Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Stross and Penny: clever moments

Just thought I'd share some funny bits and clever phrases from this week's reading. First, I just finished Laura Penny's Your Call Is Important To Us: The Truth About Bullshit. It's exactly what it sounds like; if the title sounds like it describes a book you want to read, you're right -- you should pick it up and read it. In one of the later chapters, she fires off one of the best turns of phrase I've found recently: "If I had a nickel for every time I heard her [Lady Hal, the automated phone voice] intone the phrases, "We are experiencing higher than usual call volumes," "Your call will be answered in priority sequence," and the Big Lie, "Your call is important to us," I wouldn't be writing this book. I'd be charging admission and selling snacks at my fabulous roadside attraction, Nickel Mountain." It might be her most clever moment in the book.

I really enjoyed Charlie Stross's The Atrocity Archives and its sister novella The Concrete Jungle, two modern sci-fi/fantasy stories. I like the way he develops his viewpoint character, the story and world are both intensely clever, and I really liked his phrasing and use of language. I also enjoyed his end notes, in which he discusses that Len Deighton's cold-war spy novels might be more accurately considered horror novels, and H.P. Lovecraft's stories might be more accurately considered spy stories. And he gives his own description of the role-playing game Call of Cthulhu: "In Call of Cthulhu, gamers role-play their way through one or another 1920s scenario that usually involves solving bizzare mysteries before something hideous sucks their brains out through their ears with a Crazy Straw." If you've ever played the game, you'll agree this is the most accurate, concise description of the game ever put to paper. I've got The Jennifer Morgue, the sequel to The Atrocity Archives, on hold at the library, and I'm waiting for it to come in.

I also got John Scalzi's You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing in the mail today. I'm looking forward to reading it. I suspect that most of the content has already appeared on his website, but I consider Scalzi the best new writer I've found in years, and I'm really curious to read what he has to say about my intended field. It'll be nice to have it all collected in one volume.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

SFnal

One of the more clever turns of phrase I've seen recently is the abbreviation of science fiction down to SF, then making an adjective by adding -nal to the end: SFnal. I like it. It's Science Fictional. Or, better yet, Sci-Final. Doesn't that sound fun? We're Sci Final! I don't know who coined the phrase, but I've seen it everywhere. I don't think it's pronounceable without expanding it; sfnal lacks a vowel somewhere, probably between the S and the F.

On another note, I've finally finished importing my old blog entries from Laura's and my page at glovermountjoy.com. I even imported the cute kitty pictures of our original Emergency Backup Cats. And I've got the original Jade Plant story here, too.

Highly specialized knowledge

I'm noticing as I become older that my areas of expertise are shifting. I'm still familiar with science, I'm well-versed in a wide range of audio and lighting equipment, and I'm becoming a better writer as I gain more practice. On the other hand, I've forgotten almost everything I ever knew about magic tricks, and I can barely remember any German. I'm becoming proficient in Mac computers, but I can no longer remember a lot of DOS commands. Some new things filter into my head, and some old things trickle out.

I was thinking about this earlier, when I realized that I've managed to acquire another tiny sub-branch of knowledge over the past few years: Cat Excreta. In CSI-like fashion, I can tell if one of the cats is getting sick, and probably which cat, just by scooping out the litter boxes. And I can identify a hairball's kitty of origin with a quick glance. I'll be nice and share no details with you. Suffice to say that there are signs you can pick up on, if you've spent enough time picking up sign. It's definitely practical knowledge, but I can't help but wonder what important things were pushed out of my skull to make room for it....

