Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Wow.

I got a job offer tonight!

I'm not sure what I'll be doing about it, but it's an interesting offer. The work sounds nice: I would be the install and service tech for a company that does theatrical and commercial design, as well as installation of rigging, lighting, and some audio. I'd get to work with control systems and wiring, and I'd be valued for my creativity and ability to synthesize and think through projects. It's somewhat open-ended, too; there's no solid job description, because the job requirements mesh so well with how I always describe myself: Tech Guy. It's a job I'm fully capable of, and it would require me to stretch my skills and learn new things as well. The actual job sounds like exactly what my next step should be, in terms of my career path.

But I'm undecided. Part of it's financial. For one thing, the job doesn't come with the Arts Council's benefits package. I did some math, and figured that I'd break even if the new job pays $6000 more than my current job before taxes; if the new job pays less than $6000 more than I'm getting now, it'd effectively be a pay cut. And, no matter the job, it really needs to pay more than I'm getting now. They gave me a pay range, and the bottom third of it would be a net loss. On the plus side, the new job offers overtime pay, which I don't get now. I'm currently getting comp time for extra hours worked, but I think I'd prefer the cash.

Another down side is travel. The job requires a fair amount of work outside Indy; they were talking about a job in Iowa that's maybe two or three months long. I'm hoping it pays better than the same amount of time in Indy; it's a question that I need to ask. Also, the job is a lot of unknowns at the moment. I need to meet with them at their actual office and give myself a better idea of what I'll be doing and where and with whom. I'd prefer to do a few gigs with them before I have to decide to quit my current job -- which I like -- and jump into something new and untested.

It's been a good ego day for me. The job offer was nice, and the fact that it came because several people spoke highly of me was nice too. I also got a glowing letter at work today telling me how wonderful I am to work with. Or, better yet, my boss got the letter. He shared it with me and forwarded it on to the director of the Arts Council. And, I had a really good show with the Tad Robinson Group today. He's an excellent blues and soul performer, and his original music is first-rate. I'm looking forward to listening to his new album (he gave me a promo copy; it's not out for another month or two) as soon as I get a contiguous hour without something else that has to be done.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Japanese New Year

The Japanese New Year occurs on January first, but is celebrated throughout the month of January. I can tell because I'm working right now at the Japanese New Year Celebration sponsored by the Japan-America Society of Indiana. It's a lot of fun, and I'm really enjoying some of the traditional Japanese New Year food (and will probably have nightmares about some of the food). In addition to the food, we've got mochi pounding, sake tasting, a tea ceremony, authentic New Year's Fortunetelling, and much other wildness.

A lot of the "other wildness" is karaoke. Yee-ha! They wisely decided not to start the karaoke until later in the evening, after the sake tasting has taken effect. It's much fun to watch, and even somewhat fun to play Sound Guy for. Though it did give me a moment of sound-guy comedy. When they mentioned they were bringing a karaoke machine, they were really nervous about my ability to hook it up; apparently a lot of guys can screw up a video player and microphone. I'm a pro, and I gave them much reassurance that yes, indeed, I can manage to plug in a karaoke machine. So when it arrived, in its own rolling rack, I was expecting no problems. First problem: it doesn't run on standard U.S. 110-volt power. Thankfully, a transformer came packed in a little box with the karaoke discs. Second problem: I popped the back off the rack and found the usual pile of RCA jacks, about twenty or so plugs. All of which were labelled in Japanese only. There weren't even numbers on anything. I had to get a translator for the karaoke machine. The buttons and switches on the front were also labelled in Japanese. The only things I could recognize were the play and stop buttons (they had the usual pictograms). But it turns out that if you've used enough audio gear you don't actually need to know what the buttons say to know what they do. This wasn't true for the plugs; there's no system for that. The plugs are generally located the shortest possible distance from the appropriate circuitry inside.

I also enjoyed a moment of cultural comedy. One of the participants in the tea ceremony arrived dressed in a formal homongi kimono -- an elaborate affair that I'm sure takes hours, and assistance, to properly assemble. She was also wearing biker boots and a Harley jacket. It was a fun fashion statement.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Raccoon

In addition to the opossums who eat the cat food on our back porch, we also have a raccoon who visits us at night. Last night, I finally managed to catch him; it took some doing. They say raccoons are smarter than dogs, and I'd believe it. I finally had to corner him in the garage and grab him with the snare. He wasn't happy about it. I walked him down to the park and let him go on the other side of the creek, and hopefully the experience was traumatic enough that he won't feel the need to come back anytime soon. In the rush to chase him down, though, I forgot my spray paint. I didn't get a chance to paint him pink for easy identification, as I've done with the last few opossums I've caught. I don't think the spray paint is actually harmful, but they're definitely not happy about it.

As a matter of technique, it's easier when you're walking an opossum or a raccoon on the end of a snare, if you let the critter go first. If you walk in front, you occasionally have to drag them; they don't like being led. If you let them go in front, you make good time because they run to get away from you. The raccoon led me down the stairs behind the community center in the park. The stairs were coated with ice; I fell directly on my ass and dropped the snare. I managed to catch up with the raccoon before he got too far, but I had to wonder about the experience. They say they're clever creatures. I wonder if he walked me over the ice on purpose....

Tree down. Finally.

