings time. The other big perk of XM is that you never hear commercials, unless you're listening to the stand-up comedy channels, in which case you hear AM-quality commercials for home mortgage companies. And the music selection on XM is nice. They even have a better hit ratio than you would expect on the Bad Loud Rock stations.

And, I just realized I never said anything here about the trip to Detroit. Laura's friend Kerry moved last month, the weekend my insanely busy week started. We drove up to Ypsilanti (a college-town suburb of Detroit) to help them with the move, because Laura's a good friend and I'm a good husband. Five hours each way, and much carrying of heavy things between. Kerry is a collector, so he had an enormous quantity of collectible things to move: Star Wars figurines, Lord Of The Rings memorabilia, Marvel Comics action figures, even a pair of lightsabers. The filing cabinet and washing machine were heavier but less fragile and much less numerous than the boxes of comic books and the like. It was a great way to ease myself into a hundred-hour work week.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Storm damage

Like most of the Midwest, we got hammered yesterday by torrential rains and high winds. The wind tore off our front storm door, and we also lost the motor on our back gate (possibly unrelated to the storm, but awfully coincidental). Laura spent the day stranded at home, since she couldn't get her Jeep out of the driveway; she even had to miss work. So my day off today revolved around more home repairs. The storm door took some wood with it, so it's a major repair. Or, I might just hack it. I have a plan. The back gate is halfway done, but I need to find somewhere that sells obscure parts to finish. I'm still looking forward to an actual loafing day off, instead of my more typical ones crammed with have-tos. Maybe Monday. Or Wednesday the 20th.

Last night my cousin Andy came over for dinner, and afterwards he and Laura and I watched The DaVinci Code on DVD. I had a great time with Andy; we don't get a lot of time to see each other, and he's great company and a great friend. And, the movie was much better than I expected, and also better than I had heard. It probably helps that I don't remember much of the book.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Another Pet Peeve

I recently discovered a previously unknown pet peeve lurking in the back corners of my psyche: listening to rich people talk about their hobbies. Or, more correctly, listening to rich people talk about spending obscene amounts of money on their hobbies. I spent a few hours in the company of a guy who's really into model trains. He was telling me about a $5000 engine he recently acquired, and another that he was debating spending $10,000 on. He also spent some time detailing for me the extremely expensive (I think the number was $17,000) custom black paint job he just put on his Jaguar, right after he had a brand-new engine installed. And right before he had the brand-new engine tweaked (for some forgotten five-figure dollar amount) to get a few more horsepower out of it. I should mention that earlier the same day, I had a serious internal debate at Einstein's Bagels about whether I was going to get a coffee or whether I was willing to splurge and spend the extra $1.50 to get a mocha. I ended up going with the coffee, because I couldn't rationalize the money for a mocha.

A friend suggested that my biggest problem isn't rich people talking about their hobbies, but rich people talking about their hobbies I don't share -- that I would've been okay with someone telling me about his expensive home recording studio. It's true that I would've been more interested in hearing someone talk about his audio gear. But the two don't really track. Expensive microphones are just expensive tools. Spending $5k on a model train, on the other hand, is more akin to spending $5k on a Star Trek communicator replica or a movie poster for Gone With The Wind.

Paul Graham just wrote a piece about the purpose of the income gap, and it made interesting reading -- especially since this is a topic that's been on my mind. I'm recommending it.

I tried to sign up for Holidailies this morning, but apparently the deadline was yesterday. The goal was to make a blog post every day for the entire month of December. I'll still try to do that, but I won't have the coolness cachet of doing it on an official website....