Saturday, February 24, 2007

A nice restaurant, not a good restaurant

Laura and I had breakfast downtown at Patachou on the Park, the restaurant in the new Simon office building. The original Cafe Patachou, not far from our old house on Butler University's campus, is one of our favorite places to eat. The new Patachou downtown has the same menu and is very attractively decorated, and the food is good. But it's got a host of problems that the original Patachou didn't suffer from. F'rinstance, they didn't have any coffee made when we got there. We were there for almost twenty minutes before Laura got her coffee. And I mean, she got her own coffee; it's self-serve. They have these high-tech coffee urns with electronic displays showing how much coffee's left inside, but apparently nobody ever checks the displays. They write their specials in colors on a big black mirror behind the counter, just like they do at the original Patachou. But the original's menu board doesn't face a bank of windows; you can't actually read the writing over the reflected daylight outside. They don't have a soda on tap, so if you order a Coke they pour it from a can. I can't decide if that's a good thing or not. And the layout of the restaurant doesn't make sense. It seems very roomy and spacious, but the space between the tables is tight enough I had to squeeze through to my seat. I'm also not impressed with their omelettes. They're good, but they're really not worth the money. The basic omelette is $8.25 and includes one ingredient. Each additional ingredient is $1.60. So if you want an omelette with Swiss cheese, sausage, mushrooms, and tomatoes, you just spent $13 on an omelette. For that kind of money, they should at least call it a frittata. They've also got good oatmeal, if you're willing to pay $5.25 for a bowl. Still, the prices could be worse; the old restaurant at the Conrad Hilton downtown charged $9 for a bowl of cold cereal with milk. Wow.

On a similar note, the Conrad has remarkably bad guest care for a five-star hotel. One of the perks of the Conrad is that it connects directly to the Artsgarden, and through the Artsgarden to the Circle Center Mall, the convention cencter, and the RCA Dome, so the guests don't have to go outside in inclement weather to get around downtown. Except that for the past two weeks, the door connecting the Conrad and the Artsgarden hasn't been working. You can get out of the hotel, but to get back in you've got to walk outside. Whatever the problem is, the Conrad doesn't seem to care; if they were truly interested in five-star service, they'd either fix the problem or station a security guard at the door to let guests in.

I know I sould awfully curmudgeonly today; sorry about that. I'll be perky again tomorrow. :-)

Friday, February 23, 2007

My Lenten Revelries

I'm giving up soda for Lent this year. This surprises a lot of people, since I'm neither Catholic or Christian. But I quite like the idea of giving something up for 40 days every year. It's good for personal discipline, and giving up soda is also good for my health. I figure I average more than 250 calories of soda every day. If it's true that 4000 calories equals one pound of body weight, eliminating soda until after Easter will drop 2 1/2 pounds from my ever-growing body mass. I'm hoping it's all fat; I'd hate to lose a few pounds of, say, kidney. Or, worse, brain tissue.

I decided on a broad definition of "soda": any carbonated beverage, or any beverage made mostly from high-fructose corn syrup. This is mostly so I can't cheat. It would defeat the purpose of skipping soda if I replaced it with fruit punch or soda-fountain iced tea. So far, it's only been two and a half days, and it's been difficult; I had trouble having pizza for lunch today and not ordering a Coke with it. I'm hoping it gets easier, or at least more habituated.

A few years ago, I was discussing my Lenten plans with a friend of mine who's a Catholic priest. At the time I think I was exercising -- doing pull-ups every morning and every night for Lent. I said I like the idea of doing something every year for Lent to make yourself a better person, and that I appreciate that Lent can be more about improvement than about making oneself miserable. He said, "no, it's actually about making oneself miserable." In my post-Catholic warm fuzziness I had forgotten all about this; the purpose of Lent is, in part, to emulate Christ's suffering in the desert. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, shortly before he died Jesus went into the desert for forty days to fast and pray, and also to be tempted by the devil. I have a good mental image of this. And I can imagine that whatever we do for Lent to make ourselves miserable, it pales in comparison to what Jesus went through. Fasting is hard; fasting with Satan helping is much worse. I can picture the devil, pointy-horned and cloven-hoofed, hanging around with Jesus in the desert. I'm picturing the Prince Of Darkness in big Bermuda shorts and one of those hats with a sun umbrella attached, taunting Jesus: "I bet you're hungry. I can hear your tummy rumbling. Want some cake? I've got some yummy chocolate cake right here. Nice and fresh -- [devil licks icing from his fingers] -- mmm, good! Sure you don't want some CAKE? And, what goes really well with cake? Hey, look -- I've got a big glass of ice-cold milk right here. It's awfully hot here in the desert -- you sure you don't want some of this milk?" Multiply that by forty days, and you've got an idea of Christ's suffering. So I'm completely okay with my minor sacrifice of giving up soda in honor of that.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