I took down our Christmas tree yesterday. In our defense, we also put it up late; it didn't appear in our living room until December 19. And it took us forever to get around to taking it down, because we always enjoy doing it together, and we haven't had a big empty block of time at home together in the last two weeks. But yesterday we finally hit the point where we needed to get the tree gone, pronto. So I got spousal permission to take it down by myself and spent a few hours un-decorating it and un-lighting it.

This isn't as easy as it sounds. We've usually got a division of labor: I take the ornaments off the tree, and Laura packages them up. She has a complex, abstract system for packing the ornaments. Some of them have special boxes, some of them get wrapped in tissue paper and stacked neatly, some of them go in the generic ornament tub. Most of the ones with special boxes have special unlabeled boxes. And there's some esoteric logic underlying which ones get wrapped carefully and which ones get tossed in a cubbyhole of the big ornament case. The blown-glass pickle, for instance, gets wrapped carefully, even though it easily fits in the tub. It's special. Ditto, the mushroom. We have two boxes labeled "Bride And Groom Ornaments", and probably ten ornaments that fit that description. And I'm mildly nervous that if I packed them wrong, I'll get the disapproving look when it comes time to unpack them and put them on next year's tree. But a few hours and some frustration later, the tree was clean. I took it out back, where we'll use the needles and branches for mulch in the garden. It's one of the reasons we don't feel bad getting an actual live tree: we recycle it. Our garden contains five years' worth of our Christmas trees, and we like the idea of them hanging around the garden once their time in the house is over.

Monday, January 22, 2007

cookies (flavored with a hint of spite)

I'm baking cookies from a recipe Laura got at work. I don't have a good ginger snap recipe, and this isn't one either. The first batch isn't out of the oven yet so I don't know about the good part, but the dough is yummy, so I have high hopes. But I know they won't be snaps; it doesn't look like that kind of recipe. I'm anticipating they'll come out soft and chewy, which is fine. They're fun to make; the recipe includes 1/8 cup of rice vinegar and 1/2 cup of molasses. You can't go wrong with molasses. And I'm using whole wheat flour, which will affect the texture of the cookies.

I'm feeling a little competitive about this recipe. After Laura tried these cookies at work, she came home and told me they were as good as anything I usually bake. I noticed myself getting huffy and defensive about it, which is odd; I'm a good baker, but I don't have any ego wrapped up in it. I've had lots of baked goods as good as mine, and some better, but I've never had ego trauma about it. My usual reaction when someone tells me they've got great cookies is, "Oooh, gimme! Yum!". This wasn't the case with these. I was so snippy about these that I actually criticized the grammar of the written recipe. It took me a while to figure out why: the person she got the recipe from is one of the few people I've ever met that I genuinely don't like. I don't put any energy into not liking her, but she definitely rubbed me the wrong way. I met her when we did a show together a few years ago, and she was actively rude to me, to the point that it was difficult to do my job. As an example, here's a transcript of my first attempt at small talk:
Me: "So, what are you reading there?"
Her: "A book. What are you, an idiot?"
Yeah. That pretty much tells you everything you need to know. Multiply that by a two-week run of a show, and it wasn't a great experience for me. So I was oddly offended by the thought that she could bake well; I suppose it bothers me to hear great things about people who I think are jerks.

Update: the cookies are, indeed, highly yummy. The molasses shows, and the coarse sugar I coated them with really adds a lot. Mmmmm.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Techie trauma

I'm having lighting issues tonight. By "issues", I mean that of the three BigLites I'm running, none of them started up correctly. Might have something to do with the moisture from the snow; so much for the manufacturer's claim that they're weatherproof. They were even covered by tarps overnight. As of now, one of the three fixtures is working, and I just gave up on the other two. I'm done in 15 minutes, so even if I manage to get them functioning it's too late to run them. And, the guy who hired me (one of the small gods of the techie universe) spent three hours here tonight, and he couldn't make them work either. Gaaah.

Techie-geek digression: I think the problem concerns the position sensors. When you start up a moving-head light fixture, they have to home themselves so they know where they are. All of the functions (pan, tilt, focus, iris, colors, etc.) run themselves all the way to one extreme, then all the way to the other. This way, it doesn't matter where the fixtures were when you powered them down last time; they always know their current position, because it's measured relative to the extremes it sets when you home it. A set of sensors tell the fixture when it's at the extreme. If the sensor (or the hardware that monitors it) stops working, the fixture keeps trying to push itself to one if its extremes, and never realizes it's there. That's what the fixtures seem to be doing. I'm thinking it's in the controller, rather than the actual sensor; there are other problem indications that the controller's having trouble. For one thing, the onboard LED display keeps saying things like, "Pan=OKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK". For the fixture address (a DMX code between 1 and 512), one of the fixtures says "DMX=3140". On the totally non-functioning fixture, the display is full of question marks. Not a good sign. I'm assuming they'll be okay when they dry out. I hope.

The last two nights on the roof were easy; today might be my karmic payback. I don't like doing a bad job with anything, even if the problems are things not under my control. It might be my enormous techie ego -- problems I can't solve really bother me. I'm a good techie, so it's a rare situation. But when it happens, it messes with my sense of order.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Slumming?

Laura and I went to the Canary Cafe for breakfast this morning. The Canary is a breakfast/lunch restaurant located downtown on Ft. Wayne Avenue. And it's a true diner: the coffee's great, and the menu includes all the classic diner food (omelets, pancakes, grilled cheese sandwiches, and the like). Laura and I love eating there. The food's good, the service is friendly, and it's a very low-key atmosphere. The owner's a sweetheart, too. Not only is she nice in person, she's also institutionally nice. She hosts a yearly holiday dinner for downtown's homeless population, and she has a different local artist's work on her walls every month.