And, the Pimp My Bookcart winners....

I forgot to mention this in my earlier short list of recent funny things: Overdue Media has pictures up of the winners in their "Pimp My Bookcart" contest. Part One, and Part Two. I enjoy the concept of a comic-inspired PMB contest....

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Aww, cute error message!

My Hog1000 light board at work just died. I'm not sure how bad the damage is; I'm still in the process of figuring out if I need to reprogram absolutely everything or not. But I was somewhat impressed by the final error message it gave me before it crashed hard: a text box popped up on the screen that said, "Oops, I just croaked!" I thought it was funny. Not so funny as to balance out the day it'll take me to recreate the programming, but still more amusing than a traditional Blue Screen of Death.

It crashed hard for absolutely no reason. I'm not sure what went wrong, but it seems like something serious. For a few minutes, it gave me an error message that said, "Out of Memory> Playback functions disabled.", even though I've got a fairly small patch and a total of maybe 100 cues in all of my cue lists. Anybody else had similar problems with a Jands Hog 1000?

Monday, February 19, 2007

A few things funny

I'm easily amused, but here are a few recent things I've found funny:

Intramural zombie hunter team T-shirts
(varying levels of gore available)

The Best Bar Joke Ever , courtesy of Lore Sjoberg.

Jonathan Coulton performing re: Your Brains in what looks like a coffee shop. For those of you who haven't heard of JC, he's what Weird Al would be if Al were nerdier and funnier. Also, check out his acoustic white-guy version of Baby Got Back.

The funniest comic strip of all time, ever.

And, you can't go wrong with Stuff On My Cat.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Math, not like riding a bicycle.

Laura and I are ride-sharing until we get my Saturn's clutch fixed. This means that I'm keeping her production week schedule with her. I finish work around 5 or 6pm, and we leave downtown around 10:30 or 11pm. In some ways, it's actually been really nice. When I get home, I've got piles of stuff to do. Laundry is waiting for me in the basement, and the cats need attention, there are dishes in the sink, the floors need vacuuming. I've got an impressively large to-do list, too, and I can always feel the beady eyes of little projects peeking at me from corners and shelves. And I can hear my Raven Shield play disc's seductive whisper murmuring enticements from the computer room. Being downtown, a short walk from a good bookstore, in my comfortable office with high-speed internet, is actually a nice break. So I've gotten to spend some time catching up on my online reading. I've been having a lot of fun.

One of the things that appealed to me about my recent job offer was the fact that it entailed learning new things. It occurred to me that there's absolutely no reason I can't do this on my own -- that if learning new things is genuinely important to me I should start doing it on my own, not because it's required for a job. With that in mind, my other free-hours project this week has been studying math. The online world is rife with resources for math nerds. When I started at Purdue math was one third of my triple major (the other thirds were chemistry and physics; yah, I was nuts), and I was good at it. I've been noticing recently how many things I used to know have slipped from my head, and I don't want to completely lose my ability to work with amazingly complex numbers. So I've been working my way through mathematics again. I've been a little surprised this week by how difficult it is to pick it up again. It's not so much the mechanics of doing equations; I seem to have lost some of the core understanding about how math actually works. It's not so much a loss of vocabulary, though that's part of it; I hit a reference to scale invariance, and I had to look it up. Worse, I had to actually think about it for a minute to wrap my head around the concept again. I didn't just forget the term, I forgot what the term applies to. But after much thinking, I'm starting to get math crammed back into my cranium. And it's been fun. I'm glad to know that my 1337 math skillz aren't necessarily gone forever, just dormant. I'm planning on making a project out of doing a little complex math, or reading a little about complex math, every day until I feel like I can make the numbers sing and dance for me again.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Walk: shoveled!