A hip, trendy couple came in and sat down near us, and I could hear them talking. They spent a lot of time talking about how anti-hip, and therefore cool, they were for eating at a diner: "I'm sure this place wouldn't know what a decaf latte is... Maybe we should see if they have some sort of hash or grits on the menu, and really experience the native cuisine... I should order a frittata, just to see the confused look on the waitress's face." I'm mildly irritated that one of my favorite places to catch breakfast is considered a place to go cultural slumming. I'm also reminded that snobs irritate me. But this really isn't news.

So, be an anti-snob and eat at the Canary Cafe if you find yourself downtown for breakfast or lunch. It's always good to support locally-owned restaurants. If you like diner food, it's exactly what you've got in mind.

My job rocks.

Two interesting things at work today. At my real job, at the Artsgarden, I finally took down the last of the holiday decor. I've been putting it off for quite a while (as you can tell, by the fact that it's January 19), because I assumed it would take forever and be highly complicated. It actually took just under an hour. If I would've realized in advance how easy this would be, I would've done it on January 9, when I removed the rest of the decor. And, it's really not too late to be taking down Christmas decorations; Laura and I still have our tree in the living room, lit and decorated, with our collection of nutcrackers and Santas scattered around the downstairs.

The second fun job tidbit came during my side job. I spent the evening, from roughly 5pm until 1am, sitting on the roof of the Marriott hotel in downtown Indianapolis. A local tech company hired me to run some hugely powerful spotlights, running ballyhoos on the clouds in celebration of the upcoming Colts game. Laura called me to tell me she was going to bed, and I panned my lights over our house so she could see them. It was very cute; she was on the phone giving me directions, and I was focusing lights for her. I don't have much power, so it's fun to abuse it when I can.

And, yes, it's impressive that you can actually see the lights from our house, over four miles away.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Party Crowd, all grown up

We had a fun show at the Artsgarden today. The band is one of my favorites, fun to work with and good at what they do. They're apparently hitting the point where they, plus all their friends, are having kids. The Artsgarden was like a day care today; we probably had 40 kids under 5. The funny thing is, the band members were at one time a pretty core part of the Broad Ripple party scene. So it's fun seeing all of their friends -- the extremely hip party set -- with young kids. They've still got arty tattoos and white-girl dreadlocks, but they've settled completely into parenthood. They almost look like the party set: still hip and fashionable, but starting to get round around the edges. It's a little disturbing; it's the opposite end of the scale from seeing upper-class Baby-Boomers with tiny ponytails (on the guys) and obvious plastic surgery (on the girls), running around in clothes from Abercrombie and Forever 21.

Another sign the band has kids: they play really quiet, like they rehearse next to the baby's room and they don't want to wake him up. They actually achieved energy during a song or two, but the rest of the time it's like they were trying to whisper with their instruments. I didn't know you could flatpick a guitar that fast, and yet that quietly. They sounded fine, but it was a lot of work for the sound guy (me) to get them to performance volume without feedback.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

vicious feline attack

One of the outside kitties snuck into the house while I was at work last night. Thor's a very cute cat, maybe six months old, but not at all social and entirely feral; I'm not sure what tempted him to try inside life, but he didn't like it and hid under the stairs. Laura waited for me to get home to extract the Kitty Of Thunder; it's one of my husbandly duties, like laundry or drywall repair. After a few minutes of chasing him around the basement, he ended up stuck behind the dryer, and I reached down to grab him. Thor wasn't in the mood for this, so he decided to smite me. I blasphemed a bit, got my welding gloves, and tried again. This time I got him out; he still managed to land a good bite just above the glove, but I dropped him in the kitty carrier and hauled him outside again. Much peroxide and alcohol (the rubbing kind) and further blasphemy later, my wounds were cleaned and we went to bed.

I woke up this morning to a raging infection in the kitty hand; Thor's mouth apparently carries a pretty common cat bacteria that breeds well in people. Much redness and swelling and joint stiffness and general ouchiness. Laura was worried that I maybe had contracted rabies, but nothing so exciting (or terminal, thankfully). The doctor assuaged our rabies worries and gave me a prescription for some potent antibiotics. I've already taken my first dose and some ibuprofen, and now I'm going to take a nap.

I've had some impressive injuries in my life, and many of them earned me cool guyness points; rock climbing accidents and martial-arts-related knife wounds are highly macho. I'm not sure where being gnawed upon by a kitten falls on the macho scale, but I know it can't be very high. I can imagine it ranks just slightly below wounds from broken mayonnaise jars. Maybe I should invent a heroic story about saving the cat. Or maybe I can just say that Thor bit me, and not specify that Thor is a five-pound cat. With a name like that, he might be a Doberman.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A complaint, my response

We just got a grouchy letter at the Artsgarden. Someone showed up Sunday to see our art exhibit, and they weren't happy that it was stuck in the corner. We left it there after the event Saturday night, so housekeeping wouldn't move it to scrub the floors; they're less than delicate with the artwork. And we forgot to make arrangements to get it back in place where it belongs. They also weren't happy with the condition of the case. So here's the letter I proposed sending them:
We would like to extend our sincere apologies that the exhibit wasn't available for convenient viewing on Sunday. The exhibit was relocated for a private event Saturday night, and we neglected to return it to its proper position after the floor was cleaned. It was an oversight on our part, and we'll work to see that it doesn't happen again.

As for the condition of the cases, we are appalled that leaves and sap somehow fell onto the case. Upon investigation, we discovered an alarming fact: the Artsgarden is full of trees. To keep the exhibit safe from this menace of nature, we have decided to relocate the exhibit into the Artsgarden's Green Room, which contains no nature of any kind. It even has the added advantage of no sunlight exposure, which can potentially damage artwork. We also understand that fluorescent lighting is the ideal lighting by which to view art; it doens't contain any of the harmful ultraviolet light that can degrade pigment and canvas. This decision isn't without compromise; as a result of the exhibit's new location, it is available for viewing by appointment only, between the hours of 2pm and 4pm Tuesday thru Friday. We're sure the inconvenience will be minor compared to the traumatic experience of discovering leaves and sap on the display cases.

Thank you for your understanding; we again apologize for your negative Artsgarden experience.
They tell me we can't actually send this to our complainer. Shame.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

the police: apathetic

I had to do a little work today. The Arts Council mounted information signs for the Julian Opie public art pieces festooning downtown ( most notably low-tech LED sculpture). Someone backed their car into one of the signs, so I got to try to fix it; I'm essentially free, but the sign company wanted big bucks even to look at it. So, at noon on a Sunday, I walked down the street with a tool bag, bashed on the sign with a big hammer, and unmounted it from the ground. Just as I was pulling the sign off the ground, a police car drove by. I was just wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, and I look a bit scruffy, and I was essentially removing a piece of public property, and the police officer didn't even glance at me.

When I was heading downtown to do the work, I was a little apprehensive; I didn't have any sort of official paperwork or a work order or anything to back up the fact that I was supposed to be wanging on public property with a big hammer. I had my business cards with the Arts Council logo, and the Arts Council logo was also on the sign I was removing. I was hoping that the connection and some fast talking would be enough to keep me out of trouble. On the one hand, I'm glad I didn't have to do the fast talking. On the other hand, given that the Arts Council owns the signs, it makes me nervous that the police are so apathetic about people stealing them....

Good yarn news!

The Mass Ave Knit Shop is open again after their two-week shutdown, yay! During their down time, they computerized everything. They bar-coded all of the yarn and installed a computer at the register; no more hand-written receipts, and an accurate inventory system of what's in stock and what's not. Cool.

They actually had an excellent inventory system before: Susan. You could ask her, and she knew what she had and where it was, for all 45,000 kinds of yarn in the store. I was always highly impressed. Her expertise was the reason I went today. I still can't identify the yarn I used for the hat I'm working on, so I showed her a piece. It took her about a second to identify it as Lopi. She doesn't sell it, but she told me where to find it. So tomorrow I'll go buy my Jayne hat yarn, unfortunately not from Susan. But if I need needles for the finglerless gloves, she'll be my only stop.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Shake. Rattle. Roll.

I'm at work, running sound and lights for the I.U. School of Medicine's annual St. Vitus Dance. Med students have a sense of humor. One of the cool things about the Artsgarden is that the structure is supported on two huge steel I-beams that essentially function as giant springs. They make the structure flexible, so it can give with stress instead of breaking at weak points. A fun side effect of our suspension system is that if we get a few hundred med students bouncing up and down in sync to a Madonna song, the entire floor bounces with them. The trees sway, the banners move, and the center of the floor deflects downward by probably two inches (which is a lot, if you think about it). I think it's highly cool; people who have never experienced it, and who don't have an intuitive sense about structural engineering, are somewhat freaked out -- especially if they've been drinking. I'm having fun watching.

Friday, January 12, 2007

a knitting update

I still haven't started the fingerless gloves; I haven't bought the yarn yet. In the meantime, as an experiment, I just finished knitting a pair of fingerless mittens for Laura from a pattern I made up as I went along. She likes them, and they were a fun, quick project. As a result of some of the playing I did with Laura's, I'm considering expanding the wrist of the glove to make them longer; I'd like them to go further up my arms. I'll call it "gauntlet length".

Notice that: gauntlet length. Gauntlet. Armor pieces. Running the. Eastwood movie. "Elf Needs Food Badly". Intensely manly. I've already lost macho points by knitting in the first place, and if I made myself "elbow-length" gloves my guyness quotient would drop to near zero. So I'm sticking with "gauntlet-length". Garrr!

First, I have to find yarn and finish the second Jayne hat for a friend. The first one was supposed to be for him, but it didn't fit. I sized it for my own head, and I like my knited hats a little tight and clingy; it's less traumatic to my hippie hair. The hat project has been on hold for two weeks; I ran out of yarn, and the store where I bought it doesn't sell the same yarn anymore. I threw away the yarn labels (I'm calling that a learning experience, the lesson being: Don't), so I have no idea what to order online. And the yarn store in town with all the actual experise has been closed for two weeks. They reopen Monday, so I'm planning on spending some time there. Hopefully Susan can give me some deep insight on replacement yarn; the stuff I found the first time was exactly perfect for the hat, and and I don't want to use something worse. I would be done with the new hat by now, but Laura intervened. I was originally planning to un-knit the first hat and reuse the yarn, but Laura really likes the hat and exercised veto power. It's still my last resort; if I can't find other yarn I like, I'll pull it from the first hat and make another one for myself from lesser yarn (I have lower standards for things I wear than for things I give to friends). I'll just have to hope Laura was kidding about divorcing me if I scrap the first hat.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

iPhone and iMacs

I'm extremely psyched about the new iPhone. It looks like absolutely everything I'd ever want in a phone, and then some. I mean that literally: it does things I don't particularly need in a phone. But it looks like it would reduce my portable electronics collection from three items to one; it'll replace my phone, my Axim (which mostly functions as a text reader), and my now-defunct Zen Nano mp3 player. And it has extra toys that I suspect I'd use a lot if I had them: a camera and a GPS. I was quite impressed with the functionality of Carl's GPS on our hike last summer, and I suspect I'd use one a lot if I had it handy. And if it can run some sort of text editor, it'd be a bluetooth keyboard away from being my portable text editor. Nice. If I got one, it'd mean I'd be down to just a tool pouch and the iPhone, thus drastically reducing my need for a utility belt.