We have exceedingly nice neighbors. We got home last night around 11pm and found that one of our neighbors -- we don't know who -- shoveled our walk yesterday. That's amazingly nice; not only was it pretty darn cold yesterday, but the snow was hard and crusty from the freezing rain. It's a serious shoveling job. And, they even shoveled out my car! I can't drive it yet, but I can get to the front tire to pump it up (every three or four days, grr) without having to dig the tire out and stand in the snow. I'm curious who our mystery benefactor might be, but I don't think I'll ask; I like the thought of mystery samaritans. There's even a chance that it's one of the neighbors I shoveled out in the middle of the night after our last snowstorm. I didn't tell them who did it, either.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Shakespeare lives?

Had a fun discussion last week with a local theater director. We accidentally pushed one of his buttons and mentioned Shakespeare. He's intensely irritated when people want to do a play on contemporary issues and choose work by Teh Bard. His thinking is that if you want to do a piece on racism, pick something by a contemporary playwright. Sure, it's not a new issue and Othello covers some ground there. But it's not exactly current. If you want to do a play about racism, you've got lots and lots of choices -- all of which are arguably more applicable to modern life than Shakespeare, by virtue of being written less than 400 years ago.

He's also on the borderline between intensely irritated and intensely amused when people riff on Shakespeare: "It's just like Romeo and Juliet, but set in Prohibition-era Chicago". I did fight choreography for one of these a few years ago, a post-apocalyptic Hamlet. Think Shakespeare meets Mad Max. They hired me to choreograph the spiked baseball bat fight between Hamlet and Laertes (which ended up being a staff fight -- you can't do spiked baseball bats without either being dangerous or looking goofy).

The funny thing is, the director in question is completely okay with making a business decision to do Shakespeare. It's like a ballet company doing Nutcracker every year or a theater doing their annual A Christmas Carol. Your Nutcracker helps pay for your cool, original, artistic production of Interzone. He treats it like doing a show in rep, but on a 12-month repertory cycle.

If a theater's going to start updating Shakespeare, I'd prefer they update the language as well as the scenery and costumes. It's public domain; you can do that. You can even still call it "Romeo and Juliet" without getting in trouble (and I have to admit I liked the Baz Luhrmann version of R&J). But nobody ever does a direct line-for-line update, because once you put it in modern language you realize just how trite and overused Shakespeare is. The ideal is to write a new story around the bones of one of Shakespeare's plots. Doing this, you end up with West Side Story and Ten Things I Hate About You: stories that are only easily recognizable as Shakespeare-based to people who do professional criticism. This is also where a lot of non-Shakespeare theater and fiction comes from: non-obvious theft of existing material. :-)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Winter storms

Indy got heavy snowfall last night. Six inches of snow, followed by eight hours of steady freezing rain and sleet, followed by yet more snow -- it's been interesting weather. The evening news had a reporter standing in the middle of Meridian Street at Tenth Street -- a major rush-hour corridor. And the reporter was standing in the middle of the street because there was no traffic. None at all. Indy has more-or-less shut down. Laura didn't even go to the theater today, and she's got a Dance Kaleidoscope show opening Thursday night. The Arts Council apparently closed the office; I'm not positive, because I had the day off anyway. But I know the Artsgarden cancelled our performance today. The noon news ran a list of over 200 business closings.