Of course, I'm not even close to affording one. So, unless I can talk the PTB's at work into buying iPhones for us, the relative coolness of an iPhone versus my current work phone is a completely irrelevant discussion. Still, it's nice to daydream about.

I need to mention that my favorite moment of the keynote speech was when Steve Jobs demonstrated his prototype by prank-calling a Starbucks from the stage and ordering 4,000 lattes to go.

I should mention that the Artsgarden office is about to go Mac! We're a few weeks from getting a 20" iMac for each of us. The first two, bought on last year's budget cycle in the last days of December, are already waiting in our computer guru's office, and we're installing as soon as the next two arrive. We're currently ordering Mac-based versions of the software we use most often, and we're considering an Open Office alternative to M$Office. I haven't ever used a Mac before, so I'm highly psyched about learning my way around something new. I've got a Mac basics book in my hold queue at the library, which will probably help at least a little. Usually I like to just dive in and play, but a Mac is apparently enough of a paradigm switch that I probably need to adjust my metaphors before I can really make full use of the OS and all the accompanying toys.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bush on Iraq: nothing new.

Laura and I fired up the television last night to watch George W. talk about his new grand plan for Iraq. He must have rehearsed a lot; other than his consistent mispronunciation of "nuclear", he actually sounded like less of a blithering idiot than usual. He wasn't even actively painful to listen to. The plan itself was no surprise -- I wonder how many people will eventually notice that it's functionally identical to his old plan. The main points seem to be:
  • Expect the Iraqi government to start handling Iraq's security. Chastise them if they don't.
  • Embed advisors with Iraqi units.
  • Work to quell sectarian violence (with no actual plan for doing this)
The only new wrinkle seems to be adding new troops for an unknown, but presumably short, period of time. So, the new plan for Iraq: essentially the same as the old plan.

And, I really enjoyed him talking about this war not ending with a ceremony on the deck of a battleship. I seem to remember exactly such a moment, probably a decade premature....

Another XM side effect

I'm also noticing that the XM radio is pointing out holes in my musical knowledge. The display shows the artist and title for every song it plays, and I keep hearing songs I know, that aren't actually sung by the bands I was picturing. I just heard Natural One from Folk Implosion. I had always assumed it was early Nine Inch Nails, for some strange reason. Ditto, Guilty, by Gravity Kills -- I could've sworn it was a Trent Reznor product. And it's almost disturbing how often I'm wrong about '50s and '60s music.Today's was Be My Baby: Ronnie Spector, not Leslie Gore. And I confuse about fifty different one-hit-wonder surf bands (like Jan and Dean's Dead Man's Curve) with the Beach Boys.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

XM's hidden danger

I'm discovering the slight downside to having an XM radio. Because you've got so many stations available, the odds of flipping by a station, hearing five seconds of a song, and having that song stuck in your head for the rest of the day are a lot higher than with conventional radio. I won't be evil and name the current song, but I picked it up when I flipped by the 60s channel on the way home last night, and I've still got the song stuck in my head. I've tried every antidote I can think of, but it's still there. Over and over again. I even started singing it in the shower this morning.

I was talking with Laura about the song-in-one's-head phenomenon, and we decided it's only evil to tell people the song if it's a song likely to get stuck in their head too. So if I've got, say, the guitar line from Metallica's Fade To Black on infinite repeat inside my skull, I can probably tell her about it. If it's a song from a show she's done, I had better keep the title to myself; the contagion potential is high. And the spousal penalties for getting a song stuck in her head can be steep -- she might use the withering look, or possibly even sarcasm. I shudder.

Okay, I'll be evil: I Get Around, from the Beach Boys. Bwa ha ha ha!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Getting organized

I'm feeling a little overwhelmed. I've got a lot of stuff I need to get done, both at home and at work, and I'm beginning to realize that a mental to-do list with 400 items on it is essentially useless. I'd like to stay on top of my pile of things to do. I'm hoping to get stuff done before it becomes a crisis (which I've done occasionally). And when I find ten minutes of free time it would be nice to be able to find a task to fill the time, so I can check something off the list. I have a lot of little short projects, and they tend to get pushed back until they become emergencies, and it would be nice to have them written down, dated, and prioritized so I can fit them into my schedule. So I'm working on writing stuff down (natural for a writer, really), and I'm trying to invent a system to organize it. I'll let you know how it works and what I come up with; wish me luck!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

XM Radio -- thoughts, two weeks in

I've been enjoying the heck out of my XM radio. I listen to it when I drive, and I also listen a lot when I'm at home. I like the huge selection of music available, defined by genre or decade or mood. I also enjoy the comedy stations; they have two stand-up stations, the National Lampoon channel, and a sketch-comedy station that plays things in the style of old Smothers Brothers or Jonathan Winters routines.

I've noticed that my musical selection changes depending on whether or not I'm in the car. When I'm home I listen to Hear Music (The Sound Of Starbucks: very eclectic, with some classic R&B, some new progressive, some acoustic), Fred (new wave oldies: The Cure, The Clash, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, etc.), The Village (folk), or occasionally The Loft (acoustic rock: Norah Jones, Ryan Adams), Lucy (90s alternative: Matchbox 20, Lit), or Squizz (new hard rock: Korn, Disturbed, Finger Eleven). When I'm in my car I flip through XMLM (XM Liquid Metal: Cradle of Filth, Sepultura, Metallica) and the electronica and disco stations, plus the decades stations. I wouldn't listen to most of these stations at home; a lot of the music is either pretty bad (like a lot of metal and electronica) or actively annoying (like about half of what's on the '70s and '80s stations), and I'd either have to listen to the bad or get up and change the station. If I'm in the car the buttons are right there; changing the station doesn't require that I get off my fanny and stop writing or knitting or reading or whatever I'm doing while listening to the radio. At home I tend to pick a station with consistently good music and keep with it.

I think I've bought three CDs in the past two years. It's rare that I'll hear something on the radio and decide to rush out and buy the CD. I'm too familiar with the way these things work; for anything in the pop family, I'm fully confident that an album will consist of one hit single, one or two decent songs, and eight or nine tracks of filler, and it's not worth the $18. XM is filling the role for me that Napster used to fill; when I was napstering a lot, I was buying a CD a week. It had the convenient feature of letting you view a specific user's shared songs. I'd search for an obscure song I liked, and I'd look in the owner's directory when I found it. Occasionally I'd see a lot of other music I liked, combined with a lot of music I had never heard. So I'd download the stuff I'd never heard, and quite often I'd buy the albums. Napster might have technically been based on theft, but in my case the benefit to the music industry was enormous. For a year or so, almost every CD I bought was from a band or album I had discovered on Napster. And a lot of other people I know had hte same experience. When Napster went away, I stopped buying music; I didn't buy the pop on the radio, and I had lost my channel for discovering new music. One of the biggest holes in the RIAA's argument is that while they were claiming billions of dollars in losses from online file sharing, their profits and album sales kept incongruously increasing during Napster's heavy years (both of them). The drop in album sales didn't hit until after most of the online file sharing sites were fading into relative obscurity. The RIAA's persecution of file sharing was necessary; if they didn't prosecute a bit, it would look like they were condoning file sharing, which would eventually cause major damage to album sales. But by killing Napster instead of trying to work with it, they were acting in the best interest of their business model, not the music business as a whole.

Done ranting now.

So, XM is filling the hole in my new-music experience that appeared when Napster (and subsequent iterations, like AudioGalaxy) shut down. And, because it's always there and always updating, I don't feel the need to buy albums anymore. If I find a station full of songs I consistently like, why buy lots of albums? I'm never listening to them, just to the XM. And for the rare moments when I actually listen to a CD, it's generally already something in my "comfy songs" collection; currently in my 5-disc changer are an old Tannahill Weavers disc, the Steam soundtrack, Radio Sunnydale, the Blue Man Group CD Audio, and Vegas from the Crystal Method. And our budget is strained enough that it's easy to rationalize not buying new music.

An oddity: I just pulled up the online XM channel lineup and found that my brief descriptions above were often identical to theirs. It's either coincidence or subconscious; I wasn't looking when I was typing. The biggest difference was Fred. I said, new wave oldies; they said classic alternative. It is New Wave Oldies, of course, but people who want to listen to the Misfits don't want to think of them as oldies.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Cats, gaah!

The cats made a concerted effort last night to irritate me. As of 8am I was already on my third pair of socks for the day. I got dressed and came downstairs and stepped in cat pee in the kitchen, so I cleaned up the pee and put on a new pair of socks. Then I made coffee and brought a mug up to Laura, and on the way I stepped in some kitty puke on the steps. I cleaned it up, and changed socks again. So, three pairs of socks so far. I'm keeping my shoes on for the rest of the day.

And, the meeping cat ralphed on our bed in the middle of the night. It's very cute that the kitties share the bed with us, but Meeper's apparently got What's Going Around and spent the night experiencing bouts of kitty vomiting. The first and biggest was on the velvet coverlet around 3am. I hopped up and did some quick washing, and the coverlet will be fine. And Meeper seems to be feeling better. By the morning he was feeling fine; he was sitting on the countertop watching me make the coffee when one of the outside kitties appeared in front of the kitchen window, and he launched himself at the window and knocked the plants over. The kitties are on my last nerves today.

I should mention that they're balancing it out by being extra cute now that I'm back from work. Koko was very friendly, and the Meeper's napping on my lap while I'm writing this. Here's Koko using my head as an intermediate step between the shelf above the fridge and the countertop:

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Remembering 2006

I've spent some time looking back and reflecting. There's nothing special about New Year's Day that makes it particularly suited for Reflection and Resolutions, other than the fact that it's a convenient mark of time passing. A more natural time for R&R would be one' s birthday, but New Year's has the questionable advantage of happening for everyone at the same time. Plus, I was busy on my birthday, whereas I had copious quantities of free time on New Year's Day. So here's a collection of my thoughts and observations looking back over my life for the past 12 months. In random order:

2006 seems like a long year in retrospect. That's unusual for me; I generally look back time passed and wonder where it went. But this year, things that I know happened last Spring seem like the distant past. Even my hike in King's Canyon in August seems like something that happened years ago. I'm not sure what accounts for the time dilation, but it strikes me as odd.