This means: Snow Day! Laura and I slept in a little, then had a nice breakfast. I shovelled the walks, and we've spent the rest of the day loafing. We're watching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, the director's cut of all three movies, back to back. And we're having a great time. We're working on knitting projects while we watch, and we're snacking frequently. We had a high-quality bacon, eggs, and hash browns breakfast, followed by ten hours of cookies, popcorn, and peanut butter and jelly crackers. Laura made extremely yummy homemade spaghetti sauce for dinner, and we gave a nod to healthy eating by having a salad with the pasta. It's nice to have an entire day with no plans and no expectations, and it's also much fun to spend a whole day with the Cute Blonde Girl. Especially during production week; this is the time when we usually don't see each other during daylight hours.

Laura drives a Jeep Wrangler. The Wrangler might be the most serious four-wheel-drive all-terrain vehicle you can buy; it can handle just about any terrain better than any other vehicle. The Jeep spends the whole year having maintenance issues, guzzling gas, and being a less-comfortable ride than the Saturn. But it really makes up for it when the roads are bad. That doesn't mean it's safe to drive, though. We're not worried about going off the road and getting stuck in a ditch. The Jeep worry is that some idiot in a Camry will rear-end us because he forgot about stopping distance, or that some guy in a Tahoe will sideswipe us because he thinks "4-wheel drive" means "drive like it's warm and dry, even though the roads are icy". And, there's really nowhere to go; too many businesses are closed. But if we have to go out, it's nice to know we won't end up in a ditch.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Mac Office (!)

Our office went Mac two weeks ago! The Artsgarden staff got 20" iMacs; I'm writing this on mine now. It took us a few days to get over the hump in our learning curve, but now things are running relatively smoothly. It's had its pros and cons, but all in all it's been an improvement. Here's a collection of my thoughts on the matter, collected over the last 14 days.
  • I like a lot of the Mac's interface improvements over the PC. The Mac user interface contains everything useful about the PC interface, plus a lot of new ones that actively improve the computing experience; the Dashboard is nice, and I like the fact that clicking on both side buttons brings up a display of all open program windows. I have yet to reach for a PC function and find it's not there.
  • PCs have three function keys: ctrl, alt, and shift. Macs have an extra key, the one with the little apple on it. All of the shortcuts are still there, but a lot of them aren't the keys I'm used to. It's taking some getting used to.
  • We're running a program called Parallels. It divides your computer in two, and creates a virtual engine in which you can load a complete operating system. The second OS has its own dedicated RAM and hard drive partition and functions as a complete computing system. It's highly functional, but it slows the machine down a lot. And it's necessary because we use an event-management software package that is PC-only. Until we get really used to it, it'll be problematic. We keep having problems making it run smoothly. It's more of a problem for Mike and Michele, since I rarely use Parallels. One of the biggest Parallels problems is that it captures devices; in order to function like a complete operating system, the second OS needs dedicated access to CD drives, flash drives, and printers. So whenever you switch back and forth between the Parallels copy of WinXP and the Mac OS, you need to screw around with making sure the devices you need are enabled in the correct OS.
  • We're running MS Office for Mac. They designed a lot of the Windows-Office functionality out of Mac Office; some shortcuts don't exist, and a lot of obvious functionality is missing. Entourage (the Mac-specific e-mail/contact manager that replaces Outlook in Mac Office) doesn't support distribution lists. That is, the Microsoft mail program doesn't work with Microsoft Exchange's distro list functions. And, a lot of the missing functionality is pretty blatant. It's not like it's missing some obscure command to do some obscure format change. Excel, for instance, is missing using the f2 key to edit cells. That's a major oversight. There are so many of these, I'm fairly convinced that MS purposely tries to make its Mac products less functional. Which would surprise no one.
  • The ergonomic experience of the Mac is impressive. The display is highly adjustable, the keyboard and mouse are pleasant to use. My only minor quibble is that the keyboard cable that comes with the iMac isn't long enough to put the keyboard on your lap while you type. And, you generally plug the mouse into one of the USB ports on the back of the keyboard; to put the keyboard on your lap, you'd be happier plugging the mouse directly into the keyboard. The cable also isn't long enough to reach from the back of the iMac to a keyboard shelf mounted under the desk.
  • I'm surprised the iMac doesn't come with more USB ports. Mine are already full, and I have to swap them out to use different devices. Keyboard, mouse, card reader, camera cable, Axim sync cable, data transfer cable. And five USB ports, including the two on the back of the keyboard. More strange, only the one on the back of the keyboard (assuming the mouse uses the other) is accessible for USB security dongles or thumb drives or other frequently-plugged accessories. And the USB ports on the keyboard are only USB 1.1; they're less useful for thumb drives. I think the design assumes you own a USB hub.
  • Another problem: there is no free software to sync a PocketPC/Windows Mobile handheld with the iMac (or, at least I can't find any). I can find software, but it costs $25. I know this is a Microsoft problem, but it's still an irritation attached to Making The Switch. I'm not opposed to paying for software, but this seems like something that should've been included.
  • I miss being able to play with my computer. Mac doesn't allow access to actual program files, or not that I've found. I wanted to copy my bookmarks folder from my old PC to the new iMac. On another PC, I'd copy the .htm file where Firefox stores my bookmarks into the appropriate directory on the new PC. On a Mac, you can't even find the actual location where the bookmarks are stored. One perk of using Camino (the Mac-specific browser from the people who brought us Firefox) is that I can open the bookmarks.htm file, open all the bookmarks in new tabs, and then use the "bookmark all tabs" function. Still, I miss being able to tinker.
  • I miss the impressive availability of freeware for the PC. There isn't a lot available for Mac. I know you don't really need fifteen different sketchbook programs, just one good one. Still, I miss the lack of options.
  • Also, Mac software never gets cheaper. I can find a copy of, say, "Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield" for PC in the $10 discount bin at Best Buy. It was $40 when it was new, in 2000, but it's old news now. I can also find a copy of Raven Shield for the Mac (one of the relatively few good games available for Mac), but it still costs $40. I'm sure there are people willing to pay full price for a six-year-old game, but I'm not one of them.
  • I should also mention that I'm playing with NeoOffice. It's nice so far; I'm not seeing any real reason to use M$Office to open documents. It's technically a beta release, but it seems fine.
  • It's harder to tinker with a Mac. Just a general observation. They have a huge number of options and settings you can customize, but anything that's not on the list is difficult to play with.
That's my take so far on going Mac. Definitely a positive change, but not without problems.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The New Job (?)