Surprisingly, I didn't miss internet access while I was hiking in King's Canyon. Then again, being way the heck away from absolutely everything is one reason I went on the trip. Also, I'm not sure what I was expecting from the trip. I went expecting something a little dramatic or life-changing, ala one of the dramatic stories you hear from Outward Bound kids. Instead I got a nice vacation with two friends. I had a great time, but the dramatic moment of revelation wasn't there. Or, if it was, it hasn't sunk in yet. I did learn a few things about myself, but I'm not sharing -- for anyone not me, it'd be a long, boring story.

A lot of things break on houses. I've spent more time than I'd like fixing things that break. Some of them are little, but some are pretty important -- like the back gate and the front door. This past Friday I got home from work to find the front door wouldn't open; the deadbolt was stuck in the closed position. Better, the thumb latch covers the screws when it's in the locked position; I couldn't even take it apart to fix it without some complication. And this sort of thing happens All The Time around the house. I understand it happens in everyone's house, not just mine, but that doesn't help.

I'm happier if I don't have games on my writing computer. And I'm also happier if it has internet access (and it's required for the blogging computer). So I have to stay on the computer with the games (it's the only one with web access) and hopefully develop some willpower. I don't want to totally scrap my game collection, but I need to be better about tuning out the voices when I'm trying to write. When I'm having difficult writing moments (which, honestly, are most of my writing moments), I can hear Ding Chavez, Ian Dresari, Sam Fisher, and Jaden Korr arguing with each other inside my computer case about who would be the most fun to hang out with for a while. Either they need to shut up, or I need to learn to ignore them.

I have expensive taste in toys. One of the reasons I haven't really bought much this year is that I don't want anything I can afford. I also daydream about toys for toys' sake. F'rinstance, I've spent a lot of time this year looking at the new MacBook, even though I really don't need one; the reason I want one is for writing, and all of my current computers are fine for that, even my 9-year-old Win95 laptop. The MacBook is totally unnecessary, so it's probably good I can't afford one. If I had the money, it'd be one more toy I own and don't need. Most of the rest of my dream toys are the same -- superfluous, but fun and new and shiny.

On a related note, one of my big discoveries is that lack of toys is a convenient, but false, excuse for not getting stuff done. As an example, I need to shore up our little porch deck. For a long time, my excuse was that I needed a nail gun to do the job right; the pounding required to do it with a hammer would cause more harm than good. But I had a nail gun on loan for a few weeks, and I never did fix the deck. Similarly, I have a daydream about writing in coffee shops. But even when I've got the laptop from work with me on unofficial loan, I still don't hit the coffee shop and write. I need to stop using lack of toys as an excuse for anything.

Exercise is easier in five-minute increments. And, if you really think about it, you don't work any particular muscle group longer than that most of the time anyway. It's not as beneficial as a full real workout, but it's not bad. And it's so easy to do a five-minute workout. I'm likely to spend a month not working out because I don't have a whole hour to devote to it, but it takes about as much time to do a five-minute workout as it does to rationalize not working out. And, since it's so short the prep time is zero. You can do a five-minute workout in whatever you're wearing, wherever you are. Jumping jacks, push-ups, isometrics, whatever. Maybe I should write a book about this. All I need is a quack doctor or exercise physiologist to "co-author" the book and put his MD/PhD on the cover....

This year I started noticing a few early signs of aging. I'm starting to show a bit of grey hair, and it shows more in my beard. I think I need bifocals. I no longer move as fluidly as I used to. Plus, I actually said, "kids these days!" a few weeks ago, and I wasn't even trying to be ironic.

I spent a lot of my internal time this year worrying about money. It's nearly a constant with me. There are things that I'd like to spend money on (like new tires and new glasses) that I'm just not able to rationalize, and I'm reminded of it every time I bicycle-pump my tires and every time I look at something around my glasses. I'm very consciously aware of the fixed-sum nature of my personal finances; any money I spend is money I'm not using to pay off debt, and I weigh every purchase against that. The constant presence of money worries are starting to wear on me. We're doing pretty well about paying down our debt, but I've got more worrying about money in my near future. I'm thinking about getting a part-time job somewhere -- maybe signing up with the stagehands' union and taking some calls. It pays better than part-timing at Borders Books, and it's work I'm good at.

Being married is a lot of fun. It's gotten more fun as I've gotten better at it, and I adore the Cute Blonde Girl. I like a lot of the little routines of our life together. I enjoy making latte for us every morning. I enjoy the fact that we set the alarm at least fifteen minutes early every morning so we have time to snuggle and cuddle before we begin our day. I'm glad I have someone I can talk to about nearly everything in the world, someone who will always give me her honest opinion. I like that she gives me another pair of eyes, through which I can see a different version of the world than my own.

Looking back, I really didn't see many movies this year. There was a time when I saw a movie or two every weekend, but that time is long past. I'm trying to do a mental count of first-run movies I saw in the theater, and I don't think I averaged a movie per month; I can only name nine movies I saw on the big screen. I still watch trailers and say to myself, "I gotta see that!", but usually when opening weekend comes my interest level doesn't outweigh my to-do list and my schedule. This might be the first year that I didn't see any movies by myself; they were all social occasions. I also didn't watch much television. In January we watched season one of 24, and I've seen probably a total of a season of Smallville on DVD (we own all five). Add in another few episodes of a few other shows on DVD, and I'm averaging less than an hour of television a week. And I'm really not missing it.