I've done a lot more thinking about last week's job offer. This Monday I went to the company's offices and met with the guy who would be my boss. I genuinely like the guy, and their designer Mike seems like he'd be good to work with and for. But I think I've decided not to pursue the offer at the moment. Some of the job seems like it's exactly my thing, but some of it doesn't. This is normal; no job is perfect, and there are always parts of any job that don't really appeal. On the plus side, I'd be the tech on site for installs and turn-ons, and I'd get to work with and contribute to clever designs and diverse projects. Part of my ideal duties would involve looking at what customers already have, and figuring out better ways to meet their needs. One of the down sides is that a lot of my job would involve performing service for the company's annual maintenance contracts. There's a limit to how many dimmer racks and control systems I could clean before I started feeling like more of a janitor than a tech. I'm also a little worried at the time breakdown. I looked at the rough list of duties, and I figured that it would probably occupy me for 25-30 hours a week. I'm not sure what would fill the rest of my time. I know they've got lots of projects in process, and that I could probably contribute a lot to them (if nothing else, by taking some of the designer's busywork), but the unknowns worry me a bit.

The real deal-breaker with the new job is the money. I took a close look at what I'm earning now, and I figured out that even if I got the top end of the pay range they're offering it would only beat my current salary+benefits by about $2000. That's not enough extra money to justify leaving a job I'm happy with and taking a job I'm not sure about. If I'm going to leap into the unknown, I'd better have a pile of cash to cushion me.

The job offer also made me evaluate my current job with the Arts Council. I knew this already, but I really like my job. The money's decent. My co-workers are fun and good at what they do, not only the Artsgarden staff I work with every day, but the Arts Council staff in general. My duties are varied enough that I don't see myself getting bored with it. I get recognition for being extremely good at my job. I get to work with a lot of the coolest performers in Indy. I have an actual budget; I don't have to do complicated paperwork and get three levels of approval to buy, say, tape. I'm well-managed, too; I've got tasks I'm expected to keep on top of, but my day-to-day schedule is set by me. I hear people complain a lot about their jobs, but none of the specific complaints apply to my job. Sure, it'd be even better to get a huge pile of cash and my own personal hot tub -- but I wouldn't really want a huge pile of vacation. I like what I do, I have fun doing it, and I don't dread going to work in the morning. As jobs go, mine's a very good one.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Everyone Can Sing This!

I was listening to a bit of Super Bowl hype on the radio last week. Apparently, a pair of lower-caste celebrities went to the press day event and tried to get a bunch of football players to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame". None did. But I was wondering how many of the players would actually know the words. First, it's a baseball song. Second, how many people actually know more than the first twelve words to the song?

It started me thinking. What songs could you ask a group of non-musicians to sing, with a reasonably good chance that everyone would know the words to an entire verse? I can't think of many. The only song I think everyone knows the words to is "Happy Birthday"; there are only five different words, plus a floating proper noun, in the entire song. Even most Christmas carols are pretty shaky after the first line or two. I'd guess that half the population could make it through the first verse of most Christmas songs, and maybe ten percent could make it though two verses. I tried making a list of songs that are so embedded in popular culture that most people could probably sing a verse or two, and I couldn't come up with much. Some Beach Boys, a little Aretha, some classic funk and soul, maybe a little John Denver. And some truly terrifying stuff: I bet everyone knows a few verses of Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow.

It's cold. How can I tell?

Indy got five or six inches of snow today between the time I left for work and the time I got home. So before I got comfortable for the evening, I broke out the snow shovel. I cleared our front and back walks, and three other houses on our block, and the sidewalks between our houses. It was good exercise, and I'm sure the neighbors will appreciate it. When I worked at Holy Spirit, a good snowfall would mean eight solid hours of scraping and shoveling; I would start at one end of the property and shovel my way to the other end, then start over at the beginning, and repeat the process all day. So spending an hour last night didn't seem like too much work.

We're sharing the cold snap that's hitting the rest of the Midwest. We've got a few single-digit highs this week and last, and we've got windchill temperatures as low as -25. I've been aware of the cold all week, wearing layers and bundling up, but I had a first last night while I was shoveling: my moustache iced up. I didn't even realize it until I stopped for a rest. I've seen it happen in movies, but I've never experienced it in person before. It was a little surreal; my upper lip didn't even feel cold.

Monday, February 05, 2007

We Rally And Celebrate.

Some people I've never met won a football game I didn't care about, woo hoo. But, they are from Indianapolis, so I'm somewhat happy about that. Go Colts.

I've spent the last three weeks wallowing in Colts hype, and I'm glad it's over (or at least somewhat abated). Most of the hype was tolerable; the only hype that actively irritated me was perpetrated by some of the performers here in the Artsgarden. People have done Colts songs, and I'm fine with that. But when people perform standards and classics and modify a chunk of the lyrics to give it that "Go Colts!" feel, it grates on my nerves. The most memorable was a hack of "Proud Mary". The modified lyrics, in part, looked something like this:
Left a good job down in Indy
Watchin' all the Colts beat the Patriots
but I never saw the good side of the Indy
until I see the Colts win the Super Bowl
It was painful. And a lot of performers committed similar venial musical sins -- some with even less lyrical skill than this. Again, I'm fine with actual Colts-themed songs. But the lyrical hacks I heard over the past few weeks really tweaked my sense of order.