I enjoy being good at what I do. And I like my job. I know a lot of people who don't like their jobs. And, I've had jobs I didn't like; right before I quit working for The Church, I was routinely showing up half an hour late because it was so much mental effort to drag myself to the job (plus, it was the kind of job where I could get away with extreme regular tardiness). But now, working for the Arts Council at the Artsgarden, I have a lot of fun at work. And I like the people I work with, both my coworkers and the whole host of performers and professionals I deal with. The past year held a bunch of projects that expanded my skill set and my comfort zones; working with the ESPN guys for the Final Four last year was highly educational and exposed me to a different side of techie work than I had seen before. I did some big projects, and I worked with a lot of new musicians and performers. The fact that I like what I do for money really helps balance my life. I'm thankful for it.

I just counted -- I wrote around 87,000 words here on Jeff's Random Thoughts in 2006. That's a lot of text. I know it pales in comparison to the output of a professional writer, but it's basically an entire novel worth of words, all in the form of online text. I find that somewhat gratifying. And it means that actually finishing a novel is within the realm of possibility.

That sums up most of my reflections on the past year. Disjointed, but true.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Haul

So, time to talk about the Christmas gifts. Without spending much money, we did pretty well this year and gave each other some thoughtful gifts. Maybe my favorite thing I gave Laura was a house key on an official Washington Redskins key blank. I got it over Thanksgiving when we were in the D.C. area; they're not available locally. I also got her a nice pair of boots, some cute shoes, and some clothes, and we got each other a vacuum cleaner. It's a more telling sign of our intense marriedness than our fifth wedding anniversary; newlyweds really have to be careful of giving things like dust mops and vacuum cleaners as gifts.

Laura gave me my own XM radio receiver with a car kit. It's a great gift; she noticed that I've spent a fair amount of time whining about local music radio, and thought that an XM would be the perfect solution. It is -- thanks, babycakes! I also got a pile of necessaries: three pairs of shoes, some jeans, a few shirts.

Maybe the funniest gift I got was a cordless beard trimmer. I'm not entirely sure if it was a gift or a hint. It wasn't from Laura, of course; she doesn't give hints, she just tells me if I'm looking scruffy. It also comes with attachments that turn it into a cordless nose hair trimmer and a cordless ear hair trimmer. I'm really hoping it's not a hint.

Here are two of my favorite gifts: my XM radio and my Dashboard Ninjas. The ninjas engage in epic battles while I drive. They're much fun. And they came with important ninja wisdom written on the package, including "harmless items are just weapons in disguise," "honor is for samurai," "avoid assassinating on a full stomach,"and "opportunity is a monkey with a firecracker". And the installation instructions (essentially, "snap the ninjas into the base") ends with a warning: "Do Not Tease Or Provoke The Ninjas."

I made candles this year again, but they weren't gifts -- or, at least they weren't wrapped. Laura got to pick the colors, which is nice. I used the leftover wax from the big pillar candles to make votives, which we were going to give as favors at our Christmas Eve party. Unfortunately, we forgot. It looks like our votive needs are covered for a while.

mittens. Or, sock parts.

I'm making myself a pair of fingerless mittens, based on a pattern by Eunny. I'm undecided about how closely I'll follow the pattern; it'll be my first intarsia project, and my first project on itty bitty needles. In terms of number of stitches, it might be my biggest project yet. And it has a few directions that aren't familiar to me, including a different cast-on and bind-off than I've ever used before. So it'll be wildly experimental if I decide to follow the pattern closely.

I was originally going to completely make a pattern from scratch. When I was playing with sizing and where I wanted the thumb to be and how to make the thumb hole, I cut up a pair of old athletic socks for comparison. After some testing, I decided I liked the sock-parts fingerless gloves a lot. But I'm still going to knit me a pair of the mittens; it'll be a fun project, but it's a bit less of a rush to finish it now. Now, off to the yarn store; I need to buy yarn to finish the second Jayne Hat -- which is a pattern I essentially made from scratch, but it's second only to a scarf in terms of easy patterns. And some nice yarn for the fingerless mittens. Still undecided on colors; usually I depend on Laura for all aesthetic decisions, but I'll wing this one on my own.

Just so y'all can bask in my hat-oriented silliness, here I am in the first Jayne hat:

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Slacking on the blog

I tried to post something here every day during December. I missed two days, which is a little embarrassing; they weren't days during which I was working a lot. They were both days off, days of slacking and loafing and not getting anything done. Now that December's officially over I'm less concerned with getting a post in every day, but I'll try to make what I write more interesting. So if you don't see something here every day, don't worry, I'm probably busy trying to write the fiction. Then again, I'm also going to try to shift my writing dodges from video games to blogging -- at least I can rationalize that it's a kind of writing, whereas replaying video games I've already finished accomplishes nothing. So the posting less often might be balanced out by using this blog to procrastinate the writing I should be doing. We'll see.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Old posts

I'm transferring my old weblog entries from glovermountjoy.com and posting them here. If you're curious, everything before November '05 is new to Random Thoughts. So if you just can't get enough of my cool badass Jeffness, hit the new expanded archives. It's taking some time -- I wrote most of them in FrontPage, which adds an enormous amount of crap to the necessary text, and I need to edit out the FrontPage garbage. I should be done by the end of the week.