The city planned a celebration for the Colts, complete with a parade and a celebration at the Hoosier Dome. I spent the afternoon following up on last week's job offer (more on that another time), and afterward came downtown to meet Laura and watch the parade. We decided instead to go to the Dome for the celebration. The place was crowded; probably 3/4 of the seats were full. The plan was for the parade to start around 4pm, with the parade route ending at the Dome around 4:45. The players' plane didn't even touch down in Indy until after 4; the parade started around 6:30. People were waiting outside in the intense cold for hours waiting for the parade to start. Most of the businesses along the parade route were nice about letting fans come in and thaw out while they waited. Those of us in the dome had an easier time; they were showing a replay of the game on huge video screens, so we were okay with the two-hour delay. When the event actually started, the players all arrived in their parade vehicles. It was strange; we were far enough away that we couldn't really see any faces. We could recognize players by their jerseys, but on the field were a few hundred fans and staff, many of whom were also wearing Colts jerseys. Once the players hopped out of their vehicles I couldn't find them anymore; the actual Joseph Addai (#29) disappeared amongst the other people wearing blue or white jerseys that said ADDAI 29 on the back.

The actual event was interesting, though. Lots of people spoke: the team's owner, the president of the Colts, the mayor of Indianapolis, coach Dungy, and several of the players. The message was the same in almost every case: "thank you, fans, for sticking with us!" It was nice to hear.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Fun XM games

One fun thing to do with the XM that you can't do with the radio: you can play Name That Artist. Laura and I were doing this last week, trying to see who could get the longest run of correctly-identified artists. She won; we were listening to Fred, the '80s New Wave channel. I suppose you could do this with regular radio, but you'd have to have a Google window open to check your score. And you need to check them all; I'm occasionally wrong about an artist that I was positive I had identified correctly.

Also, when I pull into the parking garage at work I lose satellite signal in one corner for about five seconds. If I'm singing along with a song, it's fun to keep singing in the dead zone, to see if I match up with the radio when the signal comes back. It's surprising how far off I can get in five seconds.

And, yes -- of course I sing along with the radio. This should surprise nobody.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Car. Garr.

My Saturn died on Wednesday night. Or, more accurately, became violently ill. The clutch decided to stop functioning on the way to work. You can technically drive a stick shift without a clutch, but it's not good for the car or your sense of calm. I made it the rest of the way to work, then to Mike's house, then home, but it wasn't fun. So Laura and I are a one-car family until we can get it fixed. I don't think it'll strain our relationship, but it's definitely a strain on our schedules. If anyone knows a good, trustworthy mechanic, let me know.

Trustworthy is the more difficult part of that. The dealership where I bought my last car (the Plymouth Colt) is where Laura had been taking her Jeep for service. We're not sure if they're bad at their jobs or just dishonest. But we had many problems with the Jeep, and they could never fix them. After a month wherein we had the car in their shop six times, they were recommending replacing the computer and a big chunk of wiring. We went to a different Jeep dealership -- in Richmond, Indiana -- and their mechanic located the problem and fixed it with a twist tie. The dealership in Indy had broken something in the electrical system while doing an exhaust repair. I don't know if the local dealership was just incompetent, or if they actually knew what the problem was and were planning on doing a huge repair job anyway. But the problem is that we can't trust them; the next time they tell us we need a huge repair, we won't know if we actually need a twist tie.

I had a similar encounter with the Midas shop at 10th and Shadeland. A guy I worked with had a rattle under his car. I looked, and one of the tabs where his manifold bolts on had rusted through. I told him that he needed a quick spot weld, but when he took it to Midas they told him he needed a new exhaust system, from the catalytic converter back. He took it down the street to Meineke, and they did the spot weld and charged him $20. I've heard dozens of similar stories from family and friends (a surprising number of which involve the auto repair shops attached to department stores like K-Mart and Sears); it's making me nervous about taking my car for service.